THE weather may have been poor, but last Friday in Blackburn was for me really uplifting.

At lunchtime I went to Pleckgate School to be quizzed for an hour by students in years 10 and 11 from four schools in Blackburn, and a panel from St Helens, connected by video link.

This was part of a week-long "Excellence in Cities" Democracy Fair. I was subject to a barrage of sharp, informed, intelligent questions; a lot on Iraq, and the Israel/Palestine conflict and on many domestic issues as well.

Who said young people are not interested in politics?

On Friday evening I held a residents' meeting in the Ewood area, one of a series I've been holding over the last 20 months in different parts of the town. It was wet and dark. Despite this, the hall in the Ivy Street Community Centre was full -- down to standing room only.

In February, 2003, when I held the first meeting in Ewood the mood was anxious and angry. A lot of complaints about crime and disorder. Two -- wholly unrelated -- murders had occurred; there seemed, alongside that, to be a great deal of anti-social behaviour and juvenile nuisance.

There was uncertainty about the future of most of the older housing in the area and there were particular worries about the future of the Blackburn Royal Infirmary buildings, once all of its work had shifted to the new major extension at Queen's Park. Would even the old, original (and rather fine) part of BRI be demolished? What about any contamination of land there?

Two other things added to the brew. First, there was specific concern about asylum seekers. Yes, they had to go somewhere; but there were too many in Ewood; and anyway was the whole system approaching breakdown?

Second, there was a pervading sense of suspicion and cynicism about "them" - authority. OK, we'd called the meeting. But was it just a one-off to ventilate opinion, with no follow-through; or would something happen?

At that first meeting Phil Watson, Council Chief Executive, police chief Dave Mallaby, then Council Leader Sir Bill Taylor and I did our best to allay people's feelings, but it had to be promises, promises. There had been progress by the second meeting in June last year, but the jury was still out.

Friday's meeting was however light years away from the first. That, anyway, is the sense I picked up, though it's obviously for the residents present to say whether my feeling was accurate.

A lot has been done. The police have made a real effort. They have an excellent Beat Manager, who is known, popular and respected.

New anti-social behaviour legislation (originally developed in Blackburn between the then police chief and me in the mid-nineties) is working much better. The BRI site will be used for housing, as most people seem to want; the council will have first refusal from the NHS when they dispose of the property: there'll be a lot more detailed consultation on the exact plans. There has already been demolition of some of the older housing; and plans to regenerate the area. And no one mentioned asylum seekers, at all. Of course it's not all sweetness and light. There were many complaints about the enforcement of resident's parking; and some strong views from those affected about some more homes earmarked for demolition. But what I felt was good was the atmosphere: to use the jargon, that the resident's had "ownership" of their area back.