Digital Connectivity Manager, Nottinghamshire County Council
Amid a copse showing signs of spring with newly-sprouting leaves and a morning chorus of birds, Ceren Clulow talks animatedly about her busy week so far. She’s spent the past two days at a conference in Birmingham, showing off some of the innovative tech that her partner ecosystem has been producing ‒ most notably, the drones and robotic dogs from BCU and the VR/AR headsets produced by Gooii ‒ and has just arrived fresh from her twins’ school run to talk to us about, and demonstrate, the world’s first 5G Connected Forest.
Most people would be too exhausted to then spend another two days conducting interviews and walking us through the technology at both settings, but not Clulow. Instead, she’s clad in a sunshine-yellow blazer, happily engaging with everyone around her and enthusiastically showing off videos of Gizmo, one of the robotic dogs.
This glimpse reveals the affability that must have swayed the different members of the partner ecosystem for the project to get involved ‒ it was notoriously difficult at first. Luckily, though, Clulow is very persuasive.
“I contacted major national operators, getting fully closed doors in my face and ‘no, we can't do it, it's too difficult’ ‒ some parts of this forest are really protected, so you can't even walk in them. And, of course, with hundreds of thousands of years of forest, people think it’s the last place you can bring in innovation, which is why everybody was saying, ‘no, it's impossible’.
“One of my strengths is that I never give up ‒ so I didn't. I found some partners and we shared an ambition. We thought about the kinds of use cases, identifying visitor experience and environmental management, both of which are really key at the moment. Then I applied for the funding, where I must have convinced DCMS, and secured £10mn from them to bring the first 5G signal into a forest setting.”
As Nottinghamshire County Council’s Digital Connectivity Manager, Clulow was in the fortunate position of being able to utilise her considerable networking skills to forge partnerships, and the project eventually got underway.
“Another one of my strengths is partnership and relationship management ‒ meeting with people, networking and also sharing my ambition,” says Clulow matter-of-factly about her uncanny ability to put anyone and everyone around her at ease. “Pitching the target and trying to find a solution, I met with Netmore’s Stefan Stanislawski at a conference in London. During a coffee break, we were just chatting ‒ and I must have been pitching it really well because he was really interested and came up with some solutions. We just started a brainstorming session. And then we became partners.”
Aiming to transform and uplift natural spaces within the locality, the project was based around the concept of a 5G-connected forest at its very core. It would include various strands, such as leisure, rural conservation, careers and skills, and health and social care, to make it a well-rounded project beneficial for future generations.
In addition to identifying Sherwood Forest as a 5G trial testbed for technology including AI and robotics, IoT, drones, and holographic virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR), Rufford Abbey Country Park ‒ which is just a handful of miles away from the forest ‒ also became a key focus, albeit one with a heavier lean towards device connectivity for leisure and events.
Although she successfully managed to pull together a team and identify key elements to focus on, the road ahead wasn’t a smooth one ‒ but for reasons no-one could have anticipated.
“Two weeks after this project launched, we went through a pandemic that impacted the world. Not everyone could stay on the project. All of the partners I mentioned, though, stayed on the project throughout, they delivered it. They continued working on the project plan because they really wanted to see that result,” Clulow says.
Despite the setback and obvious difficulties wrought by the pandemic, the team carried on working together to make their shared vision a reality ‒ and the fruits of their labour are more than evident today.
It’s this imaginative problem solving that underpins the entire project ‒ as well as the unwavering dedication from everyone involved ‒ that really helped the project to materialise, in spite of the pandemic and every other obstacle. Now, as the final tests and trials take place, ready for launch, the team can breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the realisation of what was thought by many to be impossible: a 5G Connected Forest. And there’s no one more to thank for that than Ceren Clulow; a 5G trailblazer, indeed.
Read the full story HERE.
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