A RURAL community broadband specialist has welcomed recently launched extra funding to help secure faster and more reliable internet connections for homes and businesses in rural areas of Cumbria.

Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) has connected more than 7,000 properties, mostly in the North West of England, to full-fibre gigabit broadband since being formed in 2011.

B4RN believes the extra funding support for broadband connections launched last month by the Borderlands Growth Deal will help more rural communities in Cumbria such as Broughton-In-Furness and Kirkby-In-Furness to gain access to better broadband.

County Councillor for High Furness, Matt Brereton, said: "I have been talking to parishes and local residents for years about the benefits of B4RN.

"Fellow councillors on SLDC have been involved in bringing B4RN to Cumbria, and I am in discussions with them as to how we can bring it to Kirkby Ireleth, Duddon, Hawkshead and Colton parishes among others.

"I very much welcome this as B4RN is very cost-effective, is community led and often reaches the parts that major infrastructure providers can't. It's innovate fibre technology that can offer users speeds commensurate with Canada and Singapore.

"I am all for utilising funding from schemes such as the Borderlands Growth Deal to unlock these opportunities and I will be working with colleagues at all levels of government to ensure our rural areas are at the front of the queue on this.

"Already I have had conversations about this with residents and parish councillors as far afield as Claife and Kirkby in Furness, so hopefully we can now start to get the ball rolling."

Vouchers are currently available in Cumbria and Northumberland to subsidise the costs of bringing gigabit capable broadband to areas suffering with slow speeds.

As part of the £394.5m Borderlands Growth Deal, up to £4 million of additional Government funding will ‘top up’ these vouchers so even more money is available to improve digital connectivity and boost the regional economy.

The Government’s Rural Gigabit Broadband Vouchers Scheme (RGBVS) currently provides up to £3,500 funding for eligible businesses and up to £1,500 for eligible residential properties to install gigabit-capable connections.

The £4 million made available will be used to match the level of funding available under the RGBVS in areas where available services are less than 30Mbps download speed, so that eligible businesses can now apply for up to a maximum of £7,000 and eligible residential properties up to £3,000.

B4RN chief executive Barry Forde said: "Our volunteers and staff are working in their communities to bring B4RN's gigabit full-fibre broadband to previously digitally disadvantaged rural parts of Cumbria.

"The business and, particularly, social benefits of faster connectivity have only been amplified during the Covid-19 pandemic - with more people working from home and only seeing loved ones via video calls.

"The government's voucher scheme - topped up with the Borderlands Growth Deal - is directly helping Cumbrian communities struggling with slow speeds to fund their B4RN digs."

B4RN, a registered community benefit society, has been instrumental in bringing full-fibre broadband to hundreds of properties in rural Cumbria.

Cllr Stewart Young, Leader of Cumbria County Council, said: “Groups such as B4RN are playing a vital role supporting business and residents in rural communities to gain access to high-speed, affordable and reliable digital connectivity. The new top-up to the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme secured through the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal will help bring gigabit-capable broadband to rural areas. I’d encourage all eligible residents and businesses to contact a supplier who will make an application for funding on your behalf.”

The economic and social benefits of high-speed internet connections are central to the Borderlands vision for the region and have been proven doubly important during the Covid-19 restrictions.