Bringing a bazooka to the b4rn dance…
We weren’t entirely happy with the way life was. So we decided to move from our overpriced, overcrowded but connected bit of the beltway of Buckinghamshire suburban sprawl to live in a gorgeous stone box built in 1770 and situated in the stunning Lancashire countryside.
We’re near (enough) the M6, we thought. We’re not far from a small town, we thought. We won’t miss the Plusnet fibre broadband, we thought. We’ll get whatever there is there, we thought.
Well, Sam Knows actually knows. And what Sam Knows knows is that our lovely little cottage was at least 4+km from the exchange. Now that’s starting to look like a <1 Mbps service on ADSL2+ (or normal broadband). Enough to send (small) emails on and to stream YouTube in the lowest resolution over the course of several weeks per minute of content.
In a house with a home-working parent, a stay-home mum with her own business and two children on the cusp of the digital revolution (they watch more Netflix than Ricky Gervais and would, given half a chance, play PS3 all the remaining hours of the day) this could be the end of the world. Well, the modern, middle-class equivalent. By this stage, we’ve exchanged. There’s no going back. And with <1 Mbps broadband there’s no hope of going forward into the 21st Century.
So I did what any self-respecting, if distinctly desperate, Generation Xer would in these horrific circumstances. I turned to Google. And the most basic search terms you could imagine. Our village’s name, “Borwick”. (For context, there are 70 registered voters in Borwick. The population is probably no more than 100. And we live about half a mile outside of it too.) And the word “broadband”. Even that seemed a little bit hopeful at this stage. The premise of my search was essentially that there must be something else out there; some magic solution to being in the arse-end-of-nowhere in “this day and age”?
Ok. A lot of results.
Most of them about broadband, obviously; Borwick isn’t exactly headline news on the internet. But my eyes were immediately drawn to an article in Vice Magazine. If you’re not familiar with Vice, it’s essentially an eZine for the drug culture hangover merchants of the late 90s and the kids of tomorrow. It actually features some of my favourite writers, none more than Clive Martin, but it’s not something I would immediately associate with either broadband or Borwick. Well, obviously not Borwick.
Their normal content features gems like this:
So you’ll understand why, in a moment of fearful searching, my eyes were immediately drawn to this link in the Google search results:
Yes. That. The Magic. I want some of that. No, wait, were Vice on mind altering drugs when they wrote it. Surely not the actual PARISH OF BORWICK?
Oh my God. It’s just behind our new house. The stone box in a field. A field not far from that stone box in that field. Hallelujah!
So I did some more research. I looked into B4RN and what they do. What they’ve done to solve the problem of broadband “notspots” in the rural North West. I read about the enigmatic characters like Chris Conder (now an MBE, ma’me) and the amazing volunteers that have made B4RN’s expansion to over 1,000 customers possible. But I remained sceptical about whether we’d actually get it. So I emailed them. More in hope than expectation.
The response was rapid. As you’d expect. I was given all the necessary assurances that as long as I was prepared to roll up my sleeves and join the dig, and they could find the end of the previous duct that gone somewhere near the back of our new property, everything should be fine. Sounds good.
What a world we live in. First contact with our neighbours was not to beg sugar or ask for one of the boys’ footballs back (they were inside on the PS3 anyway…). No. First contact was to make sure that we could have consent to legal access to run fibre cabling across their land. They’d say no surely. Nope. They are B4RN customers and volunteers. They couldn’t have been more helpful and accommodating. One even brought the digger that dug the trench.
On the fateful day that we were to be connected it belted it down with rain. It’s the rural North West. The forecast is permanently for rain. Or at least a perma-drizzle. On this day it was proper rain that greeted us. But what took place that day was nothing short of magic. A routine magic that the good folks at B4RN have become familiar with, but to a novice it was like being on the wild West frontier gold rush of the 1840s. We had a digger, spades and the prospect of bringing a gigabit connection to a field.
A team of 6 volunteers, yes volunteers, joined us at 9am and we did this to the field next door:
A digger was even enough to get the boys off the PS3 for about seven and a half minutes.
So that’s the cabling and the heavy lifting done. Now all I need is for the fibre to be blown through the duct and fingers crossed we’ve got broadband.
The very next day our ladyship came by and finished the job:
And how does it look, I hear you say? This magic. What’s it saying? It’s only bloody magic, isn’t it…
God bless the B4RN, it’s volunteers and it’s pioneering enterprise in the North West. We’re online and moving fast. Ready for the 21st Century and probably the 22nd too.
If you’d like to learn more about them then have a look at this brilliant video:
and get involved through their website here: http://b4rn.org.uk/.