Health and business lifeline helps south Lincolnshire farmers cope with challenges
A volunteer network that offers a lifeline to the farming community is stepping up its support with extra health checks and vital advice.
The Lincolnshire Rural Support Network (LRSN) provides a safety net for farmers suffering from anxiety, stress and problems relating to their business or family.
It already offers fortnightly health screenings at Spalding Auction, off Enterprise Way, and is now looking to expand its help further with two new projects.
One of those is to offer a mobile version of the Spalding Auction health sessions.
The popular service helps farmers to fit health checks around their working life - with a chance to get things such as blood tests, blood pressure checks and ear syringing done in a quick and easy way.
Gilly Steel, health and wellbeing lead, explained: “People don’t need to make an appointment or take their mucky boots off, come off the farm and sit in a waiting room.
“We’ve had a really good take up.”
Amy Thomas, head of charity, said: “It’s a non threatening environment and it’s not like having to step into a doctor’s surgery. Some of the people we are reaching can be quite hard to reach.”
She added: “We are trying to increase recognition of who we are and also we want to get to some people in the county we see less and make it as accessible as possible.”
The screenings are backed up by a helpline that’s open 8am to 8pm seven days a week - with expert volunteers lending a sympathetic ear and some insight from their experience in the community.
LRSN helped 193 families in 2020/21 - up from 160 the year before.
Over 50% of that support last year - 100 cases - related to stress. There were also 35 referrals that were specifically Covid related, showing the impact of the pandemic.
Stress is particularly common in the farming sector - and the need for help with this prompted the charity to call on the help of Gilly, a mental health expert.
Amy explained: “It’s one of the industries with the highest stress rates and highest rates of accidents at work.
“It can be a very isolating life too.”
Yet stress isn’t the only challenge facing farming right now.
The Government’s seven-year transition away from the old EU rules begins this year.
Its Agricultural Transition Plan for the next three years will phase out direct payments and change a host of rules and regulations.
The LRSN is looking for 50 farmers to sign up for the Farm for the Future programme - which is funded by Defra and co-ordinated by The Price’s Countryside Fund and will offer workshops and one-to-one advice to help people manage the changes ahead.
Amy said: “There’s absolutely no denying the fact that it’s going to be a tricky time for farmers.
“There’s quite a lot of confusion out there.”
The change is likely to mean business-related queries to the helpline rise, although Gilly added: “There’s so much change, it’s really difficult to predict which way it’s going to go. All we can do is be here.
“It will effect people differently - some will flourish and some will need support.”
However, Amy - a recent appointment at the charity - believes the group is well placed to help farmers manage the changes ahead.
She said: “It’s really difficult to know what the impact will be but as a charity we are really excited for our future.
“We are really well supported by volunteers and the community we serve.
“It feels like we are in a good position to identify the needs of people, support them and provide a service.”
Despite South Holland’s rural nature there is still a feeling that even here people outside farming know little about how it works - or the breadth of occupations under its umbrella.
It’s an industry, however, that’s recently had much publicity thanks to Amazon’s Clarkson’s Farm series - which showed the former Top Gear star’s travails in trying to run his own farm.
Gilly said: “I think the general public’s view of farming is that it’s a bit like what you see on Emmerdale and people don’t understand the real complexity.
“Interestingly, Jeremy Clarkson’s farming show has opened a few peoples’ eyes.”
l Visit www.lrsn.co.uk for more on the help it can offer. The helpline can be reach on 0800 138 1710.