Featherstone exhibition firm stays centre stage

Exhibition stand design business Alfa has been saved from having to move out of its Featherstone offices thanks to the Superfast West Yorkshire and York project.

The company said existing broadband speeds at its base on the Green Lane Industrial Estate – where it’s been based for the last ten years – were so low it was struggling to function efficiently and needed to move to a location with better connectivity.

But the arrival of high-speed fibre broadband on the estate has allowed the firm to stay put and transform its operation.

The business, which designs and builds exhibition stands, is heavily reliant on online connectivity, especially for communicating between the Featherstone design team and a production team based at Alfa’s head office in Hampshire.

Jane Frost, sales director, said: “We were struggling with speeds of less than one megabit and seriously contemplating moving away from the estate because it got to the point where we just couldn’t cope anymore.

“We have a production and installation team based in our Hampshire office and we all work on a main server – so they design something then drop it on the server and we should be able to retrieve it instantly from there. The business is quite graphic intensive so there are a lot of files going to and fro between the two offices with various design ideas and proofs for the exhibition stands, such as 3D models of the stands we’re planning to build for clients.

“Before fibre, we spent our whole time watching egg timers. If one person was trying to upload or download a particularly large file it was game over for the rest of us.”

Jane added that staff were sometimes forced to work from home where they could get a better broadband connection and even resorted to using a mobile phone connection to send important files.

“Our client base is international so being able to have video conference calls with them is really important. I would do it from home because the office broadband was just so bad, it just wouldn’t connect a lot of the time – which doesn’t look very professional in front of customers, especially when you’re a design company. It is all about technology and there is an expectation that things will work seamlessly and instantly.  We were having to work from home to cover up for the fact that we couldn’t do things from the office,” Jane said.

Supported by West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Superfast West Yorkshire and York’s aim is to ensure that more businesses and residents across West Yorkshire and York have access to fibre broadband superfast speeds.

Alfa, which has seen more than a thirty fold increase in broadband speed, is now able to work much more efficiently – saving thousands of man-hours previously lost waiting for work to download.

Jane said: “I probably spent at least an hour everyday just waiting for things to download. Now everything is instant so we can be much more reactive to customer needs.

“I can now skype customers any time of day from the office without worrying about losing the connection. A lot of our clients are international so video conferencing plays a crucial role in maintaining those relationships. They have an expectation that things will work seamlessly and instantly.

“We’ve also got a big screen in the office which we use to stream videos of work we’ve done for potential clients – which we can now do without it constantly buffering and freezing.”

The business has also been able to take over the management of its website, which it previously outsourced to an agency. “Before, we just didn’t have the bandwidth to do anything with the website ourselves – even though we have our own team of designers. Now we can instantly update it with new photography and graphics without going through a third party – saving on time and money.”

Cllr Denise Jeffery, Wakefield Council’s cabinet member for economic growth and Skills, said: “It’s good news that businesses across our district are benefitting from improved internet connections. This helps businesses to do things faster and more efficiently, boosting jobs and growth, and the local economy.”

Tom Keeney, BT’s regional director for Yorkshire and the Humber, added: “Having fibre meant Alfa could maintain its operational base in Featherstone and continue to contribute to the local economy, helping to keep jobs in the local area and attract inward investment.

“Fibre has also provided them with the necessary tools to work and compete more efficiently in the digital world we now live in.”

The second phase of the Superfast West Yorkshire and York roll-out will extend fibre coverage to 98 per cent of the programme area. This additional £19.5 million investment will bring fibre broadband speeds within reach of 33,413 homes and businesses across West Yorkshire and York by the end of 2018.

Around 850,000 households and businesses in West Yorkshire now have access to high-speed fibre broadband as a result of Superfast West Yorkshire and York and BT’s own commercial fibre broadband programme. It’s an ‘opt in’ service, but because the Openreach network is ‘open’, residents and businesses wanting to upgrade have a choice of fibre broadband providers.

Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, Wakefield and York Councils are working with BT to extend high-speed fibre broadband to 98 per cent of households and businesses across the majority of West Yorkshire and York by the end of 2018.

In total, £41.4 million has been invested in the two phases of the Superfast West Yorkshire and York programme. The programme is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund 2014-2020 (ERDF) programme and has also received Government funding from Broadband Delivery UK, BT, WYCA,  the five West Yorkshire local authorities and City of York Council.

For more information about the project or to find out when superfast broadband will be delivered in your area visit www.superfastwestyorkshire.co.uk