Wayne Hemingway: Why I'm getting involved in Blackburn is Open
PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 August 2014
In his first exclusive new column style guru Wayne Hemingway explains how and why he is giving something back to Blackburn
I owe a lot to Blackburn. I got a council-funded place at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and the council also help fund my uni education. Just as importantly, the town also gave me the cultural grounding that set me up for a career in the creative industries. From the day my mum took me to see The Sweet at King George’s Hall when I was 11 years old, I was off!
My first concert on my own, weeks later, was Slade and I also saw the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Blondie and David Bowie in all his splendour, with the make-up and the changes of outfit. The day after the Bowie gig at King George’s Hall he was banned from Blackburn for wearing little apart from a sumo wrestler’s nappy type thing. I thought ‘Great! That’s how it should be done; I want to be banned from Blackburn as well!’ I bought the Aladdin Sane album, got a feather cut, stopped short of buying a giant nappy, but bought a big pair of yellow wide legged Bowie trousers – and that was when I was introduced to the most stimulating and enjoyable things in my life: fashion, music, youth culture, dancing and socialising. It allowed me to enjoy a career in the creative industries that are vital to Britain’s economy and which we lead the world in.
There were decent pubs and cafes aplenty, record shops which fed my nascent addiction to seven inch slabs of punk and northern soul vinyl, and the humour at Ewood Park helped develop my Lancashire wit while East Lancashire Cricket Club helped nurture my love for the greatest of sports.
Blackburn was a great place to grow up and continued to help my first business Red or Dead, hosting our first shop and manufacturing unit.
The town has suffered in the past couple of decades to the point where for many the idea of a night out there is laughable. Blackburn with Darwen has a population of almost 150,000 but I don’t know of a single town centre hotel or restaurant of note that is open in the evening or a town centre cinema.
You can be sure there are young people who could be the new Michael Winterbottom (the world-renowned film director who was in my class at school), Christine Cort (another friend and nightclubbing contemporary of mine who now runs the Manchester International Festival) but they won’t have the cultural opportunities close to home that we had.
Blackburn is Open is an initiative I am involved with and it aims to change that. The scheme is looking for industrious and ambitious craftspeople, makers and artists to answer the call and be part of a radical new initiative for the town centre. The scheme is waging a war on empty shops, offices and spaces and rather than just thinking about replacing lost retail with retail the scheme is looking to fill premises with entrepreneurs and ideas that revolve around ‘making’.
They are offered discounted premises with support and mentoring to help them build successful and sustainable enterprises as part of a new ‘industrious’ community in the heart of Blackburn. In addition, discounted business rates are being offered to already established creative businesses to encourage them to relocate to the town centre.
So far we have helped a number of young businesses to “have a go” and the signs are very encouraging. There are some great trades and crafts starting to become part of the project and there are signs of a bit of evening life coming back into town with First Thursdays and Friday Night Live
The kind of trades and crafts BiO is attracting were once in the centre of any town and that’s where they should be again to maintain vibrant and living town centres. Blackburn is a town of ‘making’ and manufacturing. With around 25 per cent of jobs in the manufacturing sector, that’s over twice the national average and a fact that can really help the town prosper as ‘Made in Britain’ continues to grow. To keep this ‘making’ tradition in full view of the citizens of Blackburn as they go about their daily business has to be a positive thing and can inspire a new generation.
The project is being brought together under a new manifesto for Blackburn called Arte et Labore and this moniker might be the marketing glue that helps Blackburn is Open stick. It had been staring me in my face – the Latin phrase, which means ‘through skill and hard work’, appears on the borough’s crest and it is the motto of Blackburn Rovers as well as being on my school blazer. It refers to the area’s proud industrial heritage.
The BiO manifesto pledges to build on this historic legacy by boosting opportunities for people to develop their skills, creating conditions for small businesses especially ‘makers’ and those in the creative industries, and increasing employment choices particularly for young people.
There are now plans for a FabLab, a creative hub for makers and even for a Festival Of Making.
Blackburn is successful as a manufacturing town and we may just have found how to tap into its DNA to get the town centre mojo working.