Church spires across the UK will be used to boost digital connectivity in rural areas following an agreement between the government and the Church of England.
The accord encourages the Church of England to use its buildings and other property to improve broadband, mobile and WiFi connectivity for local communities.
The government says 65 per cent of Anglican churches and 66 per cent of parishes in England are in rural areas and their locations at the heart of their communities mean they are often well-placed to address connectivity and coverage problems.
The government says the use of these churches – as well as other church properties and farm buildings – to host digital infrastructure will help to deliver its commitment for everyone to get good quality mobile connectivity where they live, work and travel.
“Churches are central features and valued assets for local communities up and down the country,” said department for digital, culture, media and sport 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.
“Through its Industrial Strategy, the government is continually driving the UK’s connectivity, telecommunications and digital sectors, and investing in the skills, industries and infrastructure of the future.”
The government says the improved digital connectivity will bring a range of benefits to rural communities, including better access to online public services, improved social interaction with family and friends and benefits for businesses.
The Dioceses of Chelmsford and Norwich are already supporting programmes which use Church buildings to improve connectivity in rural areas. It is hoped the accord will be instrumental in encouraging more local dioceses and parishes to positively consider how they can use their property in this way.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, said: “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.
“The Diocese of Chelmsford has been pioneering this approach with County Broadband since 2013. Our work has significantly improved rural access to high-speed broadband.
“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.
“I know that many churches already help people access the internet and provide digital skills training, and this accord is a natural extension of great work already occurring.”