Preston’s Guild Hall and Charter Theatre has been transferred into private ownership, with the new owner promising to broaden the venue’s appeal.
Local businessman Simon Rigby bought the venue from Preston City Council for an undisclosed sum in July, and officially became owner earlier this month.
The Guild Hall and Charter Theatre – which hosts theatre, dance, live music and comedy events – was costing the council £1 million each year to run, and was under threat of demolition until it was sold to Rigby.
Speaking to The Stage, he said his primary aim was to expand the venue’s audience, and explained: “The Guild Hall and Charter Theatre had been concentrating on the over-40s market. Because the council can’t take any risk at all, they’ve been very, very conservative in the acts they’ve booked. We’re interested in appealing to all age bands in the community.”
Along with the performance venue, Rigby has acquired the Guild Hall shopping arcade located in the same building, and plans to turn several existing shops into dance studios that local amateur dramatics groups will be able to hire.
The renovation plans also include giving the front of the building “a facelift”, and opening several new restaurants in the arcade.
Rigby said: “Rather than Preston having two lame ducks, our hope is to have one very vibrant entertainment centre there.
“I hope to make money out of them as venues in their own right.
“But if we broke even on them and got the benefit of the footfall to the arcade that comes with the Guild Hall, I’d settle for that. Bear in mind that we’ve acquired something which loses £1 million a year, one has to be a bit daunted.”
Rigby’s company the Villa Group has a 999-year lease on the building, which he said would enable it to “invest millions in the infrastructure” and “bring it up to date”.
In addition to the investment in the venue, Rigby also plans to set up a £250,000 trust fund to support arts and culture in Preston.