THESE are the parts of the Daily Echo building that once shook to the sound of printing presses.
Now, the former press hall and offices above it have been turned into a hub for Bournemouth’s rapidly expanding digital and creative industries.
THIS Group has created THIS Workspace, where freelances and small businesses can rent space on a monthly rolling contract.
Joshua Winterton, 25-year-old partner with THIS Group, is an award-winning Australian entrepreneur who has worked in the US and Paris. He chose the building as the ideal place to give the town’s digital and creative economy a physical focal point.
The Echo itself is staying put in the Richmond Hill HQ it has occupied since 1934, but large unused parts of the building were available for refurbishment.
“We love the building and wanted to restore it in the best way possible. We’re fully aware of its grade two listing but regardless of that, we think it’s great anyway,” said Mr Winterton.
Phase one has involved the building’s mezzanine and upper floors, creating space for around 90 people.
The building has been stripped back to its 1930s fixtures, with parquet floors uncovered and sanded and iron beams exposed. Names in the building reflect its newsprint heritage – there is a Compositors’ Floor, Press Floor and Editor’s Floor.
THIS Group has sought to work with those original features. “The building has issues because you’ve got ceilings that are 7.3 metres call – so you’ve got echoes through the Echo,” said Mr Winterton.
Quirkier touches in the renovation include decorating an old phone room like a garden shed. A room kitted out for podcast recording is decorated with cassette tapes and records.
Phase two will include the space previously used by the Print Room restaurant. The cavernous print hall will be the perfect venue for networking, talks and other events, with Heineken free on tap from 8pm.
By the end of the project, the building will be able to house 136 workers.
Freelancers or small businesses can rent space, from a single desk to a private office. Rent starts at £300 a month for a single desk, with 24-hour access and no rates or utility bills to pay. Packages include Wi-Fi, credits for the use of meeting rooms, and access to common areas where people can congregate or do some thinking.
The total space in the building works out at 60sqft per person, with plenty of areas to relax or brainstorm.
“Everyone has their own thinking place. People have different times they work – that’s the idea of being 24/7 and you have different areas around the building to go and think,” said Mr Winterton.
“We want to offer a lot of places to think and not have the restrictions you normally have.”
While a report in 2015 found Bournemouth and Poole had the fastest-growing digital economy in the country, there has never been a location around which those business are clustered.
“We very much want to change that in a big way and what better way to do it than in a famous building in the centre of town,” said Mr Winterton.
He has been impressed by Dorset’s digital sector and convinced it has the potential to grow further.
“You’ve got a phenomenal community of creative people that are doing phenomenal things. You’ve got a significant venture capital market in London which I hope over time starts to expand,” he said.
He said accessing that venture capital would be vital to getting firms to grow.
“At the moment, London has stacks of venture capital and that’s the thing companies need to expand,” he added.
That designation as the country’s fastest-growing digital economy was based on its number of start-ups. Mr Winterton says it will be important to support new businesses and to help growing companies expand.
THIS Workspace is to be the Bournemouth home of Virgin StartUp – the not-for-profit organisation that supports new businesses with loans and advice.
“Virgin StartUp helps start-ups not only by bringing in additional cash that they need to keep going, but it brings mentorship from firms that are doing well,” he said.
“It’s that the old saying, to be successful, surround yourself with successful people.
“I had a start-up of my own in Perth, which is a lovely place but probably one of the worst places for investment in the world. There’s no venture capital, it’s a very resource-led country.
“In a place like England, the fact that you’re on the doorstep of Europe makes life a lot easier. There’s more competition but there’s more opportunity.”
Other shared workspaces have proved that firms tend to stay longer on a rolling contract, rather than having to decide every three or five years about whether to renew a lease, he said.
“The idea of a monthly rolling contract makes it really flexible because a start-up can grow extremely quickly or not,” he added.
Several creative and digital agencies are already in the building, along with Virgin StartUp. If the idea takes off, it could be replicated in other parts of the country, with Bournemouth held up as an example.
Mr Winterton adds: “It’s a nice story that the Echo print room is going from the old ways of business to bringing the building effectively to the next generation of businesses.”