Ultra-fast broadband technology has been introduced in one of the remotest parts of the Yorkshire Dales in the latest phase of a multi-million pound scheme to help tackle the digital divide across North Yorkshire.
The pioneering project has been launched in Coverdale, which lies in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and brings the state-of-the-art internet connections to a succession of villages.
The £6.4 million Mobile Access North Yorkshire (MANY) initiative, which has been partly funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, will help to establish new enterprises in the deeply rural area, while also helping existing businesses to flourish.
The project is seen as a particular boost to the tourism sector, which is a cornerstone of the Yorkshire Dales’ economy and the wider £9bn visitor industry across the region.
It is also being seen as a key component of the Government’s levelling up agenda, which is aimed at tackling regional inequalities across the country, and helping to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas.
Our executive member for digital connectivity, Cllr Greg White, said: “North Yorkshire is leading the way in the development of new 5G technology. This network will empower our rural communities and help our visitor economy to become even more successful.
“We are committed to supporting businesses and households with the best services and we would like to thank all of our partners in the ground-breaking MANY project, which has the potential to be replicated across all rural communities.”
The initiative is backed by a consortium including ourselves, and has been rolled out in Coverdale, which is a steep-sided valley in the far east of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
The dale is home to a number of small villages, including Carlton, West Scrafton, Melmerby and Agglethorpe, and has a population of 1,000 people.
Due to its remote location, Coverdale has suffered from poor connectivity with broadband speeds five times slower than the national average, putting local companies at a competitive disadvantage.
The new ultrafast broadband network will create opportunities for businesses to improve engagement with visitors as well as the chance to increase revenues. Business owners will be able to boost their online presence and adopt the latest cloud-based software to increase innovation, productivity and profitability.
The award-winning tourist attraction, The Forbidden Corner, is among the first businesses to benefit. It is using the ultrafast broadband technology to enhance the attraction with augmented reality applications within its labyrinth of tunnels, chambers and follies.
Another business to benefit is The Saddle Rooms, a hospitality and wedding venue, which is using the connectivity to attract, recruit and retain high-quality staff and improve communications across its 400-acre site.
In addition, the ultrafast broadband network will be used to boost health and well-being by combating loneliness and isolation and connecting residents in Coverdale to digital NHS services.
It will also be used to monitor roads to help protect against the devastation of flash flooding, which left parts of the Yorkshire Dales badly affected following a deluge in July 2019.
Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez said: “My priority is levelling up rural areas with the same connectivity enjoyed in towns and cities, and that’s exactly what we’re doing in Coverdale by funding this new 5G network.
“The benefits for the area are huge. Local tourist attractions have already been brought into the 21st century using state-of-the-art augmented reality tech, and the network will connect those suffering with loneliness as well as limiting flood damage by monitoring the state of local roads.
“This is just part of our plan to put rural Yorkshire in the digital fast lane through our £5 billion Project Gigabit that is bringing top-of-the-range broadband to communities across the region.”
Quickline Communications Ltd, the East Riding-based internet service provider, is currently offering 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) connectivity up to nine kilometres from the nearest mast with the ambition to extend this up to 18 kilometres as the technology matures.
The chief executive officer at Quickline Communications, Sean Royce, said: “This is a perfect example of how we are delivering life-changing services to individuals, businesses and communities in rural areas that have previously been ignored by other providers.
“Having lightning fast, reliable internet is an absolute necessity, and this project will ensure that the connectivity received in this part of North Yorkshire will far exceed even that experienced by others in many towns and cities right across the UK.
“It is also vital in terms of levelling up the North. Rural businesses can start to compete with other regions on a more level playing field and it will open up new markets for them.
“People can confidently work from home, children and students can access online lessons and lectures, they can socialise, stream music, listen to podcasts and watch TV programmes as well as shop online.
“These are all basic needs and wants - and we are thrilled to be paving the way for communities in the most isolated parts of North Yorkshire.”
The North Yorkshire Rural Commission, which was established by ourselves to look at potential solutions to a host of issues affecting the countryside, claimed that digital connectivity for both internet and mobile coverage is now a “basic human right” in the 21st century.
A final report by the independent commission published in July last year warned that online connectivity in rural parts of North Yorkshire is lagging behind urban areas, hindering economic growth and leaving tens of thousands of businesses and households affected by technology blackspots.
Research by the North Yorkshire Rural Commission revealed that a fifth of all rural areas in the county have no broadband connection, compared with seven per cent in urban areas.
Among the proposals put forward by the commission to tackle the technology divide was a digital inclusion group established by the National Park authorities for the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was also urged to place a higher priority on digital inclusion in rural communities and use the Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund to set out a strategic approach for North Yorkshire and other sparsely populated areas.
Efforts are already under way to help boost connectivity after the county council invested £85m and launched a company, NYnet Ltd, to improve digital and broadband services across North Yorkshire.
A rural taskforce has been established by North Yorkshire County Council which is looking at taking forward the Rural Commission’s recommendations, and is due to publish a report later this year.
The consortium overseeing the ultrafast broadband project includes aql ltd, Cybermoor 5G Services, Flo-culture, Lancaster University, Quickline Communications, SafeNetics, the University of York and Wireless Coverage.
The MANY project is part of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s 5G Testbeds and Trials programme. The Government has provided £4.4 million in funding, with the remaining £2 million coming from private businesses involved in the initiative.
The Forbidden Corner, case study: Tourist attraction brings virtual touch with new ultrafast broadband
With its origins dating back more than 40 years, The Forbidden Corner remains one of the country’s quirkiest tourist attractions.
The brainchild of Colin Armstrong, the owner of the Tupgill Estate, it was originally built as a private folly, with initial work carried out to plant a small woodland in 1979.
The site was opened to the public on July 23, 1994, when 100 visitors attended the attraction in Coverdale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Set in a four-acre garden in the heart of the estate, The Forbidden Corner now attracts up to 120,000 visitors every year who wend their way through its labyrinth of tunnels, chambers and follies.
The attraction’s staff have taken the opportunity to employ new state-of-the-art internet connections which have been introduced to serve the remote communities in Coverdale.
They have launched a digital quest, which aims to enhance the experience for visitors by bringing the attraction’s characters to life virtually via 5G-enabled augmented reality.
The Forbidden Corner’s manager, Darren Weatherill, said: “Our customer base is loyal and we get a high proportion of visitors come back again and again.
“We have always wanted to be able to offer them more, keeping the attraction exciting and engaging, but until recently we have always lacked the connectivity to really explore this opportunity.”
Working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) 5G Testbed and Trials project and the Mobile Access North Yorkshire (MANY) scheme, the attraction is among the first locations to utilise the new network, which went live across the north end of Coverdale at the end of January.
It is now being rolled out across a wider ultrafast broadband scheme across the county, which is being overseen by North Yorkshire County Council.
Mr Weatherill added: “The work we have done with the MANY project has allowed us to deliver a digital quest based on our previous traditional brass rubbing.
“The app uses the latest technology to bring to life some of the characters around The Forbidden Corner – whether that is our frogs from Froggy Fountain or the dragon, which greets you on arrival.”
Staff at The Forbidden Corner have been working with officials from Flo-culture, a partner of the MANY project and a specialist in developing audience engagement applications.
The managing director of Flo-culture, Katherine Pearson, said: “The 5G network allows us to immerse visitors at Forbidden Corner in a real-time augmented reality experience. The uniqueness of The Forbidden Corner will be brought to life in a totally new way.
“This is one of our solutions which will help the attraction to respond to the expectation that today’s visitors have – reliable mobile connectivity, and access to enhanced experiences via their own mobile devices.”
Mr Weatherill added: “We have worked hard with the team at Flo-culture and the MANY project in our off-season to develop something that we are proud of, and the feedback we have received so far is overwhelming positive. We hope those customers who are due to come in the summer months will love it as much as we do, and we look forward to welcoming visitors to experience this new development.”
Visitors who have already tried out the app have claimed that the new technology has heightened the experiences of The Forbidden Corner.
Cassandra Kitchin, from Morecambe, who visited the attraction with her husband, Roy, and their granddaughter, Angelica Walker, said the app is “really fun”.
And Kylie Simms, who lives near Bedale and visited The Forbidden Corner with her partner, Callum Bowness, said: “I really enjoyed the app – I particularly enjoyed taking photos of Callum with the dragon.”