A REMARKABLE community led plan to bring high speed broadband to a remote area of the South Lakes is taking a big step forward this week as the service goes live.

The project 'Broadband for the Mint and Sprint', or B4MS, only came into existence earlier this year, but the response has been overwhelming in the scattered communities to the north of Kendal, and the scheme became operational for the first group of homes this week.

"The service makes a big difference and it's fair to say it is life-changing for these communities," said the scheme's voluntary project manager Dan Robinson.

Poor broadband connection is a huge factor in remote rural areas, with surveys indicating it is a major reason why people are reluctant to move to the countryside, where in many more remote areas, there is barely enough signal strength for emails to be sent with other services such as downloads well beyond the available capacity.

But the project, which takes its name from the River Mint and River Sprint which both run through the area, aims to squarely address that problem and provide a broadband speed of 1,000 megabits per second, comparable to that available in most urban areas.

Mr Robinson described how interest in the scheme grew so quickly after he invited a small number of people to an initial meeting in the kitchen of his Selside home in May.

"I was amazed when 22 people turned up, all of whom were very enthusiastic about the project, and it grew from there," he said.

The group then went 'on the road,' with meetings and presentations at Selside Memorial Hall, Grayrigg Coronation Hall and the community halls at Skelsmergh and Longsleddale.

"Every one of those meetings were packed to capacity and standing room only, which shows the level of interest," said Mr Robinson.

It was clear the aims of the B4MS project, which covers the parishes of Whitwell & Selside, Fawcett Forest, Longsleddale, Whinfell, Docker, Grayrigg, Lambrigg and Skelsmergh & Scalthwaiterigg, were fully supported by local people as more than 700 properties signed up for the scheme.

The network coverage will be provided by not-for-profit organisation Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN), but the project volunteers faced the difficult task of raising funds to cover the £750,000 cost of the work.

An appeal was launched to for those signing up to buy shares in the project, with each shareholder then being entitled to free broadband in the future if they invested a minimum of £1,500.

And the response was phenomenal as within six weeks, more than £450,000 had been raised by B4MS, which is based at premises in Mealbank.

The total amount raised has now passed £550,000, and though fundraising towards the final total has remained ongoing, project leaders in the mean time have set to work on with the logistics in order that the service could be rolled out as soon as possible.

The route had to be planned, equipment had to be purchased, contracts agreed and way leaves applied for, and then initial digging took place with the aim of laying the underground fibre optics cables which will provide the broadband service.

And the results of all that hard work, much of it by volunteers, are finally showing results this week with the first group of 27 homes in the Skelsmergh area being connected to the rest of the world's internet.

The remainder of the residencies who have signed up will now be connected in batches, though with such a huge and widely spread area to cover, project leaders said it was expected to be 12-18 months before the final homes signed up for the service will be connected.

But when the work is completed, each of the isolated properties will have access to reliable, high speed broadband and the value of their ability to be fully connected to the modern technological world is difficult to underestimate.