The arrival of high-speed broadband in Alnwick has helped to secure the future of the St James’s Church Centre.
The church, which has re-developed its Victorian buildings in order to rent them out to organisations and community groups, has found that installing fibre broadband has attracted a new flock of customers – helping to boost church funds and pay for running costs.
Centre Manager Liz Spence said having fibre broadband installed helps to assure the church’s future role as a community hub for Alnwick.
Liz said: “Eight years ago the church underwent a big re-development. We’re now able to hire out the whole building if we need to. The primary reason for doing so was that we wanted to offer facilities that would be a valuable asset to the whole town.
“Having fibre has enabled us to attract more clients and also support a number of other smaller, self-supporting organisations that are involved in the local community. Many of them need internet access to support the activities they are doing and will ask if there is wi-fi access before booking.”
After upgrading to superfast broadband a year ago, Liz said the church was now regularly used as a training venue for community based carers by the Learning and Development Unit of the NHS Trust and also for sessions three days a week for job seekers on the Work Programme provided by Northumberland County Council on behalf of PeoplePlus – one of the prime contractors in the county. The church also plays host to local council meetings.
Liz said: “One of the main reasons for them coming to us is because we have the superfast broadband access. The people looking for work rely on computers to get online and search for jobs or prepare to get back into work. The NHS Trust trainers use the wi-fi access to stream online instructional videos or to download slide presentations.
“We had internet access before but we only had enough bandwidth to support two computers at the most. With superfast we can provide wi-fi across the whole building and everyone can get online at the same time. We’ve had more than ten people working online at the same time.
“We get a more varied group of people looking to hire us because we have wi-fi, and not a lot of halls or spaces like ours have it. We now have a lot of businesses who hire the venue for business workshops and sales presentations, which require good internet access. A building of this size has quite a lot of running costs so the more clients we can attract, the better.”
Liz explained how the church was able to keep down costs in other ways – thanks to superfast broadband – by installing a smart thermostat that can control the church’s heating remotely from a smartphone, tablet or laptop.
“Using the broadband I can manage the church heating on my iPad from home. It tells you exactly what temperature each room is at, so we only heat the building as and when we need to which helps to regulate heating bills,” Liz explained.
Having high-speed broadband will also enable St James’ to help to advertise its services more effectively with plans to develop its website.
“We have a website which is very basic at the moment. We’re members of the United Reformed Church who are supporting us and other churches with limited resources to get a website up and running and maintain it. The offer the URC have made is dependent on us having a decent broadband service. We will be able to give people more information about what we offer, and more about the church and its history. We already get quite a lot of enquiries through the website so I’m hoping that will increase as a result.
“We’ve tried to be everything to all men, if you like, and having superfast broadband ensures that we have all the facilities to support those things,” said Liz.
Councillor Dave Ledger, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “This use of superfast broadband by St James’s is a perfect example of the breadth of benefits that are being gained through the council’s iNorthumberland superfast broadband programme. An already valuable and well used community facility has been able to expand the services it provides to users, and has even been able to save costs through using technology to remotely control its heating! We can look forward to seeing many more examples like this during the second phase of the programme.”
Simon Roberson, BT’s regional partnership director for the North East, added: “The roll-out of fibre is no easy task, but it’s a very important one. St James’ church centre is a great example of how high-speed broadband connectivity can bring huge benefits not just to homes and businesses but the whole community.”
More than 145,000 households and businesses in Northumberland are now able to connect to fibre broadband as a result of the iNorthumberland programme and BT’s commercial roll-out of the high-speed technology.
In Alnwick around 3,000 premises can now access the new technology with a further 500 homes and businesses gaining access in the coming months.
The iNorthumberland broadband programme, a key part of the council’s growth investment, is being delivered by Northumberland County Council and BT.
A second phase of the programme is now underway with more than 3,700 premises across the county gaining access to fibre in the coming months.
This second phase will see more than £4.1 million invested in the programme area in addition to the £18.9 million invested in the first phase – invested by Northumberland County Council, the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) fund, BT and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
The majority of premises in Northumberland will be getting access to some of the best broadband speeds in the UK via iNorthumberland and the commercial roll-out of fibre by BT’s local network business, Openreach.
Openreach’s network is open to all broadband service providers on an equal wholesale basis and so Northumberland households and businesses can benefit from highly competitive products and pricing from a range of providers.