£1.7m extra funding for universities’ support work

A business support project that has created 56 new jobs and helped almost 200 Lancashire businesses in the last three years has now secured £1.77m of extra funding.


Lancashire Forum, a collaboration between Lancaster University and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), helps ambitious SMEs in the region to grow.


It takes the form of a supportive peer network and a programme of interactive workshops and masterclasses delivered by high-profile speakers.


The initial three-year funding for the project was due to end this year, but the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) have provided a further £1.77m to enable it to continue until 2022, as part of a total project value of £3.3m.


The partnership project is delivered across Lancashire as part of Boost, Lancashire’s business growth hub.


The universities say it offers “a safe place for business leaders to step away from their working environment to develop themselves and their organisations”.


They are helped by the latest research and academics from Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) and UCLan, along with benefiting from the practical experience of peers.


Since its launch in 2016, the project has supported 192 businesses across 20 towns and cities in Lancashire, helping to create 56 new jobs. And 23 new products, processes or services have also been brought to market.


Lancashire Forum has helped local business leaders like Ben Blackburn, Managing Director of Blackburn Distributions, manufacturers and suppliers of sports supplements and healthcare products.


He said: “As a result of the Lancashire Forum, I have a better skillset in some important areas like business strategy and I use different management tools that help me better analyse the business.


“Lancashire Forum helped me identify different markets and, as a result, we are now looking to expand our products into Africa.


“Since participating, we have moved to state-of-the-art facilities and have quadrupled our production capacity. Our sales are growing 20 per cent year-on-year, and we have grown to employ 11 staff.”


Matt Hutchinson, Lancashire Forum project manager at Lancaster University Management School, said: “Ben’s organisation is just one example of a local business going from strength to strength in the region, and one that has seen really tangible growth after participating in Lancashire Forum.


“It’s often extremely hard for SME leaders to take time away from their businesses, so it’s vital this designated time is worthwhile.


“The Forum is a blend of peer learning and inspirational masterclasses, with leadership, finance and innovation sessions, which encourage personal and business development, leading to stronger, more ambitious Lancashire companies.”


Professor Sue Smith from the Centre for SME Development at UCLan, added: “We are passionate about developing small businesses bringing them through the doors of our universities and really helping them to grow and innovate.”


New Lancashire Forum programmes and events from Lancaster University will start later this year; Lancashire Forum Creative at UCLan starts on May 9.


For more information, visit:  LUMS: lancaster.ac.uk/lums/lancashireforum or UCLan: uclan.ac.uk/business_at_uclan/lancashire-forum-creative