Free public wi-fi set to boost seaside town's recovery
Free wi-fi is being introduced in Seaham next week as part of a multimillion-pound scheme to enhance the vibrancy of towns and villages across County Durham.
Technology integrator North is installing the wi-fi, which will run from the west end of Church Street to the Marina, and from the north end of North Terrace to Byron Place Shopping Centre. Visitors will be able to log on to the 'Connected Seaham' system via a simple form or through social media. They will then be automatically re-connected on their return to further improve their experience.
The aim is to encourage people to spend more time in the town centre, which in turn will increase the takings of local businesses and support the county's economic recovery following the pandemic. This will be further boosted by a programme of digital support for retailers to encourage them to increase their online presence, and the creation of new local apps providing heritage tours and promoting retail opportunities and offers.
Seaham is the latest location to benefit from the £1.3 million project between the council and North, following the introduction of systems in Stanley and Bishop Auckland last March.
Over the next few months, it will be rolled out to Chester-le-Street and Barnard Castle, with the latter being delivered in conjunction with Teesdale Area Action Partnership.
Supporting towns and villages
The scheme is a key part of our Towns and Village programme, which strives to ensure every investment the local authority makes delivers the best possible outcomes for communities across the county. From improving the quality of housing and finding new uses for empty properties, to revitalising high streets, tackling environmental issues and investing in transport infrastructure - the scope of the scheme is great but the concept is simple; supporting towns and villages to be the best they can be.
To find out more about Towns and Villages, visit the Transforming communities in County Durham page.
As well as enhancing the experience of visitors to Seaham town centre, the wi-fi project will support the Towns and Villages programme through the anonymous footfall data it collects. This includes identifying the number of new and repeat visitors, the length of time people spend in specific areas and the routes they take, day and night. We can then use this data to monitor the impact of high street changes and shape future investment. Data captured from Bishop Auckland town centre, for example, has already been used to support significant funding applications, including a successful £19.9million bid to the Future High Streets Fund.
Thriving and sustainable
Cllr Carl Marshall, our Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: "We are committed to our plan to further regenerate and invest in the county's towns and villages to ensure communities can benefit from thriving and sustainable high streets and centres.
"In this increasingly digital age people are finding more ways to connect with each other. This project will enhance the experience for residents and visitors, attracting more people into our towns, increasing footfall and levels of spend, and boosting our visitor economy, particularly as we look ahead to the county's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic."
Karan Batey, who runs Karan's Florists in Church Street in Seaham, said: "I think introducing free public wi-fi in the town centre is a brilliant idea. The last year has been incredibly tough for businesses and this will hopefully encourage people to spend more time in the town centre when the shops are able to reopen again."
Regenerating the high street
David Ruthven, sales director at North, said: "Wi-fi and the real-time data it captures has an increasingly important role in regenerating the high street, and with added pressures as a result of the pandemic, it's important that the council can provide services that not only enhance local areas but contribute to making them safer for residents and visitors.
"We are thrilled to be working in conjunction with Durham County Council on the roll out of the wireless infrastructure across its towns, combining the latest technology with innovative software to gain more than just the supply of public access wi-fi, allowing the council to understand visitor demographics and make informed decisions in line with local requirements."