Director of Regions Blog - 7 November 2019

Health and wellbeing are at the heart of any farming community according to NFU Scotland Director of Regions Teresa Dougall, who writes:

Invited to speak at a Scottish Parliamentary reception this week (Wednesday 6 November) hosted by Emma Harper MSP, I was the first to admit that I am not an expert in health and wellbeing.

But through working with farmers and the rural community for more than 25 years, I see and hear first-hand the difficulties and barriers they face to maintain good health and wellbeing.

The agricultural sector and rural community face the same difficulties as every other sector and community.  They may work and live in a beautiful environment, but it can be lonely and isolating.

Living in a rural area brings its challenges.  Farmers don’t work 9 to 5 and they don’t work a 5-day week.  The services that others take for granted operate around working hours which do not always suit those who are farming.  

This means that farmers and the farming community can’t access health and wellbeing services in the same manner as those in an urban location.

We need to ensure that services in rural areas provide better access for these communities and that doors are always open.

The Dumfries and Galloway initiative on rural health and wellbeing shows what can be achieved.  I was firstly approached by project manager Claire Thirlwell whilst she was working with a student on research to identify the issues and barriers to good health and wellbeing in the farming community in the region.

The published paper did not provide any big surprises – it identified the issues we knew were there.  But it was the first time that individual farmers in the region had been approached to seek their views.

Through this, it was decided to work with partners to deliver the Dumfries and Galloway Health and Wellbeing in the Farming Community Initiative, the ‘Big Conversation’ with farmers started and the initiative was launched on the NFUS stand at Dumfries Show in 2017.

We act as a provider of information to farmers – who they can contact; what work is being undertaken through the initiative; what training is provided by the group.

We know farmers don’t like discussing their feelings.  They don’t like admitting anything is wrong.  And, they don’t like asking for help. In addition, they don’t like – or can’t – take time out away from work, which often merges with home life.
So, what can be done:

The initiative agreed to the production of a paper leaflet – not something online – but something which could be handed out and talked about.  It contained contacts for organisations who could assist in health and wellbeing and mental health.

We lobby for better connectivity in rural areas so that all parts of the community can access friends and family through social media or Facetime.

Through the partners on the group, and various actions, we also provide opportunities for networking and socialising.

The Farmers and Farmers Wives Choir, with its roots in the South West, is a great example of bringing people together to sing, talk or make friends.  And the Retired Farmers Group is going from strength to strength, providing monthly gatherings for retired farmers and agricultural workers.

So, what does the future hold?  We need to encourage everyone to speak up and recognise that admission is a strength, not a weakness.

We need to ensure service provision for our current and future communities, encouraging the younger generation to work where they live and help them achieve a vibrant farming sector where they can be fit, healthy, happy and supported.

This initiative is not about replicating what has been done or is being done. It’s about ensuring that within D&G, our farming community feels supported and informed when it comes to health and wellbeing.  

This isn’t a short-term project but, through education and awareness, it will continue to grow.

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