A deprived Walsall community could become the first in the UK to benefit from a communications network that would give access to 'super fast' phone, video and internet services - all managed by a community-based cooperative.
The Birchills area is looking to emulate the success of Neunen, a Dutch market town where all 7,500 households are connected to a highspeed fibre network, and which has become an international role model.
Walsall Regeneration Company (WRC) organised a trip to Neunen, with representatives from Birchills, to learn lessons from its good practice and see the benefits it has brought.
For example, local churches, schools and community associations are creating their own TV programmes which they can broadcast on the net, through the next generation broadband network.
The huge capacity of the network also has benefits for health and social care, including enabling people to have video conferencing with family doctors, and it can also be used for home security and monitoring systems.
Dr Peter Cromar, chief executive of WRC, said: "We want to set up a similar model here where the network would belong to the people, organised through a community interest company. Parts of Birchills are among the most deprived in the country and action is needed to help transform its fortunes.
"Nuenen is a very different community with an older, more skilled population, but its success as the most densely populated, connected broadband site in Europe has much to teach us. The model for managing its high-speed network is already being rolled out to the nearby city of Eindhoven.
"Their project is driven from a community perspective. We wanted to find out how they did it and how a similar co-operative model could work in the UK. No one else has done this here. In Walsall it would be linked to our work to regenerate and transform the economic base of the town and the wider region."
WRC is already leading the way after submitting an outline planning application for 'Walsall Gigaport', a £400 million town centre office corridor scheme.
The £80 million first phase includes a data centre to act as a hub for the introduction of a next generation broadband network and a focus for IT based industries. A 106,000 sq ft business incubation centre and the 117,000 sq ft One Gigaport office complex complete the first phase.
Dr Cromar said: "We would look to build on the data centre and fibre network scheme to expand it into Birchills and the wider area. We hope to get the support of the public sector where health, education and council departments would see how they could deliver better and more services to their tenants for less."
Birchills resident Terry Edis, chair of the Burrowes Street Tenant Management Organisation, said: "We saw what has been achieved in Neunen and it would be fantastic if we could do the same in Birchills. It is a way of involving and communicating with people, especially in hard to reach groups, and there are real advantages in using it for health and education services."
Aftab Nawaz, of the Pakistan Muslim Welfare Association, said: "We want Birchills to benefit from Walsall's regeneration and this is an opportunity to arrest years of under-investment and the social and economic deprivation that has gone hand in hand with that.
"I was impressed with this social enterprise in Neunen and how the wealth created by it is being put back into the community.
"With the leadership of people like Peter Cromar, and the determination to work together, we believe we can have a similar network in Birchills and bring services closer to people and give them what they actually want."
Coun Tim Oliver also said: "I certainly found the workshop and visit a very interesting and at times inspiring experience.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful if we were able to adapt this inspiring project from Holland toward a platform for regeneration in the disadvantaged community of Birchills, to enable our communities, families and young people to access and aspire to all the challenges and opportunities of our new century?"