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Preston Guild Hall’s £4.5m debts revealed as report exposes full scale of financial woes

The exterior of Preston Guild Hall and Charter Theatre The exterior of Preston Guild Hall and Charter Theatre
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West End producers, comedy promoters and a school theatre festival are among 200 creditors owed a total of more than £4.5 million by the company behind Preston Guild Hall and Charter Theatre, new documents have revealed.

The theatre closed and went into administration earlier this year, after The Stage revealed that a number of producers claimed to be owed money by the venue’s operator.

The full scale of the theatre’s debts have now been made clear in a report issued by the administrator. The total debts of £4.5 million are among the largest ever seen for a theatre going to administration and include £112,159 owed to ticket holders for advance sales and £66,159 to staff.

The theatre has been closed to the public since May, when it shut its doors following a string of allegations of unpaid debts first reported by The Stage.

Operator Preston Guild Hall Ltd went into administration soon after and Preston City Council then seized control of the venue following what it described as “unacceptable behaviour” by owner Simon Rigby.

Now, the report into the company from administrator Beverley Budsworth has been published, revealing the full extent of the debts owed by the Guild Hall as it ceased trading.

Unsecured liabilities listed on the director’s statement of affairs total £4,505,520. Budsworth warned in her report that it was “unlikely” there would be sufficient assets to pay ordinary unsecured creditors.

The report’s financial summary says the company has estimated total assets of nearly £500,000. However, only £16,300 of this could be realised, with an additional £26,000 of cash at the bank.

The first claims relating to Preston Guild Hall and Charter Theatre emerged in January, when producer Bill Kenwright claimed his company was owed £70,000 in ticket revenue for a 2018 production of Blood Brothers that toured to Preston.

Editor’s View: Councils must think hard when choosing a theatre operator

Kenwright’s claim of £69,077 is included on the creditors list, as are claims by theatre companies including Emma Brünjes Productions, for which a claim of £22,423 is listed, and the Circus of Horrors, which says it is owed £3,958.

Other outstanding payments listed in the report relate to companies including Qdos, Ballet Cymru, Fierylight, Phil McIntyre Entertainments, the Shakespeare Schools Festival and Live Nation.

Among the debts listed are redundancy payments and unpaid wages owed to staff, significant sums taken in advance ticket sales, and more than £360,000 to Preston City Council.

Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown said the authority was actively considering means to recover the “significant amount” owed by the company.

HM Revenue and Customs and Lancashire County Council also feature on the list.

The report reveals that a row over the non-payment of business rates in June led to the council taking back control of the Guild Hall, which it had sold to Rigby for £1 in 2014.

Prior to the council stepping in, Rigby had signalled his intention to reopen the Guild Hall. A statement provided to The Stage by Rigby following the new report said that, had he been allowed to do this, the company “planned to honour all advance sales by either delivering the show or refunding the money”.

Rigby added: “The operator I had lined up had agreed to work with us to settle all promoters and re-employ the staff, but Preston City Council intervened knowing our plans. I hope that whoever they select will do likewise.”

In his statement, Rigby also claims he is owed £5.3 million. “No one has lost more on Preston Guild Hall than me,” he added.

Timeline of events

November 2014
Simon Rigby buys Preston Guild Hall and Charter Theatre from Preston City Council for £1, promising to redevelop it and broaden its appeal.

January 2019
The Stage first reports claims of non-payment at Preston Guild Hall and Charter Theatre, with Bill Kenwright Ltd alleging the theatre had not paid £70,000 of owed ticket revenue.

February 2019
Further claims are made against Preston Guild Hall Ltd by producers and promoters, amounting to £100,000 Some producers revealed they had routinely turned to legal action to recover unpaid revenue from the theatre. Rigby maintains that there is no risk to future programming, and that getting paid by the venue “should not be a concern” for producers.

April 9, 2019
Dreamboys London Ltd issues a winding-up petition in respect of a sum of £6,676.17. This amount was paid prior to the scheduled hearing in June. However, several other creditors said they intended to seek carriage of the petition.

May 30, 2019
Preston Guild Hall and Charter Theatre shuts its doors to the public, in what is described as a temporary closure. It follows claims by Rigby that he had been in negotiations with a new operator, which had stalled.

June 4, 2019
Preston Guild Hall Ltd is placed into administration, as claims near £150,000.

June 20, 2019
Preston City Council seizes control of the Guild Hall and Charter Theatre, following claims by Rigby that he intended to reopen it via another arm of his business. The council said his actions had made it “abundantly clear” that a council takeover would be necessary, and criticised Rigby’s “unacceptable behaviour”.

July 25, 2019
The administrator’s report into Preston Guild Hall Ltd is signed off by Rigby.

August 19, 2019
The report emerges into the public domain. Preston Guild Hall and Charter Theatre remain closed.

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

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