A major focus of The Countrymen’s Club is helping older people to help themselves. The Club was designed in conjunction with older people who have gone on to become members. The countrymen help steer the Club, deciding what activities they would like to do and how they would like the project to develop. Some of the countrymen enjoy planning activities and sharing their skills and crafts with others or helping those who are less able to have a go. Others have found they enjoy volunteering to help to promote the project. Many of the men mention the feeling of being a social group rather than being a service that they attend.
The countrymen have formed a very strong bond and they really enjoy reminiscing and sharing with people who have similar interests and experiences. It has been great to see how well they support each other, even though some have lived very different lives and faced different challenges. An important part of Club is that the countrymen find that they can talk with men who are going through similar life changes such as retirement or illness and this helps them to manage better.
A major goal for us was to test whether a farm environment would make a difference to the men who attend. This was a new way of offering a service to older men who did not engage with more traditional services such as day centres. Most of the countrymen are retired or semi-retired farmers or have had other active or countryside careers. They now struggle to access this familiar environment and many have expressed that they feel the focus is often on what they cannot do. Here at the Club the focus is on what they can do, what they have achieved and what they can still achieve.
We have worked hard to develop a good network of referral partners to help spread the word about the Club. The men we are trying to engage with are generally isolated and hard to reach. So a good network of partners has been crucial in making sure we find the men who would most benefit from coming. Another challenge that partners have been helping us to overcome, which is linked to the countrymen’s isolation, is transport. NORDCAT have provided a free bus service for countrymen one afternoon a week. Organisations like The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Fund have also been very helpful. Without this help some men would not be able to get to the Club.
All in all, we believe that our approach of using farms to help isolated older people live life to the full in the countryside is really having a positive effect. We’re now busy writing our flagship application to BIG, which will allow us to replicate these successes at farms elsewhere.