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Borderlands during Covid

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Lockdown is impacting our team of Agricultural Chaplains in a number of ways. The absence of face to face contact with members of the farming community has meant that our ministry has taken place largely by telephone. Where possible, Chaplains are delivering emergency parcels, sending cards and letters, and offering comfort and reassurance that BRC is Here to Help.

Many of our churches have turned to online methods of engagement with their congregations, providing church services, ways of being "together apart" and other materials for reflection. Whilst exploring online avenues for pastoral support remains a future consideration, there are issues with broadband availability, and personal preferences, which suggest that more "traditional" methods, including personal visits, telephone and letters, will also be needed. On a very practical note we worked with the NFU, police, Young Farmers and Herefordshire Council to attract a team of people with experience of livestock handling, just in case any farmers were affected by Covid and couldn't look after their stock. Fortunately, the service has not been required.

Borderlands has remained extremely active in representing the interests of the farming community with policy makers. Just before lockdown BRC had organised a Post-Brexit Farming Resilience Working Group, comprising representatives from the Chaplaincy, local authority, farming organisations and charities, to do some forward planning on the potential implications of Brexit for the farming community. Brexit wasn't the only driver, the age demographic of farming and changing markets will also have an impact, and it has been suggested that up to a third of farmers may leave the industry in the next decade. Members of the group were unable to meet in person, but they have met virtually to inform Herefordshire Councils future mental health planning.

Many of the avenues that form the farming calendar have been cancelled, such as the Royal Three Counties Show and the Shropshire and West Mids show. However, the need for creating venues for social interaction as lockdown eases is a priority as experience shows that the ability to talk is a vital component in preventing some of the mental health issues that are likely to rise on the back of the recent floods (now also a drought), Covid, Brexit, demographics etc., all of which impact on the economic viability of farms. Plans are taking place to extend Shropshire's "Butty Van" into Herefordshire, a mobile farmers breakfast that was one of the highlights for last year's visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury. We are also talking to Herefordshire Council to ensure that their Talk Community Hubs will be as farmer friendly as possible.

Borderlands is part of a national network, jointly co-ordinated by the NFU and the Worshipful Company of Farmers, which is working collaboratively to support farming families, and members of the Chaplaincy Team are also Office Holders in the national Agricultural Chaplains' Association.

We are also anxious to reflect upon, and learn from, the lessons of Covid. What changes would we want to make to enable a better response if there was a future pandemic, and what changes will we have to make in order to continue to provide pastoral care and support in the "new normal." We are, therefore, proposing to co-host a conference that draws together colleagues from the local authority, farming community, charities and churches to assess what has happened, reflect and plan for the future.

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