There are some things you have to accept when you live in London. Rush hour pandemonium, coffee shop confusion and eye-watering prices for a start. But it’s balanced by bucket loads of culture on the doorstep, global cuisine on every street and fantastic broadband coverage. So when residents on one Putney road discovered they’d been left behind in the superfast roll-out they couldn’t understand why – and decided to take action.
In 2016, the Hampshire rural Hamlet of Ditcham became the first UK community to benefit from a BT grant scheme aimed at bringing superfast fibre broadband to parts of the country, which are hard-to-reach. The Hamlet, and its local school - Ditcham Park - joined the superfast broadband revolution after taking advantage of a BT schools grant. More than £17,500 was awarded to help connect the school and the local houses along the route to the Openreach fibre network. Now, the community is enjoying ultrafast download speeds of up to 330Mbps - more than 50 times faster than its previous broadband service. Although the grant from BT was instrumental in making Ditcham’s fibre dream a reality, the community’s willingness to ‘get digging’ also made a massive difference, as Ditcham resident and broadband campaigner Chris Taee explains:
“We opted to self-dig after I explained that doing so would save us money and help speed up the fibre deployment process. So, once we started speaking with Openreach through its Community Fibre Partnership programme I stepped in and explained how we’d be able to take charge of all the digging needed to complete the infrastructure.”
Added Chris: “Openreach were incredibly supportive from the get-go. I told them we’d be happy to design the route, liaise with all the land-owners and organise the actual digging ourselves, but they would have to supply the necessary ducting and the chambers. And they did so no problem. In fact, they gave us lots of valuable advice as we were planning the dig. For example, they told us we’d need to put in a chamber every 300 yards and extra chambers where the route bended. They gave us confidence that we were doing everything correctly.”
Chris, who works as an entrepreneurial property developer, determined that he would need to hire in two sub-contractors to do the digging - one to carry out open field digging and the other to dig roads and soft verges, using a small machine digger.
“Everything functioned flawlessly,” he said. “We completed 6.5 kilometres of trenching in less than six weeks. Once we were done, the Openreach engineering team arrived, to install the fibre in the ducts and connected us to the network - which I’m thrilled to say gives us access to some amazing speeds.”
Said Chris: “It all happened at lightening pace. I first contacted Openreach in May and, because we did the digging ourselves, and had great support from the local landowners, we were all switched on by late September. I doubt there is any other community scheme that has managed to complete the process that fast.”
As the project was co-funded by Ditcham Park School, they were understandably overjoyed to receive the BT Schools grant to partially fund the self-dig project. “Just like Openreach, Ditcham Park School was incredibly supportive of the proposal,” said Chris. The School had to find a way of getting better connected, and this proved to be by far the best and most affordable way to get it done.
“The school had been previously quoted a significant sum to get a leased line installed - which would have also incurred a substantial monthly cost. The self-digging and the Community Fibre Partnership programme has saved them circa £100k of capital cost, and another £1,350 or so per month in ongoing charges.”
Added Chris: “That’s why I’d urge other UK communities without fibre to explore the idea of self-digging. If you’ve got a can-do attitude, and don’t mind getting your hands a bit dirty then, with the right support, you really can make it happen.”
When it comes to the perfect place to live, it used to be ‘location, location, location’. Now it’s ‘connection, connection, connection’. And thanks to a great effort by the local community, Northumberland village Eshott has the best of both worlds – an idyllic country setting coupled with superfast fibre broadband. But that wasn’t always the case.
Eshott resident, Andy Godward, who led the campaign for better broadband, said: “It used to be so frustrating. We had broadband at dial-up speeds and had to take it in turns to get online.”
Pictured above, Teachers, pupils – and engineers are looking forward to celebrating an early Christmas present for Dunedin.
Residents of a small community in rural Leicestershire have been describing the ‘huge and positive’ impact that superfast broadband has had on their lives since they were connected to the Openreach fibre network just over a year ago.
It was back in March 2016 that the Coleorton Hall estate in Coleorton, and the nearby villages of Churchtown and Farmtown, were upgraded to fibre after striking a co-funding deal with Openreach through its Community Fibre Partnership programme. The story began when a group residents living in Coleorton Hall, a grade II listed building that’s been consisting of 12 apartments and 35 other properties, approached Openreach after discovering they weren’t included in any fibre rollout plans.
Benefits that more than compensate for cost
The community and Openreach worked together to reach a solution so that the estate, plus around 120 homes and businesses nearby, could be served by a brand new fibre-enabled cabinet giving speeds of up to 80Mbps.
Resident and broadband campaigner David Basten has been thrilled by the outcome.
“We were all incredibly frustrated with the pretty feeble download speeds we were getting. But now we’ve gone from being one of the most disadvantaged estates in the country to being in the top half. The benefits we as residents are getting from our superfast connection definitely outweigh the costs involved.”
Improved quality of life
“The quality of life has definitely improved for all of us who now have a superfast connection. It’s already had a significant impact on property prices and that that has to be good news.”
He adds: “Openreach’s Community Fibre partnerships programme came up trumps for us. Since we first got in touch, everything has just flowed.”
Residents of Churchtown, Farmtown and Coleorton Hall are now enjoying a superfast service on the network which is open to all communication providers on an equal wholesale basis, meaning they can choose from a number of internet service providers.
Jon Wohlters also lives in Coleorton. He says superfast has helped to improve many aspects of his whole family’s lives.
“For example, we can access the fullest high quality media which means my young children can take advantage of a raft of educational resources.”
Jon recommends that other communities who are not part of any fibre rollout plans should certainly consider working with Openreach via its Community Fibre Partnership programme.
More choice for subscribers
“I would highly recommend using Openreach to provision a community as this removes much of the risk and liability of owning infrastructure and also keeps an open market for subscribers.”
“Reaching a solution through the Community Fibre Partnership was certainly worth it for our community as it is really helping to protect the housing market from any depreciation associated with poor broadband speeds.”
“Radical, completely radical. That’s the effect superfast broadband has had on our family. Now, all of us can do what we want when we want – simultaneously.” Said Claire Aindow, from Belmont in Lancashire
Although it would be accurate to describe Kings Cliffe in Northamptonshire as a small village, it’s been growing quickly in recent times. Evidence of this includes the shiny new Sovereign Grange development built on the edge of the village which features a range of homes designed to attract first time buyers as well as larger families.
Although many Kings Cliffe residents were unhappy with the broadband speeds they were getting, expectations rose when a potential solution emerged – as local broadband campaigner Sam Schofield explains: “Unfortunately Kings Cliffe wasn’t in any superfast fibre rollout plans which, of course, was frustrating for the community. But then a communications provider stepped in to say they could connect the village providing there was sufficient demand.” Continued Sam: “I live in Sovereign Grange. Lots of families, young people and professionals live here – all of us are keen internet users. So, we were thrilled that the Sovereign Grange community was to be included in the Kings Cliffe superfast upgrade. But then, after eighteen months of discussion with the proprietary fibre broadband provider we discovered that we were suddenly excluded from their plans. The rest of the village would be ok – but we were going to be left high and dry.”
Sovereign Grange community finally received some good news when Sam Schofield met with Paul Bimson, a regional partnership director with BT. Paul told Sam about Openreach's Community Fibre Partnerships initiative and how it could potentially unlock a viable solution for the battle-weary community.
“Paul came along and he was a real saviour to us when we were at a low point. He was a continual presence and worked closely with our community to help us get to grips with the Community Fibre concept. He helped us to understand how we could jointly fund a cabinet upgrade with Openreach,” said Sam.
Sam Schofield then spearheaded a communications campaign to galvanise fellow Sovereign Grange residents into contributing to a fund.
“We needed to raise around £10,000 which would match the contribution from Openreach and get the project done,” said Sam. “We decided to go for online crowdfunding the money. We felt it was open, transparent and people could put in what they could afford”
Paul Bimson said: “The Sovereign Grange community made incredibly rapid progress and crowdfunding really delivered for them. Astonishingly, they hit their £10,000 target in just six weeks.”
This meant that Openreach could begin carrying out all the engineering work required including installation of a new fibre broadband cabinet and underground cables. Fibre broadband went live in Sovereign Grange in October 2016 making superfast speeds of up to 80 Mbps available to around 350 homes for the first time.
“There’s a good feeling in the community right now. What’s more, unlike the rest of Kings Cliffe who are stuck with a proprietary supplier, we are all free to choose who we go with as a service provider,” said Sam Schofield. “The Sovereign Grange community has shown real determination and vision to bounce back from earlier disappointment. I am thrilled that the Community Fibre Partnerships initiative has been able to step in and rescue the situation,” Said Paul Bimson.
Households and businesses in two picturesque Gloucestershire villages are celebrating joining the information superhighway - after fearing they might lose out on the benefits of superfast fibre broadband.
Around 400 premises in Bussage and Chalford now have access to some of the fastest broadband speeds in the country thanks to an innovative partnership with Openreach.
After finding out they weren't included in any fibre broadband upgrades being carried out by the public or private sectors, some villagers worked with Openreach to come up with an alternative solution.
They shared the costs of installing the new road-side fibre broadband cabinets and fibre optic cabling with Openreach, as part of a Community Fibre Partnership programme. Openreach made a significant contribution to the project, with local residents raising the funds required to make up the shortfall in the commercial case for bringing fibre to these hard-to-reach communities.
Paul Severs, chairman of the Bussage and Chalford Broadband Action Group company (BCBAG Ltd), said: Faster fibre broadband is so important these days to businesses as well as residents because it enables us all to do everything online so much easier and more quickly.
Our group believes that fibre broadband promotes social inclusion by improving access to health, education and commercial services and supports sustainable employment by encouraging flexible approaches to working from home and the growth of small businesses.
When we realised we weren't part of any scheduled upgrade, we were naturally very disappointed. Senior managers at BT were instrumental in introducing us to the Community Fibre Partnerships programme, which appeared to be our only way forward.
After three years' campaigning including the last year planning with Openreach the benefits to the local community, who dug deep in their pockets to fund this, are already clear, and there's no doubt that making fibre broadband available will encourage some businesses to stay, who might have otherwise relocated.
May I take this opportunity to thank those in the community who have supported BCBAG for the benefits now available to all of our community.
Anthony Pilkington, managing director of Chalford-based BookCheck Limited, whose business is book-keeping with management accounts, said: We've placed our order to upgrade to fibre and expect our broadband download speeds to soar to up to 80Mbps which, considering we've been struggling with 1.5Mbps, that's going to be life-changing! There are four people in the office here and each of them loses about half an hour a day due to slow broadband speeds and I've calculated the cost savings to my business will be £6,000 per year with superfast, as we'll be able to work more efficiently.
Kim Mears, Openreach's managing director for infrastructure delivery, said: We're committed to working with hard-to-reach communities like Bussage and Chalford to help them achieve their goal of a fast fibre connection. Rural areas often present the most difficult and complex challenges, but working together gives us the best chance possible of finding a suitable and affordable way forward, and, as a result we've actually been able to complete this work slightly earlier than originally expected.
Bill Murphy, BT's former managing director of next generation access, said: A community fibre partnership like this one is an excellent solution for villages like Bussage and Chalford which fall outside any private or public sector fibre broadband roll-out plans. Our strong ambition is to never say no' and rather to work together with local households to find a suitable and affordable option for communities in a similar situation. Indeed, we're already working with around 130 UK communities where local people have got together and pooled their funds alongside Openreach's substantial investment.
Superfast broadband opens up so many opportunities and enables people to do so much more online. For example, seamless online banking, being able to download films, TV or music in next to no time. But there's more to fibre broadband than faster download or upload speeds families can connect more than one device to the internet at the same time without delays or buffering, whether it's for online shopping, web-based school work or gaming.
Unlike other companies, Openreach offers fibre broadband access to all service providers on an open, wholesale basis, which underpins a competitive market and delivers real customer choice.
If you represent a community or are interested in bringing ultrafast fibre all the way to your home or business please enter your post code or landline to start the journey.