Mobile blackspots could be a thing of the past thanks to the Church of England
Rural Britain could no longer be a mobile signal blackspot if a plan between the government and the Church of England comes to fruition.
Just like its plans to cover 95% of the UK for broadband coverage – a plan that’s had a little trouble in reaching its goal – the government has committed to achieving mobile connectivity across the UK by 2022. To reach this goal, it sees potential in working with local churches to help act as signal boosters.
By using a church spires as mobile masts, phone signal could be boosted to cover a rural village or small town that’s built up around the church. It’s not going to be the be-all, end-all of providing coverage to these areas, but it’s a wonderful way to help bring about change using resources already present in the area. Two-thirds of Anglican churches are located in rural areas, usually in the heart of their community. If this plan can remove unsightly mobile masts and blend them into the centre of a society, it should work wonderfully.
However, plans on how this’ll roll out across the UK is still yet to be seen. Currently, the agreement between the government and the Church of England isn’t a free pass to convert every church in the UK. It’s simply a deal to help encourage churches to sign up and then begin the planning process if they do want a mobile mast attached to their church spire.
It’s outlined that commercial arrangements around building the spires would be made locally with individual dioceses or parishes and mobile operators.
“Churches are central features and valued assets for local communities up and down the country,” explained secretary of state Matt Hancock. “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.”
The Church of England already has roughly 120 examples of such an agreement in place, using parishes to bring broadband and mobile coverage to towns and villages across the country. Some of these are wireless transmitters tucked at the top of spires, others are aerials and satellite dishes, or simply using the parish as a hub for cables to home.
Both the Dioceses of Chelmsford and Norwich already support such programmes and see this government push as a great way for other local dioceses and parishes to consider the role of their properties within a village.
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“We know that rural churches in particular have always served as a hub for their communities. Encouraging churches to improve connectivity will help tackle two of the biggest issues rural areas face – isolation and sustainability,” explained the Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Reverend Stephen Cottrell. “Many new forms of technology are available to improve internet access in rural areas and I hope that this partnership between the Church of England and the Government will help rural churches consider how they can be part of the solution.”
The Bishop of Norwich, Rt Reverend Graham James, added that the initiative “builds on what we have been seeking to do in the Diocese of Norwich since 2011 with the creation of WiSpire, a company seeking to use church towers and spires to enable Wi-Fi connectivity in communities, especially in rural locations.”
Those worried about the impact these technological advancements must be having on historical buildings need not worry. The Church of England and Historic England have set out guidelines to ensure that telecoms infrastructure deployed doesn’t impact the character and architectural or historic significance of England’s churches.
The hope is that, if such a plan works well in practice, it could be extended to other faith communities with similar estates.