Village phones cut off since early December

Fairwarp residents without telephones, Becky and Mel Fordham
Fairwarp residents without telephones, Becky and Mel Fordham

People living in remote Ashdown Forest villages were left vulnerable and isolated after telephone lines went down in early December.

Vicar of All Saints Church, Fairwarp, Father Paul Broadbent said: “We have an elderly community and a number of people have emergency lifeline alarms so they can be helped in times of trouble.

“They were completely cut off from the outside world. There were also concerns about one or two people in the village who are not too well. I must organise funerals and the only way I have been able to stay in touch is by pulling off the road onto a layby and using my mobile phone. This has gone on from December 4. Although BT say they have sorted it out, I know there are several people who are not reconnected.”

One farming family were horrified they could not even dial 999 after their son was taken seriously ill.

Photographer Mel Fordham said: “They only just avoided a tragedy.”

Almost 30 people from Nutley, Fairwarp and Cackle Street attended an emergency meeting at the Foresters’ Arms on Tuesday night to marshal their complaints and work out ways to resolve the problem.

The cuts happened after BT Openreach began installing fibreoptic cable to introduce high speed broadband.

Rod Smith, from Cackle Street, said: “They damaged the main cable and our telephone lines and broadband connection immediately went down. They reconnected some, but amazingly they connected them to the wrong people. For example my telephone rings in someone else’s house. The worst thing was trying to get through to BT, being connected to an Indian call centre, waiting on hold for an hour then getting cut off. When you do get through someone quotes a lot of corporate claptrap at you.”

The story went live on BBC TV’s South Today on Tuesday night when Father Paul explained the problems suffered by his parishioners.

Mel Fordham added: “I publish racing calendars and diaries and like others who work from home I have lost a huge amount of business. I want to know why this happened; why it took so long to be resolved and what does BT intend to do about compensation? Apart from lost business, I have to count the cost of using my mobile phone.”

A group of villagers now plan to visit BT’s London head office, contact the chief executive officer, get in touch with Ofcom and ask Charles Hendry MP to get involved.