How Derbyshire's farmers are being supported by a wonderful service

Farming can be a stressful and lonely job. Stock picture.
Farming can be a stressful and lonely job. Stock picture.

It is challenging being a farmer.

Harsh weather, crippling costs and devastating disease among animals are just some of the issues faced by those who work hard day in, day out to help put food on our tables.

More than one agricultural worker in the UK dies by suicide every week. Stock picture.

More than one agricultural worker in the UK dies by suicide every week. Stock picture.

According to the Farm Safety Foundation charity, more than one agricultural worker in the UK dies by suicide every week to escape the stress and loneliness the role can bring.

But in Derbyshire, help is at hand for the county’s farmers thanks to the Agricultural Chaplain Service.

The service is led by agricultural chaplain Reverend Alan Griggs, who said: "It’s a real privilege supporting Derbyshire’s farming community, which faces significant and unique challenges.

"A lot of what we do is offering a listening ear when life doesn’t always go according to plan and things get tough - you can’t underestimate the power of the listening ear.

Agricultural chaplain Reverend Alan Griggs, front left, with volunteer agricultural chaplain Reverend Stella Mills, chaplain to young farmers Emily Brailsford. From left to right at the back are Alan Phillips, John Eley and Roger Slater, members of the farmers support team. There are also three other members - Joan Hibbert, Andrew Roworth and Colin Gore - who aren't in the picture.

Agricultural chaplain Reverend Alan Griggs, front left, with volunteer agricultural chaplain Reverend Stella Mills, chaplain to young farmers Emily Brailsford. From left to right at the back are Alan Phillips, John Eley and Roger Slater, members of the farmers support team. There are also three other members - Joan Hibbert, Andrew Roworth and Colin Gore - who aren't in the picture.

"But we don’t just listen - other times we can provide more practical support or referrals to other organisations such as the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, the Addington Fund or the Farming Community Network.

"We are what is called pastorally proactive - we travel across the whole of Derbyshire to visit members of the farming community and ask them how they’re getting on.

"Sometimes it can be a five-minute conversation, sometimes it can be a two-hour conversation.

"We get referrals from organisations such as the police, the fire service and the National Farmers’ Union, and we visit Bakewell Livestock Market every Monday to speak to those in attendance.

"Any member of the farming community in Derbyshire can also contact our team and get some support - our confidential helpline is 01629 828460."

'We're helping to make a difference'

According to the Agricultural Chaplain Service, life as a farmer has become increasingly isolating.

Not only are some of the farms themselves geographically isolated but there are fewer people working on them with some farmers being the sole worker.

In the north of the county, livestock farming is often the only option as the ground is not suitable for growing crops.

It is a 24/7 way of life caring for the livestock, land, buildings and equipment to make sure everything is operating as it should and animal welfare is obviously high up the list of priorities.

TB testing in cattle in particular is an anxious time and very labour intensive. A positive TB test result can have a devastating impact.

Illness in the family can create significant problems and financial difficulties can lead to stress and even the loss of the farm itself if not dealt with appropriately.

The Agricultural Chaplain Service - which is managed and coordinated by the Rural Action Derbyshire charity - is funded by donations from generous members of the public and churches as well as a variety of organisations including the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the NHS.

Rev Griggs works alongside a team of volunteers including a number of active and retired farmers in the support team, volunteer agricultural chaplain Rev Professor Stella Mills and part-time chaplain to young farmers Emily Brailsford. She supports young people in the agricultural community who need a sympathetic ear and some practical support.

Despite the challenges, Rev Griggs stressed that the Agricultural Chaplain Service also helps to celebrate the many good times enjoyed by the farming community.

He added: "A recent survey found 90 per cent of farmers we asked about our service really value our pastoral support and a listening ear.

"It’s good to know we're helping to make a difference."

For more information about the Agricultural Chaplain Service and to find out how you can support it, visit www.ruralactionderbyshire.org.uk/agricultural-chaplain-service

Case study on how the service has helped one farmer

John (not his real name to protect his anonymity) is a tenant farmer in his early 80s and has recently lost his wife.

The local GP surgery referred him to the Agricultural Chaplain Service to offer him some emotional and pastoral support.

Upon visiting John at the farm, the Agricultural Chaplain Service discovered that not only was he bereaved but his farm tenancy was also being terminated.

Given his limited financial security, John had very few options for housing.

Therefore, the Agricultural Chaplain Service completed an application to the Addington Fund’s Strategic Rural Housing Scheme, which supports farmers leaving their farm through no fault of their own.

The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution also assessed John’s financial needs, helping to secure additional support he was entitled to.

The Agricultural Chaplain Service regularly visits John to continue offering support and works with him to offer practical help to plan for the future.