AN historic building which has stood dormant and decrepit for more than a decade is now slowly being brought back to life. Lancashire Telegraph reporter Neil Athey speaks to the Exchange's new manager, Caer Butler, about how the once empty structure will be at the centre of Blackburn's arts, culture and business.

BUILT at the height of the cotton trade, The Exchange stood out in Blackburn’s skyline as one of the town’s biggest structures and represented prosperity during this busy industrial era.

Once a building which gave the town its beating heart, The Exchange lay barren and empty for 12 years after The Apollo cinema left the building in 2005.

However the hand of opportunity and hope was outstretched as the King William Street site was bought by Re:Source Blackburn in 2015 , which works with church groups and Christian networks, to turn the building’s fortunes around.

Since then a group of passionate trustees have worked hard to bring the building back into use and turn it into an attractive venue.

Caer Butler, the building’s new manager, said emergency repairs to the roof had been completed which has made the building safer and ready for more works to start.

She said: “The recent months have been non-stop and everyone has worked so hard.

“One of our big aims is to get the massive open space at the top of the building back open and available for the public.

“Before there was only space for 40 people, but now with the work going on we will be able to get 120 people up there.

“This is such a beautiful building and it has needed to be brought back into use for a very long time.

“The town needs it. Take a look around, there is nowhere else to hold a large-scale event in the town centre.

“People hold their weddings out of Blackburn, they go out to places like Whalley and Clitheroe. They should be able to do that in our town centre.”

With the decline of the cotton trade at the beginning of the 20th century, The Exchange lost its purpose.

By 1908 it had become a cinema, as The Exchange Picture Hall.

It later became The Majestic Cinema in 1924 and then The New Majestic in 1932.

The name changed yet again in 1954 to the Essoldo, and became The Classic in 1967.

In 1981, Unit 4 Cinemas had control of it, and then finally in 1992, it became The Apollo.

Notable entertainers who played at the Exchange were folk music group The New Christy Minstrels and magician Houdini.

Full restoration is set to see a cinema, bar and theatre space, with the MeeMaws cafe, owned by Janet and Rouhi Ismail, part of Re:Source, already open for business in the basement.

This runs as a separate business from the main site.

Mrs Butler said she was amazed about how much attention and feedback the building had received since the work begun.

She said: “We’ve had so many requests from community groups and the like to hold events here despite the work not being finished.

“We’ve had enquires about film festivals and theatre groups wanting to use the space, we’ve even had a wedding enquiry.

“We’ve had the Blackburn Music Society and the Action Factory Community Arts get in touch, we’ve had discussions about a festival of the humanities and we took part in the town’s Festival of Light.

“It’s crazy, people love the space how it looks now, I cannot wait for them to see it in all its glory.

“It’s a great insight into how much attention we are attracting.”

In 2015, Re:Source Blackburn secured initial funding from the Architectural Heritage Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council for surveys of the building and an options appraisal.

A donation of £500,000 also came from The Lancaster Foundation, which was behind the transformation of The Grand in Clitheroe.

Several grants and donations have been given to the project,which include £451,000 from the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership and £275,000 from Arts Council England.

Mrs Butler said the project was set to cost about £6million, with more than £100,000 already spent.

She said: “Within the next 12 months we want to properly secure the back of the building and then the more aesthetic works can take place.

“We want to be the best space in Blackburn for venues.

“We want it to be good for shows, weddings, social events and we want to work with restaurant chains to bring one into the building.

“Looking forward, we want to save this magnificent building from continued dereliction, and by working with the community and business partners the building will once again flourish.”