Teamwork between North Yorkshire trading standards officers and farming charity Farming Community Network (FCN) to support farmers who run into difficulties has been recognised with a national award.
Helen Benson, Yorkshire coordinator for the charity, received a Certificate of Commendation in the Chartered Trading Standards Institute’s Hero Awards on 22 June after being nominated by North Yorkshire County Council’s trading standards team.
The award recognises the invaluable role Helen has played while working in partnership with trading standards for 15 years. One particular case involved her support in helping a farmer to regain control of his life after he faced animal welfare charges for neglecting his livestock.
Working with trading standards and the farming community, Helen found a solution that enabled the farmer to avoid prosecution and improved his welfare and that of his sheep. She attended safeguarding meetings and worked with the community to find support for the farmer.
Divisional Trading Standards Officer Angela Lacy said: “Helen’s intervention means the sheep are being tended and no further issues have arisen since. The farmer has been able to maintain his status as a sheep farmer and the land his family has farmed for nearly 100 years, which was of huge importance to him and his mental well-being. And, importantly, no further breaches of animal health legislation have been identified.”
The work of the trading standards animal welfare team largely concerns disease control and ensuring farm animal welfare standards are maintained. This also includes ensuring that farm animals are moved in line with disease control legislation.
Prosecution is a tool trading standards can use to enforce compliance when it is appropriate and necessary. Working with the FCN enables trading standards to look at alternative options for people who could have found themselves before a court.
“If we come across someone who is vulnerable or not coping and in need of help, we would suggest that they contact the FCN,” said Angela. “Avoiding a prosecution wherever possible can achieve the desired outcome, which not only benefits the farmer, but makes best use of the public purse.
“Previous examples of working with FCN have helped farmers to keep their livelihood and maintain the emotional connection. They don’t have to lose that part of their lives and deal with the gap it would leave. It allows people to maintain their independence and dignity.”
Angela says the FCN might bring in a younger farmer at the start of their career to support a farmer who needs help while gaining experience for themselves.
“There is an aging profile among farmers,” she says. “You see some who don’t feel they can retire, either for financial reasons or because it is what they have done all their lives and they can’t let go. They get to an age when they can’t cope with the physical demands of keeping livestock and perhaps can’t keep up with record-keeping.”
As FCN coordinator for Yorkshire, Helen Benson works with about 30 volunteers across the region.
“Our volunteers have an understanding of farming issues and ‘walk with’ farming people as long as required,” she said. “We support farmers and farming families in a variety of circumstances. Finance, health, tenancies and animal health are just a few. We are there alongside for as long as needed.
“Animal health issues can arise from different factors and usually include financial difficulties or the health of the farmer or the family. The aging population and reduced workforce are also factors.
“Trading standards are aware of this and work with us to change the issues that cause animal health concerns and improve the situation.
“We work with farmers and families to comply with rules and regulations and avoid prosecutions, which seldom solve the issue and can cause immense harm and distress. Keeping farmers in good health and compliant with regulatory frameworks can avoid problems, which can escalate in some circumstances, affecting whole communities in turn.”
The FCN also works with other authorities throughout Yorkshire, including local authorities, vets, the British Cattle Movement Service, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Rural Payments Agency.
Helen added: “I am incredibly honoured to receive this commendation on behalf of our team in Yorkshire and the local farming community. I hope this has made people realise that support is always on hand for farmers and our team will do its upmost to assist farmers who find themselves in a desperate situation.”
North Yorkshire County Councillor Chris Metcalfe, Executive Member for Trading Standards, said: “Working in partnership in this way is at the core of the County Council’s thinking. We want to help communities thrive, and that involves wherever possible supporting people who are dealing with issues, including those related to isolation and loneliness. The support of Helen and the FCN has been invaluable in finding solutions that benefit individuals and the wider community in farming areas.”
Nine Hero Awards and three Certificates of Commendation were presented during this year’s CTSI Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards Conference and Exhibition in Telford on 22 June.
Leon Livermore, CTSI chief executive, said: “It is easy to forget trading standards play such a crucial role in protecting the welfare of animals across the UK, but it is important to remember that others help too. It was because of Helen’s intervention in this case that the animals were kept safe and the appropriate support was give, ultimately protecting consumers.”
The FCN’s national helpline on 03000 111 999 is open from 7am to 11pm every day of the year