Opening gateways to rural communities

Gemma Douglas with Tom Johnston, from Glendale Gateway Trust.
Gemma Douglas with Tom Johnston, from Glendale Gateway Trust.

A pioneering partnership between a university and a north Northumberland trust is helping to spread the word to rural communities.

Glendale Gateway Trust (GGT) and students from Newcastle University have been working closely together to develop a new and cost-effective way of communicating with the rural community to promote and advertise services.

Tom Johnston, chief executive of GGT, said: “One of our biggest challenges is getting information out to the 6,000 people who live in the 250 square miles that is Glendale – one of the most sparsely populated areas of England.”

The Trust submitted a bid to the Big Lottery small grants scheme for funding to place information screens in a number of small settlements around Glendale.

The initial idea was to use digital photo frames with rolling information about services and activities for young people, the nature of the screens meant that they would need to be updated manually which would involve a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and incur significant travel expenses.

To solve this problem, the GGT connected with OpenLab at Newcastle University and worked with a young student, Stuart Nicholson, to develop screens which could be updated automatically using a wifi connection.

Stuart said: “The simple, inexpensive technology has allowed Glendale Gateway Trust to quickly and efficiently distribute information to a number of public locations

“Now we know the information screens have proved to be useful, we are keen to get others involved in sharing the benefits of this low cost, low maintenance and widely accessible technology.”

The use of technology has really benefitted the Trust, according to Tom, who said: “The new system is a complete revelation and makes things so much simpler and more cost-effective.

“We now have computer screens in prominent places and can update them from a central point quickly and easily. We are now in a position to publicise and promote whatever we like to a much wider audience and the net result is that services and facilities are more sustainable. This technology is not only very exciting, but the cost of it makes it accessible to all.”

Glendale Gateway Trust and OpenLab are continuing their work on the project to further improve the service over the next three years.

Tom added: “Currently, we are in the process of gathering feedback about the system, the content being shown as well as contacting other communities and businesses who might be interested in having their own information screens.”