Connecting Communities: Helen Wylde's Journey in Bridging The Digital Divide
Helen Wylde has been CEO of Wildanet since January 2022, and was Non-Executive Director there for a year prior to that. She is used to fielding questions about the similarity between her name and the business’s name; the answer is that it’s purely a coincidence, although it somehow seems fitting.
Helen Wylde, smiling at the camera
Transforming Connectivity and Changing Lives
There has been a thread of connectivity running through Helen’s career, and it has taken many forms. Right now at Wildanet, she is running an organisation bringing Gigabit capability fibreoptic broadband to Cornwall, focussed particularly on the hard-to-reach areas, the isolated communities, and the places no-one else will go to. Prior to that, she was Managing Director at East  Coast Trains, where she delivered the ground-breaking Lumo sustainable electric rail service, between London and Edinburgh offering, for First Group. Connecting people and places, with an innovative and high-quality solution focussed on environmental impact and a viable alternative to short-haul flights.

Previous roles included the digitisation of Parcelforce customer offering as Sales and Marketing Director, amongst others. She describes the roles as leading large-scale transformations, taking start-ups to the next stage, scaling and growing for success, and heavily involved with processes and systems, yet also with culture, brand and strategy. She combines the ability to command a high-level overview of her projects with a passion for getting the nitty-gritty right, not only for ‘things’ but also for the people involved. Overall, she’s been connecting things, people, places, and infrastructure, in many forms.

Helen was in the middle of the Lumo programme when she took her initial Non-Executive Director role at Wildanet, knowing that this was a cause she could get behind wholeheartedly, and join fully when the time was right. It called to her for two main reasons, she says:
Firstly, it’s a fantastic project, in the South West, so it brought me home. There are opportunities that we can build for the next generation, and to improve digital inclusion, and that’s important. The second reason is that the infrastructure, the connections, they change lives. It opens possibilities for medication at home; for businesses, with better Wi-Fi connections, they can go to the next level – it’s these really important things.”

Her passion comes across loud and clear; it’s not just putting cables in the ground, for Helen. It’s what they represent, for individuals, families, communities and businesses. She carries on, “There are a hundred and fifteen storm days a year in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, and on those days, if it’s not actually safe to get to work, or for an older person to go out, then they can draw the curtains, hunker down, and stay connected, at home. Combatting social isolation is so important.”

Obviously, in post-covid times, working from home, and carrying on with school at home, are familiar topics, but virtual hospital wards, and at-home-monitoring of medical conditions are part of the solution to hospital overcrowding, and many cutting edge healthcare innovations rely on the connectivity of the individual. Not to mention businesses, whose customers expect to be able to browse the internet from their restaurant table or holiday accommodation, or for whom the ability to effectively manage their systems online is an essential part of their process.

A force for good
Helen has encouraged Wildanet’s involvement in the B Corp programme through the B23 initiative that was developed as a Wildanet Project, which harnesses businesses as a force for good in their communities, giving them tools to measure and improve their social and environmental impact. Together with Leap and Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, Wildanet is inspiring other local businesses to join B Corp, and make the commitment to purpose alongside profit.

With Helen at the helm, Wildanet is making further and deeper commitments to the local economy, but she’s thinking bigger than that. In March 2023, Helen was invited to give evidence before the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee. She spoke about the work that Wildanet is doing to bridge the digital divide in Cornwall, contributing to the Committee’s investigation into the impact of digital exclusion, and the restrictions that it can have on economic opportunity.

Inspiring Change
As we drew our conversation to a close, I asked Helen if there was anything else she thought needed to be included in an article about her. She lit up, not that she hadn’t been enthusiastic until that point, but she began to talk about her one wish, for future generations of women. She described how she had spent her career trying to establish herself as the best, feeling that she needed to prove herself to be the best in order to get anywhere, almost in spite of the fact that she’s a woman. She’s hoping that the work that her generation has done will help the next generation to believe that they have every right to be at the table, and deserve to be there. Encouraging women into engineering roles, apprenticeships and to rise to positions of leadership is hugely important to Helen, and she’s doing everything she can to bring it about, connecting young women to opportunities.

Helen knows that the climate challenge will be the big issue for the generation of young people coming up now. She’s convinced that the more people from different backgrounds and diverse experiences that can put their minds to solving this huge challenge, the more varied skills can be engaged, and the more exciting solutions can be explored. Equality of opportunity for all, bringing more to the table, for each other and the environment.
Article written by Hannah Danson for Your Partnerships.

To find out more about Wildanet, see their website, where you can also explore B Corp, or see their own website at