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Darley’s Broadband Story – So Far

September 2, 2011

By Sue Welch, Darley

It all started back at the Broadband North Yorkshire Conference on that snowy day in February.  Well, in fact it had started a few months earlier when David Holland had recognised there was a possibility of funding and tried to generate some interest.  He had already gained the support of Julian Smith, MP before I came on board in January and helped to get the support of the Parish Council (I am Sue Welch, Parish Clerk for Menwith with Darley, in Nidderdale).

The day before the Conference saw me in the tiny Radio York studio in Harrogate talking ‘with’ Julian Smith and the presenter about the problems of slow broadband speeds in rural areas.  The presenter was quite upset that I was trying to do my bit for democracy and finding it very difficult because of connection speeds, and I, of course, agreed with him.

So – back to that snowy day at Ripon Racecourse. David and myself listened to the presentations, talked to relevant people throughout the day and by the end we were raring to go.  In particular we heard the Chief Executive Officer  from North Yorkshire County Council announce that £750,000 was to be made available NOW to fund around 15 community broadband schemes in North Yorkshire.  This was to be in advance of the BDUK millions which would be coming to the area but would be slowed down by procurement procedures and detailed planning.

What did we need to do to secure a slice of this funding?  A presentation by NYnet explained that for an area to have a chance of a community scheme, it must show that there was a NEED (i.e. a good proportion of households with speeds of less than 2Mb/s) and a DEMAND (i.e that there were a good number of households who were interested in joining a community scheme that would give them a better service).  There was, as yet, no formal process, but we were encouraged to go away and tell our community and to get as many expressions of interest as we could.

And so we did….  Luckily it was almost the due date for our community newsletter, so we explained what was needed and circulated an expression of interest form within the newsletter which went out to around 400 households.  Within 2 weeks we had 80 forms back and we now have over 100, including some from a small neighbouring parish.  An analysis of the forms proved that there was both a need and demand, so we were on track.

Our next step was to talk to NYnet about what might be possible linking into their ‘big fat pipe’, and to service providers about how a Darley scheme could work.  It still looked promising, so a public meeting was held to explain to the community, and to prove our case to ‘those who mattered’.  The meeting was attended by some 60 villagers, as well as Cty Cllr John Fort (now Chairman of NYCC), and representatives from NYnet, LN Communications and BT.  A spreadsheet of facts, and a powerpoint presentation, complete with appropriate pie charts ended with me saying ‘We have proved there is a need and demand – now over to you!’

Since then we have been trying to be patient.  NYCC and NYnet agreed that we had proved our case, but there was still no formal process that we could start.  But we have not been idle. We have set up a Steering Group to help us along the way, and we have made contact with other local communities who have similar needs.  A scheme set up 5 or 6 years ago around Blubberhouses using wireless technology is still going strong and hoping to upgrade, and a more recent scheme around Appletreewick and Skyreholme is already giving users speeds of around 6Mb/s without linking in to fibre.  A wireless village hub at Darley, based on a fibre point of presence (the NYnet fat pipe) would also service these other communities via repeaters, with very little loss of speed.

So our scheme is now known as the ‘larger Darley scheme’ and we hope that it will service those other communities mentioned above, together with our neighbouring parish of Thornthwaite with Padside.   We are told that this scheme will have an even greater chance of success as it encompasses more households and also crosses the district area boundaries within the county.

Julian Smith, MP, even mentioned David and myself and Adrian Precious from Skyreholme during a recent debate in Parliament, so our case has certainly been mentioned in high places.

Three weeks ago, we met with the newly appointed Harrogate Community Broadband Champion (he did apologise for the length of his title!) and he became yet another person that we convinced of our need and demand when we presented our file of information and the analysis of the expressions of interest.  We are told that he will fill in an NYCC application form (available very soon)on our behalf  and then he will champion our cause before a panel set up (very soon) to decide on which schemes are to go ahead.

Five months have now passed since we started out, and we have jumped through many hoops and convinced many layers of people.  We have generated local interest and are doing our best to keep it live.  All those involved are still supporting us and are telling us that it is a good and viable scheme…..

We can only wait and see, and keep our fingers crossed that the larger Darley scheme will happen in 2011.  Watch this space!

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