MORE than £725,000 is to be invested in Blackburn town centre to support inventors, artists and budding entrepreneurs.

The former Bentley's pub in Exchange Street is to be transformed into the county's first 'Fab Lab' by the autumn.


It aims to provide cheap, fully-equipped space for creative people to turn to turn their ideas into products, profits and jobs.

The project has just been handed £451,000 from the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership and £275,000 from the Arts Council England.

Blackburn with Darwen Council's Executive Board was told last night the cash would be used to completely refurbish the building before cutting edge equipment is brought in.

Dr Eddie Kirkby, leader of the project, said it will become an 'iconic business hub' bringing in young people from all over the county.

He said: "The centre will be aimed at getting more people into advanced manufacturing and onto artistic paths.

"They can come and improve their skills or even start up their own business.

"I do not see manufacturing and art as separate entities.

"I want to be able to combine them and make people pro-active in both fields and I hope this will be a place where they can do that.

"We are engaging with places such as UCLan in Preston and Blackburn College and I hope that we can keep regenerating the centre of Blackburn.

"I'm very excited about the funding which means we can now start working on the building."

Dr Kirkby is the charity operations manager at the Manchester-based Manufacturing Institute that introduced Fab Labs to Britain from the USA.

Along with plans to redevelop the Cotton Exchange into an entertainment or dining venue and start a micropub on King William Street, the Making Rooms Fab Lab will strengthen the council's £3million bid for National Lottery cash.

The council hopes to transform 150 properties in the Northgate conservation area into a ‘Restaurant Quarter.’ The project's facilities such as 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines and art studios will be available to the public at little or no cost.

Cllr Phil Riley, the borough's regeneration boss, welcomed the announcement adding it was a key part of the council's regeneration plans.

He said: “This is really good news and it shows how serious we are in redeveloping this part of the town centre.

“This project will enable the borough’s young people, of which there are many, to come and develop the skills they need in the modern world and to get a job.

“It will do no harm to our £3million National Lottery Townscape Heritage Initiative bid for the adjoining Northgate area which is due to a decision in June."

Cllr Andy Kay, the borough's finance boss, said: "It will be superb for people all over the county to come to Blackburn and make it thrive."

Mike Damms, the chief executive of East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: "I am very pleased with the investment which will be brilliant for young people to be able to try out new projects."

Tony Duckworth, President of Blackburn and District Chamber of Trade, said: "That building has been poorly utilised for some years now and it will be fantastic to have a new business that will bring people to that area of town.

"I think if they can work with Blackburn College and their aspirations as well we could have some extremely successful young people coming out of Blackburn."