Countrymen UK: Challenges and responses to COVID-19

Earlier in 2020, it wasn’t only the COVID19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown that came as shocks. It was also the speed at which it all seemed to arrive, almost unannounced. Due to this, there wasn’t a great deal of practical support for care providers in the voluntary and small charity sectors.

Countrymen UK knew it had to do something quickly and effectively to avoid long-term damage to the services we had developed over many years.

Before COVID19

Countrymen UK was established in 2011 as an alternative to traditional, indoor day care provision. It was aimed at men who were facing the challenges of long-term health and social conditions like dementia, Parkinson’s, PTSD, stroke, brain injury, isolation and loneliness, amongst many others.

These were men who had worked most of their lives outdoors in active occupations. Men who found it difficult to manage the changes in their lives and the consequences of being denied access to the outdoor environments they loved.

Countrymen UK provided the opportunity for these men to get back outdoors and onto the farms and gardens they loved. At the same time, they were among other like-minded men who had their own memories to share. Together they were back to being themselves, working with animals, plants, machinery and each other – all to the benefit of their general health and wellbeing.

Not only the men themselves, but family carers found this time as their respite knowing that the men were in a safe and stimulating place.

In 2017 the Lottery Community Fund made funding available to take the model (first developed in Dorset) and make it available to other care farms and gardens throughout the UK. And by the time we were facing COVID19, we had member farms that stretched from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands.

The challenges of COVID19

We had no sooner recruited and trained our Countrymen UK network of farms, all of which were busy promoting their new service and gaining momentum in attracting their own Countrymen members, then COVID19 and lockdown struck.

What had been a relatively positive situation had now become a major threat to the time and effort that everyone had so far delivered. We knew it was important to maintain momentum and interest but more importantly, it was essential that the men (who were now perhaps even more isolated) had access to stimulating activities. We wanted to ensure that these men had contact with their peers and staff members on the farms and a support network to assist wherever possible. In short, we wanted to take the farms to the men, but the question was how?

The Outreach Initiative

Within a few weeks Countrymen UK had identified funding within existing budgets. After clearance from the National Lottery Community Fund, this was redirected into our Outreach Initiative.

All farms within the Countrymen UK Network were asked if they would like to get involved in this initiative and it came as no surprise that all of them did!

This allowed us to launch a recruitment plan, which supported each farm in identifying and hiring a suitable outreach specialist locally. Countrymen UK paid for expenses over a four-month period, together with a small amount to cover outlays for essential resources.

As the recruitment process proceeded, we then devised a series of support mechanisms to ensure that each outreach specialist had the best chance of ensuring a successful outcome for the initiative. This included fortnightly problem-solving meetings via Zoom with the Countrymen UK Project Manager, regular reporting on progress and outcomes, a series of online training sessions and a regular flow of ideas, templates and promotional materials. There was also one-to-one support available to all the outreach specialists.

Outreach from all network farms included regular telephone calls to men and their family carers, social media contact, regular newsletters, Cream Tea sessions for a restricted number of men, food packs, activity packs and videos with farm footage and photos from the farm.

A detailed analysis of final reports from all outreach specialists is currently underway and will be included in the overall Countrymen UK Project Evaluation. This work is being carried out by the University of Essex.

However, even at this early stage, we can confidently announce that this Outreach Initiative achieved a great deal of support from Countrymen, their family carers and from many community organisations throughout the country. All the farms in the Countrymen UK Network have committed to sustaining their outreach work within the budget and resource restrictions they face.

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Published 11th November 2020

Countrymen UK