A BOROUGH'S involvement in a government social cohesion programme has had an unexpected benefit during the coronavirus pandemic, an academic study has found.

Blackburn with Darwen is one of five pilot projects for the Integrated Communities Strategy introduced by ministers in March 2018.

The council used part of its £343,133 to pay for its 'Our Community, Our Future' programme.

Now University of Kent researchers have found borough residents have developed stronger relationships with others during the coronavirus pandemic.

Their national study ‘Beyond Us and Them’ shows areas that have invested in social integration and cohesion, including Blackburn with Darwen, are doing better in terms of relationships between people from different communities during Covd-19.

Rickie West - a 64 year old originally from Montserrat in the Caribbean who runs the 'Grow Your Wellbeing' community gardening project in Bank Top - said: "Through the project, I wanted to involve people who are vulnerable and need support to find a positive outlet. Gardening brings so many benefits. Spending time outdoors in nature and bringing life to something is so good for our mental health.

“Already we’ve seen a real difference in people’s confidence. Some participants are moving out of hostels and going for job interviews."

Professor Dominic Abrams from the University of Kent team said: “Following the government’s investment in social cohesion in particular local authorities we now observe their residents are more likely to volunteer, feel more optimistic and report better relationships with family and neighbours. These communities appear better set up to weather the storm of Covid-19."

Cllr Mohammed Khan, leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: “I am incredibly proud of the community spirit that we have in abundance. There is a genuine culture of kindness and that stands us in good stead to address the challenges of the next few months head on."