Guild Hall shuts - takeover talks continue

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The owner of Preston Guild Hall says he is hopeful its shutdown will only be temporary and talks are continuing with the business looking to take over the running of the venue.

Entrepreneur Simon Rigby said negotiations with specialist live music and venues Company VMS Live had been delayed by the tragic death of its owner Steve Forster following a road traffic accident.

He said the delay meant that he was forced to “review the viability” of the business, adding that he wanted to treat creditors fairly.

Mr Rigby said he remained hopeful a long-term contract with VMS Live could be agreed which would lead the Guild Hall back to “its rightful position as the leading regional live entertainment venue.”

The shutdown affects the Guild Hall’s Great Hall and Charter Theatre. Businesses based in the building are unaffected and remain open.

In a statement explaining the situation, the Guild Hall said that over the last few weeks, discussions with VMS Live had focused on a long-term lease on the venue. It added: “These discussions are ongoing.”

The statement added: “Unfortunately, this is already three months later than was planned (due to circumstance beyond anyone’s control).

“The uncertainty around the actual date and some false social media stories has meant the position of Preston Guild Hall Ltd (the current operator) has become fundamentally uncertain and the directors have to take professional advice.

A tragedy beyond anyone’s control has led to the delay in VMS Live taking Preston Guild Hall on to the next level.

“During this period the Great Hall and the Charter Theatre will be closed until they can be picked up by hopefully VMS Live. The tenants on the ground floor of Preston Guild Hall are completely unaffected.”

Simon Rigby said: “Clearly a tragedy beyond anyone’s control has led to the delay in VMS Live taking Preston Guild Hall on to the next level. 

“The suppliers, including promoters, have simply got tired of waiting for VMS Live to take up the reigns of the Guild Hall. 

“Under this pressure and uncertainty I am legally obliged to review the viability of Preston Guild Hall Limited, the operating company, as a number of its creditors will not wait any longer and all creditors have to be treated fairly.”

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The Guild Hall says tickets for shows that do not now go ahead will be refunded.  People should contact enquiries@prestonguildhall.co.uk.

Lisa Matthew, operations director for Guild Group, added: “We hope to have minimum disruption to Preston Guild Hall’s operation during this transition. 

“Any enquiries about future events should be directed to enquiries@prestonguildhall.co.uk.”

According to reports, 20 full time staff have been laid off with another 45 casual staff offered work at the Level entertainment complex in the building, which is not closing.

The ownership of the Guild Hall was transferred to Mr Rigby by Preston City Council in 2014. It was reported that he paid £1. The council was keen to offload the venue which was said to be costing it £1m a year.

Speaking about the present situation, Councillor Matthew Brown, city council leader, said: “We are disappointed to hear this news, but hope that this temporary closure of Preston Guild Hall enables the transition to VMS Live’s management of the venue to take place smoothly.

“The transfer of Preston Guild Hall to Simon Rigby in 2014 was Preston City Council’s only viable option.

“This difficult decision was made due to significant operating costs in a climate of unprecedented budget cuts and austerity. This situation has not changed.

“Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of the late owner of VMS Live.”

VMS Live, which is based in Manchester, has been contacted for comment.