Val Winchester pictured near her home in Chapel le Dale.

A B4RN volunteer has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, for services to the community.

Val Winchester, who lives in Chapel-le-Dale, has spent years giving her own time to make sure the community got connected to B4RN’s gigabit full fibre broadband.

Val has got a British Empire Medal in the latest Honours, announced during the Jubilee Weekend. She will receive the award at a later date and also has a Buckingham Palace Garden Party to look forward to.

Val said: “The title ‘B4RN Champion’ always made me think of ‘Champion the Wonder Horse’ – which dates me – but the dictionary definition of ‘a person who vigorously supports or defends a person or cause’ is just right!

“It’s been fascinating and rewarding – especially when I learn what B4RN has enabled the community to do that was previously impossible or difficult and when I think of future opportunities it opens up such as in community medicine. In many ways B4RN enables the community to participate fully in 21st century life – and I was so pleased that much of the dale had B4RN before the pandemic struck.”

Val is quick to credit the whole community: “Many farmers dug for shares and even people who weren’t interested in B4RN got involved. People would dig their own gardens and for neighbours – ready to help in work parties, if you called on them. It was a joint project and I worked with Councillor David Ireton, as co-champions, during phase one of the project.”

Val first got involved with B4RN in 2016 after a meeting with then CEO Barry Forde in Ingleton. Six years on and the local network stretches between Millbank in Ingleton to Colt Park, High Gayle and Newby Head. Val says much of her role was coordination – raising funds, gaining permissions, organising work parties and encouraging involvement: “One neighbour teased me, calling, ‘here comes the gaffer’ when I turned up! I wrote lots of emails – more than 2,500 – but also spent a lot of time in muddy holes, joining ducting!”

Val expanded on what B4RN has enabled, for families and businesses: “The kids down the road. Two of them in the family and the [previous] broadband wasn’t fast enough. They’d have to wait. One would do their homework, then the other. Meanwhile, one farmer had a lot of cattle and very unreliable broadband. His cows were fitted with sensors, so he knew when they were going to calve. He needed the reliability.”

Val reflected on why she volunteered: “It’s actually rather nice feeling useful. You get to know people. I found it very rewarding. I initially trained in landscape architecture. This is basically project management, so I liked reviving that bit. The infrastructure is like plumbing – you have to see ‘how will that get to there?’ – I enjoyed it.”