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£4m+ funding for Cumbrian digital and gaming hub

A one-of-a-kind project to transform the former Whittles building in Whitehaven into a digital and gaming hub has the green light as it secures multi-million-pound backing from Sellafield Ltd and BT.

One of Cumbria’s leading social impact property developers, BEC, will be delivering the futuristic scheme to support and encourage the development of future digital and tech leaders. The hub will provide essential training and upskilling with a ‘futuristic’ development and regeneration at the heart of it.

The Whittles building, formerly a furniture store, was purchased by BEC in 2021 and it has since held extensive public consultations, winning overwhelming support from community members and local academia partners.

Michael Pemberton, CEO of BEC said: “We’re delighted to announce we have secured funding for this truly remarkable and game-changing development, a true one-of-a-kind for West Cumbria and for our young people, Gen Z – our future. The team at BEC have worked tirelessly over the last couple of years from the initial purchase, building a business case and holding public consultations.

“With this scheme, we will be addressing the digital skills gap and opening doors to exciting opportunities in the digital and creative sectors with the development, through work and learning experiences, industry connections and guidance.

Spread across four floors, the hub will include a digital recording studio, cafe, esports and VR area, green screens, and a rooftop terrace that will be supported by several local partners in the former furniture store building on Duke Street in the heart of Whitehaven’s town centre.

The scheme has secured £2.8 million in funding from Sellafield Ltd.’s Social Impact Multiplied scheme (SiX) with a further £800k from BT, matched with a £485k contribution from BEC themselves. Cumberland Council has also enthusiastically backed the scheme.

Gary McKeating, head of community and development at Sellafield Ltd, said: “We’re delighted to support this project to provide an engaging and nurturing space to inspire the next generation of digital workers, and to restore a prominent local building.

“I’m grateful to all the partners who continue to show that our impact is multiplied when we work together on the issues that matter to our communities. This approach demonstrates how we are driving additional social value with our supply chain partners, consistent with the social value approach of Sellafield Ltd and the NDA.”

Andy Rowe, director in the corporate and public sector unit at BT, added: “This important project will deliver a major boost for the area and is part of a wider £2m investment we are making to support social value schemes in West Cumbria under our partnership work with Sellafield.

“These initiatives are designed to help tackle causes of inequality among the area’s most vulnerable people and also increase access to digital skills, which is a huge priority for us at BT.”

Despite the project’s futuristic design and digital facilities, BEC’s Pemberton insisted the historic identity and character of the building will remain strong: “With the recent redevelopment of the Bus Station, we’ve shown that our heritage buildings can be conserved with a creative and viable proposition by making sure they serve new communities in relevant and exciting ways, which is what we are going to do with Whittles,” he said.

Construction will start in early summer 2024, and the current expectation is for opening in Q3, 2025. BEC will be promoting a competition locally for people to help shape the project’s identity, brand and name, with more information shared on the website soon.

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