A total of 17 community facilities in Greater Manchester, including homeless shelters, charities and community centres, are set to benefit from free fiber broadband by 2025 as part of a major digital infrastructure and inclusion program from Greater Manchester Combined Authority ( GMCA) and Virgin Media Business.
The community sites were connected as part of the UK’s largest Local Full Fiber Networks (LFFN) programme, which started in March 2020 and is now being completed.
Deeplish Community Center in Rochdale is one of the sites benefiting from the free fibre.
Operations Manager at the center Sohail Ahmad said:
“Free fiber broadband at Deeplish Community Center is improving people’s prospects and breaking down the digital barriers that have arisen during the pandemic. Without the improved connectivity on our site, many members of our community would be excluded from today’s digital society.
“Instead, over 500 local people can now go online for free at our hub, learning new skills from online banking to using digital tools to tackle the language barrier that exists in our community – or even young people visiting the site , to complete their homework. Thanks to the program, we see improved well-being and new perspectives for our people.”
GMCA is working with Virgin Media Business to connect more than 1,500 public sector representatives across the region with 2,700km of new fiber optic broadband infrastructure as part of the LFFN programme. These are more than 150 children’s centers, 97 school playgrounds and 70 libraries.
The deal also included a number of bold investments in social value initiatives that support Greater Manchester’s Digital Blueprint and help tackle digital exclusion across the region – 1.2 million Greater Manchester residents may be excluded in some way from accessing the benefits of digital use. These initiatives included providing free full fiber broadband to Deeplish Community Center and 16 other community sites. In addition to connecting these more than 1,500 public sector sites to a full fiber network, the program has brought significant social and economic benefits to the region.
This includes exceeding the GMCA’s local employment target, with an average of 78% of the LFFN workforce based in Greater Manchester, generating £19.7m of local economic value (direct and indirect) in just two years. Virgin Media Business has also taken on 38 new apprentices from Greater Manchester since the program began, surpassing the initial training targets set at launch.
Councilor Eamonn O’Brien, Leader of Bury Council and GMCA’s Head of Education, Skills, Jobs, Apprenticeships and Digital said:
“In Greater Manchester, we ensure that everyone, regardless of age, location or situation, can take advantage of digital opportunities.
“I’m excited to see digital infrastructure being used to directly benefit our communities. This program has set the standard and legacy for industry, public sector and communities working together to make a difference and close the digital divide as we equip the region with the infrastructure needed to become a world-class digital city region.”
Mike Smith, Director of Large Enterprise and Public Sector at Virgin Media O2 Business, said:
“Providing the infrastructure to connect so many public buildings in Greater Manchester to fast, reliable and affordable broadband has been a landmark project for us. Today, digital communication isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s an essential part of our lives and work. It has been great to see the social impact the Local Full Fiber program has had on people across the city-region and we look forward to further tackling digital exclusion in local communities as we plan to develop the program further.”
The LFFN program has been the catalyst for Virgin Media O2 Business to make further commitments to social value in local communities, exploring how private and public organizations can work together to address the community-level upliftment agenda and promote digital inclusion. The organization will continue to work with GMCA on future pilot programs aimed at improving digital skills and confidence, as well as other initiatives to help close the digital divide in the region.
The LFFN program is the result of close collaboration between Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Virgin Media Business, Greater Manchester Local Authority, Fire and Rescue Service and Greater Manchester Transport – and has also been supported by millions of pounds from the Department of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport .
Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Workman said:
“Our £19 million investment has funded hundreds of faster internet connections across Greater Manchester to bring public services into the digital fast lane so they deliver more for communities and encourage more broadband firms to roll out fiber networks across region.
“We’ve upgraded thousands of schools, libraries and hospitals across the UK to world class broadband, fit for the future, and through our £5bn Gigabit project we’re ensuring rural areas don’t miss out either.”
With most sites now connected to a full fiber network, a wide range of digital transformation and smart city projects can begin. It is part of a wider campaign to attract investment in digital infrastructure to Greater Manchester, which has seen the GMCA and Greater Manchester Local Authority streamline regulations and inspection work. This work also laid the foundations for future initiatives such as the Greater Manchester One Network.
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