Farmers in Northern Ireland who are older, vulnerable or isolated can seek support from a new initiative called Across the Hedgerow, which aims to reduce fear and improve mental and emotional wellbeing.
The scheme was launched by the charity Rural Support, in collaboration with the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster. It provides listening support and companionship via telephone calls.
Rural Support chief executive, Veronica Morris, said the charity’s helpline has seen a “marked” increase in calls since the Covid-19 pandemic. A rising number of those calls are coming from vulnerable and older members of the farming community, who are isolated and afraid.
“In order to really help these people navigate what is the new normal for the foreseeable future, the ‘Across the Hedgerow’ project, in collaboration with the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster, will provide our most vulnerable people with extra human connection on a regular basis, via the phone, to help lift their spirits and bring some happiness during this uncertain time,” she explained.
“Traditionally older and vulnerable people can be in the hard-to-reach category so this project will help Rural Support to identify people most in need, ensuring they are getting the help they need to protect their mental health and wellbeing, as well as connecting them to the right services if they need it.
“It will also provide a small bit of respite and comfort to their loved ones knowing that there will be someone else checking in on them and providing additional care and a listening ear at this time of uncertainty and fear.”
President of the YFCs of Ulster, Zita McNaugher said: “Members of the Young Farmers’ Executive Committee have volunteered to take part in this new initiative with Rural Support. We are delighted to be involved and play a part in supporting rural communities during this uncertain time.
“We are looking forward to having a chat with anyone that feels vulnerable, lonely or isolated during this time and hopefully our members can provide a listening ear and maybe even brighten up someone’s day.”
Users of the service can self-refer via Rural Support’s helpline (0800 138 1678) or be referred by third parties with verbal permission from the client. The charity will then match clients with a suitable person who will make contact as often as the person needs to feel safer during the crisis.
Rural Support also provides help to farmers and farm families who face financial pressures and physical and mental health concerns. If you know anyone who could benefit from the project or wish to speak to a member of staff, email [email protected] or call 028 8676 0040.