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From London to Flotta: A Reader’s Experience Part 2

Orkney News reader Carl Mullins has kindly allowed us to publish his account of moving to Orkney and I am sure many readers will be able to identify with his story. This is the second and final part of his story (so far).


Up here, people tend to have several part time jobs to make ends meet, with a great deal of the work being seasonal. To keep costs down, we’d rejected getting an internet connection at the house, so I presently either nip down to the Flotta Community centre to check emails and job vacancies, or visit the Stromness Legion when I’m on the Mainland. I was finding that there isn’t a lot of call for a Technology Specialist locally; for that kind of work I would need to be looking in either Aberdeen or the Edinburgh/Glasgow region. That would defeat the object of living in Orkney, as I would have to live/rent in the area. Time to fall back on another skill set!

Claire did mention that there was a ‘Forces Breakfast Club’ which met the last Saturday of every month. She had made contact with a guy called Simon whom said I was welcome to join the group now I was on the islands. Seemed like a good place to start, so until the next club meeting I spent a couple of weeks adding another board to the model railway, getting to know the locals better, helping out where I could and generally discussing the different problems faced by the islanders because of the poor state of the broadband connectivity available. A lot of it boils down the sheer distance of sending a broadband signal down a twin copper cable and the distance between an exchange and those whom live remotely, especially on the islands.

I was learning that Orcadians are pretty much used to getting the thin edge of the wedge when it comes to connectivity. Things are slowly improving on the main islands, but for those of us living on the smaller isles, there still isn’t a date as to when there might actually be any movement on this. Unfortunately, this is pretty much typical of the way most large corporations work. If there isn’t profit in it, they’re not very willing to invest in something.

Mm, could be an area I might be able to make some suggestions on, having spent my career so far in Radio, Satellite, Telecommunications and Audio Visual technology, I started looking into the broadband issue from a technical aspect. This isn’t as straightforward as just laying a length of cable; the best way to move forward with this is understanding just who needs what from connectivity on each island, then trying to incorporate everything into a single system which caters for everything required, both public and private use. That way, the major issue is going to be the startup and infrastructure costs which can be shared with all the involved parties.

Instead of thinking of people as individual customers, why not think of the island communities as you would a small or medium sized business with it’s own Local Area Network? Instead of using Data cabling, why not use fiber optic cabling instead to build the network?  Approaching the problem from this direction, the benefits to all do quite quickly start to become apparent. Personally, I would be quite happy to pay £30 per month line charge for a system delivering 1GB per second instead of paying BT £20 per month for 100 year old technology (twin copper), where line speed of just 3-7Mb per second are the norm. Deliver that level of service to 10,000 homes, you generate a line rental of £3.6 million annually. That doesn’t even take into account the potential other revenue which would be generated.

The Breakfast Club was a good get together of former Naval, Army and Air Force people who have one thing in common; their willingness to try and help out former services personnel who might be struggling with coming into the island community. Having spoken to one of the members, the broadband issue was something he had extended a lot of thought on for the Outer Isle of Eday. As he was pretty impressed with the approach I suggested, I’ve been invited over to Eday at some point to go into a bit more depth with their IT specialist. Meantime, I would try and discuss it further with others and continue to work on the general idea.

Back on the work front, some bits and pieces started to become available, mainly in the form of plumbing in the odd washing machine and/or dish washer, a bit of DIY here and there and the odd bit of grass cutting. I successfully tendered for the Flotta Kirkyard which has kept me busy, but helps out financially.

I was also asked if I’d like to volunteer as a Case Worker for the Forces charity SSAFA. I’d previously assisted a couple of former Army cadets who, having joined the regulars, had suffered serious mental health issues dealing with service in Afghanistan and Iraq (I’m no Doctor, but helping these guys talk through their issues had gone a long way to helping them back on track). Sometimes the sort of things that need discussing will only come out amongst those of us whom have served, mainly as there is already a certain level of trust there. Becoming a Case Worker was therefore something I knew would be a worthwhile use of my spare time, so saying yes was easy.I’ve since had the opportunity to speak to Liam McArthur (MSP) at some length about what I’ve been calling the ‘Community LAN Project’, with the result that I’ve been invited to the next Digital Forum later on this year. I don’t claim to be an all singing and dancing genius with regards to Broadband, but I do have a knack for making things work, making the most of what’s available and maybe, just maybe, giving people the hope and inspiration of what can really be achieved if we put our minds together to work on a problem. With the way I’ve been welcomed into the local community since I arrived, to not try (considering the knowledge of communications I’ve built up over the years), would be an insult to those whom have so readily welcomed me into their community.

moving houseOne thing I’ve learnt from Orcadians in the short time since I arrived, is that if you want something done, you had better be prepared to do it yourself!


Also of interest From London to Flotta: A Reader’s Experience 

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