Residents’ plea to get better connected

The generator.
The generator.

Shona Anderson, 36, lives at Linshiels Farm with her husband Scott, 41. and three children – Tyla, 14, Taime, 10 and T-jay, three.

Their house, and business, is in the middle of the beautiful Coquetdale countryside but the stunning location means a lot of sacrifices have to be made.

Shona Anderson at her home at Linshiels

Shona Anderson at her home at Linshiels

Like a number of farmers in the upper Coquet Valley, Shona and her family have to use a generator to supply electricity for their home. They use oil for heating and had to buy a special booster to get a mobile phone signal.

And this all comes at a high price.

Shona said: “We have a generator and inverter system which is very expensive to run and not very reliable either. The cost to run the generator is around £10,000 a year and that is not including heating your house and cooking.

“We have an oil AGA for cooking, some properties have gas, and also coal fires and oil central heating which are additional costs on top of the fuel for the generator.

“There are also maintenance costs as we have to have the generators regularly serviced and parts they may need also add to the cost.”

If the power goes off, Shona or her husband have to traipse outside to the shed where the generator is housed, to switch it back on – whatever the weather or time of the day or night.

“At the moment ours is playing up and we can’t use anything that generates too much heat as it makes it go off,” Shona said. And if it needs to be fixed, the contractor has to come from Aberdeen to look at it.

Shona added: “We also regularly have problems with the water supply and quite often are without water for a couple of days till it can be fixed. So in general we have a very high cost of living with generators and fuel for travel to work, shops and schools.”

Tyla, who is at King Edward VI High School in Morpeth, leaves the house at 7.10am to get to school just before it starts.

“He gets a taxi from here to Alwinton,” Shona said.

“Then a bus from Alwinton to Thropton and another bus from Thropton to Morpeth. He then has to walk from the bus station in Morpeth up to the high school and then the same in reverse on the way home, geting back at 5pm.”

Her next-door neighbour at Lingbriggs Farm faces similar issues, although she is connected to gas for her heating.

Katherine Singer, 31, lives with her husband Chris, 33, and their four-year-old daughter Kaitlyn.

She said: “Another big issue we have is the roads. My daughter gets a minibus to school at Harbottle at 8am and some mornings the road is like a sheet of ice. Just before Christmas she didn’t get in one day.

“The roads in Alwinton are fine, but the gritters get to the end of the village and turn back. We have even had to ring up to get more grit delivered.

“There is also an effect on the school. Harbottle only has 27 children and with some living in really rural areas like us they have a big problem with attendance. But we do love it here. It is a brilliant environment in which to bring up children. We just need access to more things. Even broadband is difficult. There are two houses at Linbriggs and while I can’t get broadband, my neighbour can. We have a lovely community up here. Some people might ask why we live here but my husband has lived at Linbriggs all his life. And it’s our business.”

Next week the residents will be handing in a petition at County Hall with hundreds of signatures on it, urging the council to help get the residents connected to the National Grid.

Meetings have been held with Northumberland National Park, the Ministry of Defence and Northern Power Grid.

But because of the location, cabling to attach them to the grid would need to go underground, and a rough estimate of the cost has been made at £600,000 – just from Alwinton to Linshiels, which is the first farm within the community.

Katherine added that the area needs to be connected to the grid because otherwise farms will not attract new tenants.

“If Northumberland National Park still want people to come and visit and want the area to look as good as it does, they need people to live up here and work the land,” she said.

“But the farms will not attract the younger generations if they are not connected to electricity, have good road access and more.

“And if there are no new young people then there will be no children for the school. It has a knock-on effect.”

An energy efficiency survey was done which looked at a number of options, including wind power and hydro power, but it was found that being connected to the grid was the cheapest and best option for the area.

A group has been set up to look into it.

While the petition is being handed in, it is also looking for any grants or pots of money that can be accessed to help with the quest.