Coverdale residents and businesses have been telling about the everyday problems they face because of unreliable broadband and mobile connections.

Issues range from difficulty in accessing school work to barriers to the smooth running of businesses to the risk of being unable to call for help in the event of an accident on the farm.

Residents and businesses shared their experiences to inform Mobile Access North Yorkshire, a £6.4m Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Rural Connected Communities project.

Coverdale, which is known for its tourism, farming and racehorse training, copes with unreliable, sporadic broadband, little mobile signal and, sometimes, an inconsistent land line service, meaning daily tasks can prove difficult, even outside the pandemic.

Agglethorpe farmer Tim Brown said: “Simple things like being able to update records whilst out or registering the birth of cattle (which has to be done within fourteen days) is difficult, because we have no mobile connection outside and unreliable broadband inside.”

Other businesses agree. The Saddle Rooms, which brings £1m to the local economy through its “use local” ethos, is in a similar position. Manager Leo Morris said: “Apps exist for the smooth running of hospitality businesses, yet for it to work properly – like any other five-star business – we need to have connectivity. We can’t upload instantly if we haven’t got reliable wifi or mobile data.”

The pandemic has heightened the issue. Working from home, remote schooling and GP appointments are just some of the activities that have moved online. There is an assumption among many that this has been an easy move, however, in rural Coverdale – and other areas of North Yorkshire where ‘not spots’ exist – it has been difficult; sometimes impossible.

The project heard that during the first lockdown a 17-year-old had to sit at the top of their drive – half a mile away – to engage with remote learning. Tim’s partner Sarah said: “We’re lucky as key workers that our son is still at school, but during snow days he has struggled to access the work and live lessons, which has left him feeling frustrated.”

A key aim of the MANY project is to eliminate these issues, known as the digital divide. The model trialled, if successful, can be rolled out to other rural areas in North Yorkshire and across the country. Therefore, understanding how residents and businesses want to use connectivity is key. It allows the network to be enabled for a rural area now while building for the future.

The ability to make phone calls outside is a significant requirement. Coverdale is a place to walk, cycle and ride but is also home to two high-risk industries – racehorse training and farming – meaning a reliable mobile signal can be a matter of life or death.

Sam Lambert, who lives in Braidley, said: “If we roll a quad bike on top of ourselves there is currently no way of getting help.”

Sarah added: “If something happens to Tim, her father-in-law or stepson, all of whom work the farm, we don’t have the luxury of protection.”

The reliable and robust connections of 5G offer this. It can also support the first critical hour for the emergency services.

Furthermore, it gives opportunities to make life easier. For example, monitoring of river levels in real time is a priority for protection against flooding, but also offers the ability to monitor water plants, which are integral to the Coverdale community, which does not have mains water.

Finally, 5G gives businesses the chance to use the latest technology to help their day-to-day lives, such as cameras in farming sheds, machine monitoring or operations documentation.

Saddle Rooms manager Leo Morris said: “Being part of the MANY project means we get the benefits of mobile communications for us to move the business forward as well as keeping our staff and customers safe and happy.”   

Fundamentally, 5G offers the area sustainability. Sarah said: “Young people move away from the area but want to move back when they have a family. Yet, it doesn’t offer what they want.”

Building a network, which is ready for the technology, which is already available in urban areas, will bring people to the area, which, as Sarah says “makes the place thrive, ensuring its future”.

Part of a wider Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 5G programme, in the Mobile Access North Yorkshire project we are working in partnership with several organisations including Quickline Communications Ltd (who lead the project), the Universities of York and Lancaster and various small to medium enterprises who specialise in mobile technology – Flo Culture, Cybermoor, Wireless Coverage and Safenetics.

The MANY project’s aim is for the 5G network to go live in April/May 2021. To find out more from Mobile Access North Yorkshire.