Meet the two elderly farmers who are resurrecting NFU Wakefield dinner dances to reduce social isolation

Two West Riding farmers and their wives are bringing back the good times to the farming community with an event designed to get chins wagging, feet tapping and put a smile on faces.

Barrie and Howard are now in their 70s and remember when farming was a more social profession and farms were busy with workers

Over 30 years ago Barrie Crowther, of Chevet Cutting Farm in Walton, and Howard Rainbow, of Smalley Bight Farm in Stanley, helped transform the NFU’s Wakefield branch annual dinner dance from attracting 100 guests to over 400 at the now defunct Painthorpe Country Club.

The pair are now both in their 70s and believe now is the time to get farmers back together not only for the first time in over 18 months due to the pandemic, but also because of farming now fast becoming an even more isolated profession.

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Barrie said that today’s bigger tractors and implements now meant that many farmers have little opportunity to talk and spend time together.

With the help of their wives they're resurrecting the NFU Wakefield dinner dance and supper, which has not been held for more than 20 years, to reduce social isolation

“It’s not easy for farmers to have time to chat during a normal working day. Everything has got bigger and instead of having three or four men on the farm as everyone used to on, say, a 300-acre farm you’ve now just got one man. That means he’s talking to nobody for at least eight hours or more a day and he isn’t talking to another farmer unless he goes to a livestock market.

“That’s not good for the future of our industry. It means there is little opportunity for social time and because of lockdown farmers have also not even been able to go to a market café where everyone can have a chat and a catch-up.

“In our area since Painthorpe Club closed we’ve not had a get-together like we used to where everyone could talk and also let their hair down for over twenty years.”

Barrie and Howard’s more recent experiences, having to continue working hard into their later lives, have been in part responsible for what they are planning currently.

They have now both moved to contract or share farming arrangements. Howard had 130 acres of which around 70 acres were rented. Today, he and his wife Susan have their owned acreage of 60 acres but up until recently, when he had three heart attacks within nine months during 2018 and 2019, Howard was still working as an agricultural contractor across around 1,000 acres at the age of 75.

“It used to take a bit of getting around. I don’t know now how I did it. I’d do a bit of everything, ploughing, drilling, harvesting, baling and more. You name it, I did it because I couldn’t earn enough on what we had. That’s how farming has gone for a lot of people who are now working flat out and not able to then get together as often because they are too tired.

“I’ve now got six stents in and Simon Dobson of Greenfield Produce does my 60 acres, which was all down to oilseed rape this year. I still enjoy restoring vintage tractors though.”

Barrie used to farm at Briery Hall Farm in Sandal with his father and two brothers. It was a 315-acre farm that was split up when his father died. He said he fondly recalls the days when the farm was alive with people.

“We used to grow peas, wheat, barley and potatoes. The pea job was specialist as we marketed them ourselves, podded peas for greengrocers who would buy at wholesale markets at Pontefract Lane in Leeds. Miners’ wives would pick the peas in our fields for additional income and the more they picked the more they earned. We would take the peas at four o’clock in the morning on the back of a wagon and sell them off it to the greengrocers.

“There were always people around and always other farmers helping each other, talking to each other.

“What brought myself and my wife Sheelagh here to Chevet Cutting Farm was the share out between myself and my brothers after dad passed. We now have just over 22 acres here and 87 acres over the railway line, which is how the farm got its name, plus another 30 acres rented from Wakefield Council.

“I have a chap called John Cooling of Howden who is share farming it for me and this year we have been growing rape, winter wheat and winter barley.”

Nevertheless, Barrie is still proving the old adage that farmers never retire.

“I’m 79 but I still do all the work on the grassland, cut and make the hay and sort all the fencing. We have a DIY livery for 14 horses and two of our own. Our daughter bought a thoroughbred mare 10 years ago, not to race. It would have been put down if she hadn’t bought it. We have bred two Shire-cross foals from her since then.”

Barrie’s pride in his horse breeding is matched by his enthusiasm for putting on the new Farmers’ Catch Up Supper that will include a guest speaker, a pie and peas supper and 60s band The Melody Makers from York at Mid Yorkshire Golf Club, Darrington, on Saturday, October 16.