Following an agreement between the Government and the Church of England, Church Spires across the UK will help boost digital connectivity in rural communities.
There are 65% of Anglican churches and 66% of parishes located in rural areas in England. Most of these buildings are centrally located within the community, which makes them ideal for this purpose.
The idea would be to use these buildings to host the digital infrastructure required to aid the government in meeting its commitment to deliver good quality mobile connectivity to everyone in the country irrelevant as to where they live, work and travel.
Minister for Fun, Matt Hancock said,
“Churches are central features and valued assets for local communities up and down the country. This agreement with the Church of England will mean that even a 15th century building can help make Britain fit for the future improving people’s lives by boosting connectivity in some of our hardest-to-reach areas.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) hopes 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
- 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.
There are already 120 parishes across the country helping to deliver broadband and mobile services.
This includes wireless transmitters in church spires and church towers, aerials, satellite dishes, and more traditional fibre cables. It proves the initiative is working and indicates the potential of utilising the thousands of Church of England church buildings in its 12,500 parishes.
The Dioceses of Chelmsford and Norwich are already supporting the programme and it is hoped this will encourage more local dioceses and parishes to consider how they can use their property in this way. With clear guidance set out by both the Church and Historic England, they can be reassured any telecoms infrastructure will not impact on the character and architectural or historic significance of their churches.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, said:
“We know that rural churches in particular have always served as a hub for their communities. Encouraging churches to improve connectivity will help tackle two of the biggest issues rural areas face – isolation and sustainability.”
“The Diocese of Chelmsford has been pioneering this approach with County Broadband since 2013. Our work has significantly improved rural access to high-speed broadband.
Many new forms of technology are available to improve internet access in rural areas and I hope that this partnership between the Church of England and the Government will help rural churches consider how they can be part of the solution. 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.”
The Bishop of Norwich, Rt Revd 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 Wifi 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.”
Rural Affairs Minister Lord Gardiner said:
“It is vitally important people living in the countryside have the same opportunities as those in urban areas, and that means having strong mobile and broadband infrastructures in place.
This initiative marks an important step in our continued drive to connect better our rural communities and bridge the digital divide.”
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