Contributor: Libby Bateman
Fell End is the most remote of the 4 'Angles' of Ravenstonedale and internet access speeds have always lagged behind the rest of the parish. This is the story of how fibre-optic boadband was brought to Fell End to give residents the fastest internet connection in the parish.
The Newbiggin-on-Lune telephone exchange (015396 23) was broadband enabled (2Mbps) on 2nd February 2005 and later upgraded to 8Mbps. Since then most of Ravenstonedale has benefitted from reasonable internet speeds while the residents of Fell End have continued to suffer appallingly slow connections. However in 2013 a ground-breaking project was launched to bring phenomenal internet speeds to Fell End through the laying of fibre optic cable from the internet backbone to 58 deeply rural homes. The Fell End 'Fibre to the Home' project is one of only a few undertaken in the UK to supply rural areas with superfast internet connectivity.
April 29th 2014. Rural Community Celebrates ‘self-build’ Broadband Project completion
The application for funding for the Fell End Broadband Project was initiated and co-ordinated by Libby Bateman. Libby commenced the funding application in her role as Upper Eden Community Plan Project Officer. Along the way she became one of the Broadband Champions for Cumbria, was awarded the Talk Talk Digital Hero for the North West region after being nominated for the prize by Rory Stewart MP and subsequently became a Cumbria County Councillor. Steering the project to completion has not been easy, with many pitfalls encountered along the way, all to be overcome.
Residents were given blank pieces of paper and a pen and asked to draw what a 'fibre to the home' network could look like in their parish. Fell End Broadband looks very similar now than it did then, just with a few more houses passed to get to the backhaul. Following that meeting we held a subsequent meeting in Kirkby Stephen where people came from far and wide, not just from Upper Eden and from there the East Cumbria Community Broadband Forum was born. Fell End went on to meet with suppliers, nine in total and invited them to help us build our network or to backhaul our network. Our MP Rory Stewart, realised that the superfast broadband project from Broadband Delivery UK was not going to reach every property and lobbied Minsters for a separate fund for the more remote areas. This became the Rural Community Broadband Fund, hosted by DEFRA, of which Fell End is a beneficiary.
The fun really began with applications to the fund followed by a market review, invite to tender (twice) and tender evaluation. The entire project needed to be State Aid compliant, which meant that there was a strict process to follow from the wording of the tender documents right through to the infrastructure design. We have learned a lot along the way!
The installation of ducting in phase one by TS Trenching was targeted for completion by Christmas 2013 with the technical work scheduled to take longer. 15 homes are expected to be connected in January 2014.
During the implementation of the project we will attempt to keep this diary up to date to inform interested parties where were are up to.
The first part was easy digging and the mole plough navigated a worrying rocky outcrop with ease. The challenges came later in the day on the fell track when some large rocks were encountered.
Progress was steady with a pleasing amount of fibre being trenched.
The ground has been exceptionally wet and it was impossible to get the mole plough onto the ground so Tony headed back to base to collect his tracked mole plough, affectionately known as 'Thunderbird 3'. There were doubts over if it would start as it had not been out on a job for a while but she fired up first time and made light work of the final leg of phase one. There was a bit of a slippery slip down the banking and a splat in the mud at the end but heavy rain is expected over the weekend so it should all wash in. The team are now parked up over the other side of the A685 ready to begin phase 2 on Monday morning. Engineers are expected to begin the technical work next week. All being well, phase one will be lit by the end of the month.
The installation of the ducting is going to plan, TS Trenching are now three quarters of the way to completion and expect the infrastructure to be fully installed on schedule (the end of March). Tomorrow we are expecting the fibre blowing team on site. The team expect to install the active cables into the ducting. They plan to do this in phases with the first phase being to Crooks Beck. It will take a few days on site to complete this work (depending on how well it blows). Once installed the team expect to do a test of the fibre by switching on the main fibre.
Members of the Fell End team
Going past Cold Keld
Taking the ducting under the bridge
Digging across the front of Elm Pot March 1st
Crossing the A683
This is how we get under walls!
After the ducting is in
Parish council chairman Ernest Leach talking to fibre planner Trevor Lawton
Measuring actual distances
Phase one is complete and fibre cabling team are expected on site next week. The civil engineering work is almost complete with just over 1.5km of ducting left to install on the 15km network. We have made it to Murthwaite and TS Trenching expect to complete their work on schedule by the end of March. Then it is over to BT to complete their work and get properties connected.
Enjoying a dry week last week. The new mole plough at TS Trenching (Thunderbird 3) is making light work of the Cumbrian hillside.
Progress is entering an exciting stage with cabling nearing properties.
The splicing team have begun the technical work of connecting the fibre on phase one
Technical team arrives to begin connecting the fibre to the properties
Rawthey Side. The farthest property from the back haul on Ash Fell
Project display board going up in Ravenstonedale Parish Council's headquarters, formerly known as High Chapel. With Council chairman Ernest Leach
Rural Community Celebrates ‘self-build’ Broadband Project completion
A remote rural community in South East Cumbria is celebrating the completion of the civil engineering work to install a 15km fibre to the home broadband network, connecting 58 properties to superfast broadband services. The project, know as Fell End Broadband, led by Ravenstonedale Parish Council in partnership with BT Openreach and local civil engineering contractor TS Trenching, is one of only two projects across the UK that has been supported by Defra’s Rural Community Broadband Fund.
The project has been led by local residents who recognised early that their community was not going to benefit from the countywide role out of superfast broadband due to the remoteness of the area and the distance to the telephone exchange.
Defra’s Rural Community Broadband Fund has supported 50% of the cost of delivering the network with further funding from the Princes Countryside Fund, The Holehird Trust, Talktalk Digital Heroes and Community Contributions.
Commenting about the new network owner of A Corner of Eden holiday accommodation, Debbie Greaves said, “It is brilliant to see the network nearing completion, it has taken nearly four years to get is this far and I’m looking forward to the technical work being completed shortly so my guests can benefit from access to internet services during their stay.
“Until recently people would visit remote Cumbria to get away from the buzz of the internet but things are different now, visitors want to be able to upload images of their holidays in real-time on social media to show their friends and family what they have been doing. This is also a powerful marketing tool for my business.”
Victoria Elms, Manager, The Prince’s Countryside Fund said “We are delighted to be supporting Fell End Broadband to deliver superfast broadband to this remote community. Broadband is a great way of unlocking the potential of the rural economy and these 58 rural properties including 28 businesses now have the opportunity to grasp the same advantages as those in nearby towns.”
Rory Stewart MP said: "It is wonderful news that the civil engineering work at Fell End has been completed, showing in the most tangible way how a community broadband project that has been driven by local residents has been able to achieve incredible results in such a short time. All involved in the Fell End project, and especially local county councillor Libby Bateman, have worked unbelievably hard to get this far. We are proving here in Cumbria that self-build projects are do-able and achievable, and showing rural communities all over the country that we can connect our most remote homes and businesses. I am looking forward to seeing the work at Fell End for myself in early May, and to congratulating all those involved."
Civil Engineering Team from TS Trenching, Tony Swidenbank, Ross Swidenbank and Graham Knowles.
Phase one and two are now lit so 44 out of 58 properties are ready to go. Many Fell End households are connected and enjoying tremendous broadband speeds. Phase three is expected to go to commissioning next week so that should be ready by the end of this month. There are still a few aerial pieces to do but the end is in sight! The Fat Lamb is already on so if you get chance to call in, it’s worth a surf. Below is a screen dump of a typical order form. It was provided by Cold Keld at Fell End. Just look at the speeds that could be achieved.
Speed tests, before and after, copper to Fibre. The images speak for themselves.
The following link is to a video made by Libby Bateman in October 2015. It shows an interview with Ken and Kathy Trimmer who are now using the service.
Nearing completion. Only one or two properties at Uldale remain to be connected.
Fell End Broadband is a community ‘build and benefit’ fibre to the home broadband network connecting 58 deeply rural properties in the parish of Ravenstonedale (South East Cumbria). The project developed a 15km fibre network across some of the most challenging terrain in England. Described by BT as ‘EIPC’ the network is capable of speeds of 300mbps.
The project was led and managed by community volunteers with assistance from Ravenstonedale Parish Council as the accountable body.
The project was developed by members of the community it serves. In 2010 residents met in the local pub (Fat Lamb Inn) armed with large sheets of white paper and marker pens they drew a possible network route that would connect the properties with fibre optic cabling. The community then met with potential suppliers to help develop the project and sought funding to deliver the network.
From that initial meeting the East Cumbria Community Broadband Forum was born which later went on to develop the Rural Community Broadband Fund with DEFRA. Fell End Broadband was one of the initial pilots for the fund.
75% of the residents to be served by the network lived and worked at home. Businesses include farming, tourism, transport operator, graphic designer, photographer, engineering and retail.
The project cost a total of £88,000 all of which was civil engineering work paid directly to the contractor. The project was funded by
£26,000 Princes Countryside Fund
£53,000 Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF)
£2,000 Holhird Trust
£1,000 Talktalk Digital Heroes
£6,000 community contributions
RCBF was delivered via the Rural Payments Agency and was paid in arrears which meant careful cash flow forecasting was needed. Cash flow capacity was met from within the community.
A supply partner was sought to offer technical expertise and material for the build (ducting, fibre, joint boxes).
Landowners within the community granted wayleaves to the project free of charge. It was clear that wayleave costs would need to be met by the community, consequently landowners were not keen to charge themselves or their neighbours. Each land crossing benefited every property in generic terms.
Contract and Procurement
The project a beneficiary of public funding so required strict contract and procurement processes. Firstly the Parish Council published an Open Market Review to allow any commercial suppliers to give notification of any commercial plans to supply superfast broadband to the area. The Parish Council then issued an Invite to Tender to suppliers that had initially engaged with the project. Two suppliers submitted bids which were reviewed by a sub group of the Parish Council against a pre-determined scoring matrix. Openreach was awarded the supply contract.
The Parish Council then issued a second Invite to Tender for the civil engineering works because the supply partner only tendered to supply equipment, technical expertise and service. Two companies submitted a bid for the work and the contract was awarded to local firm TS Trenching from Kendal.
The build began on 27th November 2013. The project was broken up into three phases with phase one completed and the first property lit in July 2014. The build phase of the project took just less than one year. There were some issues along the way with property changing hands and technical alterations to the network design around individual properties. Some additional overhead work was added which caused problems as it required coordination with different contractors and different departments within BT.
Fell End Broadband was the first project in which Openreach had worked alongside a community to deliver a network. To that end it was a sharp learning curve for everybody involved with both parities fully determined to see the project through to completion.
Once the network was installed and ready to accept orders it was not always easy to place the order with BT retail as they only worked to a script and the project didn’t easily fit the script. There were some issues with addressing data where, historically, there may have been more accounts or lines at the property. A dedicated project manager helped to iron out the admin issues as they arose.
Fell End Broadband was never just about connecting 58 deeply remote properties to a sustainable superfast broadband service. It was about the art of the possible and testing a process that could be replicated. The capability of the technology was never in question but a model to deliver the technology at affordable cost was needed.
The lessons learned from Fell End Broadband have inspired Openreach to launch a national scheme called a Community Fibre Partnership which is inviting communities to engage with Openreach and work in partnership to bring Superfast Broadband to their area.
Fell End Broadband is the product of a tremendous amount of hard work and goodwill from everybody involved in the project who worked tirelessly to deliver a shared vision that was both deliverable and replicable.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ model for rural broadband delivery and every solution will be different in terms of technical design, project delivery, management and funding. The first step is to get together as a community and make an approach to a supplier to discover what can be done.