Stop 10 of the B4RN Awards Tour saw us rock up in Aughton.
The trophies B4RN won last year are doing the rounds of the men and women of grit who dug in the network over the last ten years.
B4RN Director Chris Carr, Hilary Carr, John McKay and Colin Pooley were joined by new volunteers Barrie Turner and Jon Schofield for a garden dig some nine years since the project began.
Chris, John M. and Colin looked back on when things began in 2013/14…
Colin Pooley: “I retired not long before we started digging, so I was in the position of having some time and still being reasonably young and fit and able to do some digging!
“It made an enormous difference to the village. Practically everybody joined in at some point, whether it was kids coming out on a Saturday or people providing cups of tea.”
John Mckay: “There was a small core able to do it because we were retired but say on a Saturday or Bank Holiday… twenty of the village would turn out. We had drinks and food. It really brought the community together – a real bonus for the village.”
CP: “I felt I knew people in the village much better after the digging. When you’re out digging in the rain you stop and talk.”
Talk turned to getting the project going…
Chris Carr: “We were really respectful to local landowners. We wanted to be able to go across their land, when we had no right to do so. Certainly in 2013/14 there was no reason they should understand much about B4RN or fibre. So why should they say ‘yes, we’ll let you go across for nothing and, what’s more, we’ll even put it in for you’. But in fact that’s exactly what they did. Nobody is more committed to a rural community than the local farmers – it’s where they live and work, it’s where their history and future is.”
CP: “We were fortunate that the local farmers were extremely cooperative. They made their time available with tractors and moleploughs.”
CC: “I got the sense many of the farmers enjoyed doing it. It was just so helpful because they knew the land in a way nobody else did. And it was different for them to work with other people.
“For me, one of the great things was being able to see all these familiar fields from unfamiliar places. Just lovely.”
The trio recalled the challenges…
JM: “I remember hitting a drain just out there…”
CC: “I thought it was a water main!”
JM: “Fortunately, it was an old, disused drain that’d filled up.”
CC: “Backed up all the way up the hill. No, there was only one waterpipe we broke. One! At the back there leading to a cattle trough. That was problematic because it was really old imperial pipework. It was really difficult to fix it!”
They reflected on why they volunteered…
CC: “The best speed we ever got was 0.73Mbps!”
JM: “Just to pitch in really, help out. I quite like manual work.”
CP: “I think it’s a combination of self-interest and altruism. You want the internet speed, but you also feel it’s a good thing for the community.”
To finish, Chris Carr summed things up…
CC: “We don’t have mains gas. We don’t have mains drainage. The nearest street light is three miles away. But we do have the fastest rural broadband in the world. And during the last two years [of the pandemic] it has just been fantastic.”
The group wished to give honourable mentions to: Tim Williams, another core volunteer; Derek & Tony Burrow, farming brothers who were “born-again moleploughers!”; and Hilary Carr, who really pushed it and earned a silver spade!