1998 March: Permission for landmark building next to Peatmoor Lagoon, West Swindon

By Roger Ogle - 26 December 2018

Photo ArchiveCommunity

Main picture taken in Sparcells Temporary Community Centre in October 1997, at a public presentation of plans for the Cellular Operations building on the south side of Peatmoor Lagoon, managing director Nigel Bunter, left, with architect Richard Hywel-Evans.
All photos by Roger Ogle

The internal cafe adjacent to the reception area

Variously nicknamed the glass cigar, torpedo or the zeppelin, one of Swindon's must-see buildings on the edge of Peatmoor Lagoon, opposite the Chinese Experience restaurant, received planning permission on 2 March 1998. 

The £6 million structure was designed as a call centre for mobile phone business Cellular Operations by the Richard Hywel-Evans architectural practice who had the brief to create an iconic building to put the business on the map. The other important requirement was to create a humane call centre to attract and retain staff.

Part of the building was let to Ford Magic which provided assistance to customers with disabilities.
The building featured employee relaxation areas, themed washrooms and a fountain activated by the operation of the lift. Construction took less than ten months and staff started to arrive in January 1999.

A range of architectural, environmetal and workplace awards followed, but in early 2003 Cellular Operations was bought out by Vodafone for the 360,000 corporate customers on its books. Despite hopes that the Swindon site would continue, it was soon declared surplus to requirements and 480 people were made redundant at the end of the year.

The building was empty for several years. After refurbishment in 2012 it was split into three large units. These are currently occupied by Excalibur IT mobile and integrated communications, which provides accomodation for Link magazine. Jaywing brand awareness call centre is also located there and one unit is available to rent.

From the March 2000 Link magazine: Cafe gets the go-ahead

Swindon's newest landmark building - the Cellular Operations headquarters - on the edge of Peatmoor Lagoon will be featured in the March edition of the prestigious Architects Journal. 

Thereafter the design will be submitted for a number of awards by architect Richard Hywel-Evans and will reinforce the town's reputation for unusual and interesting architecture.  Complementing the futuristic call-centre which reflects the lake waters in its glass frontage will be a cafeteria which will serve as a staff canteen and a refreshment facility to the general public visiting the lagoon.

Despite objections from residents living in Peatmoor on the other side of the lagoon, Swindon Council's development control committee passed an application on 31 January to build a cafeteria next to the main building, as well as a warehouse and distribution logistics centre.

The cafe project requires the footpath around the lagoon to be diverted slightly and the company will have to comply with a number of restrictions and requirements. It will have to enlarge and resurface the public car park nearby, replace fishing platforms that will have to be moved, improve the landscaping and limit access to the public in the evening

Local councillor Peter Mallinson welcomed the agreement of the committee. He said: ”The lagoon is a facility built for all the people of Swindon and Cellular Operations are to be congratulated for creating a building of spectacular interest, which will draw attention to the town, and provides a refreshment area open to the public."

Cellular Operations managing director Nigel Bunter said he was pleased that the cafe proposals have been accepted.  "Our intention has always been to work closely with and benefit the community."

He added that detailed design for the cafe and logistics centre will now  take place and it is likely to open at the beginning of next year.

• Why the cafe and warehouse were not built is unclear, but the initial discussion about the possible takeover of Cellular Operations by Vodafone probably put further capital investment in the site on hold.

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