‘Complete connection’ opens doors for Northumberland holiday firm

One award-winning rural business which knows first-hand the positive impact of quality broadband and its link to resilience is Laverock Law Cottages and Glamping, near Lowick in Northumberland.

For years, owners Harvest and Dave Harris-Jones struggled with poor broadband, but the situation came to a head during Covid. With their two children home-schooling, Harvest training to be a yoga teacher, increasing numbers of virtual meetings and mounting expectations from guests, they decided it needed to be addressed.

“Connection had always been a problem for us,” said Dave.

“It was a case of one user at a time, a constant juggle and compromise between family and guests and incredibly frustrating. The world changed so much during Covid with online bookings for attractions becoming the norm and guests expecting to be able to stay connected to loved ones, not to mention carry out the odd virtual work meeting. We were on the verge on losing business unless we addressed it.”

With the support of the Rural Design Centre Innovation Project, the couple enlisted rural broadband experts Alncom to install full-fibre broadband to their home and holiday cottages and the change has been transformational. The connections were funded through the Government’s Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme.

“Having complete connection and not having to worry about it has made a massive difference,” said Harvest. “To turn what was a threat into an opportunity has opened so many doors for us and made us so much more resilient.

“While we are strong advocates of people taking a break from technology to reconnect with nature for their wellbeing, we fully recognise the need in today’s world the need for digital connection.”

Dave added: “We’ve just had a family return to stay with us – when they were here a few years ago they said, while they loved the place, they wouldn’t be back unless we improved our connection. That shows how far we’ve come and how vital it is.”

The business won the ethical, responsible and sustainable tourism category in the North East England Tourism Awards 2022.

The NICRE report has been welcomed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and Rural England.

Lord Benyon, Minister for Rural Affairs, said: “Rural areas are at the heart of our vision for levelling up, and we welcome this report.

“We want businesses and people in rural areas to do as well as those in inner cities, and we are providing funding to put in place the infrastructure needed. This includes our £1 billion Shared Rural Network, £50 million of projects in the delivery pipeline to connect public buildings as part of the £5 billion to ensure hard-to-reach areas get gigabit connections.

“We have announced over £2.6 billion through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, and we will say more about rural funding shortly.” 

Mark Tufnell, President of the CLA, said: “The findings of the report reaffirm our view that effective, reliable, and affordable broadband is fundamental to the success of rural business. Whilst it is recognised that significant progress has been made regarding the wider deployment of digital connectivity over the last decade, there remains a substantial rural-urban digital divide and it is essential that this is resolved as soon as possible.”

“The rural economy generates some £260bn gross value added (GVA) per year but rural areas are still 18% less productive than the national average. But if we can remove the barriers to rural economic growth, that include digital connectivity, lack of rural affordable housing and a planning system that is not fit for purpose, then we can begin to properly level up between rural and urban areas.”

Margaret Clark, chair of Rural England Community Interest Company (CIC) Stakeholder Group, said: “This report comes at an important time as the Government presses forward with its Levelling Up programme. It provides a better understanding of the challenges facing rural businesses and rural economies which are often lost in national business surveys.

“It also reinforces the need for the metrics, measures and policies to bring about Levelling Up to be sufficiently sensitive and fine-tuned to recognise the particular circumstances and needs of rural businesses if the Government is to achieve its ambitions to unlock the potential across the whole country.”

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that in three years, national gigabit broadband coverage has rocketed from six per cent to 67 per cent. The government is investing £5 billion in Project Gigabit: a national infrastructure programme to ensure hard-to-reach areas are first in line for a lightning-fast broadband connection, and up to £210 million in Gigabit Broadband Vouchers is available to give people in eligible rural areas immediate financial help to get gigabit speeds.

Since conducting this rural business survey in summer 2021, NICRE has teamed up with Building Digital UK, part of DCMS, to seek firms’ views of rural broadband connection and the effect it has on their businesses by inviting them to complete a short online survey.

 

Caption

Dave and Harvest Harris-Jones have seen a transformational change to their Laverock Law Cottages and Glamping business in Northumberland following the installation of full-fibre broadband. (Picture credit: The Traveller and the Bear)