Pandemic has increased young farmers’ feelings of isolation, says club chairman

Tom Collison, chairman of Terrington Young Farmers Club (YFC). Picture: Tom Collison

Tom Collison, chairman of Terrington Young Farmers Club (YFC). Picture: Tom Collison - Credit: Tom Collison

The isolating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the mental health of Norfolk’s young farmers has been highlighted by one the county’s club leaders.

Tom Collison, 25, is chairman of Terrington Young Farmers’ Club (YFC) and works as an assistant contracts manager for land drainage specialists William Morfoot, while also helping out at his family’s farming business near King’s Lynn.

While the essential job of farming has continued throughout the coronavirus crisis, extreme weather has created difficult conditions and long hours in an already-isolated profession, he said.

That has made farmers busier than ever while their traditional outlet of social events, rallies, club competitions and county shows was taken away as public events were cancelled during lockdown.

As a result, Mr Collison said young farmers have become increasingly reliant on social media for human contact, but the often unrealistic portrayal of other people’s online personalities has compounded feelings of loneliness.

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“It has probably been my busiest year ever, “ he said “Two weeks ago I had my first day off this year.

“It has been challenging for a lot of people’s mental health because of the lack of contact. With the social calendar for YFC we do a lot of events and rallies, I am a cattle steward at the Royal Norfolk Show, and I go to horse trials meeting other farmers and other people in the rural community. All that stuff has been cancelled.

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“We have been meeting on Zoom instead, we discuss how people’s weeks have been, and I always ask if anyone needs anything.

READ MORE: Mental health debate seeks ways to ease the ‘silent suffering’ of farmers“Social media can be a really good tool for promoting ourselves and helping our industry move forward and build relationships. But you can end up with people not really knowing what is real and what is not. People post the best of themselves on social media, but it is not the whole picture. That is where you get these mental health issues. Nobody is perfect, but they are constantly building their profile on social media and it creates unrealistic expectations.

“It really compounds the issue when people are not seeing each other in person. It can be a really good tool, but it can really compound the loneliness.

“It is going to be a challenging winter. I hate the term ‘the new normal’. Everyone is just burying themselves in work because there is nothing else they can do.”

Mr Collison spoke out following the publication of a new study by The National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) which found 65pc of rural young people are pessimistic about their future opportunities to live and work in the countryside, while 85pc believe the Covid-19 pandemic will have an impact on their future.

The research, a Defra-supported NFYFC project in collaboration with researchers Rose Regeneration, was released during National Young Farmers’ Week (October 26-30).

Ivan Annibal, managing director of Rose Regeneration, said: “These are not promising times to be growing up in rural England. With not very much cause for optimism this is a group of young people showing a determination to achieve their independence, putting back time and effort into their local communities and planning actively around their training and development.

“They have been socially impacted by coronavirus and feel great uncertainty as the path to Brexit nears its conclusion. Notwithstanding these challenges most are positively getting on with their lives and through this survey provide at least one reason to be cheerful about the future.”

• People working in farming and rural industries in Norfolk and Suffolk can get confidential mental health support from YANA (You Are Not Alone). Contact the helpline on 0300 323 0400 or visit the YANA charity website.

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