Publican Local Focus: Blackburn - Lancashire hotspot

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Related tags: Blackburn, Lancashire

When you first arrive in Blackburn, it appears a fairly typical northern industrial town. It's probably best known for being one of the Lancashire...

When you first arrive in Blackburn, it appears a fairly typical northern industrial town. It's probably best known for being one of the Lancashire cotton towns and the home of one-time Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers.

However, there is much more about Blackburn that is worth knowing. And when you take a closer look, you can see it is in a state of transition, trying to reinvent itself as a thriving modern urban centre with an evening economy to match.

In recent times, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council has undertaken several large-scale regeneration initiatives. And the authority is building on its success, with several projects aiming to secure a prosperous future for the town centre.

At the same time, Blackburn's pub trade has struggled to compete with some of the bigger nearby towns, despite the work that has been done. Chris Wooddissee, licensee at FJ Nichols Bar, summed this up. "I've been here five years and when I came there were 48 licensed premises," he said. "Now there are only 23. Lots of people are travelling out of town to places like Preston and Manchester." Talking to local licensees, the recurring theme was they do not feel they can compete with bigger local towns when it comes to variety of nightlife.

But the council has obviously been listening and is forming a new regeneration plan, including proposals to develop the town's evening economy. Julia Simpson, the council's project development manager, said research had been carried out to establish the potential of "growing the catchment for the town centre", while plans are under way to help the town "maximise its appeal and tap into new markets".

Alongside this, the council has established an evening economy business forum to help drive the development work. Efforts are also being made to ensure firms are working together to promote business, with a series of joint marketing campaigns, events and promotions.

Paul Crook, licensee of the Last Orders, pointed to several local campaigns, such as Make Lancashire Safer, which is "trying to improve the image of Blackburn and make it a place that people want to go to for a night out".

Paul also praised the local Pubwatch and council. "We have a really good Pubwatch and all the venues communicate with one another," he said. "We hope, and feel, the initiatives by the council will help trade in the area."

Blackburn is obviously working hard to improve its image and support trade in the town. And with the opening of two new late-night venues this spring, the town could soon find itself in a position to compete with its local rivals - and keep hold of the evening drinking crowd. Let's just hope the initiatives and schemes succeed and the licensed trade begins to flourish once more.

Tracie Dixon is licensee of Arena Sports Bar, a specialist sports venue which was recently converted from a rock pub.

How much will a pint cost me?

Lagers range from £1.79 to £2.95 for a Stella, with bitters starting at £1.65.

Do you do food?

No but we do free food for the football.

Who are your customers?

We get lots of football fans when there is a game on and we have home and away fans in here together. All of them behave themselves and it's a great atmosphere.

What are the issues affecting trade in Blackburn?

The lack of nightlife and variety. Unfortunately, people find the other towns offer so much more choice than they have available to them here. We used to have some good venues, but they've closed. Everyone is going out of town to drink and we aren't able to attract people from other local towns.

What attracts people?

Having sport on is our big thing, we show everything - football, boxing, racing - and football fans know that they can come in here and expect a good atmosphere.

Chris Wooddissee is licensee of FJ Nichols Bar, which attracts a strong following from the local dance music scene.

How much will a pint cost me?

It depends on the time you come in. We do offers depending on the night, sometimes a pint of lager will cost you £1.25. On a Saturday we do a two-for-one night so you can get two pints for £2.70.

Do you do food?

No food at all. There isn't really a market for daytime food in Blackburn.

Who are your customers?

Our customers are generally anywhere between the ages of 18 and 35. They tend to be very music savvy and into their house and dance music.

What are the issues affecting trade in Blackburn?

Obviously the recession doesn't help and we've tried to set our prices so people can come out for a quality night without having to spend a fortune.

What attracts people?

People come here because it's great music and great value for money in a safe environment. We have resident and guest DJs. And we're well known locally as a platform and a showcase for quality nationally known DJs, which is something that we are very proud of.

Julie Booth is licensee of the Thwaites-owned Residence, which is known for its live music.

How much will a pint cost me?

It's £2.70 for a pint with bottled drinks being anywhere between £1.50 and £2. We do quite a lot of offers here, so prices tend to change.

Do you do food?

We do a full range of home-cooked meals and all our ingredients are locally sourced. We do daily specials and the fresh fish and chips are a big seller.

Who are your customers?

We get an older clientele in the day and an indie crowd in the evening when we put bands on.

What are the issues affecting trade in Blackburn?

We're finding it hard to compete with the bigger towns. Blackburn has really good transport links to places like Manchester, so people just go there. Drinkers used to move from pub to pub, but they can't do that any more due to closures. People don't want to walk halfway across town for a drink.

What attracts people?

We just try to cater for all different tastes and the nights we run here create a great atmosphere.

Victoria Price is licensee of the Jubilee and has worked in the trade in Blackburn for the past 10 years.

How much will a pint cost me?

Lager's £2.60, bitter £2.30 and soft drinks are £1. We also run a number of promotions during the week on shots and spirits.

Do you do food?

Yes, we do food aimed at students, like burgers and scampi and chips.

Who are your customers?

We tend to get the students from the local college in during the day, while at night we tend to get a real variety of people.

What are the issues affecting trade in Blackburn?

We have problems competing on price like any other pub and we don't make a massive mark-up. However, we are lucky that our brewery usually has offers on, which helps us out.

What attracts people?

We have a good, fun atmosphere in the pub and a core of locals who all know each other. We also try to bring in bands and have a regular DJ in.

• Next Stop: Wolverhampton. If you would like us to visit your pub email news@thepublican.com

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