A BOLD new initiative has been launched to turn Blackburn and Darwen into a ‘world class’ business area.

At an inspirational event held yesterday at Blackburn Youth Zone a new group, calling itself HIVE, was officially set up by some of the district’s most influential figures and companies.

The ambitious goal of HIVE is to take the borough to a new level as a commercial force. One of the key objectives will be to forge a superb commercial network to drive prosperity.

The group’s chairman Khalid Saifullah described the launch as a new dawn for our towns and said HIVE would “dream the impossible.”

And member Andrew Graham, the chief executive of Blackburn wallpaper giant Graham and Brown, said the group could help to increase the prosperity of the area through local firms working together.

More than 120 business leaders were invited to yesterday’s launch where they were encouraged to join the ‘HIVE network’ and urged to shape its direction.

HIVE has been set up under the umbrella of the Blackburn with Darwen local strategic partnership.

Presentations were given by Mr Saifullah, Mr Graham and Brian Davidson, the non-executive chairman of Darwen’s Crown Paints.

The key aims of HIVE are:

• promote business and increase business networking

• tackle unemployment and promote apprenticeships

• increase local procurement

Mr Saifullah said: “This event has shown there is a real willingness to participate and give to the local area. We have started a movement. Something that can achieve great things.

“As residents and business people, we have to take some responsibility and ownership of the towns — collectively we can improve the economic wellbeing of the borough.

“We have to raise the aspirations of the people, promote our local talent, highlight our world class businesses and create a business-friendly image of the town.”

He said the fact that so many successful business leaders are involved makes a major difference.

Mr Saifullah said: “The private sector must drive this project. These are people who are used to getting things done.

“This is a no-holds-barred scheme and a call to action for our firms.

“We will dream the impossible because we want Blackburn and Darwen to lead the way. I am incredibly excited about what we can achieve.

“HIVE can be a magnet for the really great things to happen in the area going forward.”

The launch of HIVE was attended by bosses of some of Lancashire’s biggest firms.

Mr Saifullah, who runs Blackburn’s Star Tissues in Mill Hill, won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise last year for his role as strategic partnership manager at Business Link North West.

He said: “Blackburn is a great place to live and to do business. HIVE will aim to get local firms working together to tackle unemployment, promote business growth and help make procurement easily available.

“This is making sure that we not only work as businessmen but as ambassadors for Blackburn.

He said an important part of HIVE’s role is to showcase the firms working in the borough to ensure that businesses are aware of potential customers and clients.

Among the businesses that have signed up as founder members of HIVE is wallpaper giant Graham and Brown.

Mr Graham, who spearheaded the rise of Graham and Brown in recent years and led the Blackburn Youth Zone project, said: “The area is a great place to do business. It is entrepreneurial, with great local pride and desire to be successful.

”We are an international company, but at the end of every advertisement we put Blackburn because we’re proud of being from this town. Always be true to yourself.

“When you look at the challenge we faced, Blackburn with Darwen’s challenge is relatively easy because of the quality of businesses here.

“A lot of people are scared of dreaming big, but if you dream big and only get 90 per cent of what you wanted, then that’s better than dreaming small.”

The Lancashire Telegraph is also a founding partner of HIVE. Editor Kevin Young said: “HIVE is a business group where we can generate connections, ideas and investment.

“So much can be achieved by working together. This initiative has the potential to put business growth in the fast lane.

“And that in turn can create jobs in our towns and help everyone who lives and works in the borough.”

The group aims to make the most of East Lancashire’s excellent motorway links, as well as its proximity to major business centres including Manchester and West Yorkshire.

Mike Damms, chief executive East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Business is sexy and back in fashion.

“The doors have opened up and businesses have got responsibilities, and it’s a case of how do you want to use those responsibilities.”

Mr Davidson, from Crown Paints, gave a presentation about how he has turned around the fortunes of the company since it went independent from Akzo Nobel.

He said: “The attitude from the workers at Crown Paints is phenomenal and I’ve seen that in a lot of places around here. There isn’t that moaning culture that you see in other parts of the country.”

After the speeches the guests were asked for their ‘big ideas’ for the future of Blackburn and Darwen and what they wanted HIVE to achieve.

After the event the unanimous verdict of the business leaders who attended was that HIVE could be a major catalyst for change in the coming months and years.

VIDEO: The official launch of the HIVE project

Kam Kothia, EbusinessUK

“HIVE can have a great impact. It can work at two levels, setting aspirations and at an operational level it can really help with local trade.”

Mark Sears, Heritage Envelopes

“We have so many businesses in this area but no proper network. We don’t know about the companies that we have in the area.”

Inspector Abid Khan

“The key thing is to keep this simple and deliverable. From a public service perspective, it’s important to remove barriers between organisations.”

Martin King, Capita Symonds    

“Organisations need to see what can be shared. Often people are busy in their own worlds and don’t know what is going on elsewhere.”

Michael Hill, Optima Control Solutions

“It’s not all about getting more business but helping make a difference. There are a lot of people here who have a lot of influence, and if we can pool that, we have the power to really change things.”

Mark Lomas, Lomas Office Furniture & Stationery Ltd

“I think it will be fantastic if people embrace this and work together for the good of the town.”

Faisal Akbar, H&S Interiors

“I am very positive about this. What we need to do now is to work together to make this happen. I want a directory  for the local business community.”

Sophie Hill, Spring Personnel

“I think anything that can help develop youth in the area is a good thing. The more we can do, the better.”

Peter Street, The Cardboard Box Company

“I think the idea is outstanding. I’d like to see something like UMIST in Manchester, a college that is training up people ready for industry.”