As chief executive of a £100 million turnover company, Andrew Graham could be forgiven for only being interested in the finer things in life. But as Diane Cooke found out, the 43-year-old has a much more altruistic motivation to his life – helping lay the foundations to ensure young people in Blackburn have a brighter future.
ANDREW Graham is in philosophical mood. Having been born into privilege within one of East Lancashire’s most successful business families, his thoughts these days are focused on legacy.
Many rich businessmen would be happy to leave behind a property portfolio, trust funds for the kids, high performance cars and the odd yacht.
But the chief exec of £100 million turnover Graham and Brown wall decorations wants to bequeath something altogether more altruistic – a gift that will positively affect future generations in Blackburn.
Ironically, although our conversation is centred on his legacy, it is his passion for life and people that has led him to play a pivotal role in shaping the lives of future generations as chairman of the town’s Youth Zone. The company’s backing of such a project was never a decision, more a given.
Says Andrew: “We have worked in this town for 67 years. When the concept of Youth Zone was talked about it was inconceivable that we wouldn’t be part of it because it affects our employees and their families.”
That was 18 months ago, but it is Andrew’s fear that the town may feel that getting kids off the streets and into a secure environment, is all that’s required.
“We are only just starting, “ he asserts. “We can only affect change in the future of this town by empowering its young people and turning them into leaders to influence future generations.”
To that end the Youth Zone, in conjunction with the Lancashire Telegraph, has pledged to raise £60,000 to train 100 young leaders as ambassadors for change.
“Blackburn is the town with the second highest number of children in the country. We are also in the top 20 most deprived towns in Britain. It has social and integration issues. For economic development you need a lot of young people who want to aspire to do better and improve themselves and that is what we have in Blackburn.
“They don’t see themselves as deprived or unfortunate, they just have loads of energy and they don’t care where a young person is from or the colour of their skin. They are interested in winning and learning. With this opportunity they can reset the button for change and as they grow up they won’t have the prejudices of previous generations.
“Through the Youth Zone, young people have been taking part in competitions and winning. They are beginning to understand what that feels like and they are motivated. We have something quite special here. If we can hang on to it and invest in it for 10 years and get the community to understand how important it is, it is the catalyst for change.”
It’s fighting talk, but Andrew learned how to compete and win from the age of eight when he was sent as a border to Rossall School near Fleetwood.
“It was normal in a privileged background to attend these traditional public schools. They were pretty competitive. You had to have a strong sense of purpose. It taught you about yourself and how to mix with people.”
It is because of the privileges he has received in his life that Andrew wants to give something back to those less fortunate.
“Every year the Youth Zone has a dinner to which all businesses who have contributed are invited. It’s a way of saying thank you. The young people host the guests as they arrive. It’s inspiring to see these young people, who haven’t had the easiest upbringings, rise to the challenge.
“One young girl who had been in trouble with the police read out a poem she had written about turning a corner. She had put her troubles behind her and had recognised that she could now help others. It was incredibly powerful and moving.
“Until we change the attitude of the young people they will always feel lost and unsupported If they feel people are interested and willing to support them whilst taking responsibility for their own lives then we can change their mindset and they in turn can change the attitude of their peers.”
Andrew, who lives in Hurst Green with his wife Siobhan and their three daughters, is conscious that his children’s lives are a world away.
“It’s easier for my children to succeed because the whole infrastructure around them is positive, but thank goodness others who don’t have that have the Youth Zone.
“Imagine where we will be in 10 years’ time when 100 young people have gone through this leadership course that we are raising money for now. It will create an enormous legacy of leaders.
“As you get older you realise that you get most satisfaction from helping other people. It makes sense for every local business to get involved. If we make the town better with more positive and educated people everyone wins.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
ARRANGE AN EVENT: For a fundraising pack contact Laura Jones on 01254 29200.
TEXT A DONATION: Text BYZA01 followed by the amount to 70070
PHONE A DONATION: To the hotline 01254 202001
SEND A DONATION: To Freepost RTGT-RRAA-ZSTU, Blackburn Youth Zone, Blackburn BB1 1EP