Emma Harper MSP recently attended a meeting of the Retired Farmers Group in Castle Douglas, which she described as a “trailblazing” initiative which will undoubtedly lead to similar meetings being organised in other parts of the country.
The group, which held its first monthly meeting last November, is an opportunity for retired farmers and farm workers, including some who may be experiencing memory loss, to come together for a chat and take part in farm-related activities such as day trips and hearing from guest speakers.
The group is organised by Jill Rennie from Alzheimer Scotland in partnership with NHS Dumfries and Galloway and supported by NFU Scotland and RSABI (Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution).
This is one initiative within a wider piece of work on Health and Wellbeing in the Farming Community Programme that brings the farming community and key partner organisations together to tackle health and wellbeing concerns.
This programme is part funded by The Life Changes Trust – Get Outdoors and the Scottish Government and the European Union – LEADER 2014-2020 programme.
Willie Dunlop, 77, who lives near Dumfries, has been attending the meetings since December after seeing them advertised in The Scottish Farmer. He lost his wife almost two years ago and admits the meetings have helped him make new friends and give him something to look forward to:
“When I first heard about the Retired Farmers Group I thought it was a good idea and after attending my first meeting I haven’t missed one since.
“We have a right good blether and discuss different things about farming and other things. I just enjoy the company and having that opportunity to reminisce a wee bit about farming when we were younger and how things have changed.
“We’ve had a group day out where we visited a farm in Newton Stewart to see all the old implements we used to use. We have another outing arranged this month so I’m really looking forward to that as well.”
At the last meeting a young farmer, Patrick Laurie, came along seeking advice from the group and they were only too happy to help.
Mr Dunlop added: “I really enjoyed that part of it. He came to ask us for advice on farming practices and we were able to use our years of experience to offer some informed advice. We’ve all been there and have the t-shirt, as they say, so it’s good to be able to pass on that knowledge to the next generation.
“Being a retired farmer is lonely, especially when you lose your partner. It’s great to have a group like this to go to – it really helps.”
Jill Rennie, who founded the group, said:
“The group started back in November, and it was an idea I had when I became aware that there were a number of farmers who had retired from running the family farm and had maybe built a new house in a nearby village and had become isolated from the farming community.
“At the time I was working for Alzheimers Scotland in the Dementia-friendly Community Project. My idea was to start a social group for people who had retired from farming, including people with memory problems. I was aware that former farmers who had maybe stopped going to the Marts and didn’t really have any other opportunities to meet people socially.
“Since we started the meetings at the end of last year it has grown arms and legs, and we’ve continued to meet monthly. We ran the pilot until the end of March until the funding ended for the Dementia friendly community project, we then received further funding to continue and the group in partnership with NHS Dumfries and Galloway.”
Emma Harper MSP, who spoke at the meeting about her proposals to tackle livestock worrying, commented:
“I think this was a wonderful idea from Jill Rennie to organise a group for retired farmers and farm workers to come together and share stories from the past and talk about technological transitions of equipment and agricultural practice.
“I really enjoyed listening to those in attendance, including Mr Dunlop, who brought in some old farming equipment and photographs which I could remember from my childhood years growing up on a dairy farm. Objects and photos are very nostalgic, and are effective in sparking lively conversations and debates, particularly helping those with memory loss symptoms.
“In any profession the adjustment to life after work can be a real shock to the system, but for those working in agriculture who have their job in their blood and are used to running the farm 24/7 it can be especially difficult. It would be natural to feel very lonely and isolated, which is why it’s so important that these sorts of groups exist.
“The meetings have already been a great success and I’m delighted they have been expanded to create a second group in Carrutherstown, which I expect will be the first of many communities across the South West and Scotland to replicate Jill Rennie’s trailblazing group in Castle Douglas.”