Stirling Council’s transformational rural broadband programme has earned further recognition after it was named among the finalists for the 2019 COSLA Excellence Awards.

The event, which is scheduled to take place in October, champions the very best in Scottish local government, showcasing ground-breaking projects that adapt to the challenges and opportunities faced by communities.

Backed by £300,000 of annual capital funding, the Council is supporting rural communities in the development of alternative broadband solutions, boosting economic growth and allowing residents access to vital services.

One Full Time Equivalent Rural Broadband Project Officer, supported by the local authority and the Forth Valley and Lomond LEADER programme, is also in place until March 2020, to provide technical, project and funding support to communities.

Across Stirling, there are 18 innovative schemes at various stages of completion, with six projects live - Balquhidder, Argarty & Kilbryde, Stockiemuir, Trossachs, Carron Valley and Auchenteck. So far, this has enabled almost 600 households and businesses to benefit from the technology.

Free public Wi-Fi in Aberfoyle town centre is also up and running, benefiting businesses, communities and visitors in the area.

Sustainable communities and economic growth

Convener of the Finance and Economy Committee, Cllr Margaret Brisley said: “A huge well done to everyone involved in delivering this transformational programme across rural Stirling, including our dedicated staff and the community groups we are collaborating with.

“Having access to hyper-fast broadband supports sustainable communities and delivers economic growth, and we are committed to continuing the roll out of this key infrastructure in our remote areas.”

The Council’s innovative work in improving the connectivity of rural communities has seen it shortlisted in the COSLA Awards’ Strong and Sustainable Communities category, alongside Renfrewshire Council (Team Up to Clean Up) and Dundee City Council (Alexander Street New Build Housing Development).

It’s not the first time the local authority’s success in this area has been highlighted, with Balquhidder Community Broadband (BCB) achieving national recognition with two major accolades - the Transport and Infrastructure accolade at the 2018 Scottish Rural Innovators Awards, and the best UK community project prize from the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA).

Funded in part by an initial £100,000 investment from the Council, along with a similar contribution from its commercial partner, as well as rural development funding from the LEADER programme, the BCB project is already proving transformative to local families and businesses and is expected to bring in millions of pounds in economic gain.

Strong partnerships

Vice Convener of the Committee, Cllr Alison Laurie said: “Among the many positives from the programme has been the strong partnerships that have been forged between communities and the Council during the development of broadband solutions.

“It’s fantastic that this collaborative work has been highlighted on a national level and this just redoubles our determination to get more people online so they can reap the benefits of fast and reliable connectivity.” 

Douglas Johnston, Chair of the Local Action Group for LEADER said “We developed the Community Broadband Officer project in partnership with Stirling Council because it was aware that broadband was the number one issue facing busineses and communities in rural Forth Valley and Lomond.

“We learnt from our experience with the Balquhidder Community Broadband project that not having the technical skills, knowledge and confidence was a real barrier for many communities who wanted to take forward broadband solutions, with the realisation that a support role would need to be created to build that capacity, skills and confidence.”

Background info and picture details:

The Council are actively supporting a number of projects seeking to enhance connectivity across rural Stirling which are in the initial stages of development. These include Arnprior, Blairlogie, Buchanan, East Loch Lomond, Fintry, Gartness, Killearn, Kinbuck, Kinlochard, Strathard, Strafillan and Stronachlacher.

Pictured at the purpose-built hide at Argaty Kites are (from left) Mike Smith, Treasurer of AKBG; Senad Cehaja, LEADER Project Assistant; Jamie Parsons, Director at Briskona; Stuart Oliver, Stirling Council Senior Manager, Economic Development, Culture & Tourism; Shaun Marley, Stirling Council Broadband Advisor; Niall Bowser, Chairperson of AKBG. Pictures should be credited to Whyler Photos.

Other picture shows (from left) Shaun Marley, Stirling Council’s Broadband Advisor, Peter Hayward from Carron Valley Community Council, and Jamie Parsons, Director at Briskona in front of the new wireless broadband infrastructure near Carron Bridge. Pictures should be credited to Mark Ferguson/Stirling Council

Forth Valley and Lomond LEADER is funded through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Scottish Government as part of the Scottish Rural Development Programme.  See www.fvl.org.uk for more information.

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