Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) chief executive, Ian Stevenson, attended the recent 20th anniversary celebrations for farming-related charity, Rural Support.

The LMC chief executive, who is a board member of the charity, tells Agriland about the important role of Rural Support in the lives of farmers.

“How quickly the last two decades have passed,” he said.

“It’s hard to believe now that Rural Support was born out of the necessity created by the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2002.

“Since then, the organisation has helped so many farming families in their time of need. The work of Rural Support has been identified as being of critical importance in helping people get through times of crisis in their lives.

“The need for the charity to be supported into the future is obvious,” he said.

Rural Support’s 20th anniversary celebrations were held recently at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise’s (CAFRE’s) Loughry campus.

HRH Prince Charles was the guest of honour at the event.

Rural Support provides a range of services for farmers and farming families.  All are accessible courtesy of the organisation’s support line, online farm support hub, and regular events.

Back in 2019 the organisation received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

Rural Support ethos

The organisation has a very clear ethos: it wants to see a vibrant, healthy and resilient farming community thriving right across Northern Ireland.

The link between Rural Support and Prince Charles goes back several years with the charity now into its fifth year of running programmes to support farm resilience through the Prince’s Countryside Fund (PCF).

This aims to help farm businesses secure a viable and resilient future by offering workshops on subjects including practical cost management, managing your farmed environment, succession planning, and planning for the future.

Stevenson made particular reference to the Life Beyond Programme, which is now offered by Rural Support.

Rural Support – Life Beyond Programme

Launched in 2021 and championed by Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) president, Victor Chestnutt, this valuable initiative provides a unique combination of support measures, for farm families coping with bereavement or the impact of a serious injury to a family member.

The service offers farm-business, financial, and technical-mentoring support, alongside emotional health, and bereavement counselling, including trauma support, when needed.

Life Beyond will also work with farmers and their families where there is a terminal diagnosis within the family, in order to help them plan and to give them space to spend with their loved ones. 

This support operates alongside peer-to-peer group activities tailored to meet the specific needs of widows/widowers, parents, siblings, family members.

Specific support services for farm-accident survivors and their families are also available. In addition, there is access to digital resources online through the Northern Ireland Farm Support Hub.

All support is free of charge and will be provided over a 12-month period, and beyond, if needed.

The services provided have the specific aim of helping families to navigate their experiences and move forward in their new normal.

Stevenson commented:

“The scope of the work undertaken by Rural Support is phenomenal. A case in point is the close association between Rural Support and the Farm Families Health Checks Programme.

“This work has the clear aim of raising awareness of various health conditions, which could be prevented in the farming and rural communities.”

He continued:

“Farmers struggling with poor physical and mental health represent some of the biggest yet unspoken challenges in the farming industry.

“Many farmers feel reluctant to visit their GP. They feel they do not have the time or that the farm will not be able to function without them.

“Since farming can be a very lonely and isolating occupation, farmers can struggle on regardless and signs and symptoms of poor health can go unnoticed by friends and family. Unfortunately, the stress levels within agriculture continue to grow.”

“It is testimony to the work undertaken by Rural Support that the organisation is so widely commended within the farming and rural sectors.

“The need for the charity has never been greater. One of the organisation’s greatest strengths is its clear commitment to provide tailored support to farmers and their family members when required.

“LMC has actively supported Rural Support in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

“I would encourage farmers to contact Rural Support at any time. Staff there are always available to provide the independent help and guidance that is needed, no matter how big the problem may be.

“Tackling a situation early is much better than dealing with a crisis at a later date.”