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Preston Guild Hall debt allegations near £150k as new operator is sought

The exterior of Preston Guild Hall and Charter Theatre The exterior of Preston Guild Hall and Charter Theatre
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This story was updated to include an additional statement from the administrators.

Administrators overseeing the troubled Preston Guild Hall have said they hope to find new management to bring the theatre back into operation “as quickly as possible”, as further claims of non-payment against the venue emerge.

Research by The Stage has found the theatre’s operator is currently subject to unsatisfied county court judgments totalling more than £63,000, bringing the known allegations of debt to around £150,000.

The management company behind Preston Guild Hall and Charter Theatre went into administration yesterday (June 5), several days after the venue closed.

Owner Simon Rigby, who bought the theatre from the council in 2014 for £1, attributed the closure to a stall in takeover talks with prospective new management but claimed it would only be shut temporarily.

Administrators in charge of Preston Guild Hall Ltd have now said they are making the theatre’s reopening a priority.

“The plan at present is to get the Guild Hall operational as quickly as possible under the helm of a reliable and experienced operator and to maximise any return to creditors,” administrator Beverley Budsworth told The Stage.

The full extent of its debts is not yet known, however the company is facing unpaid claims of at least £145,000.

New debt allegations

Among new allegations that have come to light are 14 different CCJs, which have all been brought against the theatre this year.

The claims, which are unnamed, total £63,712, with the largest individual claim listed as £9,605. There are also more than £44,000 worth of older CCJs that have been repaid.

Flyering company Promote Your Event said it is owed a total of £4,500. Its director, Andrew Hodson, told The Stage that bailiffs had been due to collect some of the debt on June 6, shortly after the company’s application for administration.

Theatre producer Bill Kenwright said it has still not received the £70,000 of box office revenue it is due. The company began the formal proceedings to recover the sum in April.

BKL executive director Steve Potts confirmed the company was in the process of contacting the administrators “as it endeavours to join the creditors’ list and take all steps necessary to recover the monies owed”.

“BKL also intends to scrutinise the conduct of Preston Guild Hall management in this and to take any appropriate additional action in order to help protect producers and the theatregoing public against venue mismanagement,” Potts added.

Further claims are now arising, with one promoter alleging that his music act played at the theatre just two weeks ago without any mention of financial difficulty. Graham Platts said funds from the agreed box office split never arrived, leaving the band owed £4,000.

The creator of circus act The Circus of Horrors, John Haze, told The Stage he too was owed about £4,000 for a show at the Guild Hall earlier this year.

He said this is the third year running that the theatre has failed to pay the owed box office on time, however in the past the amounts were eventually settled.

Haze also pointed some blame at Preston City Council for selling the Guild Hall to Rigby when he had no experience of running theatres.

Council leader Matthew Brown said the local authority had transferred the Guild Hall to Rigby “in good faith” and “while facing the most significant budget cuts in living memory”.

“This difficult decision was not made lightly but due to significant operating costs in an unprecedented time of austerity, this was the council’s only viable option. This situation has not changed.

“As this news is still unfolding we are unable to comment any further at this stage.”

A previously reported debt of £17,000 owed to children’s theatre producer Fierylight has now been repaid, the company confirmed, following the issuing of a winding-up petition earlier this year.

A statement from the administrators said: “The operation of Preston Guild Hall has required significant investment over the four years since it was sold by Preston City Council. Funds in excess of £6 million have been injected into the company as the running costs of the Guild Hall are significant.

“The company has been in negotiations with a number of external operators about taking over the running of the venue but negotiations have dragged on. The company did have the belief that the negotiations would be complete by end of March 2019.  These negotiations are ongoing with the view to getting agreement with an operator but time is of the essence as there are minimal bookings in from now to September and there is likely to be a significant trading shortfall which will not be covered by receipts.”

Preston Guild Hall falls into administration

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