The stunning Mendip Hills in rural Somerset do not, at first glance, seem like an obvious place to look for tech innovation in the South West. An area of outstanding natural beauty, it’s better known for its picturesque views and numerous outdoorsy activities. More stone walls and ice creams than deep web and second screens.
The city of Wells, just south of the Hills, is England’s smallest city, with a population of a little over 11,000 according to the last census. It’s also the home of MendipHub, “the hub for productive activity, creativity, profit and the generation of new employment opportunities”.
We caught up with Judith Ludovino, Managing Director of MendipHub, to find out what what this means, and what exactly is so special about the area.
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MendipHub was created, says Judith, “to provide a facility for the many small businesses in the area”. At the most basic level, this means office space for those who need it. More than that though, the idea of the hub is to provide a friendly working environment, one that is conducive to the kind of top quality, innovative work that allows small business to flourish and is, according to Judith, vital for the health of the Mendips. “We are a social enterprise company,” she says, “providing both workspace and educational opportunities.”
Opened by the local Liberal Democrat MP, Tessa Munt, in 2013, MendipHub welcomes the work-from-home self-employed who miss the bustling atmosphere and the communal feel of office life. Although tech-friendly, the Hub has its doors open to all; current residents include marketing specialists TelePA, energy specialists Totem, and software engineers Breathe Software.
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As well as a friendly group of fellow humans, the Hub, despite its rural location, is accessible from across the South West; just 20 miles from both Bath, Bristol and Bristol International Airport. And the word accessible could well be applied to the attitude of the Hub too. The emphasis is on welcoming and supporting new enterprises, and there’s a sense of bringing them into the fold, a community effort where everybody supports everybody else.
“MendipHub sees its role as a facilitator of the local economy, supporting local businesses and talent in an area that prides itself on independence.”
As part of this supportive community, the management team run seminars to help new entrepreneurs pick up the skills they need for success. Events like the Creatives Clubs, organised by the Creative Somerset CIC, which offers the opportunity to meet other artists and creatives, share ideas, experience and contacts, bring together the residents and creates a real all-in-it-together feel.
For techy bods however, the devil is in the detail. The Hub offers several membership options to suit any business. Pay the one-off payment of £95 to join, and then a variety of options are open to you: meetings rooms are £10 an hour, training rooms £18, and desk space starts from £20 for eight hours a month. You can even rent a self-contained office for your company. And you’re well serviced for internet connectivity too; it offers a 100/100Mbps high speed line, large enough to satiate the hungriest of web user.
Hub Stars: Managing Director Judith Ludovino, second from left; Tessa Munt MP, third from left; and the rest of the MendipHub team
Another positive is the prestige of the location. As Judith describes the company, one of the things that comes through is a strong sense of pride in Wells itself. When asked about the advantages of being based where they are for instance, her answer is unequivocal: “Quality of life. It’s quite a self-contained economy. Not particularly dependent on any one sector. A really nice place to live.”
She switches without hesitation between noting quality and economic independence. “It has good schools,” she says, “which means lots of talent” – a place, it seems, that can very much get by on its own merits.
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We asked Judith what she considers to be the company’s biggest successes so far: “Attracting vibrant and energetic entrepreneurs into the facility,“ she tells us, before adding, “and also having fought and won a battle to have fibre-optic brought into the building.”
This battle came about because the Mendips weren’t one of BT’s designated areas for the rollout of superfast internet. It’s a victory that indicates a determination to have parity with the country’s bigger, more obvious economic hubs – that streak of independence again.
In other words, there’s a reason MendipHub put their geographical location in their company name. This company is about the Mendips as much as it is about flourishing business – it’s very obvious exactly where they want business to flourish. MendipHub sees its role as a facilitator of the local economy, supporting local businesses and talent in an area that prides itself on independence.
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MendipHub is not exclusively a tech incubator, but it is a place where you’re able to get work done without having to make the long trek to Bristol, Bath or beyond. The flexibility and accessibility that defines MendipHub is representative of a region not in thrall to any particular industry, instead keen to promote general growth and support any business that needs it.
Want to know more? A full list of tariffs are available on the MendipHub website, and if you have enquiries, you can get in touch with them using their contact form. You can register for social and networking events. Find them on Facebook and Tw