A business support project that has created more than 55 jobs and helped almost 200 Lancashire businesses in the last three years has secured £1.77m of extra funding.

Lancashire Forum – a collaboration between Lancaster University and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) – helps ambitious SMEs grow with the aid of a supportive peer network and a programme of interactive workshops and masterclasses.

The initial three-year funding for the project was due to end this year but the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) has provided a further injection to allow it to continue until 2022.

So far, Lancashire Forum has helped local leaders such as Ben Blackburn, managing director of Blackburn Distributions, which manufactures and supplies sports supplements and healthcare products.

“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,” he said.

“Lancashire Forum helped me identify different markets and, as a result, we are now looking to expand our products into Africa. Since participating in the Lancashire Forum, we have moved to state-of-the-art facilities and have quadrupled our production capacity.”

Matt Hutchinson, Lancashire Forum project manager at Lancaster University Management School, added: “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.”

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

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