Awards Tour: Crosthwaite
October 13th, 2022
Author: Mark Gray
Posted In: Latest news
Up to stop 28 on the B4RN Awards Tour where we headed to Crosthwaite!
The INCA and ISPA trophies – won last year – are being taken to the volunteers whose hard work over the past decade has been essential to installing the B4RN gigabit full fibre broadband network.
Five volunteers – Henk Muller, Andy Brown, Martin Casson, Matthew Jessop and Stewart Wren – stopped for a photo with the awards at Crosthwaite School. The school receives a 10Gbps service for free.
Andy, Martin and Matthew (who is Crosthwaite School’s headteacher) stopped to reflect on their project and said it started because of the school:
Andy Brown (also a school governor): “We had budget surveys and we thought we could save a lot of money.”
Matthew Jessop: “We were paying a substantial sum for a very average service. The B4RN service was a challenging installation, but free for schools and pockets of the community were also very keen on it.”
How was it getting the project going?
Martin Casson: “[Existing provision was] patchy. Some were on ADSL, some on microwave. I had a number of meetings with BT, but they wouldn’t connect me, and that motivated me to get involved with B4RN. It’s been rewarding.”
AB: “We were getting quotes of up to £50,000 for better broadband [under the USO] which was ludicrous, obviously.”
MJ: “I was aware of B4RN, as was Martin. A lot of people locally objected to the fact the incumbent was the only option for an extortionate cost for not a very good service.”
MC: “The community aspect appealed too. It’s the school, they’ve got kids or grandchildren here. It’s the church, it’s the village hall – that really got to people.”
AB: “We had a novice’s naivety at thinking it shouldn’t be any challenge at all! In some respects that’s what spurred us on, ‘we can do that’! Then we found out it was quite challenging getting – what? – 43 wayleaves on the first route alone.”
MC: “There were one or two surprises. Had someone who lived 60-odd miles away… owned one field but he’d heard about B4RN and said ‘no problem’. I had the advantage that I was born and brought up in this bit of the valley, farmers would just say ‘just tell us where you’re putting it’ and that was that.”
What is the attraction of B4RN?
AB: “We learned to remind people of what this actually means. It’s not about internet & computers… it’s about communications, being able to talk to people, and interact with whatever your business is, and that includes farming these days. It’s the fact the community has control over it. We have no idea – even now – how much we’ll be reliant upon it in future, but it will be a lot more. And when we do, those companies are going to be just like the energy companies now, they’re going to hitch those prices up and turn the screws. The lovely thing about B4RN is that it’s ours, we’ll decide what the prices are and how it is. You’ve got the ‘Rolls Royce’ product and it’s under your control.”
MJ: “House prices. Agent’s saying it’s got up to 38Mbps. Wouldn’t buy it for all the money in the world. You want a gigabit connection now.”
MC: “The resilience of B4RN. It’s all underground. Storm Arwen highlighted that. People were off for weeks and weeks and weeks.”
AB: “As long as you had your own power, B4RN did not fail for that two weeks. It was available for those that had power.”
Any happy customers?
AB: “I was just talking to someone this morning who runs a lot of business from home, and he was perfectly happy.”
MJ: “The fella at the bottom of the valley, with a plantation. He was saying his wife was in fashion, and that involves enormous sized files. They used to go out for the day while things were downloading or uploading. Now they just make a brew and its done!”
AB: “There was a business just round here who were very late to come on board. Said they wouldn’t have it but changed their mind. I spoke to one of them the other day and they said when can they have it at their home! The only time I ever hear criticism of B4RN is from people who haven’t got it.”
MJ: “The kids are very aware of how good it is. There used to be fifty kids on computers but you’d get the buffering wheel. Not anymore.”
AB: “[I know people who say] we see our grandchildren every single weekend because the internet at their home is so much slower than B4RN that they beg to go see nana and grandad!”
MC: – “My grandchildren are in Norwich and in York but when they come…”
MJ: – “They don’t come to see you, they come for the fast broadband!”
MC: “Well, they do! My children run businesses from home – one’s a publisher and they’ve got big files. Our previous system just melted. Now they can all be on it at the same time.”
So, why did you volunteer with B4RN?
AB: “I will never retract why I did it, because somebody’s got to. It needs people to lift up and support their communities and get things going.”
MJ: “We were very fortunate to get people like that… who got their teeth into it and had a vested interest in doing it for the community and sticking with it.”
MC: “I found it very satisfying, during lockdown I was allowed out! I’m retired and for a bit of the time it was like a full time job. But it was enjoyable.”
AB: “If you’re an acutely nosy person, it’s unbelievable the information you find out about your community!”
MJ: “Some of the route walks… little spots I would never get to otherwise. Gorgeous little spots. Meet families you’d never otherwise meet. It’s been brilliant to get a group of locals being so helpful to the school and community and doing such a lot of good. Sticking with it. Determination and commitment over the winter months.”
AB: “I’m seeing people now standing side-by-side, digging a trench, who I happen to know had a 25-year old feud. That’s buried now – the hatchet’s somewhere beneath the ducting! It’s brought a lot of people together who’d normally had never passed the time of day to one another.”
MC: “It’s satisfying to be involved in something where talking to people in city environments or the south, where they’ve got everything, and you mention the speed and they cannot believe it.”
The group wished to give honourable mentions to: Adam Walker; Patrick Boggan; Mike Bevans; Drew Newman; John Holmes; Matthew Dobson; and to landowners the Sharp family (without whom, the project wouldn’t have started).
Meanwhile, the catalyst for the project as a whole was special funding from DCMS for the connection to the school
Pictured Below: Breaking ground in December 2020. Just six months later, the first property was live on B4RN.