IN a bid to boost broadband connectivity in Northumberland’s rural communities, the county council has approved a new £1m voucher scheme to get rural homes and businesses connected to superfast broadband.

At its meeting on Tuesday, March 12, the council’s cabinet agreed to make a further £2.2m – available from savings within the first roll-out contract – to help bring superfast broadband to some of the most rural communities in the county.

Around £2m has been allocated towards additional fibre coverage by Openreach, while the remaining £200,000 will go towards launching the voucher scheme so that alternative suppliers, which aren’t Openreach, can access public funding to roll out superfast broadband services to areas not currently covered by existing plans.

As of December last year, 92.9 per cent of properties in Northumberland had access to broadband speeds of 24 mbps or above compared to the national average of 95.76 per cent.

Coun. Nick Oliver, the county council’s cabinet member for corporate services, said: “We are very serious about delivering broadband in rural areas in this administration.

“Large parts of the county are very rural and therefore the delivery of broadband is very difficult for physical and geographical reasons.”

Over the past year, the Tyne Valley has seen a resurgence in community group’s with a faster broadband ambition.

Lynne Rawles, from Great Bavington, is working with other residents in the North Tyne and Redesdale to bring faster broadband to the area.

She said: “We set up the group, B4NTR, or Broadband for the North Tyne and Redesdale, because we’re all part of rural communities who have many difficulties with getting connected.

“We were made aware of a broadband company called B4RN who helped better connect the Allen Valleys and reached out to them.”

B4RN, or Broadband for the Rural North Ltd, is a well established not-for-profit organisation which helps communities in the UK build the world’s fastest broadband across rural areas.

Lynne added: “We were wowed by their ethos and ambition, which is all about making rural homes a priority not a minority.

“It’s a very exciting proposition for everyone, especially when people have been starved of reliable and consistent internet access for so long.

“We have secured the backing of the Ray Wind Fund Community Interest Company which should help us initiate the project, who along with B4RN, would help built the network and get us connected.”

“What’s really important for the project now is to show B4RN there is real demand for this service in the local parishes. To do so, we need at least 50 per cent of residents in each parish to complete an online form or they won’t be considered in the final plans.”

Elsewhere, residents in Stonehaugh continue to work to install fibre broadband for some of the area’s most rural properties.

Those involved with the Warksburn Community Fibre Project are hoping to bring an end to years of dealing with painfully slow internet speeds or inflated monthly costs for a satellite service.

The project involves residents working together with the support of iNorthumberland and Openreach to gauge demand for a faster service.

It’s hoped months of positive community engagement over the demand for the improvement is hoped to encourage the right supplier to install the infrastructure.