Celebrating One Year of Plough On
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In establishing the project, funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, Rural Support recognised that many men who ‘slow down’ in farming, or retire, are faced with the additional challenges of being disengaged from the normality of farming life and its networks, such as marts, feed stores, and auctions.
Plough On aims to tackle rural isolation and increase social opportunities for older male farmers, by offering participants the chance to join a local group and connect on areas of shared interest such as farming, rural heritage and history.
The first year of Plough On has been very successful, engaging 166 men across seven group locations. They have had the opportunity to enjoy 24 meetings and 22 trips across Northern Ireland.
These have included visits to machinery sales, marts, agricultural shows, factories, farm walks, talks on matters relating to agriculture, monthly hot meals together, and meeting as a group.
The groups have attended key events, such as the Balmoral Show and other local shows over the summer, and trips further afield to Rathlin Island and Shane’s Castle Steam Rally to name just a few.
Through the project, Rural Support has built relationships within group areas to recruit group leaders and volunteers who support the men in choosing their monthly meeting plan or trip ideas.
They bring their own local knowledge and experience and many of them are well-known within their community, which has helped to quickly build trust with group members.
One of the leaders said: “It is a tremendous project which I sincerely believe is making a positive difference to people’s lives. It is great to see men becoming happier and more confident”.
Another volunteer added: “The farming community was good to me, so this was my opportunity to give back. It has been a great success and I get a lot of satisfaction from the group.”
Benefits of participation include the farmers’ emotional and mental wellbeing by being part of a new male network focused on farming life, and also for the wider farming family who report on the positive impact they see after each monthly meet-up.
Group members have also shared their talents and experiences; one participant has an extensive vintage footage archive and has given a presentation to two of the groups, while one of the group leaders keeps bees and shared his stories and experiences as an amateur beekeeper.
From its inception in July 2021, Plough On has become integral to how Rural Support support the farming community in Northern Ireland.
Remarking on the success of year one, project coordinator, Keelin McGartland stated: “Knowing that Plough On is making such a positive difference in the lives of the men taking part shows how important this project is.
“We are very grateful to The National Lottery Community Fund for supporting our vision and providing the funding which has made this project possible.”
Looking ahead to the future of the project, Rural Support are currently accepting expressions of interest for cohort two of Plough On, with groups commencing in Derrynoose, Ederney, Coagh, Glack, Ballymacbrennan, and Corkey in April 2023.
Rural Support’s Older Persons’ Fund will add to the funding in place for the Plough On groups, as each cohort enjoys the experience of monthly engagement and 17 groups are established and supported over the five-year project period.
To date, AI Services Northern Ireland have generously donated £15,000 to become lead donor of the fund for the next three years.
If you would like to find out more, or to support this project and other services and programmes delivered by Rural Support, go to the NI Farm Support hub at www.ruralsupport.org.uk or telephone the Support Line on Freephone 0800 138 1678 available Monday-Friday 9am-9pm.