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Ministers Poots and Swann Launch Rural Support’s New Winter Programme


Health Minister Robin Swann, Veronica Morris, Chief Executive of Rural Support, John Thompson – Chair of Rural Support and Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots and Health Minister Robin Swann have jointly launched Rural Support’s new Winter Programme 2020.


The brand new initiative aims to help farmers deal with the pressures of farming throughout the winter months, remain resilient, keep their farm sustainable and aid positive physical and mental health.


Speaking about the launch, Minister Poots commented: “I am very pleased to launch the ‘For Farmers by Farmers’ Winter Programme’, Rural Support’s latest initiative to assist the farming community. While farmers are generally very resilient, this has been a particularly difficult year for the agriculture sector with COVID-19 having an impact across the board. Our farmers are absolutely essential and this has clearly been demonstrated during the pandemic as we came to realise not only where our food comes from, but the high-quality, high-standards and love and dedication that goes into each and every farm. We must do everything we can to support them.


“The new Winter Programme addresses the issues identified in their recent extensive survey of farmers and farm workers, including the continuing pressures on the farmer and farm families which are affecting not only the farm business but also their mental and physical health.  The Programme covers a wide variety of topics and I urge the farming community to actively engage in the Winter Programme to help increase their capacity to deal with these pressures.”


Rural Support recently surveyed members of the farming community. Results indicate that 77% of participants were not optimistic about the future and 43% were concerned about their physical and mental wellbeing. Over half of the participants felt they needed support with their financial and business management, 35% wished to explore diversification options and 30% wanted to look into the area of succession planning. 


Minister Swann said: “I am very conscious that those in rural communities, often living in isolation, and also dealing with the financial impact of COVID-19, are facing particular challenges at this time. I am therefore very grateful for the work being done by Rural Support to provide help in local communities.


“It’s now more important than ever that we all make every effort to look after ourselves, both physically and emotionally. The Rural Support programme will clearly play an important role to provide assistance to rural communities over the coming months.”


Chairman John Thompson said, “Rural Support was tasked with developing a Programme to help address the pressures identified in the survey recently completed, and we are delighted to present the Winter Programme 2020 which covers farm business, farmers resilience and addresses building strong mental health. Thanks are extended to our funders and to both Minister Poots and Minister Swann for their support, not only for this programme, but our services in general and we look forward to working with the farming community between now and the spring of 2021 when we hope the future will have become a bit clearer.”


With support from various organisations including the Ulster Farmers’ Union, NFU Mutual Charitable Trust, CAFRE and The Prince’s Countryside Fund, Rural Support’s Winter Programme involves three main projects – The Business of Farming, Coping with the Pressures of Farming and The Prince’s Countryside Fund Farm Resilience Programme.


  • The Business of Farming – this programme is focused on building resilience and sustainability; be that in financial, technical, business, or family matters. This will involve a series of activities to be held across Northern Ireland to include seminars, small group workshops and confidential one-to-one support from a team of mentors who have a wealth of experience in the agricultural sector to include financial and technical expertise.

  • The Princes Countryside Fund Farm Resilience Programme – these interactive workshops will help to secure a viable and resilient future for farm businesses, by equipping them with the information and confidence to help them progress. This programme will help them to develop business skills and gain a better understanding about their future farm business decisions under the guidance of expert consultants and with the support of the Rural Support Farm Business Mentor Team. This year’s group are focusing on younger farmers; whereby each farm business must have a young person, under the age of 35, involved on farm, to be eligible to participate. 

  • Coping with the Pressures of Farming – informal workshops that will provide practical support and guidance with the specific aim of helping participants identify stress points, both in themselves and others, and learn how to deal with them. The training focuses on how to recognise the symptoms of excessive stress, exploring ways to build resilience and develop strong mental wellbeing. It will also focus on how to access specialist support when it is needed. Participants will learn how to support family, friends and neighbours who may also be struggling with certain issues.


For more information or to register your interest in any of the programmes please call Rural Support’s Farm Business Unit on 028 8678 0040 or email farmsupport@ruralsupport.org.uk. Pre-registration is essential, and all programmes will be delivered in line with Covid 19 rules and regulations. 


Further Info:


1. DAERA, through its Tackling Rural Poverty and Social Isolation (TRPSI) Programme has awarded Rural Support a Contract for Funding for £206,000 for the 2020/21 financial year to deliver a range of services for the farming and rural community.  A further Contract for Funding for £50,000 has also been awarded to Rural Support to provide the Northern Ireland Social Farming Support Service. 

2. Rural Support provides a listening and signposting service for farmers and farming families across Northern Ireland through its helpline. It can also provide face to face support, help with sourcing information and advice about a wide range of issues including:


  • Help with family issues


Changing family circumstances such as relationship breakups or bereavement, planning for the future, whether it be making a will or considering retirement, can cause worry and stress.  Having someone to talk to outside of the family can help.


  • Help with health issues


Isolation, loneliness and lack of access to services can lead to feelings of stress and depression.  Our volunteers understand the challenges and issues facing farmers and farm families.  They have experience in helping individuals deal with various issues and providing support in making difficult decisions.


3. Its helpline (0800 138 1678) is available 9.00am-9.00pm, Monday to Friday (voicemail and support options available at all other times. Freephone from all UK landlines and mobiles)


4. Rural Support provides free business, financial and technical mentoring from its dedicated team. It also runs a series of training workshops under the Princes’ Countryside Fund Resilience Programme and delivers ‘Coping with the Pressures of Farming’ under the CAFRE Family Farm Key Skills Programme.


5.‘Across the Hedgerow’ project has been developed and will be delivered by Rural Support in collaboration with Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster. All staff and volunteers are appropriately trained in speaking with vulnerable callers and have passed the appropriate AccessNI checks.


6. Rural Support provides a Social Farming Support Service for Northern Ireland, funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).


7. Rural Support is a registered charity with various income streams from government, philanthropic and corporate support. These include DAERA, Public Health Agency, NFU Charitable Trust, Princes Countryside Fund as well as donations from the general public.


8. PDF version of Coping with the Pressures of Farming booklet available from the Rural Support website https://www.ruralsupport.org.uk/how-we-can-help/resource-centre/useful-resources/


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