A celebration event was held on Wednesday 21st March to mark the growth of Social Farming in Northern Ireland. Farmers and participants of Social Farming were joined by representatives from the farming and health and social care sectors as invited guests to this special occasion.
The event was organised by the Social Farming Support Service for Northern Ireland, which is operated by the charity Rural Support on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). In his welcome, Jude McCann Chief Executive of Rural Support said “I am delighted to host this conference on Social Farming in Northern Ireland: Growth & Next Steps. It is great to have representatives from a wide range of sectors to inform our approach to Social Farming in the coming years”.
Social Farming is an innovative use of agriculture to promote therapy, rehabilitation, social inclusion, education and social services in rural areas. It has been shown to benefit those living with a Learning Disability or recovering from a Mental Health issue through participation in the day-to-day activities of a working farm.
Speakers at the event in Loughry College, Cookstown included Catherine McCallum, Director of Rural Affairs within DAERA and Iolo Eilian, Social Care Commissioning Lead within the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB). Both DAERA and the HSCB along with the Public Health Agency (PHA) have taken a cross departmental, partnership approach to supporting the development of Social Farming. This has led to a Social Farming Referral Fund being created which is currently increasing the provision of Social Farming on a regional basis.
Catherine McCallum, Director of DAERA’s Rural Affairs Division said, “Social Farming can have a hugely positive impact on farmers and their families, as well as making a real difference in the lives of those who spend time on the farms. A lot has been achieved since the early research and social farming now has a solid foundation in Northern Ireland. I am confident that it will continue to grow and develop in the years ahead.”
The benefits of Social Farming were best described by two individuals who have participated on Butterlope Farm in Plumbridge. Engaging in meaningful activities and learning new skills has improved their lives and opened up new opportunities for future. The farmers from Butterlope Farm and Gortilea Social Farm in Claudy also spoke about how they and their farms have been positively impacted by providing a Social Farming service. Certificates of achievement were presented to five Social Farming participants by Iolo Eilian from the Health and Social Care Board in a highlight of the event. In his comments Iolo said, “Social Farming adds to the current range of Day Services available to individuals receiving support from a Learning Disability or Mental Health service and promotes greater involvement in community life, allowing them to expand their social contacts and improve their health and wellbeing.”
Social Farming is about people. The farmers delivering a Social Farming service are committed to using their farm and their skills to improve lives. The participants making the choice to engage are being supported in rural communities to learn, to connect, and to achieve their potential. The progress made to date provides a strong foundation for further growth.
If you would like further information on Social Farming, whether you are a farmer, staff member, service user or family member/supporter of a service user, you can contact the Social Farming Support Service for further information on 028 86760040.