The Farming Community Network (FCN) is a voluntary organisation and charity that supports farmers and families within the farming community through difficult times. It is a network of over 400 volunteers, many of whom are involved in farming, or have close links with agriculture and therefore have a great understanding of the issues farm workers and farming families regularly face. Suicide rates in farming are among the highest of any occupational group, with more than one farmer a week in the UK taking their own life. FCN’s volunteers provide free, confidential, pastoral and practical support to anyone who seeks help, whether the issue is personal or business-related.
How does your organisation contribute to preventing suicide and supporting those affected by it?
We encourage those in the high risk group of farming to seek support when experiencing suicidal feelings or when bereaved by suicide offering a telephone Helpline (03000 111999 available daily 7am – 11pm) an eHelpline (firstname.lastname@example.org). We are also working towards a texting support service. We have 400 volunteers organised in county groups who are available to provide face to face support for individuals and families. Volunteers are offered a range of opportunities to improve their awareness and understanding of the risks of suicide including offering in-house training material, building relationships with their local Samaritan branches, and attending ASIST training courses. We have a working group within the organisation led by the DCE which monitors developments in suicide prevention, attend conferences, and plan and inform internal policy on suicide prevention. We liaise and engage with specialist organisations working in the field of suicide prevention and contribute to their thing about the specific issues facing the farming community. We offer information, training and support to the agricultural and allied industries to help them identify the trigger points in their work which might lead to suicidal feelings in their clients and inform policies and practices which might help mitigate those trigger points.
What are your current priorities?
FCN is regularly present at Shows and events associated with the farming community. Our plan is to target display material which provides appropriate information about the risk of suicide, raises awareness of the need for those experiencing suicidal feelings to seek help, and demonstrating what we can offer to help people. We will continue the work we have already done with other Farming Help charities and with statutory agencies such as Natural England. We are also hoping to widen our involvement with Vets and other organisations which work with farmers.
We will be raising awareness of issues of mental well being which can trigger suicidal feelings by populating contact lists for agencies delivering support on a wide range of mental wellbeing projects and services in each county.
Supporting our volunteers is essential to us. We provide chaplains in each Group and we encourage each volunteer to debrief any case work they do where suicide is involved. We intend to continue strengthening this support to our volunteers.
We recently launched an eHelpline facility and this is gradually being used particularly by younger farmers. Our plan is to train staff and volunteer sin the use of texting as a method for providing support both generally and where suicide is an issue.
What challenges are you currently facing?
We are a generalist not a specialist organisation and so our work in suicide prevention is in the context of a wider work programme. We have no dedicated funding to pursue the range of activities we would like to put in place to strengthen our work. There is a reluctance to discuss mental wellbeing issues within the farming community, and this hampers our work . However we are making strenuous efforts to break down these barriers and are starting to see a slight improvement in the willingness to discuss the issues.
We intend to strengthening our links with livestock markets and other places where farmers gather in partnership with other agencies such as mental health and primary care teams and working with existing agricultural chaplains. We are aiming to have an FCN presence at every market in the country in the next three years. An we will be building on the support offered to farmers during the flooding disaster in Somerset by continuing our working with individuals, strengthening links with mental health agencies and the suicide prevention forum in Somerset.