Three pairs of high-rise residential blocks, the Pembrokes, the Brecons and the Denbighs, look out over Leeds from the suburb of Gipton.
Built in the 1950s, these council-run blocks provide social and sheltered housing for hundreds of people. The blocks are set in their own grounds, with plenty of car parking and greenery. Each has 47 flats spread over 11 storeys, and has communal rooms and facilities on the ground floor.
The Pembrokes, Brecons and Denbighs had communal terrestrial aerials. But by the late 1990s, these systems were showing signs of age and deterioration. For example, if a cable became damaged because of some redecorating on one floor, the problem often couldn’t be contained to that floor, but would cause every flat in the block to lose its television pictures. Added to that was the fact that the system could only cater for terrestrial TV, so anyone wanting satellite TV had to put up a minidish.
The same problems were experienced by the residents of council-run blocks right across the city. It was clear that if a solution could be found, it would improve the lives of thousands of people living in Leeds.
In 2000 the council’s electrical surveying department decided that the time had come to install new communal TV systems in all its high-rise blocks. It knew that an Integrated Reception System (IRS) would be best, because of its flexibility and proven reliability. An IRS would give each block one satellite dish and terrestrial aerial, linked to all the flats, and a CCTV system to enhance security. Then residents would be able to choose to get terrestrial TV, satellite TV, or a combination of the two, giving them access to all the TV choices that people living in houses have.
But installing an IRS system in the 137 council-run blocks in the city was no easy task, so the department put the contract out to tender with the intention of having the work completed over a five-year period. One of the five companies to bid for the contract was Sky, who proposed to sub-contract the work to a Leeds-based installer, Tel-Aer. Its bid was successful because of its cost-effectiveness and because it demonstrated the most experience in installing state-of-the-art systems.
Tel-Aer immediately set about the task of installing an IRS in all 137 blocks, starting with the Pembrokes, Brecons and Denbighs. It designed a system so that the TV signals would be sent down each block on five main cables, and then on into each flat. Its engineers had to put new wires into every single flat and to encase all the cables in steel – something that took a team of three a week to carry out for just one block. On every third floor they installed switches and amplifiers so that the TV signal could be received loud and clear in each flat. Finally, the team offered to take down existing minidishes and connect the flats to the new communal system instead.
Big though the job was, it was completed without a hitch, and in 2001 the Pembrokes, Brecons and Denbighs became the first council-run blocks in Leeds to have the benefits of an Integrated Reception. Since then the residents of all 282 flats in the six blocks have had the choice to access terrestrial TV, satellite TV, DAB and FM radio, and they can even choose to get Sky+ and Sky HD. What’s more, they have CCTV, so everyone can see who’s entering and leaving the front door of their block, giving security and peace of mind. The pictures are fed straight to a central control room in the centre of the city allowing immediate action to be taken in the event of an incident.
The system has now been replicated right across the 137 council-run blocks in Leeds, benefitting the residents of no fewer than 14,000 flats. The council’s chief electrical surveyor, Graham Kerridge, is delighted with the result: “There were absolutely no glitches, which is remarkable for such a big project covering the entire city. The tenants are thrilled too, because they’ve got such a reliable system, excellent reception and complete freedom over their choice of TV supplier. And we’re are all set for the digital changeover.”
Barbara Harrison and her husband, a postman, have lived in one of the two Denbigh blocks for several years. Many people living in her block have chosen to have Sky TV installed, and she joined them just before Christmas 2007. She is delighted with the result. “I was amazed at how smoothly the installation was,” she said. “They put the cable into the bedroom in no time, then I got my Sky box, and that was it. The installer from Tel-Aer explained how to work it, and it’s been really good. I used to have Freeview but that didn’t give me all the channels I wanted, and old dramas and films. I wanted Sky in my bedroom so that I could have company when my husband goes out to work. Now I’ve got exactly what I wanted, and I’m thrilled with it.”
With thousands of satisfied residents, the whole process has been a triumph for Leeds. It was the first city in the country to have IRS installed across all its council-run blocks, and other cities are now following its lead.