Our partners Wildanet recently celebrated the opening of their new headquarters in Liskeard, refurbishing a Grade II listed landmark building.
Cornwall-based broadband provider Wildanet, is celebrating the official opening of its new Westbourne House headquarters in Liskeard following an extensive refurbishment project.
The Grade II listed landmark building has been totally transformed as the company accelerates the roll-out of its gigabit-capable fibre and wireless network to towns and villages across Cornwall and Devon, and the wider Southwest.
Westbourne House can now accommodate around 80 Wildanet staff from a workforce of more than 130 as the business continues its rapid growth. What was a dilapidated tired old building from 1816 has been brought back to life, bringing high quality jobs to the heart of Liskeard.
Wildanet commissioned the policy institute, Curia, in partnership with NGD Advisory Services, to conduct independent research to better understand the impact of the digital divide on rural communities.
The study, Demonstrating the Value of Improved Connectivity, plots progress on the gigabit roll out, and quantifies the impact of improved coverage. According to Curia, digital connectivity would generate an economic impact amounting to £615 million GVA, delivering an additional £111 million year-on year-until 2030.
The new headquarters
Westbourne House was officially opened by South East Cornwall MP, Sheryll Murray, during a special celebration event on Friday 30th September. She was joined by North Cornwall MP, Scott Mann, in cutting the ribbon.
Sheryll said: “I have been closely following progress on Westbourne House and am delighted at how the building has been transformed. It speaks volumes for Wildanet’s commitment to Cornwall and the local community, and its determination to deliver fast, reliable internet in order to create opportunity for all.”
Wildanet Chief Executive, Helen Wylde, added: “We are thrilled to bring this much-loved landmark back into use and have been overwhelmed by the positive response from local people. Being at the heart of the communities we serve is very important to Wildanet and revitalising this historic building is testament to that. Wildanet is dedicated to delivering our business objectives within the context of our ESG strategy (Environmental, Sustainability and Governance), therefore finding a building that we could ‘reuse’ rather than building from scratch was very important to us.
“It also gives us the space to grow as a business and continue to invest in the training and development of our people as we expand our network across Cornwall and the South West. Ninety-one percent of our colleagues come from Cornwall and Devon, and we are passionate about local talent and helping people to be the best they can be.”
Helen also took the opportunity to extend her thanks on behalf of the team, to Wildanet founder Ian Calvert, who is about to move to a non-executive director role on the Wildanet board, saying: “Westbourne House really was Ian’s brainchild and were it not for his vision, drive and determination, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Kim Conchie, Chief Executive of Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, also attended the opening event. He said: “Having spent the past couple of hours in Westbourne House I’m absolutely inspired by it. It’s such a beautiful building and Wildanet have been able to keep the features that have been here for hundreds of years while making it a friendly, high-tech place to work. What I’d like to see now is a tax regime to encourage more 21st century businesses like Wildanet into our town centres to repurpose buildings and help makes those communities more vibrant in a new and different way.”
Wildanet took on the lease of Westbourne House from owners Cornwall Council in November 2021 and immediately set about the restoration of the redundant 20-room building, peeling back layers of its Edwardian, Victorian and Georgian history.
Built in 1816 for solicitor N.W. Penrose, the house was once one of the grandest in the town and its gardens spanned what is now the Westbourne Car Park, with two connecting footbridges. In the latter part of the 19th century it was owned by Richard Hawke, then the wealthiest man in Liskeard.
For Wildanet Project Manager and former antique furniture restorer Paul Bisco, the 10-month project became something of a labour of love as the building gave up its history.
Paul said: “There’s always a balance between restoration and fit-out when you are converting an historic building for modern use, and I like to think we’ve struck that balance. We’ve been very sympathetic to the interior and exterior architecture and have uncovered some real gems.”
Among them are:
- Victorian and Edwardian period fireplaces that were boarded up which have since been personally restored by Paul.
- A complex bell system running from rooms in the house to the servants’ quarters which was found intact beneath the floorboards and has been left in situ.
- An ingenious internal gutter which drains a flat area enclosed by the four-sided pitched roof and has been restored. The roof has also been painstakingly felted, battened and retiled.
- Solid slate shelves in the vaulted basement, which remain in place. These served as a late Georgian ‘fridge’.
The house also had its fair share of horrors.:
- The entire electrical system was condemned within 12 hours of Wildanet getting the keys and had to be entirely replaced.
- During a fireplace restoration the skeletons of 12 unfortunate jackdaws were found in the flue and grate.
- And the biggest headache of all was extensive dry rot in the west wing which had affected all the joists and caused a floor to collapse.
A local event
But with the restoration complete Wildanet recently invited local people to come and see the building for themselves. Paul said: “We had an open house and more than 200 people came along. Everybody gave such incredibly positive feedback that it’s been brought back to life as Wildanet’s new home.”
Founded in 2017 to bring superfast internet access to rural and hard to reach areas, Wildanet secured a £50m investment from the Gresham House British Strategic Investment Infrastructure Fund in December 2020 to rapidly grow its network.
Work to bring gigabit-enabled broadband is already completed in Liskeard and Dobwalls, and underway in Torpoint, Callington, Launceston, Wadebridge and Bude in Cornwall. Wildanet is also looking to connect 6,000 homes in Totnes and Dartington in Devon with more areas planned.
The business was recently shortlisted for a major telecoms industry award having been selected as a finalist in the coveted ISPA Awards in the Best Rural ISP (internet service provider) category. The awards take place in November.