Determined villagers are celebrating the start of months-long digging work to deliver a superfast broadband network to their remote homes.
Frustrated over a lack of access to fibre optic internet connections, a small group of volunteers from Puddington, Burton and Capenhurst in West Cheshire took matters into their own hands and set about developing their own network to meet their needs.
They enlisted the help of experienced rural broadband provider Broadband for the Rural North Ltd (B4RN) and within weeks had a whole army of local residents willing to offer their support.
The project, B4RN Cheshire, which extends to a geographical area of some 12 square miles and incorporates the villages of Puddington, Burton, Capenhurst, Shotwick, Ness, Two Mills, Wood Bank and Ledsham, will see individual householders hooked up to the world’s fastest rural broadband network, receiving speeds of up to 1000Mbps.
Currently, most villagers are receiving less than 10Mbps.
Much of the trench-digging and the laying of cables will be delivered by local landowners and farmers, assisted by volunteers, making it a fun, community-spirited project.
The official ‘Dig for a Gig’ got under way on farmland in Puddington on Saturday, March 3, and was attended by more than 50 villagers and Chester MP Chris Matheson who is publicly supporting the campaign.
Jill Nicholson, 58, who owns Gordale Garden and Home Centre on the Chester High Road, Burton, said: “We’re really pleased to have reached this milestone and it’s all testament to the hard work of the team and the support of local people who’ve got behind the project to bring us into the 21st century.
“Our retail business, 70 years old this year, which employs 95 local people, has struggled for many years as the use of internet has become more and more an essential part of running a business. We currently have access to about 0.5Mbps.
“Our office and IT staff are unable to access web pages, essential to their work, and have to take work home with them to complete – including online health and safety and food and hygiene training.
“Just like the provision of water and electricity was seen as vital to progress, today high speed broadband is a necessity of modern living.”
“As demand for connected services and cloud-based applications develops and evolves, doing it for ourselves with B4RN will provide a long term solution, 1000Mbps upload and download for everyone, at a fair price for all, and it will ensure that as a community we are not digitally excluded but digitally future proofed.”
The project arose on the back of a meeting attended by Puddington residents Peter, 61, and Dot Delaney, 64, in Lancashire, hosted by B4RN.
“The concept was simple; persuade local landowners to allow ducting to cross their land and connect up the community – providing very fast broadband to those people,” said Peter.
Dot and Peter discussed the idea with local parish councillor and businesswoman Alison Raine, 43, in December 2016 and the project began to gain momentum with a team of volunteers from Capenhurst, Burton and Puddington willing to do the groundwork.
At its first public meeting in October, residents packed into Burton’s Gladstone Village Hall and more than 75 householders pledged their support for the scheme.
B4RN is a professionally-designed fibre optic broadband network which is registered as a non-profit community benefit company.
The firm, based in Carnforth, Lancashire, is run by a dedicated local team with the support of landowners and volunteers.
It has successfully laid thousands of miles of fibre across some 60 parishes, connecting rurally-isolated householders to hyper-fast broadband networks.
All profits from the company go back into the local community.
Chris Matheson MP was amongst the first few people to dig the new trenches in Puddington for the areas first community broadband initiative.
Chris said: “In a world where people often say that technology has altered our sense of community, this is a great example of where the need for internet technology is bringing a community together.
“This is a giant leap forward for people living in rural Cheshire and it can’t stop in Puddington.
“I will be contacting rural communities who have complained to me in the past about their internet access to put them in touch with the people leading this brilliant scheme.
“And anyone who is interested should contact me on email@example.com or 01244 343 214 if they want to find out more.”