This week would usually have seen our hunting team at the Wales and Border Counties hound show at Builth Wells. Like so many events that define our rural summers, it is an unchanging celebration of a special niche of rural life. It is sad to be locked down a long way from Powys, but there is the consolation of knowing that this time next year, in the same week, in the same place, I will be sharing the same conversations with the same dubious characters as I did last year and in the years before. The resilience of the rural community, and the commitment we have to our passions, whether they be hounds, livestock, sheepdogs or myriad of other obsessions, means we will be back at shows and events marking the progression of the seasons as soon as the COVID virus allows.
One of the great aspects of Builth is that, like so many other rural shows, it brings together a gathering of like-minded people from often remote and isolated communities. Of course, people come for the hounds, but shows are fundamentally about human interaction, especially for many who spend their lives working by themselves and coming into human contact with relatively few other people.
The physical restrictions of lockdown have probably been less onerous on those of us lucky enough to live in the countryside than for many in towns and cities. We have had easy access to open country to escape the walls of our homes. The mental challenges of living and working in the countryside are, however, well documented. Mental health issues in the rural community are over-represented and under-reported. The COVID crisis will only have made issues of loneliness and isolation more difficult and not being able to enjoy the human interaction that shows, and other gatherings bring will increase the challenge for many people.
Real progress has been made in overcoming the stigma of mental health issues in the farming and wider rural community, but there is still a long way to go. Strong communities do not just project their resilience and togetherness, they also look inside to support each other. Our continued physical separation makes communication even more important, and as we talk there is a simple message for each and every one of us. We need to ask ourselves, our friends and our neighbours if we are OK? And then ask if we are really OK?
There is nothing to be ashamed of in admitting mental health issues, and there are many, many people ready to help. In particular the RABI and the Farming Community Network have very good resources.