I was fortunate enough to speak with Gareth Davies of the Welsh Farming Mental Health Charity, Tir Dewi, writes Mo Metcalf-Fisher.
I’ve always had an interest in mental health and am inspired by the voluntary efforts of those that put themselves on the front-line to assist those most in need.
Tir Dewi’s arrival on the West Wales scene came four years ago in response to “a growing and serious need for someone to help the farmers of West Wales in difficult times”.
It was set up after the area’s branch of the FCN (an English based charity with similar aims) disbanded. This led to a vacuum which desperately needed to be filled.
Currently, Tir Dewi focuses on the three counties of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire.
Rev. Canon Eileen Davies established Tir Dewi initially as a helpline, listening service and sign-posting service.
Since 2015 though, it has grown rapidly, both in terms of its case load and team members.
There are currently 28 volunteers who are all trained and active in whatever way they can be, owing to time. Of those, some do very detailed, hands-on case work with farmers, while others man the helpline. The charity also requires exposure, so volunteers are also tasked with promotional activity within its radius.
Gareth, who works for the charity, tells me “the volunteers are excellent and without them, we could nothing. We also have a board of 6 volunteer trustees who oversee what we do”.
The backgrounds of volunteers vary; some are working farmers; others are retired farmers. Then there are those that simply have empathy with the farming community and the struggles they face on a daily basis. There are also a handful of ministers from the church and a vet.
Despite their mixed backgrounds, they are united by one common trait: “a caring heart”.
While Tir Dewi operates a helpline, only a few calls come in a month. Gareth explains that the bulk of their cases are introduced by other agencies. Among these are Unions and other charities including The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution ( RABI) and The DPJ Foundation. Wider health charities like McMillan and the Stroke Association also refer casework, while local government, rural policing teams and concerned neighbours of farmers ask the charity to assist where they can.
This has amounted to over 200 cases.
Tir Dewi have seen a rise in cases recently. Gareth explains that he believes this is down to the fact that “pressures are ever increasing; bovine TB is an ever- present problem and the uncertainty around Brexit is heaping more worry on an already exhausted workforce”.
The list of issues faced by farmers is extensive and Gareth says that “there is never just one problem- it’s like the old circus act of plate spinning..more and more tasks and problems arise until they just can’t keep them all going. He cites “bereavement and its consequences; succession issues; financial pressure; excess paperwork & administration and farm inspections” as the most common, but admits, “the list goes on.”
I was keen to learn about the type of farmer calling: are they mainly men, women- young or old? “It is mostly men who are initial clients, which reflects the ‘traditional’ nature of the industry” Gareth replies, however once the team engage and enter the farm, the support is extended to women and their solutions impact the whole family.
Looking to the future, Tir Dewi plans to expand their outreach to North Wales with a specific focus on Conwy, Gwynedd and Ynys Mon. After that, it will be Powys. Gareth acknowledges that this is “a huge undertaking” and they desperately need the support of volunteers in these new areas.
While the charity relies in part on the generous support of two main grants- one from a Church legacy fund, which was given during its first three years of formation, it gets support from the Prince’s Countryside Fund. Church collections and community donations from groups like the YFC also go a long way. Like any charity though, they really do need more help; both financially but also from volunteers.
Gareth says “to help us keep going we need people to share news about us- what we do, that we are entirely confidential and non-judgemental”.
For more information about Tir Dewi and its work please click here.
In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123.