MORE than 200 people were made redundant at Crown Wallcoverings, formerly Potters of Darwen, when it closed last year.

Around 300 jobs were axed at Coloroll wallpaper manufacturer when its Nelson factory closed its doors to business five years ago

Yet East Lancashire has always been well-known internationally because of the work of Potters of Darwen.

The calico printing firm, which was based in Belgrave Mill, invented the first machine to print wallpaper which was patented in 1839 and led to the increase in wallpaper manufacturing across East Lancashire.

Bosses blamed the demise of these once successful businesses on the competition from abroad and the need to centralise the business on other, bigger sites.

But despite some companies suffering under the competition, other businesses in the wallpaper industry have battled on -- overcoming problems and managing to stave off closure and limit losses.

One of those was Zen Wallcoverings, in Britannia Mill, Cross Street, Darwen, which faced financial difficulties last year after a series of setbacks including flooding halting production.

The company was acquired by The Heritage Print Company, in October, securing the future of its 52 staff and getting the business back on track under the trading name Zen Interiors.

And financial director John Clarke believes the tradition of good wallpaper manufacturing in East Lancashire can continue.

He said: "I think East Lancashire's reputation within the industry is still as high as ever because, although there are less companies, there are still good products coming out of this area."

But despite it being business as normal for Zen Interiors, Mr Clarke said there was still more needed to be done to boost the popularity of wallpaper, particularly among the younger generation.

He said: "The wallpaper industry is a fashion industry which tends to run in cycles but it has been down for a while now.

"One of the things we all tend to blame is the TV makeover programmes, because they make it look so much easier to choose paint rather than wallpaper.

"As wallpaper manufacturers we have to be innovative in the designs we produce. We are currently bringing out a new product called GR8 Walls to try and attract the younger people who tend to think it's not worth putting wallpaper up.

"The price of wallpaper has not changed much in the last ten to 15 years so it is a relatively cheap product.

"The other problem we have to contend with is that products are being brought in from abroad yet we can't export that much because of the rate of the pound."

Andrew Graham, chief executive of Graham and Brown, which has sites in Blackburn and Padiham, agreed that the way forward within the industry was to grab the attention of the younger people.

He said that wallpaper was already back in fashion and East Lancashire was firmly on the manufacturing world map.

Mr Graham, whose grandfather jointly set up the company in 1946, said: "We are very positive about the future of the wallpaper industry as we believe wallpaper is back!

"It has never been more popular than it currently is. If you open any home magazine at the moment you will see lots of features on wallpaper.

"About five years ago paint was in its ascendancy. TV programmes like Changing Rooms were very popular and the basis of home decorating was about quick change and colour. The wallpaper industry needed to react and re-promote itself, which is what Graham and Brown did.

"Wallpaper has always been a very traditional industry, but now we are a very modern business with the latest technology and a young enthusiastic team.

We signed Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen and we have started putting wallpaper into magazines as inserts.

"We have proved that you can change any market if you have the right attitude. We are also working with our retail customers to try to improve their in-store environment."

Graham and Brown employs 50 people at its site at Shuttleworth Mead, Padiham, and 350 people across the two Blackburn sites, in Harwood Street and Stanley Street.

But bosses at Church-based Emerson and Renwick, which manufactures production machinery for the wallpaper and automotive industries, have downsized the wallpaper side of their business because of their concerns over the downturn in the industry.

Managing director Colin Hargreaves said: "Our view on the industry is probably quite different to the wallpaper manufacturers. From our prospective, we have moved significantly away from the wallpaper industry. Wallpaper machinery was about 90 per cent of our business 14 years ago, now it is less than 30 per cent.

"I think margins have been eroded and they have got stiff competition from abroad.

"The minimalistic look also tends not to help because it doesn't include wallpaper, although it is a fashion thing so its popularity could return at any time.

"And German manufacturers are thriving, mainly exporting to Russia. Around 90 per cent of our business is export and we currently have a large wallpaper machine waiting to go to Russia, where the market is very buoyant.

We have diversified into the automotive industry as it's always dangerous to have all your eggs in one basket, but the diversification was hastened because of the fall in the wallpaper industry."

Mike Damms, chief executive of the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: "Traditionally East Lancashire has led the world with its design, innovation, the quality of its manufacturing and prices of its wallcoverings.

They seem to be going through a period where there is a competition on price, partly because of changes in fashion.

"But it's in everyone's interest to see the industry both survive and thrive and stay vibrant in East Lancashire.

"The companies we have got are great companies and we are looking to hold on to the industry we have.

"We know a number of companies have tried to maintain an East Lancashire presence when they could have been tempted abroad so we can only applaud them."