Trading Standards has been nationally acclaimed for a ground-breaking project which focuses on farmers' mental health and strengthens links with rural communities.

The Heart of the Southwest Trading Standards Service (HotSW TS) covers Devon, Plymouth, Somerset, and Torbay and was awarded the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) Hero Award for best project in London this week.

On behalf of the CTSI, Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw presented the award to Nikki Rattenbury, Rebecca Barker and Samantha Younger for the Mental Health & Wellbeing in farming communities’ project which has been operated through the Trading Standards Farming Partnership (TSFP).

Due to the rural nature of the South West, advice, guidance and enforcement on animal health, welfare and disease control is a high priority for Trading Standards.

Over the past two years farmers have been under more pressure than ever before and there was evidence that this was affecting the mental health of many.

It was recognised that more work was needed to raise awareness about mental health and wellbeing and the support available.

The project brought together several rural organisations and support services to raise the profile of mental health in rural communities and to raise awareness of the help available.

The ongoing project has so far included four webinars, bringing together speakers from the Gay Farmer Helpline, the Farming Community Network, Young Farmers, and an accredited cognitive behavioural therapist.

It has been supported by more than a dozen organisations including Devon & Cornwall Police, Avon & Somerset Police, Devon and Somerset Fire & Rescue, The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, Mind and CALM.

A fifth webinar is planned for Thursday Nov 18, 2021 which will include the Samaritans.

The scope of the project also enabled animal health specialists within HotSW TS to receive mental health 'first aid' training. This training means that officers can identify the early signs of mental illness when they visit farmers.

In addition, the project helped trigger the setting up of a Listening Ear Support Service for Devon, offering the wider business community a safe and friendly space to discuss the stresses they faced running a business during the COVID-19 pandemic .

The number of partners of the TSFP is expanding, and its profile is being raised through social media. There are plans for a regular physical presence at events such as the Devon and Somerset County Shows. 

The team are at Sedgemoor Livestock Market at the Sedgemoor Auction Centre, North Petherton, near Bridgwater this Saturday morning. The first 100 to talk to the team will get a free pasty and coffee.

Paul Thomas, Head of HotSW TS, said:

“Farming is a major part of The Southwest's economy but for many the pandemic made what was already a challenging way of life a lot more difficult. According to the Farming Community Network nearly half of all calls made to their helpline between July and October last year were related to mental health. It was apparent that many in the farming industry were struggling but didn’t know how or where to get support.

“Our aims were to bring together rural groups and organisations to highlight the stigma surrounding mental health so those who were struggling knew that they weren’t on their own and how they could access support if they needed it and, to start building and upskilling that necessary network of support.”

Andy Jerrard, Livestock Market Chaplaincy Co-ordinator for the area said: “The way organisations are regarded depends on their staff, and the officers at HotSW TS have been fantastic.

“They have changed the perception of farming regulation – now advice, help and support are first and foremost and enforcement is a last resort.

“Trading Standards and their officers understand the intense pressure farmers today are under, how difficult the job is and the challenges they face daily. This means that farmers are now more willing to accept help and receive advice.

“Farmers used to be part of the social fabric of rural communities but because of economics fewer people now work on farms. Many now work on their own and are isolated. When farmers markets closed during lockdown, they lost their main point of social contact and I know many personally who really struggled because of this. 

“Projects like this have been a tremendous help to many. It shows that trading standards cares about farmer’s welfare. The award is richly deserved.”

Councillor Rufus Gilbert, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Trading Standards and Economy, said: “Farmers have an enormously difficult and challenging job I’m delighted that the service has been recognised for a project that is giving such needed support to many.  I think that the region is served by one  of the best trading standards services in the country and this award is evidence of that.”

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