Meet the team at Rural Support - David Workman

Name: David Workman

From: Hillsborough, covering South Down & South Armagh areas

Role: Mentor

David, who was born and brought up on a family farm, was employed by Northern Bank (now Danske Bank) for 38 years, mainly in agricultural finance and held various positions including Agribusiness Manager, Branch Manager, Regional Agribusiness Manager and Head of Agribusiness from 2003-2007. David managed a team of over thirty Agribusiness managers with responsibility for agricultural policy, credit and marketing/sponsorship budgets. He also holds Licentiate Institute of Bankers.

David was and still is closely involved with a number of agricultural organisations including Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster, Ulster Grassland Society, Northern Ireland Texel Sheep Society, British Texel Sheep Society, Royal Ulster Agricultural Society, Agrisearch and was awarded the Fellowship of Royal Agricultural Societies (FRAgS). He has worked closely with the farming community, farming organisations and industry leaders in particular Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

Why did you decide to get involved with Rural Support and what does your role as a mentor entail?

“I had previously been a mentor for Countryside Agri-Rural Partnership, mainly dealing with succession issues. I maintained a close involvement with industry personnel, including representatives from DARD and UFU whilst also dealing with accountants, solicitors and various other agencies.

“I became involved with Rural Support as a mentor as I felt I could use my financial expertise to help farmers and rural dwellers deal with financial issues through the provision of free, confidential face to face support and help them identify a way forward. In many situations I have also signposted individuals to other agencies and organisations which provide further advice and support.

“My role as a mentor is to assist and support clients in identifying options for their business.

“I also assist clients in identifying options for further advice, support and assistance whether it be financial or otherwise from their bank manager, accountant, solicitor, UFU, DARD and Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) for example.”

What sort of situations have you encountered during your time as a mentor so far? What are the main issues and barriers facing your clients?

“The situations are varied with no two situations the same. They vary from farmers being over borrowed, cash flow issues, lack of succession planning, nursing care costs, bureaucracy and health issues. The main issues are cash flow, over borrowed positions, borrowings not properly structured and health issues.

“The barriers I have encountered are a lack of support or flexibility of their bank when faced with difficult financial and health situations. The main barrier I faced was a lack of understanding of the real issues by many of the clients and their bankers.”

For anyone considering contacting Rural Support to avail of mentoring can you tell me about the mentoring process and what is involved?

“All it requires is a call to the Rural Support. The farmer will be assigned a mentor and they will arrange with the farmer to meet face to face.

“The process involves meeting with farmers and discussing all issues for example financial position and debt servicing issues etc. Family members can be included if the individual wishes. The meetings will usually last between one and two hours.

“The mentor will draw up an action plan, after the key issues and concerns have been identified and appropriate actions which may be taken to address these issues. The mentor will also identify any other agencies to which the individual can be referred or signposted.

“A follow up meeting will be arranged to discuss the action plan and agreement of the farmer. Everything discussed remains confidential.”

How do you feel the mentoring process is helping individuals?

“It provides the farmer with free, confidential one to one support with someone who shows empathy and understands their position. It provides the individual with an opportunity to discuss and share their problems and concerns. The mentor is also able to signpost individuals to other relevant agencies, this ensures that they are receiving all the help and support they require.”

What would you say to someone who is experiencing farm finance or debt worries?

“Seek help early on. Speak to Rural Support volunteers and mentors. It is also important to speak to your bank if you are facing financial difficulties. Also seek advice from your accountant, agricultural consultant, solicitor and agencies such as CAB and Maximising Access to services, grants & benefits in Rural Areas (MARA), if need be. Don’t bury your head in the sand hoping that the problem will go away. Seek help.”

What issues do you think farming families will face in the future? What can be done to minimise financial problems?

“I think the issues surround lower profit levels, margins will be squeezed further, interest rates will increase, debt levels could rise. There will be issues surrounding CAP, increased levels of bureaucracy and the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming referendum on UK membership of the European Union. Lack of succession planning and the age profile of farmers is increasing.

“Farmers will have to improve on their financial management through keeping up to date figures for their enterprises, managing cashflow, preparing income/expenditure accounts, drawing up farm budgets and audited accounts produced on a more timely basis.

“They should work closely with their agricultural advisor, accountant, solicitor and agribusiness manager in order to try and overcome financial problems at an earlier stage.”

Sincere thanks to David Workman for this interview.

If you or someone you know could benefit from talking with someone from Rural Support or if you would like to avail of the financial mentoring currently being offered please contact Rural Support’s helpline (0845 606 7 607, 8am-11pm daily). All calls are confidential.