Wednesday, September 1, 2021
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New Social Farming and Innovation Unit at the core of Rural Support plans

MUCH like our farmers, there was no downing of tools for the Rural Support team during the repeated lockdowns of the past year as the charity has grown in both size and in stature, with a range of new services and programmes on offer designed to meet the ever-changing needs of our farming families.

The new Social Farming and Innovation Unit has been established to specifically support health and wellbeing through social innovation as part of Rural Support’s overall mission to develop a strong and resilient farming community in Northern Ireland.

The unit has a dedicated staff team with Dr Aoibeann Walsh, Head of the Unit, commenting: “I’m delighted to lead the Social Farming and Innovation Unit in Rural Support. Its creation is testament to our charity’s desire to support farmers to both provide and receive support to feel connected. Our new staff members Keelin, Eadaoin, and Shauna bring a lot of experience and enthusiasm to the Rural Support team.”

Services and programmes within the Social Farming and Innovation Unit include the Social Farming Support Service, the Rural Health Forum, and support programmes for farmers – Across the Hedgerow and Plough On.

Rural Support has delivered the Social Farming Support Service for Northern Ireland since 2015. Through the service, Social Farming is promoted as an innovative use of agriculture to promote therapy, rehabilitation, social inclusion, education, and social services in rural areas. Farmers give their time and experience on their farms to support the assigned individual(s) to participate in meaningful activities in a farm environment. It gives them an opportunity for inclusion, to increase their self-esteem and to improve their health and well-being.

The Support Service assists existing and new Social Farming initiatives to get established and then supports them with maintaining the service.

In late 2020, DAERA Minister Edwin Poots and Health Minister Robin Swann launched the new accreditation, the Social Farming Standards, which recognises Social Farms for their high level of service delivery, another step in distinguishing the practice of Social Farming in meeting a range of societal needs.

The Rural Health Forum was established in early 2021 to shine a light on the needs of farming families in relation to their physical and mental health. The forum is coordinated by Rural Support and brings together stakeholders from agriculture, public health, voluntary, government and related commercial organisations. One of the first outputs of the forum has been the delivery of farming-facing employee training in mental health awareness and emotional wellbeing for those in the agri-sector and related businesses.

Rural Support delivers the Across the Hedgerow programme in partnership with the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) to provide older, vulnerable, and/or isolated members of the farming community with listening support and companionship via telephone calls. Through the efforts of Rural Support and YFCU volunteers, the programme reduces social isolation and promotes positive emotional wellbeing.

The Plough On project is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and delivered by Rural Support to tackle rural isolation and increase social opportunities for older men who have experienced challenging and demanding roles as farmers. Its core purpose is to improve mental and physical wellbeing through socialisation and participation in rural heritage/farming-based activities and excursions. Participants will be arranged into groups based on geographical area and take part in monthly

local meetings and occasional trips.

This dynamic new unit certainly will have a busy autumn/winter 2021 and are looking forward to engaging with the farming community. If you are interested in or someone you know would benefit from these services and programmes, please contact Aoibeann on aoibeann@ruralsupport.org.uk or through the office line 028 86760040 (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm).

n For confidential support the support line is available 9am-9pm, Monday to Friday (voicemail and options available at all other times).

n The freephone number is 0800 138 1678.

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