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Farming matters: Alicia Chivers - 'It’s time for frank and open conversations'

The period between Christmas and New Year has always been a time of reflection for me. I am sure that I won’t be alone in feeling that much I had hoped to achieve during 2020 was somewhat derailed. 

By Alicia Chivers, chief executive of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI)
By Alicia Chivers, chief executive of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI)

The unusual circumstances we have collectively faced has however provided an opportunity to more keenly appreciate the importance of the people and community around us.

 

My hope is this includes an acknowledgement that we are ultimately all human and to be human means we are all vulnerable.

 

Vulnerability is likely to be a word that many of us do not really want to apply to ourselves, linking this with thoughts of weakness, fear and anxiety.

 

For me, the opposite is true and being able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities and imperfections is a key strength. Holding this strength allows us to understand the tools we need to build our resilience and move forward positively.

 

Farming people are raised to be ‘robust’ and ‘resilient’, yet these expectations of being strong, healthy and virtually invincible simply are not realistic.

 

The reality is we all have the capacity to be affected by difficulties and challenges. Yet, society and our own habit of ‘labelling’ ourselves and groups of people is hugely unhelpful. We must break down this mindset and be ready to admit our vulnerabilities.

 

These labels act as invisible barriers that make reaching out for support feel like a weakness, rather than a strength.


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RABI is acutely aware of the mounting pressures in the sector. To serve our community effectively, we need to ‘normalise’ the services that we provide.

 

Generating not just awareness, but also acceptance, of the wellbeing support that is available is a crucial step towards making a tangible difference.

 

As farmers, we are not indestructible. The effects of all that is happening at the moment will continue to impact for some considerable time. We must therefore all take responsibility for initiating much more open and frank discussions about the issues affecting so many of us.

 

Big Farming Survey

 

This is why, in January, RABI is undertaking the Big Farming Survey to better understand what farmers are going through and, dare I say it, feeling.

 

We believe there are significant issues that need to be defined and addressed, and a pressing need for wide-scale, reliable data to achieve this.

 

The Big Farming Survey will be the largest ever piece of research of its kind across England and Wales.

 

Importantly, everyone has a role to play in delivering the feedback needed.

 

Launching on January 11, 2021, the survey aims to identify the major challenges farming people feel they currently face and improve our understanding of how the pressures of today are impacting daily life – from physical health, to mental wellbeing and the health of farm businesses.

 

You can contribute to our understanding by completing the 15-minute questionnaire which will be published in Farmers Guardian next month.

 

The data collected will give a much broader context to the current situation; generating a solid foundation on which to develop transparent and meaningful dialogue throughout the sector.

 

As a charity that has stood alongside our farming community for over 160 years, we know we must continue to develop and adapt RABI’s services to deliver enhanced, proactive support as everyone continues to adapt to changing routines, challenges and expectations.

 

Our end goal is to empower farming people to overcome challenges now and into the future. Therefore, I’m counting on your support in the New Year. However, in the meantime, I wish you all a safe and restful Christmas.

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