DESPITE testing times, Blackburn is bucking the trend as a town that is forging ahead to modernise and improve.

While investment has dried up in many other towns, Blackburn is undergoing a major transformation thanks to around £350m worth of investments by the council and partners over recent years in shopping, leisure, office accommodation, high quality housing and improved road links.

Like many places weathering the recession and cuts to government funding, the borough has its fair share of challenges but, true to its motto ‘Arte et Labore’ (by skill and hard work), it has generated its fair share of opportunities.

The area is renowned for its industrial heritage and retains a strong manufacturing base today. Around one-in-five jobs are in manufacturing – twice as many as the national average – with local firms like Accrol Papers, WEC Group, Blackburn Chemicals and Crown Paints among the North West’s fastest growing manufacturers.

The area is a pivotal player in the establishment of a Northern Powerhouse - an attempt to corral the North’s population of 15 million into a collective force that could begin to rival that of London and the South East.

With this in mind, the council and key partners including the cathedral and Maple Grove Developments have pulled together a complex and ‘once in a lifetime’ £30m package of funding to develop an exciting Cathedral Quarter opposite Blackburn’s railway station. Work to build an impressive hotel, office, leisure and retail space, clergy accommodation for the cathedral and new public realm space will complete this autumn.

Over the next decade, almost 10,000 new homes will be built in the borough, offering a mix of affordable and luxury housing to encourage more people to live and work here.

Blackburn Central Library has recently been brought back to its former glory with cladding removed to reveal its original 1920s façade on the historic building. Close by, King William Street and Town Hall Street have become home to vibrant pop up shops and cultural events thanks to Blackburn is Open - a creative regeneration scheme backed by the council and Arts Council England, working alongside internationally renowned designer Wayne Hemingway.

Early next year, Blackburn’s Making Rooms project, jointly funded by the council, Arts Council and Lancashire Economic Partnership, will open in the former Bentley’s bank building.

One of the only facilities of its kind in the country, it will host a ‘fab lab’ with the latest 3D printing equipment and CNC machinery, where innovators and entrepreneurs can test their product ideas.

The Victoria Street centre will also host a technology hub for new businesses and feature studios, workshops and exhibition spaces for artists and craftspeople.

The council’s executive member for regeneration, Cllr Phil Riley, said: “We’ve been saying for a long time that Blackburn is open for business and now people can see what that means.

“The transformation in the Cathedral Quarter will soon be followed by the start of the regeneration of the old market site on Ainsworth Street and we’ve got the planned renovation of the buildings opposite King George’s Hall.

“The Making Rooms project will soon offer a very special environment for potential inventors to work up new ideas and there’s plenty more on the way. These are exciting times for the town – feel free to join in!”