The world's first online park bench


The humble park bench has been transformed into a gateway to the information super-highway.

Now people can plug in their lap-tops, boot up and surf while eating their sandwiches on the world's first internet-ready public seat.

Internet company chose the historic town of Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, to launch its latest cyberspace project.

An ordinary wooden bench has been souped up into a cyber seat by boffins at msn - which is owned by computer giant Microsoft.

Up to four users at a time can access the Internet by plugging their laptops into modem sockets concealed in the arms of the seat, in the town's Abbey Gardens.

Bury St Edmunds was chosen to pilot the scheme after applications were received from local authorities across the UK.

Council parks manager Jean English entered a brief poem which caught the eye of msn - and the internet firm was also attracted to the Abbey Gardens as a site for the bench.

Stuart Anderson, msn marketing manager, said: 'We're grateful to St Edmundsbury Borough Council for helping us offer an attractive outdoor environment from which to access the Internet.

'The msn Internet Bench supports our vision of making the web relevant and indespensable to our daily lives and we'll be interested to see how people react to it.'

The council hopes the hi-tech bench will be saved from vandalism by park keepers patrolling the gardens during the day and locking the gates at night.

Weather-proof flaps also protect the internet connection sockets from the elements.

The Mayor of St Edmundsbury Cllr Brian Bagnall launched the bench today/yesterday (Mon 6) by sending the first e-mail from it.

He said: 'People may be surprised that we've located a 21st century cyber seat in the grounds of an 11th century abbey.

'But Bury St Edmunds is proud to be the only town in the world that can offer this unique opportunity to use the web outdoors.

'With its Nations in Bloom wins as 'Best Small Town in the World' Bury St Edmunds is no shrinking violet and I'm delighted that local people and tourists can now e-mail or even beam pictures of our beautiful borough anywhere in the world.'

Bury St Edmunds was described by Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe as a 'town famed for its pleasant situation and wholesome air.'

In the Charles Dickens novel The Pickwick Papers it's said to be: 'a handsome little town of thriving and cleanly appearance.'

It was established around a shrine to Edmund the 9th century king of East Angles - which later became the Abbey of St Edmund.

Cllr Bagnall added: 'The Abbey Gardens are the perfect location for the Internet Bench.

'The Bury Bible, a hand illuminated 12th century document, is believed to have been created here at the Abbey of St Edmund. Surfing the web is the 21st century equivalent of reading a book - and a beautiful park is the ideal place for it this summer.'

Internet calls from the bench will be free for the first three months.

By Stuart Leithes