Image: Clive Downing, consultant to Scottish Government at the Pioneering Communities Seminar
On 24th and 25th April participants from across Scotland gathered at Community Broadband Scotland’s (CBS) Pioneering Communities Seminar in Aviemore. The event was a chance for existing community broadband projects and CBS pioneer projects to come together with CBS partners, guest speakers and other community groups, as well as the newly formed CBS team.
Much networking, sharing of learning and discussions about barriers and solutions took place, with many discussions lasting long into the night! It was also an opportunity for CBS to gather ideas and feedback on the types of support we will offer to communities. It was the first event for the newly appointed team of on-the-ground CBS Advisers, whose role will be focused on providing advice and guidance to community-led broadband initiatives.
The seminar kicked off with an overview of the Scottish Government’s Digital Strategy and how CBS fits into the government’s connectivity vision. Representatives from the pioneer communities (Applecross, Colonsay, Tomintoul & Glenlivet, Corgarff & Glenbuchat, Ewes Valley, and Elvanfoot – B4GAL) and existing projects (Connected Communities, Hebnet, Badenoch Broadband, and Lothian Broadband) gave presentations about their projects. Each community’s presentation depicted the progress made, challenges faced and the solutions used to overcome these. The input from the pioneer and existing projects proved to be some of the most highly rated of the two days, with attendees feeding back how useful it was to learn from others:
“Good to hear how other communities have solved problems”
“I found hearing the stories of others in similar communities who were either moving projects forward or had successfully completed projects very useful. It was great to have the opportunity to talk through problems with those with more experience”
“Tapping into the wealth of existing knowledge and experience is invaluable”
There were also informative presentations from invited guests on Community Organisation Structures (Plunkett Foundation), Options for Fibre, Community Internet Service Providers (Scottish Government) and Broadband and Community Resilience (Dot.rural Aberdeen University).
The interactive elements of the seminar included popular Q&A segments after each presentation as well as a series of planning and engagement workshops which prompted in-depth discussions around a number of key topics. These included how to get a community engaged in a project issues around community capacity and the importance of identifying skills within the community. There were also lots of great ideas concerning techniques for mapping demand and support within a community, something that is essential in the very early stages of a community broadband project.
Projects supported by CBS have to be sustainable and capable of generating enough income to cover ongoing revenue costs. So, discussions about the business planning process were very valuable. The different technical solutions and the challenge of affordable backhaul was also a hot topic of discussion.
“I now have a better understanding of some of the key requirements for a successful broadband project. The question and answer sessions were particularly useful”
With such a wealth and range of knowledge, expertise and experience at the seminar the opportunity to network, and have questions answered was extremely important to delegates:
“The most valuable [part] for me was the opportunity to network and share experiences informally”
“It helps to share experiences with other communities….as this is the quickest way to learn what is relevant to your project”
Alison Little, Volunteer, Ewes Valley
The seminar was also incredibly beneficial for CBS in terms of gathering feedback and ideas on what CBS can provide to support/assist communities interested in developing a sustainable community-led broadband solution. We were able to identify common issues and challenges faced by projects, and how CBS can help to overcome them (e.g. seed fund). Each pioneer project has a dedicated page on the CBS website, which will be populated over the coming months with updates and blogs sharing their experiences and learning.
In the near future CBS will use this feedback to develop a suite of support services for community-led broadband initiatives. The website will become an information hub for existing and aspiring community broadband projects: full of resources, tools, blogs and case studies.