Essex-based community broadband provider County Broadband has announced a seven-fold workforce increase in just three years after celebrating its 100th employee milestone during the pandemic.
The firm has been one of the region’s biggest success stories in recent years after receiving a £46 million private investment from Aviva Investors in 2018 to build full-fibre broadband infrastructure in rural and remote parts of East Anglia.
The local employer has engaged with over 100 villages in its hyperfast rollout across Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. Thousands of residents and businesses have now connected to the new networks, with construction under way in dozens of other communities which have also given the green light.
The FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) infrastructure provides speeds of up to 1,000Mbps – about 18 times faster than the UK average – by delivering fibre cables directly to the door. This replaces the existing superfast networks which rely on slow copper cables dating back to the Victorian era.
County Broadband has grown exponentially to support the rollout, from 16 employees at the start of 2018 to 116 in May 2021. This represents a seven-fold (725%) increase.
“Our growth can only be seen as nothing short of phenomenal,” said Lewis Simington, director of people operations at County Broadband, based in Aldham near Colchester.
“The fact that we have grown so much is a testament not only to our future-ready rollout but also to our rural communities and our company culture of proactive support and career development.”
Prime minister Boris Johnson is relying on local providers like County Broadband to achieve his target of 85% UK-wide gigabit-speed connectivity by 2025. It forms part of his “infrastructure revolution” to catch up with the rest of the world and support the Covid economic recovery.
With millions more people now working from home, the existing copper-based infrastructure faces significant pressure and is starting to reach its capacity, industry experts warn, while full-fibre networks can take up to 18 months to build after rural communities approve the proposals.
Mr Simington added: “The past year has painfully exposed how so many homes and businesses are ‘just about managing’ with unreliable copper-based connections. The only thing fast about superfast is its looming expiry date. We need to accelerate the rollout of real fibre networks, free of copper, to digitally future-proof rural communities, and our huge business growth is supporting this goal.”
Around one in five employees are aged 16-25 at County Broadband. Workers of all ages have joined from retail, hospitality, call centres and other backgrounds.
Halstead 21-year-old Bethany Warren was officially the 100th employee to walk through the (virtual) doors at County Broadband at the start of 2021 as a corporate services executive.
She said: “It made my start extra special when I find out I was the 100th employee! Although it makes no real difference to my commitment and work, I am quite proud of that and I’m looking forward to when we can all celebrate our phenomenal growth together.”
Meanwhile, operations process and planning manager Katie Crellin, who joined County Broadband in 2017, is celebrating her 10th year in engineering. “I love my job – you have to think on your feet and apply yourself,” she said. “There is a lot of job satisfaction and room to develop.”
“I’ve never felt daunted or out of place,” she added. “There were only five women out of around 50 students at the University of Salford where I gained an engineering technical degree. If you’d said 30 years ago that us women would be doing these jobs, you’d have thought ‘no, won’t happen’. That’s real progress and is worth celebrating alongside County Broadband’s growth.”
Residents and businesses can visit www.countybroadband.co.uk and enter their postcode to see if the network is available in their area.