Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Café Connect 10 – Tuesday 12th July, Cannich

The final event brings Café Connect to a close (at least for this year).

Dr Sarah Skerratt’s (dot.rural Associate Investigator and Rural Society Research Team Leader, Scottish Agricultural College) talk was held at the fantastic Bog Cotton Café, on the Cannich Caravan and Camping site.

The talk, entitled ‘Rural resilience: Community connections and technologies for tomorrow’, attracted a strong turnout of 14.

Sarah introduced the concept of ‘resilience’ (the “development and engagement of community resources by community members, through strategic means”) and the role of rural broadband within it.

Tying in nicely with her work on the dot.rural DEAR project, Sarah went on to: present a picture of the current demand for broadband, as driven by UK communities themselves; emphasise the importance for communities to understand and categorise their level of resilience, ultimately influencing it, given the government’s and policymakers’ increasing use of the term.

Sarah also referred to the (former) Commission for Rural Communities’ ‘Mind the Gap: Digital England – a rural perspective’ report: “Currently, the incidence of rural home working is as much as three times greater than for urban areas”.

Here are a few examples of successful community-led broadband projects across the UK, which Sarah mentioned:
- Hebrides.net
- Angus Broadband Co-operative Limited
- The Tegola Project (watch our dot.rural seminar on this, by Dr Andy Dearden, here)
- The Phone Co-operative and the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust

Following this template, Sarah urged communities to state their demand and outline potential benefits when agitating their councillors, quoting the Broadband Delivery UK's plan (to be developed by July 2012).

I finally met Norette Ferns (fellow tweeter, on behalf of SNRNwebsite) in the audience. It was also great to see one lady there after attending the Café Connect in Drumnadrochit the night before – we officially have a groupie!

Sarah’s research normally involves touring Scotland in a camper van for days on end, collecting data. So this, along with her involvement in the Scotland National Rural Network’s Village Halls & Community Buildings Networking event in Birnam, mean she’s no stranger to the Café Connect concept. This all stood her in good stead for the lively discussion session that followed…

- Do/Can communities ‘become’ resilient, or do they start off as resilient? Is it “something a community has, or something they get through fighting?
- Using ‘white space’ technology for rural broadband, i.e. the current trial on the Isle of Bute.
- “Is there a gap between what people want to do/change in their communities, and what they’re actually prepared to do?
- “Online engagement isn’t the only answer for seeding community action – traditional methods (posters, word of mouth etc) are also invaluable which is probably quite a good thing for the communities’ ‘health’.
- Real concerns over the prohibitive cost of satellite broadband provision, and capacity issues as more and more of the community get online.
- Queries over what’s actually possible with high-speed broadband; “what do people do with it?” (linking in with the dot.rural SIRA project’s case study work).
- Concerns over the compatibility and upgrading of hardware to cope with the increasing high-speed broadband provision.
- Expectations of broadband provision, and the differences depending on “where you’ve come from” (if you’re an incomer).
- The increasing focus on ‘remote rural’ areas, but what about the forgotten ‘in between spaces’?
- Issues of capacity/time for effective community engagement; the need for external resource to assist with this.
- The challenges associated with science jargon and the choice of language employed by policymakers and government, i.e. “what does it actually mean – in terms of download speeds etc – to go from, say, 2 to 4 Mbps?

Special thanks goes to Fay Jones (the Cannich champion), Ian, Edward and Robbie for their contributions to the debate.

So, after 10 events, in 10 communities, in 10 days, what’s the verdict? I’m exhausted but it’s definitely been worth it. We’ve had 6 (out of the 10) undoubted successes, with between 13 and 24 people attending (that’s more than 16% of the local population in some cases!).

And BIG thanks to Aileen for booking the (TEN!) ferries and the B&Bs, and to Mat for being 'chief bannerstand setter-upper' and for driving most of the mammoth 1429 miles!

What’s next? I’ll be evaluating the pilot and composing a report shortly for dot.rural and the Scottish Government (i.e. the funders!). After that… hopefully Café Connect will be back next year! In the mean time, please feel free to comment on any of the blog posts.

Claire *collapses*

p.s. here’s a little something for Rene, and the rest of the Digital Conservation project team, to appreciate…


  1. Thanks for the mention! It was also good to meet you Claire. Here's a link to a wee article I did on our website if anyone's interested: https://www.ruralgateway.org.uk/en/node/3695

    I'll also put an article up in the next few days linking to all the blogs. Lots of good stuff!

  2. Thanks for the link Norette! :)