BLACKBURN Youth Zone has launched a new project aimed at securing support from local businesses.

The £6million state-of-the-art club celebrated its first birthday earlier this month but is always looking for new sponsors to help it provide dozens of activities every day.

And the ‘One Community Partner’ project is the hub’s bid to attract a £5,000 annual investment from 100 firms.

Hundreds of people attended yesterday’s launch, where they were given guided tours of the facilities including the rooftop artificial grass pitch, and treated to talks by chief executive Peter Little and chair of the club’s ‘mother charity’ OnSide, Bill Holroyd.

The centre relies on businesses for more than half of its £1million a year running costs and Mr Little hopes local firms will work with the council and the Youth Zone to ‘embed it into the infrastructure of the town’. “You need the local business community and local ownership to make this thing work in the long term,” he said.

“Secondly, the Youth Zone has become a catalyst for people to think positively. Not only are we helping young people on a daily basis, but all the business people who are meeting here this morning are having stories, conversations and networking in a really positive environment.”

Aeman Ali Afzal, 18, from Audley, was 12 when he was ‘picked off the street’ to become part of the development group at the centre.

He said: ““The reason I’m not in prison or dead is because of all the hard work and effort that Blackburn Youth Zone have put into empowering young people.”

The Youth Zone is open 365 days a year and entry to the state-of-the-art facilities costs 50p.

We were a dancing group doing free-running and climbing up the cathedral and they asked us what young people wanted. They were not condescending, they were genuine.

“I was young, immature and could not be bothered with school, but being part of the Youth Zone changed that. That’s not just me, that’s a lot of other people too.