Charity's concern for elderly and vulnerable 'isolated' without TV after Bilsdale mast fire

Bilsdale Transmitter Credit: Adam Gill

A charity has expressed concerns about the mental wellbeing of elderly and vulnerable people left without access to TV across the region.

Age UK North Yorkshire and Darlington says it has experienced an increase in calls to its helpline over the loss of TV services as a result of a fire at the Bilsdale transmitter in North Yorkshire this month.

It is believed up to a million people across Teesside, North Yorkshire and County Durham were without signal - covering radio and TV - after the mast caught fire on 10 August.

Since then, operators Arqiva have been working to restore coverage, and while services have been restored for some, Age Concern in the region said for others the lack of access to TV has left them feeling cut off and alone.

Helen Hunter, CEO of Age UK North Yorkshire and Darlington, said there had been a rise in calls to its helpline over the issue - and those speaking to its volunteers on the doorstep had been "confused" about the situation.

Retired doctor David Bishop, from Hurworth Village, near Darlington, lives on his own and told ITV News Tyne Tees that he had been without a signal since the fire.

And it is not just TV and radio that have been affected, it is also impacting mobile phone signal for some.

Sheep farmer Stephen Sanderson's wife Fiona fears for his safety as they have no radio, TV or mobile phone coverage.

She is also concerned she could lose business as a result of those not wanting to book if they know they will have no mobile phone signal.

Key information

  • When was the fire? 10 August, 2021

  • How long have services been out for? Some services have been down for three weeks

  • How many homes were affected? An estimated 250,000

  • How many have had their services restored? The exact number is not known but some are now receiving signals from other masts, with no date for when the others will be connected.

  • Who operates Bilsdale mast? Arqiva

  • What is the advice for those who still have no services? Maxwells of Northallerton advise retuning your set. If you have any problems call your TV manufacturer, dealer or Freeview.

The latest from operator Arqiva

The most recent update from Arqiva was published on Friday, 27 August.

The statement read:

"We continue to work through the process to enable access to the Bilsdale site to build the temporary mast. There is no specific new detail to share at this point but we are continuing to work round the clock to find a way forward.

"Meanwhile, this week has seen the successful restoration of some Freeview television services for those who receive signals from the smaller relay sites in the following areas: Grinton Lodge, Ravenscar, Aislaby, West Burton and Romaldkirk.

"These relays normally receive a signal from the main Bilsdale mast (Aislaby actually takes its signal from Ravenscar) and ‘pass it on’ to the communities in the area that cannot see the main mast.

"We once again apologise that services have not been restored as quickly as we’d hoped and will provide a further update as soon as possible."

It was also confirmed at the end of last week that customers worst affected by the Bilsdale mast fire would be offered TV License refunds or extensions.

A TV Licensing Spokesperson said: “Customers in the affected area who have been unable to receive TV coverage for over a month, and who are unable to view BBC programming through BBC iPlayer and on cable and satellite platforms, will be eligible for a refund or be offered a free extension to their TV Licence to cover the months affected.

“We are continuing to work with our suppliers Arqiva to ensure services in the affected area are resumed as soon as possible.”

Bilsdale signal advice

Freeview have suggested that those still without signal take the following steps:

  • "We advise all viewers who are struggling to pick up a signal on their TV to try an automatic retune (even if this has happened recently). You can learn how to do this with our retune videos.  Area-specific information is below.

Bilsdale advice if you live...

South of Bilsdale (including in and around northern parts of York, Harrogate, Pickering, Ripon and Masham)

You may receive some channels from the new transmitter at Sutton Bank.  If you haven’t retuned since the fire, you may see some channels restored automatically.  If you don’t see any channels, please try an automatic retune. 

If you retuned before 7th September and you have intermittent reception, we recommend you carry out another automatic retune as the signal from Sutton Bank may well be stronger. 

If an automatic retune does not restore any channels unfortunately it is unlikely that you will be able to receive a signal until further transmitter work is completed. 

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North-west of Bilsdale (including in and around Darlington, Barnard Castle, Richmond, Catterick and Leyburn)

If you do not have any channels, we recommend you carry out an automatic retune.

Some viewers who retuned since the fire and had some channel restored may find that they have recently lost them.  If this is the case, please carry out another automatic retune.

If an automatic retune does not restore any channels unfortunately it is unlikely that you will be able to receive a signal until further transmitter work is completed. 

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North of Bilsdale (including in and around Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar, and Stockton)

If you do not have any channels, we recommend you carry out an automatic retune. 

On 2nd September, more channels were restored to some viewers in these areas. Coverage is limited but if you’ve not retuned since 2nd September, we recommend that you do so to ensure that you have as many channels available to you as possible. 

If an automatic retune does not restore any channels unfortunately it is unlikely that you will be able to receive a signal until further transmitter work is completed. 

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If you take your signal from any of Bilsdale’s relays (see list below)

  • Whitby, Bainbridge, Grinton Lodge, Guisborough, Ravenscar, Limber Hill, Skinningrove, Romaldkirk, West Burton, Aislaby, Castleton, Rookhope, Rosedale Abbey  ane Peterlee 

  • You should have seen channels restored. If you haven’t please run an automatic retune.   

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  • "If an automatic retune does not restore any channels - irrespective of whether you live in the areas mentioned above - unfortunately it is unlikely that you will be able to receive a signal until further transmitter work is completed."

What should I do if I can’t get Freeview reception and don’t want to wait for the Bilsdale temporary transmitter?

1. Find out whether repositioning your aerial could restore some channels 

Repositioning your aerial so that it takes a signal from a different transmitter may be an option for some viewers who wish to attempt to get some signal back in the short term. However, there's no guarantee that another transmitter is available (reception is highly dependent on several factors such as local geography between you and the transmitter), and the signal quality might be variable..

If you choose to have your aerial repositioned - which should only be carried out by a professional and experienced installer - you may wish to then have it repositioned again when service from Bilsdale is restored. Please do not attempt this yourself. Look for a local accredited installer at:

2. Stay watching TV for free with Freesat 

If you have an existing satellite dish at your home, or wish to get one installed, see Freesat’s guide to switching to see whether watching free TV through them might be for you.