Fibre broadband breathing new life into rural communities across Derbyshire

Fibre broadband can help reduce isolation and bring people living in rural areas closer together, according to a community leader from Bakewell.

Fibre broadband can help reduce isolation and bring people living in rural areas closer together, according to a community leader from Bakewell.

More than 90,000 homes and businesses in some of the smaller towns and villages across Derbyshire now have access to faster download speeds, thanks to the county council’s fibre broadband partnership with BT.

One of the areas to benefit recently is Bakewell. And 79-year-old local resident Pat Lunn, who’s involved in a number of community groups and is Chair of the Neighbourhood Planning Team, is already making full use of the technology and has high hopes for the future.

Pat, who’s lived in Bakewell for 47 years, said: “I’m not as mobile as I used to be so I spend a lot more time at home now. By having a fast and reliable internet connection I can still attend community meetings through video using Skype and keep up-to-date with what’s happening in the area. It would be easy at times to feel isolated at home but fibre broadband helps me stay involved in community life.

“One of the most efficient ways of sending out information is through email. I can now send and receive large files such as planning applications within minutes whereas before it could take over an hour. I used to have to leave my computer while they downloaded because I couldn’t do anything else on it.”

Fibre broadband was made available to more than 2,300 premises in Bakewell as part of the multi-million pound Digital Derbyshire programme, with more to follow.

Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and Infrastructure Councillor Dean Collins, said: “Using the internet has become part of everyday life for most of us. But Derbyshire’s rural nature meant many areas were left behind when commercial operators rolled out broadband services.

“That’s why Digital Derbyshire was set up to help close the digital divide, bringing new business and leisure opportunities, supporting economic growth, allowing local communities to continue to thrive and helping to boost rural areas.”

Steve Henderson, BT’s regional director for next generation access, said: “Fibre broadband has many benefits, especially in rural areas. It makes a huge difference to people living and working in towns and villages that often do not have a full range of services nearby. It helps residents like Pat enhance their day-to-day living and enables rural businesses to compete on a level playing field.”

Recently published research from BT[1] shows the internet is breathing new life into local communities with more than 80 per cent highlighting the internet’s importance in enabling involvement in their local community and providing access to information and services such as playgroups, social activities and other amenities.

Furthermore, 70 per cent of respondents use the internet to access local businesses and services, providing a boost for local business owners.

Other key findings include that almost half of the survey respondents (48 per cent) believe a lack of internet access leads to isolation. And almost two thirds (63 per cent) said that access to the internet empowers them to gain new experiences.

Back in Bakewell, Pat Lunn has also found the arrival of fibre broadband is making it easier to keep in touch: “I use Skype to speak to my family and friends overseas whereas before I could only contact them by email, phone or by letter. I also use it to take part in conference calls for my voluntary work.”

And Pat’s even found new hobbies using the internet.

“In my spare time I enjoy researching my family history. It’s surprising how much you can find out – my mother’s family were in the cutlery industry in Sheffield, and my paternal grandmother’s family farmed in the Cotswolds – and I’ve tracked down long-distance relatives too.

She added: “I’d recommend upgrading to anyone – it really does open a lot of doors and there are no limits to what you can do.”

If you’re a member of a parish council or community group and would like to find out more about the programme and how it could benefit local residents and businesses contact the county council’s broadband engagement officer at Kerry.bailey@derbyshire.gov.uk or visit www.digitalderbyshire.org.uk.

[1] http://www.btplc.com/News/#/pressreleases/more-than-80-of-brits-rely-on-internet-for-local-community-involvement-1444150