East Devon town celebrates better broadband after a successful two-year campaign led by one resident

A town in East Devon is celebrating better broadband for 120 homes and businesses previously left with poor connectivity.

People in Topsham living and working in the Greatwood Terrace area, the High Street, and surrounding streets,  have successfully been connected to a Gigabit capable fibre broadband after a two-year campaign.

The community effort was led by Topsham resident Andy Rook, supported by funding from the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) programme.

Andy said: “Around Christmas 2019 I was reading all sorts of erroneous comments on our local Facebook group about broadband in Topsham, because whichever supplier you went to it would be delivered through a copper network and the bandwidth would be the same.

“I offered to take on the challenge as a project and see what the commercial plans were for Topsham from a number of possible network suppliers.

“I met with various fibre broadband providers to see if they had any plans for delivering full fibre in Topsham but it wasn’t included in any of their commercial rollouts.

“Everything went on hold during the first lockdown and I was on the verge of giving up, but Councillor Leadbetter put me in touch with Connecting Devon and Somerset.”

He added: “It’s taken two years but I’m over the moon with what we’ve achieved.

“As a community we wouldn’t have been able to afford it ourselves and it just would not have been possible without the funding from CDS.

“Residents who have upgraded and work flexibly, including from home, say it’s an absolute game changer.

“Everything is so much faster and, being fibre, much more reliable.

“The majority of people are taking up the new broadband service and it shows there’s a demand for it.

“A photographer who used to upload his pictures previously at 1Mbps is going to get 50Mbps upload speeds, he is overjoyed.

“It’s also great that people now have a choice of supplier and a choice of speeds to suit their needs. Unlike copper, fibre moves your information at the speed of light.”

Andrew Leadbetter, Devon County Councillor for Topsham, said: “Well done to Andy for his persistence and commitment to drive this initiative forward on behalf of his neighbours and local community.

“I was pleased to have been able to play a part by putting Andy in touch with CDS who have made this project possible. It’s a great example of what can be achieved by working together.”

The community did not qualify for the Government’s rural gigabit voucher scheme.

Instead Andy introduced a partnership between CDS and the Estuary League of Friends, in a bid to bring full fibre broadband to Greatwood Terrace, parts of Topsham High Street and some of the immediate surrounding streets.

CDS gave £15,000 from its Community Challenge Fund to cover the project’s funding shortfall.

The Estuary League of Friends acted as the contract signatory on behalf of local residents.

The installation work recently finished and many residents have already upgraded to full fibre optic broadband.

Harry Hook, a Greatwood Terrace resident, said: “As sole traders working mostly from home, my husband Nick and I rely on broadband to run our businesses. With insufficient broadband speeds, we couldn’t video conference clients or both work at the same time, and if we wanted to upload files, we had to do so during the night.

“We felt desperate to the point of searching for a house elsewhere. Now that we have full fibre speeds, the difference is phenomenal. The positive impact this has on our productivity is incredible – we are delighted.”

Among other premises to receive new connections is Nancy Potter House, the community hub owned and run by the Estuary League of Friends.

Rachel Gilpin, Estuary League of Friends CEO, said: “The project needed a recognised community group to sign the contract with Openreach and to get things moving as quickly as possible it made sense for us to help.

“A large part of our work is care for people living in their own homes, but we have Nancy Potter House from which we run the charity.

“Our help services including Topsham Post Office, community café, meeting rooms, training rooms and numerous other rental areas including one of our occupants, Topsham Library, so if we want to help people to participate in their community then broadband is a vital service.

“Everything now is filled in online so having faster broadband here will make a difference to us.”

Councillor Rufus Gilbert, CDS board member and Devon County Councillor for economic recovery and skills said the success for Topsham was a ‘fantastic example’ of what could be achieved through partnership working.

He said: “With no commercial plans and unable to qualify for the Government’s rural vouchers, this part of Topsham could have fallen through the cracks and been left without a decent broadband connection.

“I’m pleased CDS has been able to help make this scheme possible, and it’s great to hear the difference that faster broadband is making to local people.”

Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon, said: “Andy has achieved a fantastic result in Topsham and I was pleased to assist with his remarkable efforts.

“It’s fantastic that full fibre broadband is now available to Greatwood Terrace and parts of Topsham High Street. Fast and reliable broadband is a necessity in this day and age and I will continue to do what I can to help towns and villages across East Devon.”

CDS has delivered superfast access to more homes and businesses than any other broadband programme in England, with more than 300,000 homes and businesses receiving access to superfast broadband as a direct result of investment by CDS.

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