How rural churches can boost wifi connectivity

St Giles Church in rural Essex is what you might expect of a 15th Century parish church.

The stone building is on a small hill surrounded by acres of green valleys, farms and a smattering of houses. It is right in the middle of the village of Great Maplestead.

But look closely and you will spot this medieval church has some very modern additions.

How rural churches can boost wifi connectivity
How rural churches can boost wifi connectivity

Perched atop the church tower is a small satellite dish and four telecoms transmitters that provide high-speed broadband to around 120 local households, which previously had no or limited coverage.

The antenna was installed two years ago by a broadband operator that specialises in connecting rural communities to the internet.

The church is paid rent for hosting the kit, which has been carefully designed and camouflaged so as not mar the aesthetic of the ancient building.

“Some people were worried that we were going to damage the church,” vicar Revd Gay Ellis told Sky News.

“Or that it would look out of place, or is it right for us as a Church to be doing this sort of thing?

“But the more we got involved in it, and the more people understood about it, they realised that this was really part of the Church’s mission. This was a type of ministry.”

Churches are putting satellites on spire to help boost wifi
Image:Rural churches would be paid rent to install the technology

The Government has recognised the role that rural parish churches can play in improving internet and mobile connectivity.

Some 65% of Anglican churches and 66% of parishes in England are in rural areas and their central village locations and tall spires mean they are often well placed to address connectivity and coverage problems.

A new accord between the Government and the Church of England hopes to streamline the process of mobile and broadband operators getting the equipment installed.

The agreement is designed to cut down on bureaucracy and red-tape and make it easier for individual parishes to make their own decisions over the installation.

There is clear guidance to ensure the telecoms infrastructure does not impact on the character and architectural or historic significance of the church building.

Matt Hancock, Minister for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport, said: “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.”

At present, around 5% of UK households do not have access to superfast broadband, and 10% of the UK does not have reliable mobile phone coverage.

That was the case in Great Maplestead. But the introduction of the antenna on the church tower now means local residents now have access to internet speeds of up to 40MB/s for both upload and download.

“It was almost life-saving, certainly business saving,” a local resident told Sky News.

“I’m a photographer and need to send pictures to London and get instructions from London via email. It used to take 25 to 30 minutes to download a simple PDF so this was really vital for us.”

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