Comment: Dedicated to helping rural families

Philippa Coultish, chairman of the Yorkshire Rural Support Network.
Philippa Coultish, chairman of the Yorkshire Rural Support Network.
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The Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s offices at the Regional Agricultural Centre in Harrogate are home to the Yorkshire Rural Support Network, bringing together organisations who support individuals in need in rural areas.

When people are struggling with difficult circumstances it’s vital they can access services without being passed from pillar to post. By bringing support organisations together, issues in rural communities can be highlighted and useful information and knowledge can be shared. Through this collaboration, the Network has identified key areas of focus. One such problem is isolation and the associated health issues as farmers, their wives and others have less physical contact with people through reduced services and changes in the way we communicate. Another area is the low aspirations of young people who are finding it increasingly difficult to find work and live in communities where they’ve grown up.

The YRSN has been proactive in these areas, bringing co-ordinated, practical responses through people at ground level who see the issues first hand. Key members include personnel representing the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, the Farming Community Network, Perennial (the horticulturalists charity), the CLA, the Yorkshire Food, Farming & Rural Network, Rural Action Yorkshire, Involve and churches. The Network has held events encouraging new entrants into the industry by letting them see that land-based industries offer exciting opportunities. This is vital for sustainability. Our ‘Farming Ladder’ initiative has been taken to each land-based college in Yorkshire with events for students to hear real stories and see real businesses, including farm and butchery visits, talks by vets and farmers, estate and attraction managers, environmental consultants and animal health officers.

The Network is working to continue its farmer health checks in the livestock marts; backed up with an updated health handbook for farmers; providing opportunities to reduce social isolation and loneliness, and swift responses to requests from families for help through farming charities.

A specific response to a previously overlooked area is bringing women from farming families together for support. Women living and working on farms are being recognised for their contributions either in diversified farm enterprises or within the farm business itself. They often steer and influence the direction of rural businesses.

Three social networking events have been held for ladies, with a business presentation and the chance to promote their own businesses, discuss the joys and challenges, and sharing information and contacts. This is an area the Network is looking to expand to other parts of the region.

The last few years have presented a stream of challenges through reduced services, funding and opportunities coupled with the impact of severe weather. A real community needs people of all ages and abilities working and living in it to be sustainable. The Support Network is committed to doing its utmost to help and is very grateful for the determination of Network members and their contacts who offer support through sponsorship, practical help, expertise and time.

Philippa Coultish is chairman of the Yorkshire Rural Support Network. To speak to the YRSN, call 01423 546217.