Computer group aims to keep work at a distance: Technology of the 'telecottage' floated as alternative to wasted hours commuting to a job

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THE LONELINESS of the long-distance worker is a thing of the past if the Telecottage Association, launched yesterday, is to be believed, writes Susan Watts.

The aim is that the telecottage - a building bristling with modern computer and telecommunications equipment - will not just provide access to the most up-to-date facilities, but will also help to counter the threat of social isolation for people working from home.

There are already more than 50 telecottages in some of the most remote parts of Britain. An average of 40 people are associated with each. It is estimated that in four to five years about 10,000 people could be working this way. The figure could be higher if what is so far essentially a rural phenomenon catches the imagination of city dwellers too.

The spate of strikes on Britain's railway had acted as a spur to the trend of working from home, Ashley Dobbs, a driving force behind the new association, said yesterday. 'For the first time ever, people were working from home. They now realise there is an alternative. The telecottage can be a substitute for the chat, gossip and career advancement you get from going into that typical city environment.'

Mr Dobbs said telecottages brought jobs to rural areas, without the environmental problems associated with other new industries. Planning permission was not usually a problem, since they were usually housed in disused buildings.

People can use telecottages to run their own businesses, or as a friendly environment in which to learn computing skills. They can act as modern libraries, and may give access to databases on remote mainframe computers.

Mr Dobbs said: 'They bring work to people who might not easily be able to get to work. Some tele cottages are run by disabled people, or women returning after raising families. They improve the quality of life - you can swap time spent in traffic jams for time with the family, going on walks, or in my case kicking the cat and baking bread.'

Alan Denbeigh, executive director of the association, said it aimed to advise people setting up telecottages. He said people from a huge variety of professions were involved, including photographers, translators and training specialists.

(Photograph omitted)