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18/12/2015 - High speed broadband helps Cumbrian firms stay open for business

The Connecting Cumbria high-speed fibre broadband network gave some Cumbrian businesses a vital economic lifeline in the aftermath of the devastating floods.

Tourism and food retail firms were getting back to business this week after the appalling weather, caused by Storm Desmond, threatened visitor numbers.

But when some routes were blocked and the flood water seeped in over the floors of the world renowned Grasmere Gingerbread Shop, owner Joanne Hunter turned to her Connecting Cumbria superfast broadband connection and her mail order system which takes a big slice of their UK and global orders.  The shop and office in one of the county's tourism hotspots boosted its internet speed from 3 megabits per second to more than 70 Mbps when the Connecting Cumbria network arrived in November.  They also use their internet connection for VOIP [voice over internet protocol] for all their calls.

Joanne said:  "We are very lucky compared to some businesses; our loyal staff have all managed to get to work, some travelling quite a distance. The ovens are on and we are baking and dispatching as normal.  Our international mail order facility is providing additional employment for now because of the Christmas demand.  With all services to our business we can turn on the ovens and the internet, the phones have been ringing non-stop with people asking how we are - we are still smiling!"

The staff at the shop have also been helping in the village-wide clear up operation to ensure all businesses are given a helping hand

Down the road at the Grand Hotel there was a similar picture.  Richard Webb, the hotelier, said he uses his fibre broadband connection for his cloud-based business systems, some of his overseas staff could contact relatives to say they were safe and for guests wi-fi is a must.  He said:  "The superfast access to the internet has remained on throughout!  That has been very helpful indeed.

"The flooding in the village was extensive! The water table did flood our cellar! Boilers and pumps all damaged but we are now fully functioning again!

"Lots of shops and businesses with water damage but we are all getting the message out that Grasmere is back in business."

Across Cumbria other business have been helping neighbouring firms and have praised the new way of doing business.

Michael Webster of Friars, the Keswick Chocolate and gift shop, said:  "Although the shops were understandably very quiet after the floods, broadband enabled us to fulfil the thousands of orders that come in weekly"

Friars have donated two pallets of toys to the Keswick Lions for families affected by the floods and have a collection bucket in store which is doing well.

Michael said: "This will be our first Christmas since the installation of fibre broadband. Increased speed has had an overall positive effect on our productivity.  Whether it be remotely working, downloading files, web browsing, the time saved is small but when all the tasks are combined it is significant.  I anticipate this being a huge advantage to us over the festive period and through the coming year."

Gemma Greenbank at the Hawkshead Brewery in Staveley which escaped the floods, said:  "We were lucky this time, but many of our customers have not been so lucky.  Maintaining access to the internet to continue business as normal in other areas such as online sales has been key."

"Around 95 per cent of our online orders are from outside of Cumbria. In the run up to Christmas online sales increase by over 400% so provide an important source of revenue. We have export clients in Hong Kong, Italy, France and Sweden which we've been able to maintain communication with via our broadband connection."

Staff at the brewery have all been involved helping out friends and neighbours after the floods. One of their brewers is a retained firefighter at the local fire station and was busy throughout the storm weekend. The brewery have also made a donation for every cask they expect to sell in the run up to Christmas to the Cumbria Flood Recovery Fund 2015.

For Millican, a company based on a farm in Braithwaite west of Keswick, Christmas is a busy time of year as people rush online from all over the world to buy their sustainable, luxury bags as gifts.  They were lucky to escape the worst of the weather.

Sixty five percent of their products are sold online, so with superfast fibre broadband they can make sure the best high resolution photos of their bags are uploaded to their website in seconds rather than hours. They can also easily share the large files with their partners, retailers and distributors around the world and communicate with them through high quality Skype and Voice over IP calls.

Millican co-founder Jorrit Jorritsma said, "Christmas is one of the most important periods in the year for us, when we ship our travel bags all over the world. Superfast fibre broadband helps us get ready for the season with product availability, marketing projects and website updates, as well as to deal more effectively with 1,000s of visitors to our site - the last three months of the year brings 40% of the annual traffic to www.homeofmillican.com. It allows us to bring our local Lakeland brand to a global audience."

David Southward, Cumbria County Council's Cabinet member responsible for economic development, said:  "The floods and storms have threatened to blow businesses in Cumbria off course just as they were preparing for Christmas.  It is reassuring to see that Connecting Cumbria's network has provided an important lifeline for tourism and the food retail sector in the county at such a vital time in the trading year.  Businesses hit by the floods have been helped through the storm and those who haven't been affected have helped their neighbours."

Mike Blackburn, BT NW regional director, said: "High speed broadband has provided vital help to many businesses in Cumbria at a time when other communications have been cut. Our Openreach engineers - some of whom were brought in from other parts of the north west - have been working flat out to secure, repair and maintain the Connecting Cumbria network so communities can stay connected and businesses can continue to trade after the storms and floods."