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Rural Support Network

Rural Support: Helpline and Outreach support service for farming families and rural dwellers across Northern Ireland

Social farming is an alternative to institutionalised traditional therapies for people with varying needs in terms of physical and mental health. Within the EU there is a strong tradition of ‘green care’ by which multifunctional farms provide opportunities for vulnerable individuals to be involved in agricultural activities which contribute to the running of the farm. Here in Northern Ireland where social farming is a less well-known concept the SoFab pilot project conducted between 2011 and 2014 provided evidence that there are numerous benefits for all parties involved. Following the completion of this project Rural Support has been tasked to facilitate and promote Social Farming activities within Northern Ireland. We are currently undertaking a series of PHA funded ‘taster sessions’ of social farming for service users in all 5 trust areas through which we hope to clearly define the benefits for future service users and to determine how further sessions of social farming should be delivered and be made more widely available.

Social farming provides a means of recovery as it offers vulnerable individuals the opportunity to participate in society (Friedel 2010), in a way which provides empowerment, purpose, and hope. Instilling these notions in people suffering from mental health difficulties and disabilities is integral to rehabilitation.  By engaging in social farming activities we may lessen the demand for acute services by providing vulnerable individuals with improved mental wellbeing and even improved physical health. A UK study (Leck 2013) has discussed how visiting care farms contributed to positive changes in diet and exercise habits of individuals who attended them.  Health improvements identified include lowered risk of obesity and developing related illnesses such as diabetes.

Another important aspect of social farming activities discussed by Dessein and Bock (2010) is the fact that it may present a more economically viable means of care for certain individuals in the long term. This notion was also echoed in the ‘Costs and Benefits of Social Farming’ report produced as part of the SoFAB project (2014) which suggested that with more detailed analysis social farming could be proven to save money within the health and social care services. The project funded by the PHA which is currently taking place will assist us in defining a viable unit cost for delivering the service coordinated by Rural Support.

Social Farming provides a unique opportunity for practitioners and individuals within the care system to avail of innovative means of improving health and wellbeing. Evidence from current activities demonstrate increased choice, more independence and enhanced social inclusion for participants.

We believe that social farming is an excellent example of how health and social care can be integrated into our communities. Service users not only have the opportunity to develop new skills but also to form friendships with both other service users and the family on the farm. This has proven to be a hugely pleasurable element of social farming for past service users.

SROI exercise to be carried out –staff member currently receiving training.