The power of a bacon butty

Chaplain Revd Nick Read, Borderlands rural chaplain, tells how farmers are gathering for more than a sandwich in Shropshire.

The original ‘Butty Van’, a farmers’ breakfast hosted each month on a different farm, was launched in 2017 in south Shropshire by Borderlands Rural Chaplaincy (BRC). We had investigated purchasing a van but decided that it was too expensive and too much hassle to maintain, insure and store, however the name stuck. The Butty Van is, in reality, essentially a camping stove, taken to the farm by a dedicated team of volunteers who cook the bacon and make tea and coffee. The volunteers come from the local parishes and Methodist Chapels (Borderlands is a joint Anglican-Methodist Chaplaincy), and the Chaplaincy team are represented at each event by two or three Chaplains.

The attraction to farmers is that they don’t need to change to come, they meet friends, and they can see what’s happening on a different farm each month. The farmer provides the venue, BRC trains the team, does the health and safety assessments, and arranges for the necessary food hygiene certificates. Although flyers and texts are used to advertise each breakfast, the best advertisement is word of mouth and personal recommendation.

The Shropshire Butty Van is routinely attracting 50 farmers each month. Pre-Covid, we took the Archbishop of Canterbury to visit the Butty Van and enjoy the experience. Although lockdown prevented them from taking place, as soon as it ended they started again and are going from strength to strength. Within the last year we have launched a second Butty Van in northwest Herefordshire (average attendances are over 30) and there is momentum gaining for a third van in the south of the county.

The breakfasts are both hugely enjoyable and important. The farming mental health action framework published in 2019 by Alisha Davies emphasised the need to deliver ‘support through non-health professionals’ (i.e. other professionals linked to agriculture with knowledge of farming life), and to draw on ‘existing, or build strong local links between agricultural agencies, community organisations and health services leading to sustainable rural community capacity.’

The Butty Van enables both of those to happen, providing an interface between the farming community, chaplaincy, and mental health professionals. We facilitate this by highlighting any issues raised at the breakfasts to two local strategic forums of which Borderlands is a member: the Herefordshire Mental Health Partnership Board and the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Suicide Prevention Project Advisory Group.

We have evaluated the van scheme and found:

It works best in a 20-mile radius, otherwise it’s too far to travel and loses continuity.

Butty Vans are more effective if the local market chaplain is also a member of the team, because it fosters networking.

The church is well equipped to enable community resilience because it already has local contacts who act as advocates.

The relationships that develop extend to the churches and chapels who provide the volunteers. As farmers get to know congregational members, barriers begin to break down.

The Shropshire group requested that the last meeting each Christmas should be a carol service!

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *