Community Broadband Pioneers: North West Chapter

We began our #digitalassets journey in rural Cumbria, in April 2013, when we visited the ambitious and determined folk spear-heading the Fibre GarDen initiative.

There, two communities have come together to provide super-fast internet connectivity to around 750 households – the aim: to alleviate digital poverty and take what may yet prove to be the single most important step towards preventing the area’s decline.

The group that was formed to engage the wider community, develop appropriate plans and secure the requisite investment are determined that ‘no one should be left behind’ – irrespective of the challenges inherent in connecting sparsely populated residents in remote areas in a financially viable manner. But, more than that, they have turned ‘civic engineers’.

So, like nearby B4RN, they have plans to coordinate a community digging effort to lay the ducting for circa 65km of fibre optic cabling which will facilitate the installation of symmetrical dual Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) in due course.

Crucially, the Fibre Gar-Den initiative benefits from business oriented digital champions at the local level as well as community representatives capable of contributing technical expertise during this initial planning and implementation phase. As a result, they have secured investment from BDUK‘s Rural Community Broadband Fund, after undertaken detailed technical scoping, financial planning and investor engagement. And, they are now in the process of exploring the potential for a community share issue to supply the remaining investment required.

What’s really striking about the Fibre Gar-Den initiative, though, is the commitment of the whole community to “self-help and self-build principles” (which is best likened to discussions with Community Land Trusts where affordable housing development is concerned). Because, despite the labyrinthine maze of practical, legal and financial considerations that must be negotiated, the visitor is left in no doubt that here is a case of: “if not now, when? if not us, who?”. At first site, the combination of willing landowners and capable farmers might appear to limit such civic engineering to rural settings – but, it turns out, that isn’t the case.

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