Part of the existing Somerset Broadband Programme is the Connecting Somerset project, which aimed to help businesses make the most of broadband and ICT. This project launched an additional rural focus, hence Connecting Rural Somerset. The project worked with rural businesses and their communities to deliver the business support objectives of Rural Renaissance.
About the Project
Connecting Rural Somerset (CRS) was a project led by Somerset County Council in conjunction with Rural Renaissance, Business Link and partnerships. Its purpose was to increase ICT levels among businesses within rural Somerset. The project was overall aimed at developing the competitiveness, attractiveness, and sustainability of Somerset’s rural communities.
By the end of the project, more than 164 businesses had been supported, with over 100 individuals attending a training course. The primary way in which the project assisted businesses was by providing financial assistance and advice to companies which wished to use new technologies to aid growth and development.
The project successfully hit all the targets that were initially set and providing a real impetus for the rural economy.
The Internet & Me
As part of the project, Connecting Rural Somerset also produced & distributed 1500 copies of ‘The Internet and Me’ publication, particularly aimed at older people, to selected remote rural areas of Somerset, namely, the Mendips, West Somerset and the Blackdown Hills.
The purpose of this publication is to highlight the benefits and advantages to getting online and help to alleviate people’s fears of technology and signpost them to local help and support.
Through a combination of real life examples and quotes, from people who until recently had the same fears and questions the readers may have, and easily understandable advice it was hoped this publication would have a positive impact upon people who may feel excluded.
The ‘Internet and Me’ is available through Libraries, Adult Learning and Leisure Centres, Social Services Area Offices, UK Online Centres, The Women’s Institute and Age Concern.
In a recent survey of feedback responses from a sample of readers, almost all found it very useful and most people said that they were more likely both to use the internet, and to attend computer training, than they were before.
Paddington Farm Trust
Paddington Farm is a 43 acre organic farm near Glastonbury which has been in existence for 25 years, welcoming people from inner cities to work with animals and work on conservation tasks. They offer the facility to build confidence and have a beneficial effect on the lives of inner city dwellers who have limited access to the countryside.
CRS provided part funding towards producing a website. As Mark Stanley explains: “the result has been that we can now access groups who wouldn’t be able to find us, in a way that they have never been able to do before………..and the result is we have had more groups staying with us!”
Mark also feels that the training element of CRS was very helpful: “the training helped us decide what we want from our website. We can make changes ourselves to the website – we are more in control and we want to develop even more in the future, offering an online booking facility to people.”
The grant scheme has been clearly very beneficial to Paddington Farm. “Business is booming as a result of the help and advice CRS has been able to give us” says Mark.
Rosalind Blackwell has been a Naturopath and medical herbalist for over 20 years, supplying organic essential oils to herbal practitioners for clinical practice.
She says “CRS has made all the difference for our business. Rosa Medica wouldn’t be able to stay in a rural location without broadband, website and ecommerce – it has made a huge impact on the business. The grant also meant we could invest in a quality website that we can amend ourselves.”
Rosalind’s son, who is the sales director of the business, attended 2 training courses via CRS. “I went on 2 courses – website updating and internet marketing and both were invaluable – I got a handle on the power of the web and how to make the most of the investment we made in our website” says Christopher. “ The next step is to invest in a small business server to network two locations and move the business from ecommerce to ebusiness by integrating all systems.”