A HOST of key signings have been announced for East Lancashire's most prestigious business awards ceremony.

Blackburn with Darwen Council and Blackburn College have confirmed they will be the headline sponsors for the Blackburn with Darwen Business Awards, promoted by networking group Hive.

Construction specialists Barnfield, currently building the new Reel cinema in Blackburn town centre, will be backing the drinks reception for the awards, at King George's Hall on June 27.

And the Lancashire Telegraph can be announced as the media partner for the awards, now in their fifth year.

Ian Brown, chairman of the Hive Ambassadors Network, said: "We’re absolutely delighted to welcome on board these three sponsors.

"The support of these three organisations is critical in helping us implement the awards and really drive awareness of the Blackburn with Darwen area as an incredible place to do business.

"It looks set to be an incredible event this year, with some great businesses already entering.

"The deadline for entries is March 29 so for any businesses that have benefited from or have benefited the HIVE (Blackburn with Darwen) region, there is still time to get your entry in."

Entries can be submitted online at www.awards.business-hive.co.uk/entry-form

While entry is free for Hive members, it is £25 for non-members, who can enter on an early bird rate.

Judges will then draw up a shortlist, with the candidates being announced in the Telegraph on April 26, before the final selections are made.

Award categories have mushroomed from 17 to 23, for 2019, with more recognition for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Separate prizes are on offer for micro firms, of up to 10 full-time employees, to small (11-25 workers), medium (26 to 50 staff) and large (51-plus workforces).

When there were just two such categories a year ago, Stones Young was chosen in the small business category and Curtis Law Solicitors triumphed for larger outfits.

Across the board, businesses will be scored on increased sales, customer service performance and their ongoing commitment to development and training.

In another new development for this year, an environmental award is up for grabs, as is a particular category celebrating retail business and catering and hospitality exemplars.

Several sections focus on individual endeavour, which resulted in some notable wins for the borough's unsung heroes in 2018.

Successors are now being sought for the likes of Melanie Thomas, of Blackburn Youth Zone, who was named last year's Hive Rising Star, the award for go-getters aged under 30.

Another keenly-contested corner is expected to be the Arte et Labore Award, secured 12 months ago byStar Tissue UK managing director Khalid Saifullah, which singles out those with a long-term commitment to the borough, reflecting Blackburn with Darwen's Latin motto.

An Entrepreneur of the Year title has also been devised, which can be nominated on your own behalf or by a third party.

The chairman's award, which was presented to the Blackburn BID team last time around, is the only one not open to nominations.

One of the success stories of 2018 Flavour Warehouse, which trades as Vampire Vape, out of headquarters in Global Way.

Judges picked out the expanding vaping company in both the growth and manufacturing, innovation and technology excellence award sections.