COVID-19 - a time to support and look out for each other
6th May 2020 / By Alistair Driver
In the past, the mental health side of industry crises has all too-often been overlooked. The NPA and members of its Pig Industry Group are determined to ensure this does not happen during the COVID-19 outbreak.
In the midst ofthe global crisis, the UK pork sector is, all things considered, faring relatively well, especially in comparison to other UK farm sectors and pork industries around the world, notably in North America.
The UK pork supply chain is continuing to deliver in the face of some massive challenges, and the pig price has held up, so far, even as EU prices were falling.
But beneath that headline picture of stability are thousands of personal stories, featuring, among many positive experiences, sadly in some cases, tragedy, and in others, huge economic strain and mental stress due the general turmoil and uncertainty caused by COVID-19.
The mental strain on individuals and their families has become increasingly apparent during the weekly Pig Industry Group (PIG) meetings held by NPA to gauge how different parts of the industry are coping.
While the headline message has been that the supply chain is operating smoothly, producers and allied industry representatives have spoken about their own personal struggles and anxiety.
“There are many reasons people are struggling, some economic, some to do with family and home life and some just about fear of the unknown,” NPA senior policy adviser Rebecca Veale said.
“So we want to raise awareness about the personal strain some individuals are under and encourage people across the industry to look out for each other and point them in the direction of help if they need it – everyone should feel comfortable in asking for help.”
Rob Mutimer (pictured with wife, Helen), who runs a 750-sow outdoor unit in Norfolk with its own butchery and farm shops, has experienced at first hand the various ways the epidemic is affecting the industry.
In the early days of the outbreak, one of his butchers came down with suspected COVID-19 infection, resulting in him being off work for three weeks.
“He was very ill, but I’m very pleased to say that he has recovered and is back now. We feel lucky that nobody else was infected, but it all adds to the worry,” said Rob, the NPA’s vice chairman.
While his two farm shops are doing ‘fantastically’, the business lost more than 150 restaurant and pub customers overnight, accounting for nearly half its trade, although thanks partly to the Government furlough scheme, it is coping, he said.
Meanwhile, some of the farm’s staff are struggling to balance work with the challenges to family life created by lockdown.
“Both my managers have got young children and it is a struggle, particularly for their wives to manage the home-schooling. I am letting people work different hours so they can help.
“We’re trying to change how we work to look after people’s mental health and their family. We have also got to think about the impact of staff working in isolation, especially if it carries on for another 6-8 weeks.
“Sometimes, it not what is happening at the coal face, but what is happening behind it that matters. I am pleased to have heard stories of people doing similar things with their staff.”
There are also lots of people out there in the industry ‘who are very alone’, he added. Mr Mutimer has been making sure he is in regular contact with one recently retired industry figure who has been ‘at home on his own for three weeks without seeing a soul’.
“There will be many more like him. It is important that we think of these people and make the effort to pick up the phone and check they are alright. If they need more help, there is plenty of support out there,” he said.
“This is a time for everyone in this industry to look out for each other.”
Looking after yourself and each other
Rebecca has outlined some key ways we can all look after each other and ourselves:
- Check in with staff and colleagues regularly to see how they are doing and encourage them to get help if you think they are not coping
- Consider changing work practices and patterns to help address current stresses, such as childcare issues
- Pick up the phone if you think someone might either be lonely or struggling – a quick catch up can make someone’s day
- Seek external help if you or others are not coping. There is a lot of support out there.
The Farming Community Network (FCN)
Phone: 03000 111 999
You Are Not Alone (YANA)
Includes national directory of rural support groups
Phone: 0300 323 0400
Lincolnshire Rural Support Network (LRSN)
Phone: 0800 138 1710
The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI)
Phone: 0808 281 9490
Phone: 116 123
Phone: 0300 123 3393
- We will be posting more articles on this subject over the next few days.