CHAIRMAN of Barnsley Business and Innovation Centre - and former council chief executive - John Edwards is stepping down after his ‘instrumental’ role in establishing the site.

John, born in Norfolk and living in Silkstone, is only the second chairman of the organisation, opened in 1988 with the aim of creating entrepreneurs and boosting Barnsley’s business acumen in the wake of pit closures.

John spent 14 years as chairman before his retirement this week, having previously worked for more than three decades with Barnsley Council, where he took up the chief executive role in 1989.

“It was conceived as an idea in 1987, and I was secretary from 1990 to 2000,” said John, 78, who returned to the board eight years later.

“We thought we had a major challenge in Barnsley, as well as one or two other places, that we didn’t think we could deal with ourselves while moving away from the monolithic coal industry.

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“And there wasn’t too much entrepreneurship in those days.

“We wanted to encourage that, as well as major inward investment, and develop small firms.

“The object was to get people in with bright ideas, give them training and support, and then have them spinning out into Barnsley.”

John had worked with Norfolk County Council and Coventry City Council, but - looking for a middle ground with which to settle down with his Northumberland-born wife, and enticed by the newly-formed Barnsley Council, moved to the borough in 1974.

The first phase of BBIC at Wilthorpe was opened in 1988, with an expansion into Cudworth in 1993.

The latest fifth phase saw a few false starts - first in 2002 and then again in 2011 - but was eventually finished last year, funded by a £1.4m European Regional Development Fund grant behind which John was one of the driving forces.

“I’m very proud, it has been a success,” added John, also chairman of Wentworth Castle and Stainborough Park Gardens Trust before that site was taken over by the National Trust.

“There are about 700 jobs there, altogether.

“When I came in, I was very conscious that around seven years was long enough to be in a single post - the idea was always that it needed new ideas, to be light on its feet.

“I’m steadily winding down and will be pretty much doing all the classics - mainly spending time with family.”

BBIC chief executive Adrian Waite added: “There have only ever been two chairmen, with Lord Mason the first.

“John has been a mine of useful information and extremely supportive as chairman.”

Coun Jim Andrews will take over as chairman, as the centre moves to an annual model that will see someone from either the council or partner firm Newable elected each year.