You're never alone

You--39-re-never-alone

However tough things might get, there are always friends of farming who are ready to listen and help

You’re never alone

However tough things might get, there are always friends of farming who are ready to listen and help

There’s never been a better time to be a farmer. There’s enormous public interest in agriculture, farm shops and farmers’ markets are doing well and with the global population expected to increase in the coming decades, demand for food is set to grow.

But despite the optimism, there’s no denying that the past year has been full of challenges. The economy, austerity measures, rising costs and the effects of the appalling weather have touched everybody’s life. Farmers and the rural workforce aren’t immune of course. In fact it’s known that the problems of debt and depression can be made worse by the isolation of the countryside while accidents, serious illness, stress and animal disease can all turn a great life in to a daily struggle.  

It’s something that’s been recognised by the Prince of Wales: “A farmer’s life has become such a lonely one and there are no longer people around to talk to…the challenge is to persuade farmers there is no shame in asking for help. There is no need to try and cope alone all the time and admitting one needs help is sometimes a sign of strength.” His Royal Highness has farmed in Gloucestershire for many years and in fact two decades ago the Cotswolds was at the forefront of providing help for country people.

Way back in 1991 an organisation called Gloucestershire Farming Friends was set up by a well-known and charismatic farmer called Malcolm Whitaker from Syde near Cirencester. He recognised that modern farming can lead to loneliness and that farmers can be reluctant to seek help when things get tough. Malcolm’s idea was that a team of volunteers would offer practical and emotional support that was free and confidential to anyone living or working in the countryside. He wanted to recreate the sort of support that neighbours used to provide in years gone by. Today this sort of service is relatively common but 22 years ago it was genuinely innovative and it soon gained the backing of the Samaritans, Cotswold District Council and the National Farmers Union.  Although the service is called Gloucestershire Farming Friends, at times it also operates in the neighbouring counties of Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Monmouthshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire.

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But it’s not the only organisation offering a helping hand.  Every year the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) offers assistance to more than 2,000 people with advice, care and financial support. It’s a charity I know well and last summer I helped the Institution launch its ‘Just Ask’ campaign to promote a new freephone number. RABI has some very eminent supporters; its President is the Duke of Gloucester and his predecessor was the former Euro MP for the Cotswolds and ex-NFU President Lord Plumb. RABI made headlines recently when the Prince of Wales’ Countryside Fund and the Duke of Westminster each donated £150,000 to farming charities helping those struggling after the floods of 2012. Another recipient was the Farm Crisis Network (FCN). It runs volunteer groups across Britain and came about in 1995 as a direct response to the high number of farm workers taking their own lives.

Anyone working in the industry at the time will remember how shocking the suicide figures were. Then there’s the Addington Fund which was set up as the churches’ response to the devastating Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001. It offers emergency grants in times of hardship and provides accommodation for farming families who have to leave the industry and lose their home as a result. None of us can predict what’s around the corner, so it’s reassuring to know that if life on the land becomes a struggle, there are dedicated individuals working for charities and organisations who are there to listen and help.  

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