Rural idyll under stress
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Eileen Davies, Archdeacon of Cardigan, considers the effects of the pandemic on our rural communities and highlights the work of Tir Dewi
Staying at home and self-isolating can mean not seeing or speaking to anyone for days on end. At the beginning of the lockdown, this was not too bad, but as the weeks roll on, loneliness takes its toll. We have seen rural communities come together to telephone on people on a regular basis, with an assigned list for each individual to contact, social media keeps people in touch as do Skype, Facetime and emails, if you have broadband. In various parts of our deep rural areas, mobile signal and broadband are non-existent, but nothing compares to having a chat.
The Young Farmers’ Club Movement leads the way in contacting their members, engaging in various online competitions, videoing a young farmer carrying out everyday tasks. The Young Farmers’ Club, in each of their local areas, have posted flyers through letterboxes with telephone numbers of members offering to pick up shopping, prescriptions, or just to have a chat.
Farming, the backbone of our rural areas, has to carry on through the pandemic, with the regular routine of milking every morning and evening, to provide daily fresh milk to consumers. But for some dairy farmers the milk processor has no market for their milk, with coffee shops closed, no ferries running and no aeroplanes flying, so the plug on the milk tank is pulled, with millions of litres flowing down the drain. Taking livestock to markets is different, with some livestock markets operating a drop and go system, where the farmer does not get out of the vehicle, the drover takes the livestock to the pens, and the farmer heads home, not talking to anyone. The price is decided between the auctioneer and the dealers present. Spring lambs have seen a good trade, with demand reflecting decent prices. The beef market, on the other hand, has declined, as the consumer cannot afford to buy the most expensive cuts of meat and restaurants are closed, the latter being where the main market opportunities for steak would be realised.
The dry, sunny weather has enabled the farmers to plough the land and sow, (which will require a drop of rain), the sheep to be sheared and the first cut of silage to be mowed. Agriculture never stops, so as to ensure there is fresh food readily available on our tables, produced locally from field to fork. Farmers are key workers.
The spring sunshine can tempt people to venture to rural areas, for walks, exercise and cycling, with footpaths in secluded places an attraction. But I trust people will be responsible and stay at home, not to put our rural people at risk. Caring for the vulnerable has proved difficult for some, with carers having to travel to individual homes, having to ensure their safety and the safety of the ones for whom they care. Care homes have been closed to all visitors, with loved ones not able to visit. Respite care for some families is a lifeline, but now this is not possible, and the weight of solely caring for a loved one is born upon the one shoulder.
The knock on effect of Covid-19 will be felt for a very long time, financially. But what of the mental well-being of all who are isolated? Tir Dewi was formed in response to a growing and serious need to help West Wales farmers in difficult times as a helpline, listening service and a signpost service.Volunteer Tom Kendall, a college student, describes how he supports Tir Dewi in Ceredigion.
Last year there was a project at Coleg Ceredigion to improve the mental health of people in rural Wales. This is when I came across Tir Dewi which was helping farmers.
I contacted Tir Dewi for more information and they sent posters, leaflets and cards with contact details. Every month at Coleg Ceredigion I set up a stand and a number of young people in college who are farmers are now more aware of where they (or family members) can to get help if they have problems.
I have the privilege of going to school as part of my youth parliament role for Ceredigion and talking about the work the organisation is doing here in West Wales.
I am so pleased that I have been given the opportunity to share Tir Dewi’s message with young people. It is vital that we talk about how we feel because farming can be a very hard job and it can feel isolating. This quote is very important: “Every farmer is an individual; whatever your problem, there’s an answer.” There's an answer there for everyone and we need to talk more about mental health.
Tir Dewi is ready to help. Contact details: 0800 121 4722, freephone number available between 07.00 and 22.00.