Leo worked for Northern Bank (now Danske Bank) for 38 years, working in a number of branches across Northern Ireland. For 7 years Leo worked as a Business Advisor in the Agri Division of the bank. He holds an Institute of Accounting Technicians Certificate (IATI) and Banking Certificate.
Why did you decide to get involved with Rural Support and what does your role as a mentor entail?
‘I felt I could empathise with the issues in the rural community. Having worked in the agri division of the bank I felt I could bring and use this experience to help farming families facing difficult circumstances.’
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?
‘In many of the cases the farmer has disengaged or not engaged early enough in seeking help or assistance whether it be from their accountant, solicitor or bank. There is that ‘head in the sand’ mentality where they hope the situation will sort itself out or simply go away. As a result of the current downturn in the agricultural sector the income from the farm isn’t sufficient to cover the level of debt and very often the farmer is reliant on their subsidy to derive a profit. Furthermore farmers are not aware of the benefits which they may be entitled to and other support systems and agencies who may be able to assist them. Very often there is a ‘generational’ pressure where by the farmer feels he has to do things around the farm in the same way that his father did and in many cases his father is still actively involved in the farm business. Then there is the fact that the farm is not only their livelihood but it is also the family home. This creates added pressure for the individual as they do not want their family to be affected.’
For anyone considering contacting Rural Support to avail of Mentoring can you tell me about the mentoring process and what is involved?
‘The initial point of contact for the individual to avail of mentoring is through the helpline. Some details regarding the situation are taken and forwarded to one of the mentors on the Rural Support team. The mentor will then contact the farmer to arrange the first visit. At the first meeting it is an initial chat to establish the current position and essentially to get to know the farmer. In the following meetings options are explored and discussed and an action plan is drawn up. The farmer may also be referred to additional agencies who may be able to assist further.’
How do you feel the mentoring process is helping individuals?
‘It helps to hear a second opinion and helps people consider other options. It brings relief as very often the individual is dealing with the issue alone and to have someone to talk to and explore options with can help alleviate this burden. Sometimes the issues are very complex and outside of Rural Support’s remit so we help point the individual in the right direction and put them in touch with other agencies who can further assist. It means that the individual is getting the appropriate help and support which very often the farmer was not previously aware of.’
What would you say to someone who is experiencing farm finance or debt worries?
‘Do not shy away from help. It is important to talk with your finance provider and be open with your family. Bottling things up and trying to deal with it alone may cause your mental and physical wellbeing to suffer. Remember that help is available and to seek help as early as possible so that options can be explored fully. Seeking help early on means you are able to make decisions in your own time rather than decisions being made for you by outside agencies such as the bank or HMRC. You are not alone but be prepared to be open to sharing your worries and fears.’
What issues do you think farming families will face in the future? What can be done to minimise financial problems?
The return from the farm will have an impact on the future planning for the business. Farmers need to consider carefully all major financial decisions and discuss options whether it be with their accountant, solicitor or bank. Keep the lines of communication open with your finance providers and do not ignore letters or correspondence. Keep a close eye on costs and be aware of the limitations of the farm.
Sincere thanks to Leo Colgan for this interview.
Rural Support has 12 mentors covering all of Northern Ireland.
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 (0800 138 1678, 9am-9pm, Monday to Friday). All calls are confidential.