Blackburn's regeneration nears its completion

PUBLISHED: 16:53 11 April 2011 | UPDATED: 02:07 10 February 2013

Blackburn's regeneration nears its completion

Blackburn's regeneration nears its completion

The millions being spent on regenerating this famous old town are about to come to fruition. Amanda Griffiths reports Photography by Kirsty Thompson

The face of Blackburn is about to change. This year will see the completion of three major projects aimed at transforming the town and raising its profile higher than ever.

The first is the opening of the new 8 million market which is expected to start trading at the end of May. People like Dave Harling, the councillor overseeing regeneration, are confident it will prove to be a major new attraction.

The current market hall is 50 years old and is practically falling down, he says. The large number of specialist outlets in the new market will make it appealing to people keen to support locally-sourced food.

Some businesses going from three day trading to six are understandably nervous, but when it opens we fully expect the market to be a success. Weve already had more people sign up for stalls than we expected at this stage.

Dave points out that there has already been 66 million invested in the shopping centre. Since that opened I believe the number of people coming in has exceeded expectations. Were confident that footfall will increase further with the opening of the market, he says.

Loraine Jones, general manager of The Mall agrees. Exciting times
are ahead for The Mall with the completion of the development and the market opening.

We have had fantastic feedback from members of the public and our retailers alike, which has translated to footfall increasing month on month.

Samantha Butcher, marketing manager, at the Mall accepts image is a problem. We have done some research and know that people do still have an out-dated view of Blackburn, she says Were trying to get the message out that it has improved a great deal.

The new Mall has brought in top High Street names and this has driven its success. Previously, shoppers would have gone to Preston or Manchester but now people are coming here.

Once the market opens on the lower level we will be able to offer a well rounded experience for the shopper from High Street names to specialist market stalls.

But its not just the shopping experience that is changing the face of Blackburn town centre. A new community health centre is due to open in November; building on the college campus is well underway and a decision on plans to complete the orbital link road is imminent.

Brian Bailey, the councils director of regeneration, says: Ive been here ten years and even in that time weve had three town centre plans. But thats the nature of regeneration. You cant stand still - you have to adapt.

There must have been about half a billion pounds worth of development here in the last ten to 15 years. The regeneration plans are really important to increase confidence in Blackburn, especially when you consider we have Manchester and Preston in such proximity. Regeneration is not just about buildings but about bringing and keeping people in the town.

Blackburn College is playing a huge part in this. Were a 46 million college, that allows us to take some innovative approaches to help support the community, says Yana Williams, vice principal. Its about more than just investing in the buildings, because were an outstanding college we are able to work closely with employers to bring them the skills they need.

In terms of regeneration it means employers see us as a place to recruit staff. We ask them to focus on what they want from a workforce in five or ten years time.

Regeneration is also about teaching people respect for their communities. We live in a very diverse part of the country and its important to teach students to socialise and interact with one another as well as respect their environment.

Within its campus the college has a University Centre, affiliated to Lancaster University, where most of the degrees are validated.

We have more than 3,000 university students here who will regenerate the town, through education and employment, says Yana.

Future regeneration plans in the town centre include the aptly named Cathedral Quarter, which would see the bus station relocated (possibly to the site of the old market) with offices and perhaps even a hotel built on what is known as the Boulevard, between Blackburns Cathedral and railway station as well as a Youth Zone which is currently under construction and will give young people a focal point.

Alongside the councils redevelopment plans, Cathedral staff are themselves looking to ring the changes, with an appeal launched at the end of last year.

Louise Hicks, the co-ordinator, says: Its important to note that Blackburn Cathedral is Lancashires Anglican Cathedral. This appeal is not about building a new tower - there are several strands.

The first looks at the fabric of the building itself, which includes rewiring, refurbishing the crypt and the Jesus chapel as well as replacing the old seats. A new lighting system will add to the atmosphere of worship and concerts here, highlighting some areas while darkening others - its all very clever!

Its all aimed at making sure the building is used much more by Blackburn people.

The appeal has made a good start with more than 600,000 promised, but they are still keen to hear from donors.

The community and the musical programme within the cathedral are the other focuses of the appeal and the elements which are hoped to benefit not just local people but the whole community.

The Very Rev Christopher Armstrong, dean of Blackburn, adds: Twenty seven per cent of the population here are from Asian heritage and both faiths have a level of fear to them.

But by opening up a dialogue and talking about things in a neutral setting like the cathedral we can talk about things and ask questions in a more rational manner.

We already do a lot of outreach work in the community with asylum seekers and support a drug and rehabilitation centre and its hoped the appeal will enable us to carry on doing this work.

Another big area of relevance for us is our music outreach scheme. The last government realised children werent being taught to sing at schools and offered certain cathedrals grants to take music into junior schools.

Weve been doing this for the last three years; weve seen 800
children from 30 schools, many of which were outside Blackburn. That funding has dropped off now but we hope the appeal will allow us to continue this work.

Blackburn people hugely value the cathedral - some people say there are two cathedrals in Blackburn, this and one at Ewood Park. But we serve the
whole community.

How do I get there? Blackburn is north of the West Pennine Moors on the southern edge of the Ribble Valley. It is nine miles east of Preston and eight miles from Manchester. Take junction five of the M65 or follow the A666.

Where can I park? There are pay and display car parks in the town centre including one at the newly redeveloped Mall shopping centre.

What should I do there?
Blackburns shopping experience has been dramatically improved with the 66 million Mall redevelopment; the new market with specialist food stalls will add to the experience.

Are there places I can eat and drink? Plenty, from tea shops and cafes, coffee shops in the Mall or restaurants in and around the town centre.

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