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Friday, 19 October 2012

B4RN's Blue Pound Goes Round & Round

Up here in Lancashire, digging is proceeding apace to connect (initially) 1400 homes to gigabit FTTH. I've been watching with growing interest at the blue pounds doing the rounds in the B4RN community, and the increase in social capital as a result of the project.
This blog post can be read at

I originally wrote a piece about blue pounds back in 2005, and then reproduced it here again in 2009.

The opening paragraph reads:

"Suppose you paint a pound coin blue and watched where it went. Every time it changed hands within a community, it meant income for a local person. If the blue paint were to come off onto people's fingertips, how many people would have blue fingers before the money finally left the community? The more times it changes hands, the better for that community."

B4RN stated at the outset that it would use local resources for everything it possibly could. There are no other telco projects I know of that even suggest this, and certainly there has been little to no mention of it during the BDUK funding rounds currently pushing out £830M of public money from the BDUK pot and matched by far more public money from local authority coffers.

How is this local spend affecting the B4RN area? Firstly, all the people being paid to dig, whether in cash or shares, are local. None of this drafting in contractors from afar. There is a level of competition between the farmers now which adds to the fun of the new sport Xtreme Digging too! Secondly, the prices being charged are realistic and no-one is seeking to over-inflate the prices artificially (unlike a certain telco who pay £10/hour and then charge it to the customer at £30/hour or more) because this is a community project and everyone involved is as keen as mustard to see it succeed. No need for greed, the end result is far more important.

Once all the core network is in place - a difficult task when today as I write this is the FIRST DAY OF THE YEAR that it has not rained in this sodden county, but there's time yet! - all the revenue generated is being paid not to some distant telco with little interest in the area, but to the community it serves. Yes, there will be some paid out for the backhaul but all other expenses will go to local contractors and employees of the project, who obviously live here. The blue pound is going round and round, see?

In addition to blue pounds, I had the opportunity to experience firsthand the social capital B4RN is generating when I went to Arkholme recently. A quick pint in the very friendly and cosy pub, The Bay Horse, revealed that the local digging team - which is made up of as eclectic a bunch of folk you could ever hope to find in a muddy trench - have become regulars.

(I just phoned Arkholme to get a list of the people involved. Off the top of their heads and whilst inspecting a huge rock that is in the way of the duct going in: 2 doctors, the village postmaster, a software system engineer, retired accountants and solicitors, a university professor, the chairman of a retired racehorse charity, and a teacher).

The pub is getting more business, the people involved are getting to know many more of their neighbours, and one heartwarming story I heard was of someone who has just moved in to the area who now knows far more people than you would ever normally expect to meet in the first few weeks of living anywhere, and has been rapidly integrated into this great little community.

On the bar during my visit was the latest copy of Lancashire Life, which features Arkholme and shows what a JFDI place this is. No waiting around for "someone else to do it" here, typical rural community in fact.

One totally unexpected turn for the B4RN project has been the hiring of diggers by local people, using their own cash in return for shares, to speed up the digging. I don't know exactly how many days have now been paid for in this way, but it was an idea proposed by the villagers (who had probably come up with it in the pub!). It's an ingenious way round a problem that has been exacerbated by a truly appalling summer, and the knowledge that there are local farmers in dire straits. Who have diggers and need cash. Those same diggers only a few weeks ago were on standby during silaging etc to tow tractors, balers, foragers etc out of atrocious mud so you can imagine what state the crops are in, and the problems that will bring during the coming winter when livestock need feeding and feed prices are high because the whole country has suffered similar problems.

The landlady works in an estate agent, so we got talking about houses for sale and for rent in the area, and the fact that house prices with a gigabit connection provided by B4RN can be increased by around 5-10%, according to multiple reports. Hopefully, anyone wishing to sell or rent a property in the Lune Valley through the company she works for will now be informed that a B4RN connection is far better value than a new conservatory in increasing the value of your home. It costs the estate agent nothing and helps B4RN towards future profitability, as well as putting a few extra pounds in both the vendor and estate agents' pockets. These things work both ways - you never know, I might finally be able to find a house in the B4RN area, and it was a very good pint of real ale too!

There is no way to actually put a value on social capital in £££s that I know of, but you cannot help but know that the strengthening of the community bonds, the new friendships, the team building, the mutual support, let alone the blue pounds now circulating in the Lune Valley is of far greater value than the community asset and wallet stripping caused when a faceless behemoth comes into the area and makes zero effort to employ blue pound and social capital strategies.

I would like to see county council and local authority insistence that all BDUK bids include a strategy for ensuring that local people will be used where at all possible for deployment and maintenance of next generation solutions, and that any bidder shows exactly how much of the money coming from the public purse will remain in the area, not just during the build etc, but far into the future from the revenue generated by the network.

Right now, B4RN definitely tops the list of broadband projects doing good in the community served, not just today, but for the lifetime of the network, which is a couple of generations down the line because of the technology being deployed and the fact that upgrades during the coming 50 years should be minimal.

Like I keep saying: do it once, and do it right. B4RN are definitely doing that, although some of the outtakes from the digs show that this is one tough, steep, and WET learning curve!

1 comment:

chris said...

We will definitely publish the out takes one day. You are spot on, the blue pound is alive and well, and we learn more things all the time. Together.