Hampshire housing estate Leigh Park gets free community portal and access to the internet in Community UK pilot scheme to encourage residents to go online
A project that aims to bring communities together and provide people on low incomes with free broadband will launch its first web portal at the weekend.
Community UK, a business set up to provide a robust wireless broadband for communities around the country is the brainchild of Peter Reed-Forrester, who previously had set up wireless broadband networks in Spain.
But the idea is not just to offer affordable broadband for some of the country's poorest families, the scheme also embraces Prime Minister David Cameron's concept of the Big Society.
The Havant Community UK pilot scheme, which goes live at the weekend, will bring broadband to the Leigh Park estate near Portsmouth.
Once the largest council estate in Europe, Leigh Park has an unenviable reputation. It has a higher unemployment rate than any other area in the Havant Borough, the highest level of teenage pregnancy in the county and a much lower average in terms of educational attainment.
So while a huge part of the project is educational and aimed at giving a level learning playing field for children living on the estate, the heart of the scheme is bigger. It also has the desire to regenerate, redevelop and rebuild people's sense of community, social values and personal responsibility by getting them to work together.
"The community sits at the heart of the concept. We have taken social networking a step further and have launched community networking," said Reed-Forrester.
He told us that the initial concept began two years ago and has grown from there. The business originally received a grant of £52,000 from a charity called the E-learning Foundation; but since then the partners have funded the initiative themselves.
It's a big leap of faith because the scheme has no government funding. To maintain and keep the services functioning will require the participation of the community. But Mr Reed-Forrester said the point of the project was to get the community to spend within itself so they and the service can become self-reliant.
Mr Reed-Forrester hopes this learning curve can begin as a result of the pilot this weekend. Residents of the estate can log on to the wireless network, register and get free broadband of up to 2Mbits/sec.
For those who want faster speeds, there are two premium services; up to 4Mbits/sec for £3.99 a month and up to 8Mbits/sec will cost £7.99 per month.
Once logged on, the first page they go to will be the Havant Community UK web portal, and from there they can access the web.
"We block porn sites and the like and are entering into partnership with the Internet Watch Foundation, which will allow us to add their list of child abuse related sites to our blocking servers. But there is nothing stopping them surfing the web although we do hope to give them enough to keep them on the portal as much as possible," said Mr Reed-Forrester.
If people need PCs, Hamilton Rentals, a partner of the scheme will also be selling low-cost refurbished desktops and laptops for £156 and £180 respectively. These are not PCs with the highest specs, but perfectly adequate for most people's needs.
After this weekend's launch the plan is to take the community broadband concept to the rest of the UK. Reed-Forrester said he was talking to communities around the country about setting up the service tailored to their needs.
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