(L-R) Chris Benson, Phil Hughes, Mel Wilkinson, Julian South

We’ve been to Caton Village for the 21st stop of the Awards Tour.

The INCA and ISPA trophies – won last year – are being take to the communities and volunteers whose hard work has seen the B4RN full fibre broadband network grow over the last decade.

Four volunteers met at Caton’s Village Institute for a photo with the awards and to look back over their project, namely: Chris Benson, Phil Hughes, Mel Wilkinson and Julian South.

The group spoke about how perseverance paid off when their project was transformed by the advent of the ‘B4RN Village’ hard build model…

Mel Wilkinson – “I think we originally thought this was going to be a very easy project… well, we had an interesting journey!

Phil Hughes – “We started five years ago, but nothing was happening and nobody was prepared to take the project on. We watched Brookhouse get started, but at Caton we had a couple of false starts.”

Julian South – “I thing a bit of a game-changer was when the school came live. It gave you the feeling that it was going to happen.”

PH – “[The school] showed people it was here and it was happening. From that point, though, we struggled – we could get wayleaves for two gardens, but not the third. We found the traditional B4RN model could not find any way through… So when the B4RN Village project appeared, it was an absolute godsend!”

“For me, there was was trepidation. After all these years prodding away, all of a sudden it was going to happen. And very quickly! [I thought] would people step up and help? People did!”

JS – “The first week there was incredible excitement, diggers galore, a 15 strong street team – all systems go!”

MW – “The digging team were brilliant.!

PH – “I knew a woman in Halton [where the first ‘B4RN Village’ build took place] and she had said what fantastic people they were – so friendly and did such a good job.”

Phil Hughes splicing house fibre.

JS – “We had to coordinate with the street team – moving cars and answering their questions. We were drilling walls as they were going through trenching but they were going so fast we couldn’t keep up! People were signing up as we went by.”

MW – “It was quite interesting getting involved on the technical side. We were allowed to try some splicing and do some blowing. I learned a lot – ready for a holiday now though!”

PH – “What a fantastic product we’re getting for just £33/month, particularly for the tech-savvy. Just recently, I was having trouble with my car and needed diagnostic software. They said ‘it’s 6GB, we’ll send a USB stick’, I said it’s not a problem and had it downloaded in 2-3 minutes.”

JS – “I had to download a new SatNav map of Europe. The VW instructions said it’d take 2-3 hours – I had it downloaded in 10 minutes!”

Talk moved to the social aspect of B4RN…

JS – “I moved here around five years ago. I didn’t know a lot of people. I know a lot of people now!”

MW – “We live in a cul-de-sac, we knew very few people. We now know everybody. We [the core volunteers] meet more in the pub together, every Monday night.”

PH“We got to know every nook and cranny of the village too.”

Chris Benson – “All the little cut throughs!”

JS – “You realise things are doable. I couldn’t envisage how we’d get through some gardens with ducting.”

Volunteers fitting routers as Low Mill went live.

And why do they volunteer…?

JS “A few people I’ve chatted to and asked what did you so during lockdown – ‘Oh, I learned the guitar’ – I put in a hyperfast internet project. We’ll always remember lockdown! I went into a part time role and wasn’t sure how to fill the time, I like practical things, I like working with people so it seemed an obvious project.”

CB – “I was one of the few traditional garden digs at the very start. A load of people I’d never met before turned up and started digging in my back garden with me! I retired, I needed something to fill my time, so I came down to annoy these gents!”

PH – “I’ve always volunteered. I had time on my hands after changing jobs. I wanted better internet and I could see B4RN for what it was. I liked that it’s not-for-profit. To get it to my house, I had to get it to the whole village. It’s nice to look back and think we’ve helped everyone in the village by getting gigabit fibre available. It’s there because we stepped up.”

MW – “I’d like to say Phil has kept this going in the bad times as well as the good times. He’s the main one that’s kept it going.”

The group wished to give honourable mentions to the following people: Ralph Thackeray; Paul Austin; Maria Coward; Cath Fanning; Sandra Wilkinson; Phil Barge; and John Moffit.