(L-R) Martin Hawkins, Graeme Crichton, Hilary Dickinson, Peter Chambers.

We joined the Chipping chain gang for stop 24 the Awards Tour!

The INCA and ISPA trophies – won last year – are being put in the hands of dedicated volunteers who have spent the past decade connecting their communities to the B4RN gigabit full fibre broadband network.

Four volunteers – Peter Chambers, Graeme Crichton, Martin Hawkins and ‘Splice Girl’ Hilary Dickinson – met in Chipping at the country’s longest continually occupied shop!

They looked back on a project which has seen hundreds of connections made, and counting…

Hilary Dickinson – “[It all began with a] meeting in village hall, May 2017. I went along and thought this is ridiculous, not a chance this is going to work! The way all this duct has to go in underground!”

Graeme Crichton – “I went to the Chipping Show. Someone had put up a B4RN tent and they had a map. I couldn’t believe it – I lived on the other side of the valley. My internet was terrible, 8Mbps, I work in IT and I need this. I was really enthusiastic about the whole thing, but the problem I saw was the distance.”

Martin Hawkins – “We went to an Open Day at B4RN, they bused us around and it gave us huge confidence.”

HD – “Back then, the big thing was the money, no vouchers then. These guys had to go about raising £250k.”

Peter Chambers – “We were worried about just how viable it was, asking people to put money in. Just the sheer amount of work that was going to be involved. From a selfish point of view, we got about 1.5Mbps on a good day. When it rained the telephone clapped out like mad. But is was nice to put something back in the community.”

MH – “One or two investors – not particularly interested in having the service themselves – but they thought this was a worthwhile project.”

HD – “I kept saying ‘when is it coming up Kirkfields’ and he said we need a champion and I said ‘no, I’m not getting involved. He caught me one night in the pub when I’d had a couple of lagers and I said ‘yeah! I’ll get involved’. I got my son and husband out. I said ‘I’m just doing that and that’s it, I’m out’. But I just got hooked! Me and another lady called Barbara went on the Chris Conder course, she taught us how to splice. I just love it, I love going to meet people in my spare time. Just the satisfaction, in some cases you’re literally changing lives!”

Hilary and (volunteer turned B4RN employee) Stan Jenkins, summer 2019.

Any particular memories?

PC – “[There was] total devotion from the community, heroic episodes all over the place.”

HD – “We just turn up with spades, coffee and tea. I’m born and bred Chipping, but hadn’t met these three before. It makes your own social group, good fun! Up over the fell towards Dunsop Bridge, complete bog, howling a gale!”

PC – “You need to talk to a lot of people, they’ve no concept, you’ve got to show them the ducting. We can honestly say… north, south, east, west… it’s quite a big parish and we’ve gone beyond that because of the demand.”

HD – “If we finished now, we’re just shy of 400 live connections, with many more passed.”

PC – “With the initial modelling, we thought we’d be doing extremely well if we got to 300.”

Why did you volunteer?

GC – “A little bit selfish. The first thing I saw was I need that connection. Just started a new job at Google. They can’t believe I live somewhere like that and have a gigabit fibre connection. But it’s great getting to know everybody. I come here to the village and I know people. That’s satisfying, getting involved and helping out is good for the soul.”

MH – “Again, self interest because I had pretty appalling broadband, but also it’s good to put something back in.”

HD – “I’m the same, it was selfish to start with, it was the kids nagging about rubbish internet. Like I said, I got involved with the intention of leaving, and I’ve just got hooked! It is giving back. It’s seeing smiles. And the challenge – we want to truly say every business, pub and shop in the village now has B4RN, those little milestones. What can we do next? People on the new housing estate, they say ‘it’s Hilary, the internet lady’ because they don’t know many people. when you go to their houses you tell them what else is going on in the village.”

The group wished to give honourable mentions to: Paul Hunt (Volunteer Coordinator) got it going sends all the emails, the main man – it wouldn’t have happened without him; Martin Bleasdale; John Stott (Contractor); Steven Seed (Contractor).