Community-owned broadband pioneer, Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) has now successfully raised over £3 million on the Triodos crowdfunding platform. The investment will help to expand its high-speed fibre optic broadband network and tackle the problem of insufficient and slow broadband, which is a significant issue in rural UK communities.
Due to increasing interest in the organisation and its work, the investment opportunity will remain open over the rest of the summer. The additional funding will enable B4RN to expand its network even further, to connect more villages and communities waiting to join the network more quickly and ensure rural areas need not be the poor relation when it comes to efficient broadband.
B4RN's profits are also reinvested back into the community in a variety of ways, for example by providing internet to schools in its network free of charge .
The capital raised will help businesses like The Traddock Hotel,
community groups like Over Kellet Playgroup
and individuals like Lesley Gee. Read their stories below and click here
for the B4RN offer page. Please note that should you decide to invest in the B4RN bond issue, your capital is at risk and your investment might not be readily realisable.
The Traddock Hotel
Nestled in the village of Austwick in the Yorkshire Dales, The Traddock is a family-run twelve bedroomed 4-star hotel. Guests come from across the UK, Europe and further afield to enjoy the hotel’s comforts and the countryside which boasts excellent mountain biking and hiking trails.
Due to its rural location the hotel struggled to get high-speed broadband from any mainstream internet service provider and suffered from inefficient broadband for many years.
More and more of its business required good broadband as 90% of room bookings come through the website and online booking engines. Keeping the information flowing through the website and payment and bookings systems is vital to its success. Any complaints from hotel guests were all focused on bad Wi-Fi, therefore, the hotel’s owner Paul Reynolds was keen to make a change.
Paul was made aware of B4RN which was providing full-fibre broadband to nearby villages. Paul along with other village residents agreed to work together to bring B4RN to Austwick help raise some of the capital to do so and support the excavation needed to install the full-fibre cables.
In March 2017, the Traddock Hotel, along with the rest of the village was connected to the B4RN network. “It was amazing to see the village get behind this project, clearly as frustrated as we were about the only thing holding back our amazing location – the terrible broadband. We provided refreshments and snacks to the amazing volunteers who helped connect the hotel and the difference the full-fibre connection has made is phenomenal,” said Paul.
B4RN has dramatically increased the broadband speed and network capacity in the area. The hotel’s previous best Wi-Fi speed was 2Mbps, now this is up to fifty times faster at 105Mbps (device dependant).
“The changes that high-speed broadband has made to our business are incredible. Firstly, as almost all our business activities are web-based it has made us much more efficient and fluid. The database we used to spend two hours a day backing up now takes just four seconds.
“Secondly, due to the previous poor connection we had to invest heavily into our IT infrastructure and host all our IT on site which was expense to install and maintain. Now we can use the Cloud and have already saved over £2,500 a year in costs. Our team can also work remotely if need be, such as our chefs who can FaceTime or message their colleagues to work on their menus.
“Finally, it is now part of the reason people (especially young professionals) choose to stay at the hotel in the first place and has facilitated more repeat business as people know they are getting the full package - a comfortable and relaxing stay, plus fantastic broadband so they can easily stream a film in their room or work remotely. Our customer satisfaction scores have increased as a result and we’re delighted.”
The hotel also never reaches its network capacity, even in peak season with every guest on the Wi-Fi it remains consistent and robust.
Paul said: “We will always be grateful to B4RN for removing the one negative aspect of our stunning location in the Yorkshire Dales, which was a poor internet connection. Now we proudly boast better broadband speeds than many London hotels and the difference it is making to us as a business and to our guests is amazing.”
The Traddock Hotel in Austwick in the Yorkshire Dales
Over Kellet Playgroup
Over Kellet Village Hall is home to the Over Kellet Playgroup, which provides day care for children from the age of two until they start primary school.
The Playgroup provides a valuable local resource. It has capacity for up to 30 children in its morning and afternoon sessions, is managed by Jackie Hunter and has benefited from being connected to the B4RN network. As the Playgroup is situated in the Village Hall it benefits from using its free Wi-Fi. B4RN aims to provide a free connection to schools and playgroups (wherever feasible) which are connected to its network.
Jackie explains: “It is an Ofsted requirement that we track children’s progress. We previously did this in a paper format making a learning journey for each child. This used a lot of paper and took time going to a shop and developing photos, which was also very costly. We have now moved away from the paper learning journeys and are using a program on the iPad called Tapestry to record children’s learning and development. The internet connection we had was quite slow at uploading photos and videos. We changed over to B4RN and have a faster internet connection and are saving staff time and money on materials.
“As our Playgroup is in a building that members of the public use, we needed an internet connection that was very secure and only Playgroup staff could access. The enhanced connection gives us this peace of mind as internet security is a very high safeguarding priority with Ofsted and the GDPR. We also allow the children to use the iPads to play games and search for information.”
Children listen to a story at Over Kellet Playgroup
Lesley Gee is a retired professional from Over Kellet, Lancashire. Her home and that of her elderly mother, who lives in a lodge adjoining her property have been connected to the B4RN network since April 2018.
Lesley, her husband and mother had previously lived with very poor broadband, in the region of 1Mbps or less. This was on top of intermittent mobile phone signal, which despite living just half a mile from the centre of the village left the family feeling isolated at times.
She described the effect it had on her and her wider family: “The poor connection had a significant effect on our ability to take advantage of modern technology. We couldn’t install a Smart TV or use a Fire Stick. FaceTime or Skype calls were intermittent at best and with family living in different parts of the country this was really frustrating. If family visited, the grandchildren couldn’t use the internet at the same time as there just wasn’t the capacity and the internet would frequently drop off mid use. Previously we weren’t able to install a phone line or broadband in my mother’s lodge which was a concern in case there was ever a problem.”
After hearing about the full-fibre broadband being installed by B4RN in nearby villages, Lesley’s local Parish Council sought out more information about the organisation and arranged a meeting with residents to gauge interest in joining the network.
After agreeing to join the network the villagers formed a core group to manage the project and help dig the trenches needed to lay the cables. Lesley volunteered to help with the planning and administration, but also the digging. Very few of the houses are in a linear route, so most of the digging over the past two years has been by hand.
“Over 60% of the 310 properties have now been connected to the network and we are working hard to help connect the remain 40%. About twenty of us meet up about once or to twice a month on a Saturdays and we work up until 3.30pm, most people stay all day, and some come and go. We all stop for refreshments and lunch (which are free). We’ve only had to cancel two meet ups in two years due to the weather so that’s pretty good going!” said Lesley. “I wanted to get involved as I felt it was such a good community project and wanted to do more in the village now, I am retired. It has forged excellent community links and brings people together,” she added.
Since joining the network, Lesley reflects on how she, her husband and her mother have benefitted from broadband up to 100Mbps on wireless and 900Mbps when plugged into the router. She said: “It makes life in general much easier and as technology develops, we will be well prepared to move with the times. It has enabled my Mum to have her own phoneline, which has an SOS alarm and she now has an iPad which she is learning to use for email, massaging and to read the news. She likes to receive messages and photos from the grandchildren and great grandchildren when they are at home and away on holiday.”
Mobile phone calls can also be made using the Wi-Fi, which means that Lesley can keep in contact with family and friends without additional charges. All three of Lesley’s grandchildren have visited since the house was connected to B4RN and they no longer complain about poor broadband. “The connection has totally changed our use of technology. We have found B4RN a superior service at a very competitive price and can’t recommend having a B4RN fibre connection more highly. The project has also brought us closer together as a village and it’s been lovely to achieve something like this by working together.”
Lesley Gee outside her home in Lancashire