There are two places that I had never been. One was inside the National Savings and Investment building in the centre of Durham City and the other was the top of Teesdale. I’ve been to both now. Do these count as one or two of the six new things I was going to do this year? Probably not!
Both visits were for different reasons. Both are interesting in their own right and so both will be the subject of their own blog. I’ll start with my visit to Forest of Teesdale School. I’ll not go into the reason for the visit, that is between me and them but rather reflect on the issues that such a remote community have to deal with.
When I say remote, I mean remote. I was coming down from Tanfield and so decided to go the shorter and more scenic route. There are quicker ways to get there but they are much less picturesque. From Tanfield I set off over the moors to Edmundbyers and down into Weardale to Stanhope. I’d done that journey many times on my way to speak to the Weardale Broadband Action Group. I haven’t been there for some time though.
From Stanhope I made my way further up Weardale through Eastgate and then Westgate before turning left onto a road I can’t recall ever having been on. It wound its way up and over the moors and down into Teesdale. The landscape was very beautiful yet spartan and the tops of the hills were pockmarked with what I took to be old lead workings.
At one time the area must have been thriving with miners and their families. Nearly five thousand people lived in nearby Middleton in Teesdale in the middle of the 19th century but not now. All of the workings that I could see had gone and most of the people had gone with them. The area around the school was dotted with small white farm cottages.
It was a beautiful day and the school Head told me I was seeing the valley at its best. As a ‘townie’ man and boy the area felt isolated and I could only imagine how much more isolated it would feel once the winter weather arrived. The school itself was small like a chapel with one main room and some small offices around it. In total there were less than twenty pupils.
And therein lies the opportunity to be resolved. In our liberal capitalist economy money talks and money listens most to volume. Providing services to more remote communities is going to become less and less cost effective as market size (people to you and me) falls. Keynesian economics says that in the short run at least economic output is strongly influenced by aggregate demand yet if there is little demand to aggregate you are not going to have much influence.
There is hope on the horizon though as more and more services can be provided digitally and this could well be the saviour of our more remote communities. All we need is a case to make broadband economically viable at the top of the dales.