This post has been produced by the Northumberland County Council Communications team and sent on behalf of Ulgham Parish Council.
This year has certainly brought some unforeseen challenges our way with the Covid-19 restrictions that have affected us all. The first lockdown brought the need for good quality connectivity into very sharp focus when many of our residents found themselves home working, and home-schooling.
Although we haven’t met in person since the spring, the iNorthumberland team has carried on working with communities, businesses and telecoms suppliers to help get better connections in place across the county. As we start to look forward to 2021 we thought this was a good time to reflect on recent activity and to send an update to you all.
Who’s who in the iNorthumberland team?
In the last six months Shannon Johnson, our former apprentice, has been successful in becoming a permanent team member as our Project Administrator. Shannon has also just completed her NVQ Level 4 in Business Administration.
Rachel Bruce has joined the iNorthumberland team 2 days per week (0.4 fte) to bring her Comms expertise to spreading the message about connectivity to an even wider audience.
Jake has developed an interactive mapping resource that will be available on the iNorthumberland website. This shows speed categories for every property in Northumberland and will enable people to pinpoint their own premises to find out what services are available to them currently and also signpost them to find out what they could do to improve their connectivity. Sylvia and Gill are continuing to work with residents, businesses and communities to look at solutions to bring faster speeds/gigabit capable connections.
Superfast Broadband Rollout
The NCC contract with BT to rollout superfast broadband across the county came to an end early this year and has provided around 94% of homes in Northumberland with superfast speeds (above 30 Mbps) and on average take up of available service by residents/businesses across the county is 73.24%.
Rural Gigabit Voucher Funding – ends March 2021
In line with national policy, our priority now is to connect as many properties across the county to gigabit capable broadband connections.
The team are currently working with almost 40 local communities to help them get Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) connections via the Openreach Community Fibre Scheme and with other suppliers active in Northumberland.
Funding is available to rural properties with connections slower than 100 Mbps via the national Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme and, for those with speeds lower than 30 Mbps, there is top-up funding available through the Digital Borderlands voucher scheme (part of the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal). Both these funds have a commitment deadline of 31 March 2021, so it is vital that we get as many registrations as possible in the next 2 to 3 months. Once vouchers are committed, suppliers will have up to 12 months to deliver the service.
Northumberland was one of 4 areas chosen to take part in a pilot campaign to raise awareness of funding for broadband and to encourage new suppliers to come to Northumberland. At the end of October there were over 2,000 properties who registered interest. The team is now working through the data and liaising with suppliers to help communities progress to delivery.
The Census goes digital!
Census day is 21 March 2021
Households across Northumberland will soon be asked to take part in the nationwide survey of housing and the population. It has been carried out every decade since 1801 , with the exception of 1941.
Information from the digital-first census will help residents decide how services are planned and funded in their local area. This could mean things like doctors’ surgeries, housing or new bus routes.
Households will receive a letter with a unique access code in the post, allowing them to complete their questionnaire online.
The Office of National Statistics along with the digital inclusion charity the Good Things Foundation are in the process of agreeing census support centres in Northumberland where people who need help to complete the census digitally will be able to go for help. More information will be available early in the new year. Paper questionnaires will be available on request.
Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) and Schools Pilot update
Northumberland County Council has welcomed £7.8m grant to boost digital connectivity in rural communities.
The North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) made a bid to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) earlier this year for the investment from its Local Full Fibre Networks Programme.
The funding will pay for the rollout of fibre internet connections to public buildings across Northumberland, improving the speed and reliability of digital connectivity to these sites.
Following agreement by the Council’s cabinet, the Council will put forward a further £932,110 of funding towards the two-year programme and have since signed a contract with BT to deliver the scheme in Northumberland.
The funding will deliver gigabit capable full fibre connectivity to more than 270 public sector sites via the Northumberland Gigabit Project, including schools, libraries and Northumbria Care Trust buildings. Work has already begun to bring high-speed, affordable and reliable connectivity to our businesses and residents, which is crucial in maintaining our economic competitiveness and achieving social inclusion, now more than ever. The contract has been awarded to BT and will be delivered in 6 tranches by March 2022. Fibre is already being rolled out across large areas of Morpeth, Ashington and Bedlington.
Railsite has been working with iNorthumberland to identify sites for new mobile masts along the route of the East Coast and Tyne Valley railway lines. As well as improving mobile connectivity for rail travellers, these new masts will also improve the mobile coverage along the Northumberland coast.
Discussions have been ongoing with EE and Vodafone to try and address problems with mobile ‘not spots’ within the county, for example Norham and Craster. We’re continuing to work with suppliers and central Government to understand how the Shared Rural Network and Emergency Services Network programmes will benefit Northumberland’s 4G mobile coverage.
We are currently working with Community Action Northumberland (CAN) on a digital review of village halls. The purpose of this review is to explore the role of village halls in enabling their residents and communities to take advantage of digital services, with a view to halls becoming virtual hubs in their community. Working in partnership with researchers at Newcastle University, we will be exploring things such as wi-fi hotspots, the possibility of virtual consultations for health, finances or employment and remote participation in other activities like cooking and fitness classes and online training.
As a first step the team from Newcastle University has produced an online questionnaire which has been issued to all rural village halls for completion. We are hoping that the questionnaires will be returned by 20 December. If you are involved with your local village hall please encourage representatives there to complete the questionnaire by that date. It is very straightforward and should only take a couple of minutes to complete.
If you want to know more, please contact Louise Currie.
AirNexus and Advanced Fibre
The wireless operator ‘AirNexus’, founded by Paul Smith of Whittonstall, is excited to announce the formation of its sister company ‘Advanced Fibre’ in order to deliver gigabit capable full-fibre broadband into rural Tynedale. This has been made possible thanks to investment by Andrew Lapping of Hindley.
Advanced Fibre is actively engaged with contractors who will undertake the groundworks and have acquired specialist equipment in order to blow fibre into customer properties via tubing laid into the ground. They’re keen for communities who are interested in learning more about full-fibre to register their interest.
Alnwick based Alncom continue with rapid reaction full-fibre network installations. Alncom has successfully connected Ellingham residents to a full-fibre network running from Doxford Newhouses to Preston Tower via West Fallodon Farm and Cottages.
Alncom are currently more than half way through the next phase of running the full-fibre network from Ellingham to Coldrife via Newham Village and Newham Hall bringing ultrafast connections to some of the most rural communities in the country.
The Alncom ploughing team have already started laying the fibre cable infrastructure into the Hedgeley, Beanley and Powburn area. Once complete, they will be moving directly on to start the Ingram Valley network to run right down the valley and then extending out to Roddam.
Plans are in place to build a large network out from Netherton to include Alnham, Prendwick, Scrainwood, Clennel and Alwinton as well as taking ultrafast to Warkworth in the New Year.
Find out more: alncom.co.uk
In the Allen Valleys planning of new routes and build of other routes continues. Lots of duct has been installed and the fibre is now being blown in and connections made. Catton has been the centre of effort, resulting in 37 live services. Whitfield is currently being connected; seven live to date and more to follow over the next few days. In Allendale, final work is taking place to splice fibre which will result in 44 live connections this month. In January, work in Catton will continue with an expected 37 services coming live followed by a return to fibre blowing in Whitfield to bring a further 12 properties live, including the pub and the Estate Office.
North of the Tyne in our Barrasford, Woodburn and Kirkwhelpington projects (under the collective B4NTR – Broadband for North Tyne and Redesdale group) we are installing a fibre cabinet in Barrasford before Christmas after which duct build will begin on three of the four routes which are now fully surveyed and agreed with the landowners. These three routes collectively offer connection to 370 properties. Wayleave and planning work continues across the rest of the proposed network and completion is anticipated summer 2021.
FACTCO are working hard to connect rural communities across Northumberland. Working together with the support of the iNorthumberland team, they are set to complete one of their first residential networks in the area early next year and have many projects lined up throughout 2021.
Coquet Grange, Amble – Was at the top of iNorthumberland’s project list and viewed as one of the more challenging network installs. FACTCO now have over 100 homes signed up to the scheme and have begun the first stage of the network install. The estate is in full support of the project and are excited to get connected to their new gigabit capable network.
Cambois – The biggest residential project to date on the DCMS portal, FACTCO are planning to connect over 400 premises and are developing a social inclusion tariff to become available to the most vulnerable members of the community.
Rothbury – With over 200 expressions of interest in the first week, the Rothbury area project, which includes the communities in and around Rothbury, Coquetdale, Whittingham Vale & Glanton. Stocksfield – Marketing in the Stocksfield area is underway.
In some of the most remote corners of Northumberland, Openreach is working with dozens of smaller, more rural communities who are also set to get the new technology via Openreach’s Community Fibre Partnership (CFP) Scheme – a scheme which is designed to help people living and working in rural communities that are not included in any current roll-out plans. Openreach co-fund the installation with the communities often able to cover the majority or all of their contribution via the UK Government Gigabit Vouchers and the Digital Borderlands Voucher Scheme. Working with the Council’s iNorthumberland team, Openreach is also proactively identifying communities who might be able to benefit from a CFP. Residents in Bamburgh, Alnmouth, Lesbury, Mickley and Millfield are just some Northumberland communities where residents and businesses are being proactively encouraged to pledge their vouchers and reap the benefits of full fibre. Vouchers can be pledged at Connect My Community.
Find out more and use the online postcode checker to see what broadband speeds are available to you.
Rymote is an established North East IT and telecoms company installing ultrafast broadband in rural Northumberland communities using funding from the Government’s Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) scheme. After previously having delivered gigabit capable broadband to Dissington Hall in Dalton, Rymote would like to talk to councillors, parish councils, town councils or community organisations to work on further funded schemes.
Find out more: rymote.com