Holy Wi-Fi! Church spires to boost rural digital connectivity

19 February 2018

Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

Church spires across the UK will be used to boost digital connectivity in rural areas following an agreement between the Government and the Church of England.

The accord, signed by the National Church Institutions of the Church of England, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) encourages the Church of England to use its buildings and other property to improve broadband, mobile and Wi-Fi connectivity for local communities.

65% of Anglican churches and 66% of parishes in England are in rural areas, and given that their locations are at the heart of their communities, they are often well placed to address connectivity and coverage problems.

The use of these churches – as well as other church properties and farm buildings – to host digital infrastructure will help to deliver the Government’s commitment for everyone to have good quality mobile connectivity where they live, work and travel.

To quote DCMS secretary of state, Matt Hancock said: “Churches are central features and valued assets for local communities up and down the country. This agreement … [will be] improving people’s lives by boosting connectivity in some of our hardest-to-reach areas.”

The Government’s Industrial Strategy aims to continually drive the UK’s connectivity, telecommunications and digital sectors, and invest in the skills, industries and infrastructure of the future.

Improved digital connectivity will bring a range of benefits to rural communities, including:

- better access to online public services;

- improved social interaction with family and friends;

- effective online presence, meaning that local businesses can extend their reach and better compete with other businesses – or in the case of tourism businesses, better attract visitors to the local area;

- and better access to skills and training, which can lead to further local employment opportunities that deliver improved productivity and can boost the wider local economy.

Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

The Dioceses of Chelmsford and Norwich are already supporting programmes which use Church buildings to improve connectivity in rural areas. It is hoped the accord will be instrumental in encouraging more local dioceses and parishes to positively consider how they can use their property in this way.

“We know that rural churches in particular have always served as a hub for their communities,” said The Bishop of Chelmsford, Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell. “Encouraging churches to improve connectivity will help tackle two of the biggest issues rural areas face: isolation and sustainability.

“… I know that many churches already help people access the Internet and provide digital skills training, and this Accord is a natural extension of great work already occurring.”

Moreover, the Bishop of Norwich, Right Reverend Graham James, said:

“I welcome this agreement. It builds on what we have been seeking to do in the Diocese of Norwich since 2011 with the creation of WiSpire, a company seeking to use church towers and spires to enable Wi-Fi connectivity in communities, especially in rural locations.

“Our parish churches are a truly national network, and to use them creatively to create new forms of connectivity enhances their value for the communities they serve.”

Clear guidance set out by both the Church and Historic England ensures that any telecoms infrastructure deployed does not impact on the character and architectural or historic significance of churches.

Under the accord, the Government has also pledged to provide advice for parishes and dioceses to enable them to consider supporting digital connectivity and to develop the necessary skills for digital infrastructure projects.

There is the possibility that similar accords could be made with other faith communities that have similar estates.

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