Superfast broadband set to transform island’s social enterprise

Superfast technology to create new learning opportunities for South Uist group

A small community and development organisation in the Western Isles is celebrating after being awarded a BT grant to allow it to benefit from fast, fibre broadband.

Cothrom, meaning opportunity in Gaelic, is based at Ormiclate on South Uist. The main focus of its work is training adult learners but the group also includes a full-time Gaelic language nursery and a furniture restoration and upcycling enterprise called ReStore housed in a new building on the campus.

The social enterprise has signed a Community Fibre Partnership with Openreach, Scotland’s digital network business, with BT Group providing a grant of 75 per cent towards the cost of installing superfast broadband. The remainder was paid from Cothrom’s own funds.

“Fast, reliable broadband will make a big difference to our work,” said manager Kirsty MacCormick. “It will revolutionise what we do. We have 20 staff now and superfast broadband will make a huge difference to their day-to-day work.

“The fast technology will open up a huge range of new learning opportunities to the organisation and facilitate our transition to e-learning and distance learning. We’ll also be able to introduce new e-learning programmes and our staff will be able to access all kinds of online support.”

Over a full year Cothrom is involved in teaching around 180 adult learners while the Gaelic nursery looks after 23 children.

Kirsty added: “It wasn’t always the case that we would be able to secure a community fibre partnership, so when we go live with superfast broadband in October we’ll have reached a big milestone for Cothrom.”

Robert Thorburn, Openreach partnership director for Scotland, said: “It’s great that we’ve been able to work with Cothrom to find a broadband solution and I congratulate Kirsty and her staff on their work to secure a BT Group grant for their superfast upgrade. It shows what can be achieved when people work together towards a common goal, and we’re proud to be part of that.

“Partnerships like this help us to bring high-speed connections to those areas that, for many reasons, broadband providers struggle to upgrade alone. Independent data shows that around 93 per cent of Scotland can access superfast speeds today, and we’re committed to making fibre broadband as widely available as possible.

“That’s why we’re investing in hundreds of similar community projects across the UK, working in partnership with businesses, schools and residential communities to deliver faster speeds from a wide choice of competing service providers.”

The Community Fibre Partnership scheme is designed to help people in places not included in any current roll-out plans to bring fibre broadband to their local area, working with Openreach to co-fund the installation. If a local school benefits from the project, communities can also benefit from a BT Group grant that will cover up to 75 per cent of the cost, capped at £30,000.

Once the network is in place, typically within 12 months, communities have access to a range of providers who offer their services over the Openreach network, bringing competition and choice.

Fibre broadband makes activities like streaming music, watching TV online and uploading large files much quicker, as well as enabling several members of a household or place of work to be online at once.

Across the UK, more than 400 CFP schemes have already been agreed, with upgrades complete in more than 200 communities. Once Openreach has installed the infrastructure, residents can place an order for the new faster services with a provider of their choice.