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Former John Lewis boss and mayor backs business

SUPPORT: West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, second left, with members of Bluk during a reception at the Mango Lounge, Birmingham

MAYOR OF West Midlands Mayor Andy Street had some words of encouragement for entrepreneurs who are leading the region’s most successful black-led businesses.

As the former boss of John Lewis, Street knows what it is like to be at the helm of one of the country’s most successful companies, so he was keen to support more than 75 African and Caribbean businesses represented at a reception organised by Bluk.

Bluk is a new enterprise aiming to provide a regional, national and international trading platform for black businesses to promote internal trading while building a vibrant African and Caribbean economy. The aim of Bluk is to provide black-led businesses and industries with a smart set of tools to showcase their services, while connecting to their community. It is the brainchild of former personal banker Nicholas Richards, now Bluk’s creative director, with backing from his uncle Jaston Richards, an entrepreneur of many years’ experience who is Bluk’s research and development director.

The reception hosted by the Mango Lounge in Perry Barr, Birmingham, was chaired by Bluk’s operational director Juliet Edman and speakers included Nicholas Richards. They explained how Bluk aims to deliver excellence in business and be a focal point for accessing mainstream institutions such as the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership.

Richards shared some alarming statistics which suggested that more than any other group, black-owned business face significant problems when accessing finance. He said that despite a history of entrepreneurship, only nine per cent were self-employed – the lowest of any other group.

While backing their aims, Street, a Conservative, talked about his vision for an inclusive Birmingham. He said he would work towards building affordable houses, investing in skills for Birmingham’s future workforce and providing business mentors, enabling companies to thrive.

Earlier, Street, a proud Brummie, spoke to The Voice explaining how the African and Caribbean community had shown a high level of engagement before last Thursday's mayoral elections:

“I’ve been talking to people in inner-city Birmingham – for example, Aston and Lozells – and also met many pastors within the black churches,” he said.

“I’ve been trying to make myself as available as possible through both general meetings and the minority media because at the end of the day I want people to say: ‘We’ve elected a mayor with a strong mandate’. They have been asking practical questions – they want to know what is going to be delivered if they vote for me.”

Other speakers during the Bluk evening included Martin Levermore MBE, honorary patron of Bluk and CEO of Medical Devices Technology International Ltd, who discussed the importance of the black pound and its ability to significantly galvanise economic development and growth within the West Midlands.

The main themes that ran through the evening were the importance of African and Caribbean businesses connecting with mainstream institutions and the community having a voice through effective and accountable representation on these bodies.

The team behind Bluk recognises of measuring the economic activity and currency of the African Caribbean community, which according to a Guardian report is £4.5 billion per year.

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