Learning to become a leader is one of many opportunities offered by the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs. Wales YFC chairman, Laura Elliot, tells Danusia Osiowy more about her journey and the lessons learned which inspired her to give something back.
Inspired by her upbringing, Welsh-born Laura Elliot ‘couldn’t wait’ to join her local Young Farmers Club. At just 10 years old, she walked through the doors of Gower YFC unbeknown 12 years later she would be the organisation’s county chairman. And she’s determined to make a difference.
With ongoing funding cuts and the continual challenge of recruiting and retaining members, Wales YFC is not without its disputes but Laura believes the organisation is proving its resilience – not least mirrored through the club’s 80th anniversary celebration, held last year.
“It is always disappointing to hear when federations face a threat to their funding but, in recent years, it is a familiar story across Wales with many counties having already experienced a financial loss,” says Laura, whose family are part of the Glastir Sustainable Land Management scheme.
“When working for the Welsh Local Government Authority, I saw first-hand the struggle local authorities face in light of budget cuts and what that means for all departments.
“But in most rural areas YFC is the youth work provision that communities rely on. We are in a strong position to grow in the future but we need to adapt to the changing landscape and take advantage of new opportunities whether that be through financial or other means.”
Laura’s aims and ambitions as chairman stems from her progression as a grass-roots member.
“My parents met through Young Farmers and continued to be involved with my local club throughout my childhood.
When my dad was president of Three Crosses, I used to get taken along to meetings occasionally (as a treat) and couldn’t wait to join when I was old enough.
“A lot of our family friends have been forged through young farmers and so it was always a strong presence in my life growing up. I can’t remember not knowing about YFC.
Having held her first club role with Gower aged 14 as minute secretary, her first key role arrived when she was elected as club chairman in 2010.
“This was my first experience of leading an officer team, being responsible for running club meetings and balancing the needs of our individual members for the benefit of the wider club. I felt a great deal of responsibility on my shoulders to ensure that the club continued to strengthen under my leadership and everything I learned as club chairman has helped me develop my personal skills and leadership style over the past few years. It was a crucial role for me.”
Her decision to pursue more leadership roles and experience the many opportunities offered by the organisation prompted her to apply for chairman.
“It’s difficult to fully appreciate the value of Young Farmers when you are immersed in it. When I had my interviews for the travel programme and member of the year in 2014 I developed further appreciation of what I had gained from YFC having spoken about my experiences, both successes and failures. The desire to give something back led me to stand.”
2017 - China and Japan
2016 - Returning from the 8th Commonwealth Youth Parliament in Victoria she also visited Toronto, Niagara Falls and New York
2016 - Led the Welsh YFC Team at the Rural Youth European Rally
2015 - A two-week homestay to Northern Ireland
2011 – Followed rugby to New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup
2011 – A four-month trip around NZ, Australia and Thailand
2005 - Followed rugby to New Zealand for the British and Irish Lions Tour
Upon securing her national chairmanship in November 2017, Laura is already underway with one new campaign branded as YFC – The Best Version of Me.
“When asked what I’d like to focus on in terms of a chosen charity as chairman I was conscious financial pressures have hit every level of YFC and I wanted to ensure anything I did wasn’t going to detract from the work already undertaken locally,” she explains.
“I want to focus on a campaign to raise awareness for the support services already available and how they may be able to help those in the YFC community.
“By shining a light on things like mental health, health and safety, crisis support and general well-being then a problem may be identified earlier.”
Having attended Northumbria University in 2006 to study law, she quickly decided the course content didn’t align with what she had envisaged, so changed her course and graduated with a 2.1 in history.
Since then she has completed practitioner courses in Shared Services and PRINCE2 Project Management before securing employment with Swansea University.
She currently works on a project called SPECIFIC, an academic and industrial consortium led by the university to transform buildings into self-sufficient power stations.
Laura’s role manages the financial claims process, maintaining eligibility and compliance as well as reporting on project indicators and progress against their delivery profile.
“I thoroughly enjoy working on projects and this is the second one I have undertaken with the University, the first being the construction of the engineering buildings on Bay Campus.
Citing her chairmanship as her joint proudest moment, she also credits being named the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs Senior Member of the Year as a personal highlight.
Outside of YFC, Laura has a keen interest in current affairs and politics. In 2016 she was selected by the National Assembly for Wales to represent them at the 8th Commonwealth Youth Parliament in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, Canada.
“The experience is one I will never forget and it was an immense honour to represent Wales among 63 other young people from across the Commonwealth.”
The honour is also something she feels in her current role and she realises the importance of helping to safeguard the future of the organisation and one which falls to the individuals working at club level.
“The biggest threat to any club is the challenge of recruitment and retention of members. Operational costs for most clubs are minimal and can be covered by the membership levy they set themselves but you have to have members to run the club for.
A base venue, varied programme of club nights, enthusiastic members and a few willing officers all make life easier in a club. But it’s enjoyment that lies at the heart of a club and keep your members coming back week after week. County, Wales and national levels can all assist clubs with resources, guidance and fresh ideas.
“Being Wales Chairman means I’m in a privileged position representing our membership, I want to ensure I contribute directly to the stability and development of the movement so that everyone has the same, if not better, access to the opportunities I have had in years to come.”
“YFC is in a strong position to grow in the future. There will always be a need for the Young Farmer’s movement with its unique ability to nurture and develop skills in a non-formal environment. The development capacity would of course increase if the nature of our funding was secured. For example, as a bilingual organisation we will have an important role to play in delivering Welsh Government targets with regard to the Welsh language and I hope that we are recognised as a delivery vehicle for this and other key development areas such as training and youth work.”