B4RN Focus: What it Means to Volunteer
May 24th, 2023
B4RN couldn't do what it does without its volunteers!
At B4RN, we work shoulder-to-shoulder with rural communities to design, plan and build a gigabit full-fibre network.
We can only do this thanks to the hard work and dedication of our amazing volunteers, who are willing to invest so much of their time and energy to deliver significant and lasting benefit to their wider community.
B4RN volunteers do all sorts! From helping plan and walking routes; agreeing wayleaves; encouraging sign-up and investment; digging trenches and laying duct; helping to connect customers... and of course feeding the B4RN troops! (None of this would be possible without tea and cake!)
With that in mind, this month's B4RN Focus looks at what it means to volunteer?
Benefiting the Village - Great Salkeld
The Great Salkeld project began during the Covid-19 pandemic. Once it went into build, the pressure was really on, as the deadline to deliver for government voucher funding was just months away. Now, the village is celebrating it's 100th live B4RN connection.
The challenges were overcome thanks to a core trio of volunteers - Donna Webster, Jenny Turner, and Nigel Patrick (pictured, above centre). As their project continues, we asked what it meant to have got their community connected?
Jenny started by saying, "Satisfied. Very Satisfied. If I think about key moments in my life that I'm proud of - this will be one of them. It's been worthwhile, interesting and has benefited the whole community - that's a big tick.
"I now know practically everybody in the village. I know the properties. I know the layout. I feel completely well known! I walk down and I'll always see somebody to say hello to. For me it's had a massively positive community benefit and I think that will develop into other things in the longer term."
Donna emphasised that they'd volunteered for the good of the village, "My first comment when you said 'why do it?' - I said, simply, 'to make it happen', that was what I wrote down. If we didn't do it, would it have happened? The answer is no. And I didn't want the village to be going without.
"It's a major infrastructure project led by a few volunteers. That's an achievement when the big boys [commercial operators] haven't managed it. I'm delighted when people say what a benefit it is. That makes it worthwhile."
Donna also said the fact B4RN's infrastructure is buried is important: "Because it goes underground as opposed to up on poles it doesn't stop our village looking as beautiful in the future as it has done for the last hundred years. And so the fact that it's hidden makes it more resilient. It's not going to be affected by the weather and our village still looks as lovely. I've been to some others where competitors have used lots of poles and wires and it stops the place looking as lovely as it should do."
Nigel added he was pleased the community was futureproofed for decades to come, "I've been running my own I.T. business for 20 years. The big difference is that the download speed and the upload speed match. I do a lot of web development which means I can actually upload sites very much quicker. If I want to install software for people, I can upload the software so much quicker. It's almost an instant response and it's almost as though the connection to the internet is doesn't actually exist -it's transparent. You don't know that you're actually talking to a server that's in America or Europe or wherever.
"It's put us on the pile with everybody else. You know, it doesn't matter now that we're actually out in such a nice, rural sort of setting. We've got the same speed, if not faster than some people, say, in the middle of London."
With their project now closer to the end than the beginning, would they recommend volunteering with B4RN?
Jenny says you need the time to devote to it, but that it's worth it: "I wouldn't have got involved had I not believed in it. I've come out believing it even more. I would strongly recommend it to somebody else."
Lifting up their Community - Crosthwaite
The Crosthwaite project was another case of local volunteers delivering rapidly - famously going from ploughs in the ground to the first property live on B4RN (or 'turf to surf', as the group put it) within six months.
Three of the volunteers - Andy Brown, Matthew Jessop and Martin Casson have reflected on why they volunteered...
Andy Brown: “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.”
Matthew Jessop: “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.”
Martin Casson: “I found it very satisfying. 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.”
Community Hubs Connected - Storth
Volunteer stalwart Andrew Skinner reflects on the proud achievements of the local volunteer group, “We’ve now got the four community centres connected. The school, the church, the sports hall (Heron Hall), and the old village hall. People will get used to making mobile phone calls on Wi-Fi. Fast internet will make a huge difference to the Youth Club at Heron Hall.”
Chair of the Storth project, Greg Tagney, added you need a certain grit to volunteer, “It’s world class [connectivity]. And we did it. We dug an awful lot of trenches in all sorts of conditions against the odds. I have a stubborn streak, the more people who said it would never happen, the more I said ‘it bl**dy well will!'”
PICTURED BELOW: Storth dynamic duo, Greg Tagney and Andrew Skinner, at the B4RN-connected Heron Hall.
(And finally) The Social Side - Over Kellet
Lesley Gee was one of the key volunteers in Over Kellet and highlights the social aspect of being a B4RN volunteer, “I’ve lived in the village 36 years and I didn’t know some people who lived in the village as long as I had. Friendships that have been made have continued.”
Fellow Over Kellet volunteer, Martin Lord, added, “That respect and trust and community building is as important as the broadband to be honest. It’s a really good model for how to bring a village together, working like that.”
PICTURED BELOW: The Over Kellet volunteers made lasting bonds.
If you're interested in volunteering with B4RN, find out more here.