(L-R) Sue Armistead, Joe Armistead, John Randall-Paley, Helen Littley, Brian Littley, Stuart Hemingway

Stop 16 of the B4RN Awards Tour and we’re a little further along the A683 at Tunstall!

Won last year, the INCA and ISPA trophies are visiting the communities and volunteers who have dug the full fibre broadband network in over the last ten years.

Six B4RNstormers met at the Village Hall for a picture with the prizes and to chat about their project. They were: Helen Littley, Brian Littley, Stuart Hemingway, John Randall-Paley, Joe Armistead and Sue Armistead.

Conversation started with how B4RN got going in Tunstall…

Helen Littley – “It was hands in pockets and we got shares!”

Joe Armistead – “No shortage of people willing to get involved.”

Sue Armistead – “We were all desperate for it after what we had previously. You couldn’t watch iPlayer.”

John Randall-Paley – “It was kilobits per second!”

JA – “Very frustrating if you were working from home. You’re relying on it. There was that desire to get something faster.”

Brian Littley – “No prospect of anything coming down the track.”

Stuart Hemingway – “BT were playing around a bit. Procrastinating. We’d still be waiting now I think.”

JA – “The prospect of anything else coming here was pretty low. Getting the opportunity to get full fibre to the premises was fantastic.”

JRP – “When I first went round knocking on doors, I was not happy with what we were getting. When I went round I realised the experience of other households – particularly those with many children…”

HL – “We had three at school, secondary education. They needed broadband for their homework. B4RN made a massive difference for them.”

BL – “Social media too. They really wanted to be on it – eating up the Wi-Fi with me working.”

JRP – “If you were having to do something at home it would be ‘that’s it, kids, dad needs to work’ – a rationing. It was a non-functioning situation.”

BL – “You almost forget what it was like!”

HL – “It changes your life; how you live; how you work. It’s made a massive difference.”

SH – “Our families… they come! The kids are on their iPhones all the time. They would never have come up to see us [before B4RN]!”

Volunteers getting the Village Hall connected, 2015.

Talk moved on to memories of digging…

JRP – “Fun!”

SA – “It brought the community together!”

JRP – “I remember the first dig in your [points to Helen and Brian] garden. It was a good summer, not glorious, but dry. The first big dig and we probably chose the smallest, most restricted space! 19 people turned up! Literally side-by-side, each with a spade.”

BL – “There was tea, coffee and biscuits. Everybody just got together and had fun!”

HL – “It was like a day out!”

SH – “I live out of the village. I’ll be perfectly honest, when it all stated I knew what the endpoint was – fast broadband – but I didn’t understand what was happening! One of our neighbours said we’ve got some digging to do. I said I can come and help but I was uncertain what I was doing!”

BL – “We’d have a time to meet and you’d all turn up with your tools, pick and shovel. That feeling when we’re working – doing something manual and for the community. It was more special if it was in somebody else’s garden.”

JRP – “We had an all-in policy where we dug it to everybody’s property even if they weren’t having it. We just about invaded everybody’s garden! Thinking about that first dig… probably the only occasion we had people under the age of 20. They all showed up and then they disappeared! Despite various parental nudges saying ‘we’re doing this for you, actually!'”

Any mishaps?

JRP – “We were digging along to where Frank Brown was going to mole it round. We were going well and somebody said ‘don’t forget there’s a water main there’… that was the first one we burst.”

BL – “There was one on the main road where a mole went down, hit a rock. That was gushing out, we had friends round, of all the nights! Everyone had the fastest broadband, but the slowest water supply!”

JRP – “That same night was [major landowner] Joe Tower’s birthday. They were all going to the Lunesdale to celebrate. We shut the Lunesdale. We could’ve timed that better!”

What about the social side of B4RN?

HL – “Before we would get the village together with events, but it was always the same villagers. When B4RN happened, more people came to the events afterwards. Even people who’d lived here a good number of years. It made a massive difference.”

BL – “Also good even for next door neighbours, getting to know them better.”

SA – “Some older people might have thought ‘I can’t dig my garden’ –  but of course they found that somebody else was quite happy to do it for them!”

JRP – “[All the connections] involed some kind of cooperation with your neighbours.”

BL – “Everybody was sharing.”

So why did they volunteer?

BL – “Beyond the selfish reason – everybody wants fast broadband – it’s the fact that we’re quite a village of older people. We knew everybody wanted it and most of us were fit enough to dig. So being able to offer that and provide manual labour felt good.”

SA – “I think it gave us an independence. We weren’t having to wait for some big company. We could do it ourselves – that’s what appealed to me.”

And a final word to the landowners…

HL –  “Always got to have the farmers on board. They’ve got children of their own and you’ve got to future-proof the business.”

JRP – “Joe Towers… at first he was sceptical, understandably protective of his land, not quite embracing it. Some time after it was complete, his grandson was on a rugby tour in South Africa and Skyping him everyday, and he loved it! And then he knew why that was possible… we had the capacity to make it happen.”

HL “You can be anywhere in the world, Facetiming.”

JA “I’ve actually set the heating in this hall from Capetown!”

The group wished to give honourable mentions to: Simon Gore, who mobilised a number of properties outside of the village; and to the local landowners including Joe Towers, the Stephensons, and John Clarke.