The businesses at Darwen Creates

Interview with Anthony Taylor – Empine

Anthony started his company Empine in 2015, with his business partner Jacob Knowles. Their company specialises in short-run print and multi-site print management projects for both corporate and education clients. The company’s mission is to return a service level to the print industry. With six years previous experience in the print industry, Anthony explained that print can be a daunting experience for clients if they are not au fait with the industry jargon.  

Speaking with Anthony, he explained how the Darwen Create pods have helped to shape the type of business that Empine has now become.

The startup space has allowed Empine to invest their funds in equipment and machinery, that would not have been possible, if they had a costly outlay on office rent in their initial setup phase.

This investment in production equipment has not only increased profitability by improving the profit margins on their jobs, but in having the space to house a production facility, it has also improved the growth of the company.

Most business incubation outfits offer businesses desk space and basic office equipment, which is shared, however Darwen Creates provides business space for start-ups that really allows us to make it our own, and has allowed us to have a production facility in house. This wouldn’t have been possible elsewhere.”

Darwen Creates offer people under 25 the opportunity to build a successful business, and provide resources, advice and support to help grow startups. Darwen Aldridge Academy is the first in the country to create a business hub within a high school, for use by business and students.

When asked if he felt the business incubation unit would have a positive impact on the local area’s future, Anthony said:

Darwen is coming up the ranks, something like this to help smaller companies to rise up, is a huge thing for the town.

Empine have recently undergone a small rebrand to offer an Empine Education, a part of the business that appeals to the education sector; a route the company decided to follow after receiving increasing amounts of projects from a number of north west based schools.

Lancashire County Councils’ Boost scheme provided the company with a days time from a business mentor, to help define the company’s offering and marketing of their services. This support has had a significant impact on the amount and scale of education work they receive.

Empine Printing are the print sponsor for Hive Blackburn and Darwen Business Awards, and will also be on the judging panel.


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For more information regarding the business space at Darwen Creates visit:


Economic Benefit for Lancashire through digital transformation – In Partnership with Digital Lancashire

Burnley based company JP74 are launching The Initiative in partnership with Digital Lancashire. The Initiative is a pilot scheme that aims to improve Lancashire’s economy through digital transformation.

Formed in 2001, JP74 already help global businesses improve their profitability through modifying the technology and digital processes within their organisations – by offering a day of time to understand and diagnose opportunities for more profitable processes, JP74 are now looking to recruit local, Lancashire-based participants for The Initiative.  

JP74’s MD Pete Walker is a champion of the digital landscape in the county through his work on the board of Digital Lancashire, a community interest company who are working to support and celebrate the region’s digital landscape; He said:

We have done a lot of work with key stakeholders such as Councils, Local Authorities and numerous support organisations, and we realised the work JP74 do could really make an impact on businesses; we really can help them. The more profitable businesses in the county are, the better that is for everybody.”

The pilot scheme launches Wednesday 22nd March, and applicants for the pilot can register on the JP74 website, or call the studio direct.


Tech North discovery visit to Lancaster

Tech North has spent three days this week in Lancaster getting to understand the digital economy in the area. Community Engagement Manager, Jazz Hanley has been keen to revisit the area following his attendance at the successful launch of Digital Lancaster back in January.


The visit facilitated by Digital Lancashire included a day of meetings at Lancaster University, including meeting faculty heads and campus-based businesses, a day in Lancaster visiting the city’s businesses at workspaces including White Cross, CityLab and The Storey, and finally a trip to the country to meet B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North).


Digital Lancashire MD Stewart Townsend said, “This is another step to building on the rich foundations currently here and creating a nationally recognised digital city. Lancaster has a host of superb digital businesses, a world-leading research University, incredible connections around the UK and a historic city with a great culture that just needs to show itself off and grow. Digital Lancashire and Digital Lancaster will do all they can to make this a reality.”

Our thanks to Lancaster University, InfoLab21, QuantumBase, Relative Insight, Demopad, The Networking People, Novi Digital, NuBlue, Fat Media, OnDemand Projects, Loading Deck, Factored, Accessplanit, Vibe Tickets, Bucket and Spade, Miralis Data, Cross Bay Marketing, Shadowcat Systems, Lancaster City Council and B4RN for their time, passion and for showing off their fantastic businesses.

Digital Roundtable Roundup


The evening was hosted by the new collaborative working space Society1 in Preston, ahead of its official opening next week.

The space is contemporary and stylish, with quirky original features and wall art in reference to The Shining, it set the scene of the evening which felt informal and sociable.

Guy Levine’s introductory talk was very honest and considered, as he offered attendees the insight into the struggles he’s had whilst building up his businesses.

He talked of the growing pains when a company achieves a certain size, and that something happens when a company reaches around ten to fifteen employees, ‘things get weird’, and that after twenty ‘it all goes crazy’.

He confessed that the largest learning lesson for him in business has been learning to say thank you, and the impact that can have. Stressing that culture is important, and it should be looked after, as can impact business performance and staff retention; explaining, ‘if people are performing well, and your people management is bad, people leave’.

Guy gave some insight on ways he had shown his appreciation to staff in the past; creating tracking charts, which staff would pin their desired item upon, and if they met their KPI’s, the item would be obtained by the company for them, be it a home improvement or a dog. He believes this way of working encourages people to monitor their own performance, and that a gift to say thank you is a nicer way of rewarding people than a monetary bonus culture.

He urged everybody to celebrate. Celebrate not only the staff, but celebrate winning! Whether it is new business, or just surviving a terrible month.

Following the introduction, the Digital Roundtable staff explained the format of the event, and put the first question to the room; What is going well in your business?

Nathaniel Cassidy from 3ManFactory initiated the discussions, enlightening the room about the advances in technology and social platforms allowing for ‘real time’ streaming, and how beneficial to his business these advancements have been, providing an additional service offering to his clients.

Jeremy Coates, CEO of Magma digital highlighted the GDPR Compliance changes that are coming into effect next year, and urged all agencies working on current projects to consider the changes, as the reach is far, with any global company having to comply with the ruling if they have EU citizen data.  

More information can be found here;

Ross Holland from Makers Academy announced that his company has just struck a partnership with Amazon to train Alexa developers, and that the current uptake of the courses his company provide are 52% female, which is unprecedented in the sector.

Finally, after the positive news, the topic turned to the challenges faced by people in the room. One person in particular was extremely kandid about the struggles of ‘feast or famine’ with work, and in the spirit of community the event attendees offered no end of advice on marketing avenues, contractual changes, communications and payment plans, all of which were accompanied by anecdotes and personal experience.

The Digital Roundtable event in partnership with Digital Lancashire will be a regular event in Lancashire, occurring approximately every two months.

Details to follow about the events next location.

Digital Advantage Encourages More Digital Apprenticeships

The Government have just announced their Digital Skills Strategy, in a bid to ensure that everyone has the digital skills they need to fully participate in the economy and society.

Digital Lancashire are currently leading and participating in, a wide range of the activities mentioned in the UK Digital Strategy document to promote this goal, including education in schools, with the Digital Advantage program.  

The Digital Advantage program, the ‘Pop Up Agency’ has shown progressive improvement on the skills and learning methods that can be achieved for young people in Lancashire. The report emphasises the importance of reform of the technical education system and the creation of specialist digital routes, such as digital apprenticeship programmes and digital degree apprenticeships.

One of the overarching aims of Digital Advantage scheme was to stimulate the counties need for Digital Apprenticeships, and the Pop Up Agency program is doing just that.

This year alone, the program will see 170 pupils graduate the scheme, armed with industry relevant skills, and an appetite for professional knowledge in the digital sector.

With all the change and reform to education, and the effort to close the digital skills gap coming from the top, it is now time for businesses to play their part, by thinking about their business growth strategies differently, and consider more varied recruitment options, such as offering digital apprenticeships.


There are many benefits of running an apprenticeship scheme to fulfil business roles, such as:

  • The average Apprenticeship improves productivity by £214 a week
  • Apprenticeships are a tried and tested way to recruit new staff, re-train or upskill existing staff.
  • Up to 100% funding could be available to support Apprenticeship programmes in your business.
  • Apprenticeships can help you tackle skill shortages.
  • Learning can be done in your workplace, minimising disruption and maximising impact.
  • Apprenticeships are a great way of attracting enthusiastic talent with fresh ideas.
  • They can be tailored to specific job roles, making them flexible to the needs of your business.
  • Apprenticeships provide you with the skilled workers you need for the future.
  • Apprenticeships can help reduce staff turnover, by increasing employee satisfaction and loyalty.
  • If you employ an apprentice below the age of 25, you will no longer be required to pay employer National Insurance contributions for them.


There are currently 13 approved digital apprenticeship standards, with more in development. With initiatives like The Pop Up Agency running in the county, now is the optimal time to consider apprenticeships, with a fresh generation of pupils not only interested, but equipped with the practical and everyday skills needed to succeed in digital roles.

This is what some of the pupils have said about the Pop Up Agency:

The course provided a similar working environment which gave me an insight into what it’s like to work in the creative industries.” Dariusz Slebocki – 11/03/1998

I have improved upon my development skills and now have a greater understanding of the process behind preparing to launch a product to market.”  Arran Clarke – 19/05/1998

It was a good team working experience which offered a lot of project pre-production and practical skills development.” Jo Docherty – 28/01/1998

The UK currently holds the position as a leader in global digital economy, however to maintain that title, everybody needs to invest in providing a range of specialist digital skills to fill specific digital jobs. It is estimated that 1.2 million new technical and digitally skilled people are needed by 2022 to satisfy future skills needs.

The UK has a supply of specialist skills that scores well above the EU average, however computer science graduates have the highest unemployment rate of any degree course at 10% after 6 months graduating.

The Government’s Strategy also reveals some stark statistics about correlation between where people live, their socio-economic circumstances and whether they have basic digital capability.

The report states that in August 2016, 22% of adults in Blackburn had not used the internet in the last three months, compared with 7% of adults in Surrey. With information such as this, it is more important than ever that the young people in areas such as Blackburn and other parts of Lancashire, gain the knowledge and access through educational services in the region.

In the previous academic year, the Tech Partnership published statistics, that in the North West, in total there were 79,000 apprenticeship starts, of these 2,000 were digital. In this growing and expanding industry sector, there needs to be more. More businesses running them, and more pupils undertaking them, the latter will not be the challenge.

It is for this reasons that Digital Lancashire are at the vanguard of improving the options available to young people, and businesses in Lancashire by providing information and support on this fast moving landscape that is education and the digital skills gap.

For more information on how to get involved with Digital Apprentice Schemes there are a number of online guides and information such as:


The Tech Partnership

The White Room

UCLAN Event: A panel to answer your questions on how degree apprenticeships can add value to your organisation. 

National Apprenticeship Service
Lancashire Apprenticeship Providers 

Closing Lancashire’s digital skills gap

A pilot project to train young people in cutting-edge digital skills has been launched in Lancashire – as part of an innovative strategy to fuel growth in the county’s multi-million pound creative and digital economy.

Digital Advantage is offering around 200 young people the kind of skills which are rarely taught in local schools and colleges but are highly-prized by local employers.

It’s the first time the pioneering initiative – which encourages students to compete for a £2,000 prize by developing an actual digital product or service – has been introduced outside of Manchester.

Employers and industry experts from across the creative and digital sector in Lancashire are now being asked to lend their support though masterclasses, mentoring, sponsorship and to offer the Digital Advantage graduates job interviews for new apprentice positions.

The creative economy in Lancashire – which is dominated by digital, creative, software and computer science businesses – employees 36,000 people and is worth £1.3bn in GVA.

Yet 57 per cent of fast-growing businesses in a recent survey said they struggled to find technically capable staff with advanced IT or software skills. Provision of computer sciences at higher-education level also lags behind the national average.

Read more on the Lancashire LEP blog…