First of all ladies and gentlemen, can I just say what a pleasure it is to be back in Burnley again. I always have very happy memories of previous visits and so being able to come on this occasion is very special. It has also given me a chance to be reminded, as if I need it, of what a very remarkable town Burnley is and I do totally understand, which is of course one of the reasons why I’ve tried to bring my charities here over the past few months, that recent years have not been at all kind to Burnley and all sorts of difficulties and challenges are placed in Burnley’s way. But I do feel the town has so much in its favour, not least in the situation here in this part of the country. Of course the town has so much to recommend in some really remarkable 19th Century architecture, that legacy, and of course in the Weavers’ Triangle which I remember years ago seeing how special that was and wishing I could do something in order to help regenerate it. And of course the town has even more special potential in terms of the inhabitants. I’ve seen something of that already this morning, particularly here with BCW engineering and many other activities in the town.
There is of course a very special sense of community as well and that is something that can be built on in the future and I am seeing examples of what is happening in terms of terms of that sense of community whether it is those involved in faith groups, those working with young people or, indeed those within the business sector.I did particularly want to mention that the work done by Alec Cassie which I’ve seen this morning is really remarkable in terms of what his company is doing to help young people.
Of course, Burnley also has two other important points in its favour a Council and a Regional Development Agency working closely together and with a real determination to make a difference for the better and I can’t say how much I admire the efforts of Steve Rumbelow and Bryan Gray. It’s this determination I sensed when I last visited two years ago and really that is what prompted me to see in various ways, even though what I can do is only very small relatively speaking, but what’s possible for some of my own charities to do in joining an alliance with them to look at ways in helping the regeneration of Burnley.
As I was saying earlier this morning in the town Hall, I have some experience in this sense in terms of what Business in the Community did in Halifax all those years ago. Another mill town that had seen a desperate decline in jobs and opportunities. I remember using a revolving loan fund supplied by Nestlé, which was pulling out of the town at the time and shut down its whole business operation. It helped to renovate shop fronts and rundown areas which had then given a focus for improvement. So there is a precedent I think to follow and I just wanted to mention that precedent is well worth while looking at and I hope there will be further contact between Halifax and Burnley.
I hope, for instance, that various of my charities will be able to make a contribution, whether it’s The Prince’s Trust and with its help for youing people in the town or my School for Traditional Arts working more closely with the faith and education communities. Also In Kind Direct, my charity which redistributes new goods donated by some of Britain’s best known manufacturers and retailers to voluntary organisations, and so I hope they can work more closely with Burnley’s charities. Also, my Foundation for the Built Environment and my Regeneration Trust are already working in partnership with the NWDA and Burnley Council in the physical regeneration of the town and I hope also the Weavers’ Triangle. And Business in the Community I hope will be able to plug business, at both a national and local level, into every aspect of Burnley’s revitalization.
If I may say so, we have already seen some incredibly encouraging outcomes from two business “Seeing is Believing” visits: one led by Allan Leighton of the Royal Mail Group and another by Philip Green of United Utilities. I am hugely grateful to both of them for giving up so much of their precious time to do this. It’s already made both of these visits make a big difference and I’ve much enjoyed meeting those who were press ganged to go on the visits. As a result of all this, Breakfast Clubs have been started, a youth bus is being supported and I hope the secondary schools will see a real increase in the number of businesses engaged in providing mentors who are so important - and role models because employee volunteers can make a fantastic difference within communities and different areas. And there is an enormous amount that business can do working together to help raise achievement and aspirations in various different ways, and again I’m enormously grateful to those businesses who are prepared to take an interest and involvement in this area. So ladies and gentlement, I hope my charities can make what small contribution they can, in partnership with the Borough Council and the NWDA in this really crucial project to give, I hope, Burnley the future it deserves. And I, for one, look forward to seeing the results of this partnership in the years to come.