By Peter Hardy
What a year we all had of adapting, making changes and finding new ways to communicate!
2020 marked the 25th anniversary of the Farming Community Network (FCN, fcn.org.uk) and, like so many others across the world, staff and volunteers had to rethink their approach to celebrating this milestone.
We had made plans to hold events which reflected FCN’s ‘walking with farmers’ approach; many groups were aiming to walk the countryside with farming families and those involved with supplying and supporting them. Initially it looked like celebrations would have to be postponed until after the pandemic, but doing so would have put on hold so much of the publicity needed to raise awareness of the issues facing farming families, those who have continued to produce our food throughout this year and kept the light of hope shining through this time of crisis.
Eventually FCN settled on the idea of focusing on a single weekend, celebrating FCN’s ‘BIG 25’ on 10 and 11 October, the start of Mental Health Awareness week.
Recognising that I would need to be in many places at once, it occurred to be that cycling might make this possible! And so the crazy plan was hatched: I devised a cycle ride which linked the farming support groups across the Midland counties, a ride of 150 miles over the days, meeting with all the FCN and partner Rural Support groups.
Saturday morning started out bright and cold but with a smile on its face, and the first short ride to Market Drayton mart was a familiar one. It was a delight to meet with Andrew and Ruth from Shropshire Rural Support and – the first surprise – my daughter and her Labrador!
A few miles after heading into Cheshire the weather turned; driving wind and rain greeted me as I arrived at the site of Beeston mart and I felt like I’d been doused with buckets of icy water. However, a warm welcome and coffee with Sharon and the Cheshire Agricultural Chaplaincy team quickly revived me before the second surprise, a visit from Brian, FCN Coordinator for Hertfordshire, while on holiday near Whitchurch.
The next leg over to Leek was as wet as the rinse cycle on a washing machine, and I was glad to meet the FCN Staffs and Young Farmers Club walkers under the cover of a maize clamp as the sky unleashed its load yet again. Together we welcomed the group of five runners, led by FCN volunteer Steve, who had traversed 25 miles over the wet but beautiful Staffordshire Moorlands.
The sun had barely risen as we arrived in Bakewell Agricultural Centre the following morning, and it was lovely to meet with the FCN Derbyshire team and mark the retirement of long-standing group co-ordinator Graham. A further surprise and delight was to have the company of auctioneer Alastair from Bagshaw’s on the next leg; his local knowledge took us on a beautiful route across the moors behind Chatsworth and on to Newark, and we were suitably fuelled by a marvellous home-made ginger cake.
I bade farewell to Alastair as I met with a surprisingly large and merry peloton of Nottinghamshire Rural Support riders who shared the next 25 miles of the journey. Together we picked up smiling volunteers from the FCN Leicestershire and Rutland group en route to my final destination, Melton Mowbray mart.
It was a privilege to undertake this ride of 150 miles across countryside that has been shaped by God and by people, joined by Young Farmers, fell runners and fellow cyclists. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who supported me and got involved; it was a most gratifying way to show that FCN and other folk really are active, ‘walking with’ – and cycling for – farmers.
Regional Director (Midlands) for the Farming Community Network (FCN)
This article first appeared in Country Way 86: Mental Health & Wellbeing, February 2021. Go to arthurrankcentre.org.uk/country-way for more information about how to subscribe.