A grassroots army has kept the Young Farmers’ Club movement alive during the Covid-19 pandemic. There have been online rallies, bake-offs, stockjudging, training sessions, committee meetings and more. Sarah Todd reports.
There has been no shortage of examples of how Young Farmers’ Clubs (YFCs) across the country have united to offer support and services to local residents in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Members have taken part in food and baking deliveries, personal protective equipment (PPE) donations, sponsored online events and more.
But when weekly club meetings and activities ground to a halt partway through this year’s YFC calendar, club leaders had to get creative to enable members to get the most out of their membership from home.
Despite rural broadband speeds slow enough to make a vicar swear causing their fair share of problems, right at the very heart of the YFC’s efforts have been members like Emma Kettlewell, from Oakworth, near Keighley, North Yorkshire.
On a recent Tuesday night, she could be found with her apron on in the kitchen of her home demonstrating how to make chocolate chip cookies.
The 27-year-old quantity surveyor ploughed through the video call with great enthusiasm, creaming the butter and sugar, adding in the flour and chocolate chips.
Emma, who is her club’s treasurer, says: “We put a list of the ingredients up in good time on Facebook and then, at 7.30pm, I explained how to make them.
Then the members had a go.
“It’s such a simple thing, but we all had a chat and a laugh.
“These online meetings have been great for keeping members in contact with each other.
“We do not have many older members, but between us we have been taking it in turns to come up with a theme for a meeting every couple of weeks.” With YFC office and support staff furloughed in Yorkshire, county chairwoman Georgina Fort is finding herself often doing an extra couple of hours work at the end of an already busy day.
Georgina says: “I’m up early milking and I’m running the farm as well as looking after my little boy, but the other night was pretty typical really.
“I finished my tea about 7pm and then did two hours of office work for young farmers.
“Things like membership returns still need doing and the enquiries still keep coming into the office.” Lincolnshire YFC made what it describes as a ‘bold move’ in not furloughing county development officer Kate Knight.
Because of the huge amount of legwork she put in, the club was able to run not one, but two, online rallies.
Kate says: “The first had a lot of the traditional classes like baking, photography and flower arranging and then, because it had worked so well, we were able to do more adventurous things like virtual stockjudging.
“We did the county AGM via Zoom and I’ve been putting something on every Friday.
We’ve had bingo, quizzes, live DJ sets and more.” Lincolnshire county chairman Matt Stovin adds: “We all know that the backbone of the young farmers’ movement is people going the extra mile.
“This is certainly the case with a lot of our members, family, friends and especially Kate.
“While we can’t wait to get back to normal face-to-face meetings, there are certainly some things from lockdown that we want to keep.
“We will certainly be keeping They have cut out so much driving and made it possible for more people to join in, even if it is just jumping on for half an hour.
“It’s made us a lot more focused.
It’s been a learning curve, but now we’ve got used to it there’s a lot less chin-wagging and we seem to be able to get through an agenda a lot quicker.” In Devon, member Dan Grist has continued to work in the county YFC office part-time.
He echoes the positives about online meetings cutting out unnecessary travel.
Dan says: “In big rural counties like ours, members can easily be travelling a good two hours to get to a county meeting, so it has been quite revolutionary really.” However, the long-standing bugbear of poor broadband connection is something he has been mindful of.
“Some clubs have been all over online meetings,” says Dan.
"Online meetings have been great for keeping members in contact with each other"
“Others have not, and it is important for us to keep speaking to those that have gone quiet during the pandemic and make sure they know we’re here to help.” Devon traditionally has a massive Christmas ball, which is a key fundraiser for the organisation.
Dan continues: “Realistically, it is hard to see it happening.
Clubs have certainly suffered financially with the cancellation of all the events they rely on every year to make them some money.”
On the positive side, Dan says online events have enabled new faces to have a go at competitions they might not have got involved with otherwise.
“Stockjudging has been a good example of an event where some people might not have had a go, but the online format was perhaps less daunting,” he says.
“It has been great to see some younger members in particular growing in confidence through online competitions and meetings.”
While it is now possible for groups of 15 members, plus two leaders, to meet again in a socially-distanced way, the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) says balancing the myriad of rules and regulations with the need to get often-isolated young people back out meeting each other will be challenging.
NFYFC chairman Dewi Parry says: “We are now working with county federations to support the safe opening of YFCs and to help them develop Covid-secure club programmes for the new membership year, which starts in September.
“While Covid-19 is still present in society, YFCs will need to work within the restrictions and guidelines provided by Government to ensure club meetings and activities are safe.
“While this will be a challenge, we also know how keen YFC members are to meet again, in whatever form that takes.
“Rural young people are already more likely to experience isolation or social exclusion, even without the added pressures of a pandemic, so getting YFCs back up and running safely again is a priority.” YFCs efforts during lockdown, Dewi says, have really shown how innovative members can be.
“We know the lockdown period has been difficult for rural young people who have not been able to physically meet,” he says.
“But it has also been fantastic to see so many clubs and counties have embraced the YFC at home initiative and remained connected with each other.”
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