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The iconic Whittles building in Whitehaven is being transformed into a futuristic digital and gaming hub after securing multi-million pound backing from Sellafield Ltd and BT.

The former Whittles furniture store, Duke Street, Whitehaven acquired by BEC in 2021.

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£4.1m funding secured for 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.

A game-changing development

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 was purchased by BEC in 2021 and since then BEC has held extensive public consultations, garnering 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.

“Our partnership and close relationship with Sellafield Ltd and Cumberland Council has enabled us to announce such brilliant news today. We’re embarking on an exciting journey ahead working closely with the community and a range of incredible partners to bring to life the Digital and Gaming hub.”

Regeneration for future generations

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.

Leader of Cumberland Council, Cllr Mark Fryer, said: “We welcome any plans that provide economic growth to our area. This is great news for Whitehaven and will bring a redundant building back into use, providing new training opportunities for future generations.”

Working in partnership for our community

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. 

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.

“The hub will be another great asset for West Cumberland and complements and enhances the range of other investments we’re making in the region.”

Andy Rowe, Director in the Corporate and Public Sector unit at BT, said: “This important project will deliver a major boost for the area and is part of a wider £2 million 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.”

Conserving our heritage

Whilst the project has futuristic design and digital facilities at the heart of it, Michael said the identity, character and history of the town and it’s building will remain strong, he added: “We are delighted to bring the iconic furniture store in Whitehaven Town Centre back into use for the community, restoring the exterior of this Grade II listed building and transforming the interior into a fully accessible, safe, social space for everyone.

“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.”

BEC said construction will start in early summer 2024, and the current expectation for opening to be in Quarter 3 2025. BEC will be promoting a competition locally for people to help shape the project’s identity, brand and name, more information will be shared on their website soon

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