Rock on, Blackpool!

Bobby Ball has just opened a brand new enterprise centre in Blackpool.

No surprise there, surely, for it's what celebrities do. But Bobby isn't taking a penny from this public appearance because he knows that there, but for the grace of his God, goes he.

The new NW Therapies base, now open Monday to Friday, 8am to 9pm, on Cookson Street, with the support of Blackpool Town Centre Business Improvement District Limited, exists to help vulnerable people with addiction, anger, relationships, domestic violence, alcohol, or other issues.

Many still head for Blackpool in the hope of lager and burgers, if not milk and honey, and a roof above their head, and a job to go to. Instead they find themselves lost in the crowds today, yet living on the fringe of society, cut adrift from friends and family.

Bobby knows that feeling, too. At the peak of his showbiz career, as one half of comedy duo Cannon and Ball, who return to Blackpool's Opera House next month in Rock With Laughter, he had it all, and made the most of it all, too, lived life in the fast lane, didn't take time out to consider the impact on loved ones. And, somewhere along the way, in free fall from the things that mattered, other than making money and spending it, he almost lost his way.

He found God via magician Paul Daniels, a leap of faith in anyone's book, but as Bobby points out: "Paul's a lay preacher and a good one. He said, you know all those miracles Jesus did? I could do them. Water into wine, that kind of thing. So I came back at him – try doing the last one."

Paul neatly turned the tables on the comedian, and gave Bobby sufficient food for thought to wonder whether he'd taken the right path. That, and a Damascus-like moment of revelation, left Bobby reeling.

"I became a different man. A better man. For the first time in a long time I looked around me and began to appreciate what I had, and just what I stood to lose."

It's helped him, and others close to him, cope with dark times, too. So now he practises what he preaches, and opening centres such as this, and supporting other projects, is part of it.

NW Therapies works on the community frontline, delivering services to those most in need when needed, via a team of community support workers led by chief executive Melanie Oliver. There's another branch on Abingdon Street, and a youth-based centre is taking shape elsewhere, but the Cookson Street branch, right at the heart of a pretty down at heel district itself, is in the business of early intervention. It's a social enterprise company so those who can pay do pay.

"We think we're in just the right place to make a difference, not just to our clients, but the town," says Melanie.

It's been facilitated by Blackpool's Business Improvement District, run by town centre manager Eileen Ormand, and funded by a levy on local businesses. Members are just about to vote on whether to extend funding by a further five years to keep BID up and running. It's lifted the look, cleanliness, security and safety of the town centre, staff (secured through the Future Jobs Fund) emptying bins and ashtrays, cleaning windows of empty premises, painting street furniture, removing graffiti, limiting anti-social behaviour, supporting businesses, running awards, and working on marketing and in partnership with VisitBlackpool on events. "Each new venture, such as NW Therapies, plays an important role in the growth of Blackpool," adds Eileen.

What's more, BID's town centre wardens, such as business liaison officer David Richardson, 20, and trainee Ryan Skyrne, 21, will be working out of the Cookson Street office, too, in some ways a more appropriate base than current quarters at the Town Hall.

Eileen adds that businesses appreciate that agencies, such as NW Therapies, help create a safer, healthier town centre for all.

Melanie agrees. She says NW Therapies is out to focus on what needs to be changed for lives to improve, providing services on a sliding scale fee based on incomes. At a time of cutbacks, she reckons social enterprise companies are the way forward. "There's nothing wrong about profit so long as that profit is ploughed back into helping others," she adds.

The number of empty properties nearby, and the use to which others have been put, bear witness to the desperate need for Talbot Gateway's regeneration of the area to finally become reality.

Bobby agrees. This kind of stuff matters, he says, and he's glad to play his part. It faces another project he supports, Helping Hands, which does just what it says on the window.

"Blackpool's a grand place but people can lose sight of themselves and what life should be all about here," he adds. "We've all got to do more to help, rather than pass such people by, or not look them in the eye, because it's there but for the grace of God go we. You can't lose sight of common humanity. Right now we need to invest in people, not cut back."