Church of England, DCMS, and Defra sign accord to improve connectivity
The Church of England has signed an agreement with central government to encourage parishes to use their church spires and other buildings to host digital infrastructure, with the aim of helping provide better connectivity to rural areas.
Under the accord, the church’s National Church Institutions (NCIs) body will develop guidance for dioceses and parishes that will help them “enable digital connectivity”. NCIs will also work with broadband companies “to seek to establish a standard framework contract that could be put in place for church entities to use in contracting for connectivity in areas with no conventional wired broadband provision”.
The government – in the form of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – will engage internet providers “to encourage investment that will deliver connectivity improvements” for rural residents. The government will also “provide advice and resource” to NCIs in its work with parishes and dioceses.
“HM Government will do its best to provide coaching support for parishes and dioceses to help them develop the necessary skills needed to develop and progress digital infrastructure projects,” the government added.
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About two-thirds of England’s Anglican churches and the parishes they represent are located in rural areas. The accord outlined that using the Church of England’s property estate to improve local connectivity will not only bring financial benefit, but will also better enable its outreach and pastoral-care programmes.
“The ability to communicate with others is a prerequisite for many aspects of the church’s mission,” the accord said. “It follows that these benefits will assist the mission of the church, consistent with its desire, given effect through its Renewal and Reform programme, to become a growing church for all people and for all places. Improved communications can, of themselves, constitute valuable, practical care for those within a parish or community.
It added: “Other possible pastoral benefits may result from wider connectivity, including improvements in the churches’ own contact with parishioners who find travel and transport difficult, older members of the community, and those who may be isolated, particularly in rural areas. Where online channels are more widely available, they can be used as part of outreach activities and to build community with and beyond the church congregation.”
Culture secretary Matt Hancock said: “Churches are central features and valued assets for local communities up and down the country. 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.”