Church tells villagers in wi-fi dead spot - Thou shalt have broadband

The quiet village green at Heydon, near Aylsham.

The quiet village green at Heydon, near Aylsham. - Credit:

The prayers of villagers living in a Norfolk wi-fi dead-spot have been answered. Faster broadband is on the way thanks to the local church.

Despite a rift between the vicar and churchwardens over the plan to install wireless broadband equipment in the tower of the Grade I listed church of St Peter and St Paul at Heydon, near Aylsham, the go-ahead has been given.

The vicar, the Rev Andrew Whitehead along with the church's fabric officer have been given permission for the equipment to be installed despite objections from church wardens, Mary Anne Shippam and Evelina Ashbee.

Permission was given by Chancellor of the Diocese of Norwich, Ruth Arlow, in her role as a judge of the Church of England's Consistory Court which has to approve matters relating to changes at churches.

And in doing so she made it clear that when it comes to spreading the word, whether in the biblical sense or through social media exchanges, the church is there to help.

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Over-riding the objections from the church wardens and granting a faculty (permission) for the installation she said : 'I am entirely satisfied that both the church and wider village community will benefit from faster broadband.'

She said the church was 'large and beautiful' and sitting on the edge of the village green dominated a picturesque vista.

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Although there have been no objections from conservation bodies that monitor changes at churches, she said that the plan had 'inspired greater discontent locally.'

Mrs Shippam and Mrs Ashbee in a statement to the Chancellor had said : ''As churchwardens we feel it is our duty to preserve our church therefore we do not agree with the proposal to put antennae on the church tower.

'Heydon is an unspoilt village in a conservation area and the church is a focal point. It should not be impaired by the very visible clutter of antennae on the church tower.'

They claimed the scheme would also result in 'unsightly wiring' in the church and said : 'We oppose its installation.'

However, the vicar and the fabric officer argued that the impact on the church would be 'slight,' that the church itself would benefit in 'missional terms' from its ability to offer the service of faster broadband to the community and also from its own use of the service, and that it would cut the cost for local broadband users when compared with use of satellite WiFi services.

Giving her blessing to the scheme the Chancellor said she did not consider the work would impact on the special character of the church.

She said the church was seeking to serve the rural community in which it was situated by provision of faster broadband.

She continued: 'The availability of faster broadband in rural communities provides not only financial benefits to the local economy by supporting local businesses, but also provides much less measurable, but equally (or arguably more) important benefits to individuals in that community.

'It enables easier communication for both practical and social reasons in a way which supports individuals in their daily life and, for the vulnerable, may help them to feel less isolated.

'As well as the provision of this service to the wider community, the Petitioners also argue that there are specific advantages from the provision of free WiFi in the church both at a practical level for the day to day life of running the parish and in encouraging people to stay longer in the building and make greater use of it.'

She said she was satisfied there was a good reason why she should approve the scheme and added : 'The benefits from the proposed scheme outweigh the presumption against what is a modest change.'

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