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COUNTRY PUBS GET WIRED UP

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Rural communities at opposite ends of England are benefiting from new IT and internet facilities as their local pub...
Rural communities at opposite ends of England are benefiting from new IT and internet facilities as their local pubs get wired up with, amongst other things, computers, printers and webcams. Five pubs in Dorset and four in Northumberland are now part of the network of 6,000 UK online centres.

All these pubs have received IT equipment and broadband internet access in a new demonstration project, launched by the Countryside Agency, Department for Education & Skills and Locals on Line*. These new facilities give local people the chance to use IT they may not be able to have at home or work, with a local facilitator on hand to give training on how to use the technology.

Launching the project at the Piddle Inn in Piddletrenthide, near Dorchester in Dorset, Countryside Agency chairman Ewen Cameron said: 'A recent Countryside Agency report showed that the digital divide between town and country is wide two thirds of the population overall can access affordable broadband internet, but this drops to a quarter in market towns, 7% in rural villages and only 1% in remote rural areas.

'ICT can be a great way for people living in the countryside to access services that don't have a physical presence locally, as well as providing online education, leisure and government information. It is very important that rural people can access this technology.

'The Countryside Agency is examining a variety of ways in which rural communities can harness the power of ICT. The Locals on Line project enables us to learn more about how rural communities can benefit from these facilities and how they can serve their needs.

'We will be looking for ways in which rural pubs and communities across the country can access funding to provide such services on a long-term basis.

'We also want to see whether community internet facilities such as these can act as a hub to provide affordable broadband internet access for a village and its surrounding area.'

John Longden, chairman of Local s on Line, added: 'Locals on Line are really pleased to have had this opportunity, working with the Countryside Agency, DfES and a wide range of local partners, to bring computer learning skills to some rural communities in Dorset and Northumberland.

'Pubs are often the only remaining community building in villages and through this project we will help them to play a wider role as a valuable hub and heart for rural community activities.'

In addition to providing a test bed for establishing a network of well used, sustainable community ICT centres, the Locals on Line project will work to attract hesitant adults who have had little experience of using computer technology, to encourage lifelong learning and ensure that the centres meet the needs and interests of the whole community.

NOTES

*Locals on Line is a not for profit organisation set up by the British Beer and Pub Association and the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Associations.

The pubs involved in the project are:

Dorset

- The Roebuck Inn, Sixpenny Handley, Salisbury

- The Swan, Abbotsbury, Weymouth

- The Piddle Inn, Piddletrenthide, Dorchester

- The White Hart Inn, Bishop's Caundle, Sherborne

- The Bennett Arms, Semley

Northumberland

- Twice Brewed Hotel, Bardon Mill, Hexham

- The Black Bull Inn, Lowick, Berwick-upon-Tweed

- Bird in Bush Inn, Elsdon, Newcastle upon Tyne

- The Craster Arms, Beadnell

In December 2001 the Countryside Agency, Business in the Community and British Beer and Pub Association published a good practice guide, 'Pub is the Hub', illustrating how rural pubs can find imaginative ways in which to

diversify and benefit their local community and detailing sources of funding and help.

The Countryside Agency is the statutory body working to make the quality of life better for people in the countryside and the quality of the countryside better for everyone.

UK online centres

UK online centres aim to provide people from disadvant aged communities with access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in order to encourage them into learning and to gain the skills for knowledge economy.

The centres contribute to the government's national UK online aim to ensure that 'everyone who wants it has access to the internet by 2005'. They offer an introduction to the internet and e-mail, with learner support to help new users. There are now over 6,000 centres open in England.

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