Chloe Williams has opened communication with fellow farmer’s wives and the results have been nothing short of life-saving. Emma Lander finds out more.
Social isolation is still a major issue in rural communities and, for women marrying into the family farm, the long hours can be a huge shock, especially when children come along.
But a farmer’s wife from Monmouthshire has turned her feelings of loneliness into a positive by setting up a website for other women in a similar position.
Marriage counselling, practical farming advice even tackling serious mental health issues is all in a day’s work for 30-year-old Chloe Williams, who runs the online support group The Crazy Life of a Farmer’s Wife.
The idea was borne from an off-the-cuff remark while sat on her sister’s sofa back in 2015. At the time, she was feeling lonely on-farm after the birth of her first child and was scrolling through Facebook looking for other farmers’ wives in her area.
Not only could she not find any, but there were not even any groups in the UK where farmer’s wives could get together and socialise, a popular trend in rural communities.
Chloe says: “I originally felt so guilty; living in this amazing place and not having to worry about the things other women my age were worrying about, such as getting on the property ladder, but I couldn’t help but have this feeling of loneliness.
“The first couple of years on-farm were tough, then when you throw children in the mix, the feeling of loneliness hit harder.”
It was at this moment Chloe thought about setting up a Facebook group just for farmers’ wives and partners.
She says: “I hoped it might be a way for me to meet local wives and a place where I could share my thoughts with like-minded women.”
In the first two days, 100 members joined the group. Today it has a further 4,370, with numbers still increasing.
She has faced criticism from some women who are farmers in their own right and object to the wife part of the title, but Chloe insists it was a light-hearted decision mainly based on the fact that life and wife rhyme.
“I am a farmer’s wife and I am not offended by the title,” she says unapologetically.
Chloe was surprised some women did find it offensive: “Unlike a doctor’s wife or a teacher’s wife, who may have little to do with their husband’s work, a farmer’s wife is often unique in her involvement in the business.”
Agree or disagree, Chloe is confident she is achieving her objective of helping others just by giving them somewhere safe to vent their feelings.
“Not only do I now have so many new friends, both virtual and in the flesh, but by starting and managing this group I have been able to help and support so many other wives by giving them a platform in which to share their worries, joys, upset and, most importantly, by allowing them to see this feeling of isolation is what we all feel. It’s not just them who feels this way.”
Earlier this year Chloe was nominated as a finalist in the Countryfile Farming Hero Awards 2018 and spent a day filming with the presenters and crew.
In the 24 hours after the programme broadcast, some 900 people requested to join the Facebook group and Chloe, who was named runner-up in the competition, and her team of volunteers have only just got through the new requests to join.
She says: “The interest has proven to me how needed our group is. Since starting out, there have been a couple of wives whose husbands have died suddenly and I have put a series of relief packages in place to help them.
“There’s a charitable pot where members can donate or send money to anyone in crisis.
“We have sent wives who have had cancer off for precious family days out and we also send a bunch of flowers each month to a wife at random. Last Christmas we also sent Christmas shoeboxes to farm families in need.”
Chloe has recruited a number of group members who are experts in areas such as education, planning, law, tax and midwifery, so when group members have problems, she can get advice off the expert group members and point them in the right direction.
She says: “When members have problems, they often don’t know where to turn first and, by doing it in this way, they can remain anonymous, yet still get the guidance they need.
“There is also a new WhatsApp group for pregnant group members so they can discuss being pregnant together in a farm setting, which can be a lot different from being pregnant in the outside world.”
The group is arguably a lifeline for more vulnerable individuals to reach out and Chloe has experienced the consequences first hand.
She says: “One lady messaged me threatening to take her own life and, being at the other end of the country to her, I couldn’t take the risk of seeing if the woman was serious or not.
“I called the emergency services as I had her address thanks to previously sending her a bouquet of flowers. The Police found the lady had taken an overdose.
“Occasions like this just hit home how much this group is needed. I get messages daily from members saying how much the group has helped them.
“The online group has become a community and the community is now spreading offline, as local meet-ups are happening all over the UK and Ireland.
“There are not many other groups with more than 4,000 women coming together to support one another and it not have a bitchy feel to it.”
As well as helping others, Chloe says it has really helped her too. Not only does she have thousands of women who understand her lifestyle, but they are all in exactly the same position, or at least have been at some point.
She says: “I truly believe starting the group saved my own marriage. When we first got together, I resented the fact Ben was in the field all day. Our first couple of years of marriage were tough and adding our children, three-year-old Hugo and two-year-old Teddy, into the mix made it even harder.
“By talking to other women in the same position, it really helped. I realised I was not alone and certainly not the only wife to feel like this.
“The group normalised farm life for me and now Ben and I don’t really argue at all.”
Chloe did not grow up on a farm, although her father was a farm worker and she spent most of her youth horseriding.
She met Ben at Hartpury College, Gloucester, where she was studying horse care and the pair got together in 2011. While Ben worked on the 283-hectare (700-acre) family farm, Chloe was a healthcare assistant before finishing work when the couple’s second child was born.
Apart from her busy schedule managing the group and the adjoining merchandise operation, Chloe brings up the couple’s two young children and is drafted in on-farm when needed; mainly for lambing, hauling and running errands.
As well as launching a new website to cater for the wives who may not have a Facebook account, Chloe took her one-man band to the Monmouthshire County Show last month to continue to spread the word about her online rural community.
Going forward, she hopes to travel to more shows in the future and plans to host an awards night and party, which is due to go ahead in Gloucestershire.
She says: “What has surprised me most about the online community is the togetherness. The friendships that have been forged between women which are conducted completely in cyberspace are really special.
“Most of these women have never met in real life and may never do so, but the fact they know there is someone out there who understands their lives seems to make everything feel better and has uplifted them like never before. I just love it.”
The first would have to be loneliness. There are instances where women live in the middle of nowhere and have no-one to talk to or identify with.
It might be they live in rural communities with no toddler groups or coffee mornings and have no friends in a similar position.
The second would be wives who are not from a farming background and who struggle with the adjustment of farm life and their partner working so much.
They can often struggle finding like-minded people who understand their lives and what they have to do. Women whose husbands work all hours, all-year-round can sometimes find themselves constantly on their own.
The final is family politics, such as in-laws and how they are accepted into the family unit or not.
While many farming families treat their daughter-in-laws well, the group has shown there is an equal number who do not and the community enables them to discuss ways of dealing with this and how to cope.