Preston Guild Hall

Prestonian blogger River’s Edge has had an outburst relating to the safe-guarding of Preston Guild Hall. Despite Preston City Council suffering one of the largest funding cuts – over £5m lost in two years – all three parties in Preston Town Hall, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the ruling Conservatives, have worked together in ensuring a budget which secures Preston’s Guild Hall as a venue for music, plays and comedians.

I agree with River’s Edge view that “[c]reating and enjoying theatre, music and dance are activities that can mean the difference between civilisation and dull quotidian existence.” The news that future Guild Hall productions will have a greater emphasis on local productions proves that Town Hall members are dedicated to keeping local theatre groups and local technicians in guaranteed employment. There is still a guarantee of big names being signed – so the best in national figures and local productions will continue to appear side-by-side. Even the Pantomime is secured. We could have the Chuckle Brothers again! Or Paul Dannan….Oh, wait, no, no..Not after last time…

The figures are clear. The Guild Hall complex costs over £1 million to run and maintain, and the last two years has seen consecutive losses of £1 million each. The financial pressures on Preston Council and taxpayers cannot be put to one side. Preston has secured, through some very difficult choices, the continued opening of both leisure centres at Fulwood and West View, and maintained the future of the Guild Hall, whilst suffering the severe central Government cuts.

Preston’s Guild Hall is more than just its Charter Theatre – the complex has room for improvements and expansions which would help our city in its aim to become “The Third City of the North West”. Some expansion plans will need to be mothballed, others explored through co-operations with third parties and local enterprise. Its ‘grotty’ side, that which used to be Morrisons leading to the Bus Station, is as bad an advert for Preston as anything I could imagine; surely the Council or the Guild Hall management can explore ways to brighten up this section without breaking the bank?

The reality is all three parties in Preston agree that a closed Guild Hall would be infinitely worse than one cut back to help balance the books. As somebody with the threat of redundancy over my own head, I know the sinking sensation in the stomach which comes from job uncertainty, and I can think of nobody within Town Hall who wants to deliver the worst news to staff currently working within the Guild Hall. There are avenues to explore and I hope the pain today can soon be over. We still have a venue to attract tourists, and ultimately money to help rebuild the shaky economy.

It’s refreshing that all three parties are getting somewhere with working within the financial realities for the city. Here’s hoping continued cross-party attitudes can carry on whilst the need for such attitudes is required…

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City licking

Awarding city status to Preston has had the long term effects similar to giving the OBE to a dinnerlady; welcome recognition with no tangible improvement.

Preston is a great place, and I defend it whenever up against the usual insults (nobody gets within pen throwing distance of criticising the Bus Station when I’m in ear-shot, and don’t get me started on the Football Museum…).

However, most Prestonians with an ounce of realism to them knows the market town outside their walls has not made anything like the significant strides towards fitting the presumed look or feel of a “city”. And furthermore, these people welcome that fact. I certainly do. Preston is not Manchester, nor should our councillors and unelected “vision board consultants” pretend otherwise.

A new report suggests that Preston is “boring” before the neon strip kicks in at nine, and that the town…place…has not much to attract families.

There is quite a lot I agree with.

Preston has always had a great and vibrant nightlife. My memories of boozy college nights and similarly liquid weekends after work all go back to pubs and clubs around Preston. The Black Horse is one of the best pubs I’ve ever been to, and not just for the Double Hop. Pub Quiz anoraks must know why it is one of the only buildings of its kind, too…?

One suggested improvement is a “late and live” style initiative to attract people into the city. I shudder at the management speak used, but agree with the sentiment. Preston used to have far more live music venues for people with only a couple of bank-notes in the backpocket; they have almost all closed or had a change of management. The Guild Hall should not be the only place in the city to see live theatre. The Frog and Bucket has been a surprise hit – I admit to suggesting it would close down without much notice within weeks – although its future is somewhat compromised by the mythical Tithebarn rejuvenation project.

Preston has a lot going for it; from the Continental pub’s theatre and music, to 53º with is superstar roll call of live acts, the easily accessible green bits including (just, boundary fans!) Beacon Fell, the Millennium Canal Link, and apparently a Championship level football club….

There is an elephant in the room, of course. Improvements to one part of the town cannot be made without looking at the wider picture. Tithebarn – the multi-million pound fairy story cooked up by “development agencies” – would be a disaster for those on low and middle incomes living in the immediate surrounding areas for whom John Lewis and high-end restaurant eating comes pretty low on the list of priorities. Demolishing 1,100 car parking places in addition to the 80-gate bus station would do nothing to encourage families to visit. All these “improvements” remain high on the list of Preston Council’s vision for the future; all of them are completely blinkered, short-termist nonsense.

Preston needs far more than shiny buildings if it truly wants to fit into the new city clothes. A transport system fit for the last century would be a start. Acknowledging that thousands of people would prefer money spent outside the city centre wouldn’t go amiss either.

Preston is a great place to live and work and drink, but years of political short-termism has dragged progress to a complete standstill. Like Mavis Dinnerlady OBE with her daily routine, Preston seems satisfied and comfortable without any major cosmetic changes. I would much prefer to bring a new sense of renewal to Preston in stages, bit by bit, sector by sector. Mavis would not serve Masterchef dishes the day after meeting the Queen; Preston should not start swinging the demolition ball the day after this “boring” report.