We’re up to stop 20 on the B4RN Awards Tour – visiting the South Lakes and the Levens B4RN project.

The INCA and ISPA trophies – won last year – were present as the local group recently celebrated passing 300 connections!

With that remarkable achievement, the group disbanded – but not before catching up with B4RN to look back over their five-year journey.

Thinking back to the start, what was interest in B4RN like locally?

John Wood – “An enthusiastic group of villagers attended the initial presentation from Barry Forde, organised by the Parish Council.  From this a group of seven of us formed the initial core team, to get the project underway.”

Geoff Cook – “We could see the massive advantages that this revolution could bring to our parish.”

John Watson – “We leafleted every property and went knocking on doors, to generate sufficient expressions of interest and to demonstrate to B4RN that Levens would be a viable project.”

Dave Rogerson – “While some of the village were pretty happy with their 50Mbps, much of the outlying areas could only dream of a fraction of this. Interest grew as our marketing improved.”

Steve Bavin –  “Here in Cotes, we’ve had years of poor service on our old copper and aluminium wires, and good reports [about B4RN] from other areas (e.g. Storth), so there was plenty of interest in B4RN.”

How was securing investment / wayleaves ?

J Wood – “Securing investment was not a major issue and most residents were happy to provide wayleaves.  Special thanks to Levens Hall Estate for their assistance with the core route into the village and for agreeing to one of the initial locations thought of for the cabinet.”

DR – “Practically all land owners were very cooperative with this project.”

Laurence Ormerod – “Investment was not a problem at the level we needed. To have funded the whole thing with local investment (pre-voucher model), given the costs of the “hard dig” method, would have been a tough challenge. So vouchers proved important.”

GC – “We were fortunate in having very community-spirited business ‘pillars of the parish’ who readily invested in B4RN as well as giving the project material assistance in terms of advice and loan of equipment.”

SB – “Getting wayleaves was generally easy and had a positive effect because it allowed neighbours to help neighbours.”

Laying ducting on route 5

Any particularly memorable days?

J Wood – “I didn’t expect to spend part of retirement drilling under dry stone walls, or dragging ducting across a field behind a mole plough; but all of this has been great fun, and also a challenge.”

DR – “Our core route into the cabinet had to cross a team member – Laurence’s – property, with a complex and well maintained garden the decision was made to drill into the back of the garage and cut a slot for all 7 x 16mm ducts to cross – I still treasure a picture of our team crawling on knees to draw the conduits through with at least one builders bum on show!

“With short notice of the start of the hard dig on Church Road, route 3, we hit all gardens on this road mob handed in lockdown with flutterings of snow falling at our feet. As we dug and probed under one well known Lakeland Dry Stone wall, Laurence uncovered a number of substantially sized bones. In fear of a full archaeological dig and enquiry stopping our urgent conduit installations the bones were quickly buried together with 16mm duct back in the wall!

“The news that we could use BT duct to cross Levens Bridge and therefore the river Kent revolutionised our plans and saved an estimated £35,000 to get towards Levens Village. This also came with knowledge of a long forgotten duct under 6 lanes of the A590 to allow a local farmer to get water to his stock.  Once uncovered it allowed our core duct to cross under this major Highways England trunk road.”

LO – “Watching Tony Middleton go down what looked like a 45 degree slope was memorable (at Hillside). Glad I was not driving. Lots of fun days with a great team and usually happy would-be customers.”

SB –  “There were many good days, but I recall particularly when a critical wayleave was agreed and we finally knew that our plan could become reality. After that the excellent and fast work by Tony Middleton got us to having a complete route in no time.

“Then there were some big digs, mostly during the lockdown period – we all met new neighbours and worked together, giving us an amazing communal achievement.

“Personally, fitting my house kit was another very satisfying point, and went well thanks to excellent info/training by Dave Rogerson and Ted Capstick.”

J Watson – “It was always going to be easy and cheap to cover the rural parts of the parish by moleploughing. However, covering the more urban parts was bound to be more difficult because of all the roads, paths, patios, block paving, gardens, concrete and ROCK that would be encountered. This concern was demonstrated forcefully when it took half a dozen volunteers three whole weekends to get the ducting for the core route through only three gardens to the final site of the cabinet in the centre of the village – with only another 300 gardens to go!”

Has there been a social aspect of doing B4RN?

Dave Rogerson fusing fibre

DR – “Having visited and drilled around 200 houses in our village I can find the tea bags and kettle in what is close to a third of our village.  We have all bonded as a community coming together not just to dig, but for a beer, walk, chat and much more as we all fought our way through the pandemic.”

LO – “Yes, it has created a good group of people who would I think go and help each other on other projects or individual needs.”

GC – “Working with and for like-minded villagers meant new contacts were made each day: it all just added positively to the awareness of neighbourliness within the community.”

Why do/did you volunteer?

J Wood – “Two reasons for volunteering.  First and foremost to do something for the benefit of the whole village and secondly to get hyperfast broadband to annoy friends living in cities elsewhere!”

J Watson – “I did not personally either want or need B4RN. I got involved for the benefit of the whole Levens community, particularly for farmers and the 70 small businesses in the village, and to provide future proofing for my successors, as the internet takes over the world.”

DR – “Like good Boy Scouts on a mountain walk – We recognise the speed of the slowest and work together for the greater benefit of all. Much fun was made of one of our team, Kevin, that could not achieve 1Mbps on his internet link – ‘Don’t send Kevin Pictures Or Attachments – It will kill his Connection’. Kevin beat many of us to Go Live on 1Gbps B4RN and carried on in helping many more of the isolated parts of our community.”

LO – “Personally, I wanted the best broadband. It’s good for future proofing. I also felt like the village should not miss the opportunity (a fantastic one if you think about B4RN offers – world class at an affordable price) for this infrastructure for decades to come.”

GC – “Volunteering is a habit in my retired lifestyle, so it was easy to be keen to help the brilliant primary school we have and local businesses get connected to more efficient communications.”

SB – “Because I wanted better broadband! But also because the B4RN model, volunteering and for community benefit, aligns with my values.”

The group wished to give honourable mentions to: Simon Doddrell, the group chair; landowners Jonathan and Roger Mason; Tom Addison; Richard Bagot; Andrew Dobson; Dobson’s Agricultural Machinery, for financial support and equipment; and the route 2 digging crew – Richard Marsh, Kevin Monks, Philip Tallon and Keith Sanders.

Volunteer Laurence Ormerod