B4RN, bringing high-speed broadband to remote areas with the help of The Prince’s Countryside Fund

PUBLISHED: 12:37 05 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:37 05 May 2014

Tom Hartley B4RN

Tom Hartley B4RN

Archant

Broadband for the Rural North benefit from Land Rover and The Prince’s Countryside Fund Bursary

Tom Hartley B4RNTom Hartley B4RN

Living in remote rural communities means you can feel cut off from the outside world – especially when broadband providers decide it’s uneconomic to provide vital connections.

That has been the situation in many parts of north Lancashire. But rather than just accept it, the people affected have been doing something about it.

They set up a social enterprise project called B4RN, which stands for Broadband for the Rural North. It operates as a charity run by and for the local community. People have not only invested their money into the scheme, they have also put their backs in it using picks and shovels to help dig the trenches needed to take the cables.

It has been a big success. For the last couple of years, B4RN has been busy connecting the rural north west by installing a high speed fibre-optic broadband network to the farms, schools, businesses and homes.

Tom Hartley B4RNTom Hartley B4RN

This remarkable exercise in self-help made headlines back in 2012 when 100 local people involved gathered at Jubilee Tower near Quernmore to celebrate the digging of the first trench.

Providing fast and efficient broadband has transformed the lives of many. However, it hasn’t been without its challenges. Fibre optics and associated kit is quite delicate and transporting it over difficult terrain can prove tricky. That was the problem confronting Tom Hartley, a mechanical engineer from Hornby.

Tom, who has lived in the Lune Valley all his life, is one of the people on the ground overseeing the fibre optic installations. The B4RN volunteer ran a small engineering company for more than 20 years.

But he was struggling with transport. He needed a vehicle capable of towing a trailer to move the equipment and fibre optic cables over steep, boggy and rough terrain from farm to farm and to the digging sites for the broadband connections – usually set in the corners of fields.

Tom relied on borrowing vehicles, but that was tricky and irregular. Then, B4RN heard about the Land Rover and The Prince’s Countryside Fund Bursary.

The Land Rover Bursary recognises the efforts of individuals and groups working to revitalise British countryside communities. The scheme offers the use of a Freelander 2 for a year to five individuals or groups who can demonstrate it would enable them to support their rural communities.

Applicants undergo a rigorous selection process including character references and interviews and they must demonstrate how the use of the Freelander will benefit local people. Last year, Tom was one of the five successful candidates after telling the judging panel that the scheme benefited every age group.

Tom said the Freelander 2 had been ‘an absolute godsend.’ He added: ‘The vehicle has made such a fantastic difference to what we can do. It means we have a dedicated vehicle any time we want.’ Without a vehicle to tow the trailer, some connections would have been almost impossible.

Some of the wettest weather since 1910 means the Land Rover Bursary is more important than ever. The flooding has created a whole new set of issues for the most remote rural communities and the 2014 scheme will be there to help.

Victoria Elms, of the Prince’s Countryside Fund, said: ‘We have seen the difference that the vehicle has brought to our 2013 winners and their communities and it has been brilliant. The Prince’s Countryside Fund is all about supporting the people who live and work in the countryside and we had some excellent entries for the 2013 bursary and hope to see even more for 2014.’

Backing the fund

Lancashire Life has been supporting the Prince’s Countryside Fund by highlighting the projects that have received backing from this unique scheme, set up by the Prince to help people who live and work in the countryside. You can find out more by logging onto 
www.princescountrysidefund.org.uk.

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