Skiddle founder brings Hacienda and Pete Tong to Lancaster Castle and Ashton Memorial

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The man responsible for bringing some of the world’s most renowned club DJs to Lancaster has a new party offering for the city.

Richard Dyer, who has built one of the UK’s largest and most successful event ticketing websites out of a college project, is bringing the sounds of Manchester’s famous Hacienda to Williamson Park in May, two years after the first A-Wing weekend at Lancaster Castle’s former prison.

Born in Lancaster and schooled in Garstang, Richard, 33, has had a varied employment history. He has worked for the BBC, owned a restaurant, worked with young people in activity centres.

He is also founder and ticketing director for his Longridge based website business Skiddle.com.

On New Year’s Eve 2015, the site was the number one Google result in the world as people made last minute searches for parties and events.

Richard says Lancaster Castle is now on the radar for some of the world’s biggest acts, due to its unique offering and historic status and the chance for DJs to add a castle and prison to their performance repertoire.

Manchester Camerata

Manchester Camerata

Richard admits the idea of “putting a rave on” within a castle owned by the reigning monarch hasn’t always sat well with people, but that he has jumped through as many hoops as necessary to reassure the Duchy of Lancaster, and local residents, that he is running a tight ship.

Richard has lived in Lancaster, Garstang, Kirkham and Carlisle, mainly due to the nature of his dad’s work in insurance, and it was in Carlisle that the first seeds of business were planted. He now resides in Catterall with his wife and two children, aged four and 10 months.

I met Richard at The Sun Inn in Lancaster, where many of the DJs performing at A-Wing spend the remainder of the night in Lancaster following their late night sets at the castle.

He confides: “I didn’t get on with school, or school didn’t get on with me, so, like you do, I went to Carlisle Art College to study media.

Hacienda Classical comes to the Ashton Memorial

Hacienda Classical comes to the Ashton Memorial

“There was a journalism course with a project that brought people together from the art and media groups for a week and the task was to create a newspaper.

“We decided to create a website instead, and with a fellow called Chris Musson, we created a news/entertainment website for Carlisle called Student Weekly, selling a bit 
of advertising to the local cinema.

“I then met my colleague Ben Sebborn (Skiddle.com’s techincal director), who was studying Information Systems at UCLAN.

“We took the scraps of Student Weekly and created the first what’s on guide that people could update themselves. It’s still working today.

“Ben had this word Skiddle, and after trying to think of something else for ages we fell back on it. Because people were able to submit information but find it easily, we were able to generate a lot of content from that.”

Skiddle.com now has two million unique users per month, covering events in the UK and Europe including Ibiza and a growing clubbing market in Croatia.

The company employs 30 people and sees growth of around 40 per cent a year.

It has just launched a new event app, Weekends Matter, that will make it easier to discover more events.

Integrated with Uber, the app allows users to book tickets and get to the venue quickly in just a few clicks. The app also provides personalised event recommendations that alert users to club nights, gigs, comedy festivals and more nearby.

Richard remembers the first time he went into Lancaster Castle after the prison closed in 2012.

“My grandparents lived in Lancaster and Morecambe I was very much aware of the castle as a child, I remember running around it on the grass outside but the gates being shut.

“When it opened we stood in the courtyard and looked around and were taken into the Wing, and I just thought we need to do a party in here and I will jump through as many hoops as possible to make it happen!’

“The first one was terrifying.

“We’ve done a lot of events over the years, but we knew that this was the only prison you can party in.

“The first weekend in May 2014 we had Rob da Bank, James Zabiela and Derrick Carter.

“By the time the door opened and people came in it was chaos.

“When you add people to your best made plans, things never turn out the way you envisage.

“We had to put one-way systems in place, and for whatever reason, people wanted to be at eye level with the DJ, when we’d planned on people being on the level below.

“For the Saturday night, we noticed people didn’t want to be next to the emergency exit signs, so we changed the lights to LED and it worked a treat and people spread out a bit.

“We had only sold 150 tickets for the Sunday night, Derrick Carter, and by chance we put out a video that was a few seconds long of James Zabiela and within 25 minutes we’d completely sold out for the Sunday. It was magical. If it had ended there we would have been happy. But we decided to carry on.”

Since then Pete Tong, Mark Knight, High Contrast, Dimitri From Paris and Carl Craig have graced the decks, and there is continued interest from far and wide, unfortunately not yet for publication.

Richard said he owed a lot to the Duchy’s chief finance officer Chris Adcock who has supported the events, and who he says appreciates the castle being seen and experienced by a new generation of people.

Richard said: “Chris must have checked us out online and looked at Companies House.

“He made it happen for us and recognised what goes into something like this, and I think he understood that we would do whatever it took to make it run smoothly.

“People have suggested that we’ve made it possible for Lancaster to have a scene again.

“People have been very surprised by the talent we’ve brought in, but the most interesting thing about the local crowd is that they think they shouldn’t have to pay the ticket price!

“A lot goes in to these events in terms of investment and the ticket price reflects that.”

Due to ongoing building work within the castle, Richard’s lastest project has moved to the city’s other iconic building, The Ashton Memorial.

“Graeme Park and Mike Pickering, who are behind the Hacienda Classical Show with Manchester Camerata, wanted to do it in interesting places.

“We like working here in Lancaster, we know it, and I’ve got a lot of attachment here over the years.

“I took my colleague Chris Glaba up to the park after I’d shown it to him from the motorway.

“We got there and he was stunned, asking why I’d never shown it to him before.

“We thought it could work, so we took a photo, sent it to the agent, and 30 seconds later they came back with a ‘yes’.

“The weekend in May is the only time someone isn’t getting married in the Ashton Memorial!

“So we thought, May the 8th it is!”

The event is expected to attract 3,000 people, with Manchester Camerata performing Hacienda classics alongside the DJs, at the bottom of the Ashton Memorial.

Tickets are available from www.awinglancaster.co.uk.