Revd Josh Harris writes...
Over the past two years of running St Katharine's, people have asked me this with the reasonable expectation that any venue in the City of London would have WiFi. It's like asking where the loo is. It just doesn't make sense to us to not to have an internet connection!
But not only did we not have WiFi - or even a landline phone - when we took on the renewal of this church, but the thick stone walls and the constellation of tall buildings around us conspired to leave a 5G dead zone more or less exactly in our church and hall! We tried a 5G router, but it never really worked.
The problem for us is that we are using the space here to build community among workers and their families in the City, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet. We discovered during Covid that 'data poverty' is a real problem - and this hasn't stopped being an issue for those on low incomes now we are in a hybrid world. Access to the internet is a basic requirement for functioning as a citizen: whether it is a passport application, opening a new bank account, or video calling family in another continent, having decent internet access makes a real difference. So we wanted to be in a position to offer free, high speed internet to anyone in our community who needs it.
But we are also building partnerships with other organisations who run activities here and hold meetings - and we also want to be able to offer this space to many others to use, whether partner organisations or hirers. A trade union lawyer who runs a free employment advice drop in clinic here has bravely contended with weak hotspots and other workarounds for more than a year: I cannot wait to show him what we've done...
This week we have finally completed installation of high speed internet throughout the building! It has taken more than one year for the planning, preparation and works to complete. I feel like I should retire now, as I am not sure what other professional achievement will match this!
Our fibre line is provided by Community Fibre, who were patient and helpful as we navigated (with help from our excellent Archdeacon and the Diocese's property department) the Faculty process for permission. In the end, engineers had to abseil over the roof as part of the process to install a line through a less sensitive part of the building. You would be surprised how many contractors were adamant we should just drill through the main south wall of a Grade 1 listed church to save them some cabling work...
We then had amazing support from the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (WCIT) who gave us pro bono advice to tender for a company to install the network throughout the building. Ours is a complicated site which means we wanted more than just one or two routers. They helped us find Adrian at Silvercloud Technologies. And then WCIT went above and beyond in also providing us with a substantial grant to pay for the cost of the works!
After much relief that the cabling works were sufficiently discreet and used existing cable runs that we did not need another full faculty, Ken the cabling man and his colleague installed the new system which is now up and running and being remotely monitored by Adrian's team.
We now have super fast guest and staff WiFi networks throughout our church, hall and other rooms. This is going to be a game changer for what we can offer here: both in terms of our own capacity to run an office here and develop actives, but also our ability to provide to workers and our partner organisations a well connected space here in the heart of the City as together we build communities of prayer and action with the workers of London.