The WCF Health & Wellbeing Initiative

The WCF Health & Wellbeing Initiative

Health & well July 2020
Members of the WCF Health & Wellbeing Forum meeting online in July 2020

Introducing the WCF Health & Wellbeing Forum

The complexity, coupled with constant high levels of risk and relentless uncertainty within agriculture, take a tremendous toll on those who work tirelessly to grow our food sustainably and cost effectively.

Recognising this, in 2017 Philip Wynn, the then Master of the Worshipful Company of Farmers, initiated a meeting of all the rural support groups he could contact, to try to understand in more detail the issues and challenges being faced and how it might be possible to share best practices in the future.

It very quickly became clear, that the issue of ‘health and wellbeing’ within agriculture was not generally well understood by the wider industry and that there were significant resourcing and funding issues. It was also clear that the mental suffering and stress amongst the younger age group was significant and that there was a real opportunity to help and educate those who were about to embark on a career in agriculture.

That initial meeting gradually morphed into a longer term initiative that has come to be known as The Worshipful Company of Farmers Health and Wellbeing Forum.

The work of the Forum has been continued under all the Masters of the Worshipful Company of Farmers who have followed Philip - Julian Sayers, Rosie Carne and most recently David Bolton - with meetings held twice yearly at Farmers & Fletchers' Hall. In 2020 Liveryman Jim Hume took over the chairmanship of the Forum and has continued to press for its development and expansion.

The twice yearly meetings at the hall have always been well attended and there has been important buy-in from organisations across the UK, including those in many different agricultural sectors, support organisations, DEFRA and Public Health England. The Forum has, through the reporting of its work and meetings, and the research paper it commissioned, published and distributed, helped to raise the level of awareness of this once almost invisible issue in agriculture.

The Covid-19 lockdown meant that the April 2020 meeting of the Forum could not take place at Farmers and Fletchers’ Hall, but never had a time to continue focusing on health and wellbeing been more vital for our rural communities and businesses. The Forum therefore whole-heartedly embraced the online digital revolution and they continued with their April meeting as planned, using ZOOM. There was an inspiring array of speakers including the Farm Safety Foundation - on mental health in farming; research on suicide in agriculture by the University of Coventry, and Rose Regeneration on their pioneering work on measuring the impact of agricultural support organisations, via their 'Social Value Engine', with the National Rural Health and Care Centre.

Although, as a opportunity to meet like-minded people, with a passion for making farming in the UK a safer environment, meeting at the Farmers and Fetcher’s Hall cannot be replaced, the online digital revolution has given the Forum the opportunity to continue to meet and indeed to actually meet more often than normal, with another meeting being held in July 2020.

Again the line-up of speakers was impressive and completely appropriate for the times we are living through. There was an update on the progress of the Social Value Engine project and the Prince’s Countryside Fund told the group about their work to support agricultural communities, and their database of support organisations. There was also an inspiring presentation by Support in Mind Scotland, on the work they have undertaken amongst our island communities, on building community resilience to help tackle mental health and wellbeing.

A special mention must be made and gratitude expressed for the sterling work of Gordon Gatward, who skillfully and passionately chaired the Health and Wellbeing Forum from 2017 to 2020 and who early in 2020 stepped down as the Chairman.

Gordon has an impressive record of positive action through being the chaplain for the Worshipful Company of Farmers and involvement in a plethora of good rural causes such as the Farming Community Network, the Addington Fund, LEAF, Care Farming UK, Arthur Rank, Kenilworth and District Agricultural Society, Chaplain of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, Agri Food Charities Partnership, Chaplain of the Gamekeepers Welfare Trust, Pennyhooks Care Farm and The Henry Plumb Foundation.

Many thanks Gordon from everyone associated with the Forum for all your work with us and we look forward to continuing to work with you in the future, we are also very grateful for your constant commitment and support for the Worshipful Company of Farmers and for our rural communities.