RURAL Support first opened its doors in March 2002 on the back of the foot and mouth crisis, providing much
needed support to farmers and their families who were coming through an unprecedented crisis on their farms as a result of the disease.
In the 20 years since, Rural Support has grown significantly and evolved its programmes and services to meet the needs and demands of the agri-sector. However, the farmer and the farming family remain at the heart of its work and mission.
On Tuesday, March 22, the charity was delighted to welcome HRH The Prince of Wales to the CAFRE Loughry campus to launch a special year of celebration and give the organisation an opportunity to showcase the work of the organisation to the Prince and invited guests.
The event brought together key people from across the agriculture sector, including both past and present trustees, mentors, and volunteers as well as DAERA Minister Edwin Poots, Health Minister Robin Swann, funders, friends, supporters, and service users.
After arrival at the campus, Prince Charles was greeted by Deputy Lieutenant of Tyrone Christopher Kerr, Ministers Poots and Swann, Martin McKendry, CAFRE Director, Ryan Mullholland, CAFRE Student President, and Gemma Daly, Chair of Rural Support. Veronica Morris, Chief Executive of Rural Support, as host, invited HRH into the building to share a cup of tea, with honey produced by beekeeper and Rural Support volunteer Scott Laidlaw, and to take a walk through a market scene which demonstrated the programmes and services now delivered by the organisation, where he had the opportunity to meet with trustees, staff, mentors and participants.
The market walk started with the ‘Building Resilience in Young Farmers’, which took a look at the programmes that support young farmers in building stronger farm enterprises through the Prince’s Countryside Fund (PCF) Farm Resilience Programme, in its fifth year in Northern Ireland. His Royal Highness was introduced to Ross Beattie, Johnathan Heaney, Mitchell Park and Jessica Crawford, who are members of the Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme. Also highlighted at this stand was addressing the importance of mental fitness through CAFRE’s FFKS Coping with the Pressures of Farming Programme.
The Prince then met with Gillian Reid, Head of Farm Support, and trustees Claire Saunders, Donal McAtamney and James Speers, as well as PCF Executive Director Keith Halstead, Rural Health Partnership Development Officer Majella Goll-ogly and Business Development Manager of Rural Housing NI, Ruth Montgomery.
HRH learnt about the work being undertaken by the Rural Health Partnership in south Armagh to champion women in agriculture and from Ruth Montgomery also projects being delivered by Rural Housing NI in Omagh, funded by PCF.
He also met with YFCU members, including Hannah Kirkpatrick and Jane Kilpatrick, to hear about the YFSeesU Ambassador programme, which provides support for young people to develop emotional tools to improve mental health. Mentors John Taggart and Marcus McCollum then spoke with Prince Charles about their work supporting farming families in crisis situations and delivery of the FFKS Coping with the Pressures of Farming programme.
His Royal Highness was then guided to the ‘Caring for Our Communities’ area representing how the organisation supports the most vulnerable rural citizens through its social farming support service and social innovation projects.
Head of Social Farming and Innovation at Rural Support, Dr Aoibeann Walsh, introduced Peter Boyle, Rural Support Trustee, along with Annie Mullan, Robert Davis, Simon, Jennifer and Emma Bullock, Patricia Dalton, Jonny Hanson and Dorothy Heath, all social farmers from across Northern Ireland.
He also met Nikki Foster, Social Farming Support Service Co-Ordin-ator, who manages the programme, and Shauna Quinn who manages the Across the Hedgerow befriending project for older and vulnerable farmers.
Moving then to the ‘Supporting Our Farming Families – Creating a Life Beyond’ section, His Royal Highness met with trustees James Moore, Crisis Co-Ordinator Melissa Wylie, volunteer and HR co-crdinator Deborah Gavin along with support-line volunteers Helen Long and Scott Laidlaw.
He also met Rural Support mentors John Cassidy, Leo Colgan and Sharon Smyth, who explained to him how the crisis support service works with families who are experiencing emotional and financial/business challenges.
The Prince next learned about the Life Beyond bereavement and loss support programme and how it is supporting bereaved families who have experienced trauma and loss, meeting Victor Chestnutt, who founded the programme, and George Mullan, who is Chair of the Steering Group.
‘Creating a Healthier Agri-Com-munity’ was next and HRH met with trustees Ian Stevenson, Chief Executive of LMC, and Dr Rebecca Orr, as well as Liam McCarthy from ABP Food Group, who outlined the Northern Ireland Agri-Rural Health Forum which brings together representatives from across the agri and health sectors to raise awareness of the health needs of rural communities and to break down the stigma related to seeking help for physical and mental health challenges.
The Prince learned about the North-ern Trust’s Farm Families Health Checks programme, meeting with Christina Faulkner, who manages the scheme, and about the Boots on the Ground mental health awareness programme delivered by Rural Support to employees from the agri-sector to help them best support farmers they meet through their work and also learn how to look after their own mental health.
His Royal Highness moved on to the ‘Walking with Our People’ stand where he had the chance to talk with Farm Support Co-ordinator Victoria Ross and Rural Support Vice Chair and UFU Membership Director Derek Lough on the proactive mentoring services on offer and the new NI Farming Support Hub that was launched in 2021, highlighting the additional support provided.
Prince Charles also met with current business and technical mentors Charlie Kirkpatrick, Wilbert
Steen, Kellie Rouse and Graham Cooke to hear first-hand how they are able to support the farming community through their involvement with Rural Support.
At the grand finale of the market walk, HRH reached the ‘Ploughing On’ section and display and met board trustee Jennifier Hawkes, Keelin McGartland and mentors Maureen Currie and Mervyn Smyth from the Plough On Project, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, which is a social support network for older farmers.
Prince Charles heard how the programme is helping to alleviate loneliness and isolation for farmers ranged in age from 65 to 90 and who have limited social connections in their area. He met a number of participants in the programme and had a very enjoyable exchange on the merits of sheep farming.
The Prince revealed a specially commissioned plaque to commem-orate the visit and cut a celebration cake.
Gemma Daly, Chairperson of the Rural Support board, commented: “We are just delighted to have been able to welcome the Prince of Wales to this special Rural Support event today celebrating 20 years of supporting the farming community. It was an honour to display our work and for our teams to meet HRH and provide a small flavour of what the organisation does on a day and daily basis in Northern Ireland.”
After the Prince had left for the day, guests were encouraged to take the opportunity to walk around the showcase area and enjoy some cake. Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots addressed the gathering saying: “I am delighted to be able to take part in today’s celebration with HRH Prince Charles leading today’s event in this platinum jubilee year and I welcome him to CAFRE’s Loughry campus. For the last 20 years Rural Support have provided a first-class range of services for farmers and farming families across Northern Ireland engaging with over 2,000 farming families every year. I am very proud that DAERA has been at the forefront of providing funding to support Rural Support’s vital work over this period and want to wish Rural Support every success in the future.”
Veronica Morris, Chief Executive, thanked everyone and said: “This day is about you – the entire Rural Support team and the whole agri-community – our service users, our funders, our volunteers, our staff and mentors and all those we collaborate with across the agri and health sectors. The past 20 years have been testament to your commitment, loyalty, hard work and passion for rural communities in this region.
“Today marks the start of the next 20 years for Rural Support, we hope you will continue with us as we collaborate with our farmers and farming families to create a stronger agri-food sector and happier and healthier futures for rural people.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.