The Cheshire Agricultural Chaplaincy has, like many ecumenical organisations, had to adapt its work during the current coronavirus pandemic.
Founded 20 years ago in response to the foot and mouth crisis of that time, the chaplaincy has always valued its rural constituency. Now, officially recognised as key workers, farmers are widely acknowledged as vital to getting food on to our tables.
Operating under the auspices of Churches Together in Cheshire, the chaplaincy has grown into a team of approximately 15: farmers, clergy and agricultural specialists. However the aim of the Chaplaincy remains unchanged: to be a free confidential service offering a listening ear, practical help and care to the whole farming community in a non-judgmental way. The farming community is acknowledged as one where there are real concerns about mental health, and the occupation is overly represented in suicide statistics.
Whilst, thankfully, foot and mouth is no longer prevalent, farming is pressed by many other demands: financial pressures, tenancy issues, government grant uncertainties, bovine TB, Brexit and changing regulations, the vagaries of the weather, long hours and social isolation. And then add the coronavirus crisis into the mix. “We are acutely aware of the pressures of falling milk and potato sales due to lockdown and the pressure on sheep, beef and pork prices,” says Lead Chaplain, Sharon Mayer.
The chaplaincy, which has members from Methodist, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Free Churches, has risen to the challenge of keeping in touch with individuals and families under the current constraints. Social media (Facebook and Twitter) is increasingly popular. Phone contact is maintained with those who are most vulnerable, advocacy and interventions with government departments continue. “Meet and Eat” lunches have been adapted to “Lunch In Your Living Room” with a delivery of food and a socially distanced chat on the doorstep. Chaplaincy members have cooked some meals themselves and have also had support from local caterers.
The work of the Cheshire Agricultural Chaplaincy and recognition of its effectiveness is reflected in the grant support that it receives not only from the churches of Cheshire, but from health authorities and charities, and the wider farming industry.
Visit the Cheshire Agricultural Chaplaincy website to see more of their work.