Showcasing the Best of Welsh Business

Rural Connectivity for a Virtual and Real World

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For those eagerly anticipated days in July when all roads lead to Llanelwedd, The Royal Welsh Show is the highlight of the agricultural calendar in Wales and beyond. For the farming community, producers, makers and sellers the Show is one of those rare opportunities for everyone to come together to compete, learn, network and celebrate. For the public the Show is a living encyclopedia of everything rural Wales has to offer from livestock to cheese, all in the space of a big day out. Yet this year, due to Coronavirus, the Show as we know it simply couldn’t happen. This will have resulted in financial and emotional costs, not just for the organisers and competitors, but also for the businesses that sell everything from combine harvesters to ice creams.

Clearly a show this significant simply couldn’t disappear from the calendar, and to their credit The Royal Welsh Agricultural Society decided to create the Virtual Royal Welsh Show for 2020. In fairness we shouldn’t attempt to compare the Virtual Show to the physical one, no amount of technology can replicate it. However what it did illustrate is a determination to ensure that the Show went ahead in some form even in the most difficult of circumstances. The voices that needed to be heard, were heard and the Show itself was celebrated through a comprehensive programme of content.

It’s already time to look towards the 2021 show, and we have to more than hope that by this time next year people can confidently come together on mass without having to worry about how close they are to one another. This does mean it is imperative to ensure an effective  vaccine for COVID19 is developed and ideally as soon as possible. It’s what we need to be able to return to a way of life that works for us. After all, as people we are social creatures who thrive on interacting with each other.

Ongoing, you can see real value in the Royal Welsh Show having both a physical and virtual presence, being able to stream content from the Show itself would be a powerful way to promote Welsh agriculture and our produce to a global audience. It has the potential to become the most cost effective trade mission ever, particularly if content is released at times and in languages aligned to key international target markets. In business terms, The Royal Welsh show is a highly valuable asset to Wales and capitalising on its reputation has the potential to significantly benefit our rural economy. Strengthening its virtual presence is key to achieving this and it's worth encouraging the Welsh Government to seize this opportunity as part of plans to promote Welsh produce in a post-Brexit trading environment.

The Virtual Show also provided a reminder that for anything virtual to be effective, people need to be able to connect wherever they are. The Built Environment tends to make you think of towns and cities, however it also encapsulates the infrastructure people need to get on with their lives. It helps make life livable for everyone, provided everyone has equal access. To that end the drive to ensure every address in Wales has superfast broadband and every mobile device across the country has a strong signal has to continue at pace. Not Spots will limit the effectiveness of near future developments. For example, a lack of coverage could potentially send drones back to base and compromise the adoption of driverless vehicles. Whilst we shouldn’t automatically embrace all future developments in technology, without complete coverage we are denied the opportunity to assess which ones should be adopted to benefit our rural communities and economy.

In the here and now, even urban based families with high speed connections are, through the increased use of online meetings, gaming and streaming services, finding their download speeds struggling. For rural based families, with slow download speeds the impact is even greater, making it harder to engage digitally, as highlighted recently by ITV Wales. Ofcom in their December 2019 report explained that “More people can get faster broadband and a good mobile signal than last year, but rural areas are still behind towns and cities for coverage. With work still needed to resolve this, it's encouraging to see that, as reported by Government Computing, the situation isn’t being ignored. This month we’ve seen further commitment from the Welsh Government to extend its superfast broadband project to cover the 5% of homes and businesses not covered by the Superfast Cymru programme.

Anyone living in an area where they are still struggling with poor broadband and/or mobile reception will have done so for a number of years, and understandably will simply want to know when they can expect to be fully connected. Connectivity central to the way most people live and the quicker we can achieve full connectivity, the sooner everyone across Wales, and the Welsh economy itself will benefit.

As for the Royal Welsh Show, hopefully in 2021 we can look forward to it becoming the ultimate physical and virtual agricultural show in the world.