For too long the villages hidden in the environs of Loch Ness were resigned to the fact that their internet connections – if available at all – would be slow. Abriachan, a scattered rural community of about 140 people above the shores of the loch, had laboured along with connection speeds of less than 1Mb. Some people had to drive up to 10 miles to access something stronger. As digital technology became a larger part of life, it reached a point when enough was enough.
“Having a good internet connection is so important, especially in the Highlands” exclaims Suzann Barr, a passionate member of the Abriachan community. “It’s crucial to sustain the younger demographic and maintain small businesses in this area. If our young people can’t connect to the internet and can’t establish a business, they will simply move away.”
The community decided to research the available connections and shared their findings with the residents, inviting people to pick an option that best suited their unique challenges of topography. “Some people can use line of sight connections, but where I work it’s impossible.”
Suzann is a learning coordinator at Abriachan Forest Trust, a charity and community woodland set up 20 years ago. The community purchased the 534 hectare area and established a social enterprise to manage the land, create local employment, improve the environment and enable public enjoyment.
Delivering a strong internet connection in the centre of a forest was a serious challenge for the providers using the more traditional methods of broadband delivery. It seemed that TV White Space technology – enabled by Broadway Partners – was the only option for the Forest Trust to try.
“We just thought we’d have a go to see what it was like,” Suzann says, “and it’s a million times better! It makes such a difference to our work!”
Part of Suzann’s role involves working with vulnerable young people and adults. Sessions outdoors are complemented by time in the forest classroom to formalise the learning. “We didn’t even bother trying to use the internet before,” Suzann admits, “but now we can access relevant information and research material, and guide our participants on accessing these themselves. It’s a really important part of what we do, especially for those who can’t achieve their potential in mainstream schooling. It helps them such a lot on many different levels.”
Administratively it has been “transformational” for the Trust, enthuses Suzann. “We used to have to take all the admin home or to somewhere with a stronger connection, but now we can do everything on site. It’s so much easier, especially as some of our projects involve coordinating with Highland-wide partners. We need to be able to share things and be in touch easily to make these rural collaborations effective.”
The Forest Trust is the first location in the community to use the TVWS enabled connection option but Suzann is confident that more will follow. “If we install a few more transmitters I think everyone could benefit from it,” she says. “It’s just been so brilliant for us. It’s really important to have things like this in place to maintain the vibrancy of our community – then we might survive!”
Broadway Partners uses Nominet’s TVWS database to facilitate their service delivery. Read more about Nominet’s work here.