North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll dug deep to help the Allendale community get connected.
Jamie, the UK’s newest Metro Mayor, joined volunteers laying the track for a high-speed broadband network that will cover all the Allen Valleys countryside. The fibre optic tracks, which will provide the internet to around 1,600 homes and businesses, have been dug through farmers’ fields and down miles of country lanes.
“How about this for a community wealth building project,” Jamie said. “We’ve just put in about eighty metres of high speed full fibre broadband. When completed, it will be among the fastest broadband service in the country.”
The project began amid frustration over unreliable speeds and connections. The non-profit community benefit society, named Broadband for the Allen Valleys, or B4AV, raised £100,000 in a matter of weeks. Home users will pay £30 a month and will not need a landline. Businesses will pay a higher charge, dependent on their size.
“This is all about communities taking control of their own economic future,” Jamie said. “Broadband internet is crucial to so much of the future. If you live in a massive rural area like this, in the heart of beautiful Northumberland and one of the least densely populated parts of England, how do you get high-speed broadband if you want to work from home? This is about creating sustainability.
“It has social sustainability; these are volunteers who have set up their own co-operative to deliver this infrastructure project. It provides economic sustainability because they own the infrastructure and everybody will be paying £30 a month to pay for their own broadband, and that goes right back into the community to pay for this and support other community projects.
“And it has environmental sustainability because it means you can do things like working at home instead of having to drive into the city to do the jobs you need to do. This is exactly the sustainable economic future we need for the North of Tyne. It’s brilliant.”
Mike Robinson, who is helping lead the project for B4AV, said the scheme had been reliant on landowners giving permission for cables to be laid across the area, which sits within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
He said: “It is for the most part sheep pasture, with a lot of rocks. We do a lot of the digging by hand but have invested in a mini Mo-Plough and some other equipment, because we want to get this done quickly. The support we have had has been astounding. We began with a community meeting at which about 60 people turned up who all had terrible broadband and wanted to do something about it.”
To get involved, contact B4AV at www.b4av.org.