An historic market town is the latest location to benefit from free public wi-fi as part of ambitious plans to boost the resilience of County Durham communities.
It is hoped the installation of wi-fi in Barnard Castle will increase footfall and encourage visitors to spend more time in the town centre once coronavirus restrictions are eased.
Funded by Durham County Council and Teesdale Area Action Partnership, the project will also provide another way for businesses to connect with customers, with new local apps being developed to promote special offers and encourage people to explore the town.
The wi-fi will be available from early next month and will cover from Bowes Museum and along Newgate to the Market Cross. From there it will run south down to the bottom of The Bank and also right through Market Place, to Horsemarket and up Galgate.
Visitors can log on to the Connected Barnard Castle system via a simple online form or through social media and will be automatically re-connected on their return.
The introduction of free public wi-fi follows successful pilot projects in Bishop Auckland and Stanley last year, and the installation of a system in Seaham earlier this month. It will be rolled out to Chester-le-Street later this spring and reflects Durham County Council’s commitment to enhancing towns and villages across the county through its multimillion Towns and Villages programme.
As well as the economic benefits free wi-fi can bring to town centres, the project will provide the council with valuable information through the anonymous footfall data the system collects. This can be used to identify trends and monitor the impact of changes to the high street, which the council can then use to shape future regeneration projects.
Cllr Carl Marshall, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on our high streets and it is important we do as much as we can to support them both now and in the future.
“The introduction of free public wi-fi will enhance the offer for residents and visitors in Barnard Castle, encouraging people to stay longer and visit more shops and hospitality businesses. As restrictions are eased and we move into the recovery phase, this will provide a much-needed boost to the town’s economy and strengthen its future resilience.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Teesdale AAP for contributing £20,000 towards the project.”
Kenny Walker, who runs Chocolate Fayre in the town, said: “These days so many of us use our phones to navigate our way around new places, find recommendations for where to go for lunch, check opening times or share what we are up to on social media.
“Having free public wi-fi in the town centre will it make it easier for people to do this, which in turn will benefit local businesses, as most of us have our own websites and social media pages. After such a difficult 12 months, I really welcome this investment in the town.”
Adam White, Teesdale AAP co-ordinator, said: “Barnard Castle is a wonderful place to live, work and visit and we are really looking forward to welcoming people back when it is safe to do so. We are delighted to support this project, which is sure to benefit Barnard Castle and the wider Teesdale area for years to come.”
To find out more about the Towns and Villages programme, visit www.durham.gov.uk/townsandvillages.