We caught up with our Trustees, Simon Frost & Chris Gilder

As we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the formation of The Guildhall Trust, we caught up with two of our Trustees, Simon Frost and Chris Gilder, who have been here since the very beginning! As a registered charity (1153358), The Guildhall Trust is managed by an independent Board of Trustees who are responsible for the overall strategy of the Trust, our vision and our future direction.

Simon, who chairs the Trust’s Audit and Finance Committee, is the owner of Hibou Communication and a former CEO of the Parity Trust, a community finance operation. Through Parity he supported many community schemes including the refurbishment of the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth.

Chris sits on the Trust’s Client Team for the Renaissance of the Guildhall project. He has an extensive background in construction and project management and is Bid Manager for Wates, having previously worked for Warings, Costain and Balfour Beatty.

What brought you to be part of the Trust?

Simon: One day I was meeting with Stephen Baily, Head of Culture at Portsmouth City Council and we talked about the Council’s plans to transfer ownership from a private operator to a charitable Trust. He invited me to apply and a few months later, here I am!

My very first trip to the Guildhall was for a conference in probably around 1987. I remember the impressive steps, entrance and the chamber. Since then, I have always been interested in the building and its importance to the city. I was very proud to have my name added to a plaque of past presidents of the Portsmouth Junior Chamber in 2002 which was displayed in the Guildhall entrance.

My associations with Portsmouth date back to the 1970s, I settled here in 1999, and I have always wanted to give something back. The Guildhall is a fabulous, historic building and the Trust has a crucial role to play in continuing its Renaissance over the coming decade and beyond.

Chris: I was drawn to becoming a Trustee through a combination of continuing to do some voluntary work and getting closer to what was going on in the city. I’d been a school governor for ten years and having left that role, becoming a Trustee was an obvious choice. I was also working for a Portsmouth‐based company and was keen to make new connections in the city.

In your 10 years at the Guildhall Trust, what have been your personal highlights?

Simon: At the beginning, achieving the handover from the previous management in 2010/11. There were a number of significant hurdles to overcome; it was not always easy, but the team at the time stayed focused and the handover was achieved. The Guildhall was on its way to a better future.

Bringing back a feel of the old days when the Guildhall was busy and the place to go. This took 2 or 3 years but is credit to Andy Grays work and drive. Finally, people were looking forward to going to the Guildhall for music events, comedy nights and more – the buzz had returned!

Andy has created a team of people, all of whom are focused on providing an excellent service, whether it is for entertainments, conferences, community activities or other events. A lot of the personalities have changed over the years, but the ethos remains a positive one.

Chris: Anything that sees the building busy and vibrant is a highlight. To have gone from hosting effectively a series of performances in the main auditorium and the occasional dinner, to organising something like Portsmouth Comic Con is remarkable.

I think also the Trust has put the Guildhall ‘back on the map’ with promoters leading to a better and more varied programme for a wider range of customers.


What do you think is the biggest achievement of the Trust to date?

Simon: Keeping going during the Covid crisis! It cannot have been easy; and journey towards the light is only partially complete. Well done to all of the team who have made that possible.

Chris: This must be that we have diversified the use of the building and made it accessible to many more groups of people. Education, community use, conferences, smaller performances, as we now have in The Studio, were almost non‐existent when the Trust was formed.


What has been the toughest part of being at the Trust?

Chris: Without doubt the recent pandemic. Seeing the building empty for such a long time has been terrible; having to let good people go when they have invested their time in growing the organisation has been very difficult to see.

Simon: Now living 210 miles/333 km from Portsmouth! I moved away from the city to France in December 2013 and since then I have not attended as many meetings I would like. I have done my best to support, especially colleagues working in the finance functions (as Head of Audit & Finance Committee) despite the distance.

What would you like to see more at the Trust?

Simon: We do need a more diverse membership amongst the Trustees. I know that the leadership team sees this as a priority, and it will be good to see some further fresh faces join during the coming year.

Chris: As Chair of the Renaissance Team, it’s easy to say investment in the building, but this will be even harder for a few years. Perhaps closer working with the Council and venues to try to improve the accessibility and diversity of what’s on offer in the city.

What does the next 10 years hold for the Trust?

Chris: Recovery from the pandemic will be a priority over the next few years, then we need to continue to develop the organisation as a benchmark for delivering community engagement, education and high‐quality performances. Improvements to the building itself to support financial independence will be key to this development.

Simon: A series of continual challenges for sure. The Trust needs to find the resources, working with key partners, to undertake further and significant renovation of the building. This also will not be easy but there is immense pride in the building and a belief amongst the management team in what needs to be done. I hope that the strategy of forming closer partnerships will eventually bear fruit.

The city has potentially an excellent cultural offer, however this can only be realised working together. Perhaps a cliché, but true in my view!

The Guildhall Trust thanks Simon and Chris for their dedicated service over the last 10 years and the support, knowledge and expertise they have brought to the organisation!

If you are interested in finding out more about becoming a Trustee for The Guildhall Trust, please get in touch with our CEO Andy Grays: andy.grays@portsmouthguildhall.org.uk

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