Cumbrian Community Digs Deep for Ultrafast Broadband

The rural hamlets of Raisbeck and Sunbiggin in Cumbria’s Eden Valley can now access some of the fastest and most reliable broadband speeds in the UK after the local community joined forces with Connecting Cumbria and Openreach

Situated near the famous Sunbiggin Tarn, a Site of Special Scientific Interest,  and around 20 miles from Penrith, the secluded hamlets can now access ultrafast, ultra-reliable speeds using gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) technology, where fibre is run directly from the exchange all the way to each property.

In order to build this ‘full fibre’ network the local community quite literally dug deep to reduce the huge costs involved in reaching such a remote location. Local farmer Julian Thorpe volunteered his own mole plough – a machine that helps dig cables underground - and the community set to work excavating more than 1.5 miles of trench across the 10 fields which separate the two hamlets.

Roger Frank, a retired businessman who lives in Raisbeck, was the driving force behind the upgrades. He said: “It has taken a huge amount of time and effort to get to this point, but it has certainly been worth it and I’m proud of our community for pulling together to make it happen against the odds.

“The challenges and costs to reach our community were so high that at one point it looked like it just wouldn’t happen. But we did our bit by securing private land access and the agreements needed to install apparatus on private land and then made a decision to take on board a chunk of the digging ourselves which ultimately reduced the cost to an affordable level, making the project viable.”

The improved fibre broadband infrastructure, which covers 18 properties, was delivered using funding from the Connecting Cumbria broadband programme, a partnership between Openreach and Cumbria County Council.

Jonathan Harris, Senior programme manager at Connecting Cumbria, said: “This community has shown great determination to secure broadband connectivity fit not only for now but for the future. Broadband speeds have rocketed from less than 1Mbps to more than 100Mbps which has transformed the way people living and working there can use the internet.

“This wasn’t just a case of digging a trench – the technical specifications for the trench were very precise and had to ensure that once the fibre optic cable was laid by Openreach engineers it couldn’t be damaged by any future farming work on the land. They also had to negotiate the traditional stone wall boundaries of each field, which could not be damaged, and they actually developed a technique to run the ducting under the walls.”

Robert Thorburn, Openreach Partnership Director for the North, said: “We all know how essential it is for homes and businesses across Cumbria to have fast, reliable broadband. From running a business to home schooling and shopping - so much is done online.

“While nearly 95 per cent of premises in Cumbria can already access superfast broadband, we know there is more to do to reach those final communities who need better connectivity.

“Now that the Connecting Cumbria deployment programme is in its final stages, one of the options for communities to consider is our Community Fibre Partnership scheme. I’d encourage any community struggling with their broadband speeds to get in touch to see if we can help.”

The Community Fibre Partnership (CFP) enables Openreach to work with a local community to build a customised co-funded solution and bring fibre broadband to areas not included in any existing private or publicly subsidised upgrade schemes.

By working with Openreach more than 120,000 homes and businesses across the UK can now benefit from ultrafast, ultra-reliable broadband via a CFP.

Residents and businesses in Cumbria with broadband speeds of less than 30 megabit per second (Mbps) available may be eligible for UK Government Gigabit Vouchers as well as funding via the Digital Borderlands Voucher Scheme which could cover most, and often all, of the community contribution to the overall cost.

Once Openreach has installed the infrastructure, residents can place an order for the new faster services with an internet service provider of their choice.

Openreach has recently expanded its UK national plans and will now make FTTP technology available to 4.5 million homes and businesses across the UK by the end of March 2021 – an increase of 500,000 premises.

By the mid-to-late 2020s the company wants to reach 20 million premises – almost two thirds of the UK – assuming the right conditions are in place to support investment.