Mendlesham: Priscilla OBE at your service - 2,200 calls for Farm Crisis Network

Last week, PRIS COLCHESTER, 80, of Mendlesham, near Stowmarket, was awarded an OBE for services to the Eastern Counties Farm Crisis Network farming charity. Here she writes about her work

BY 1999 my husband Roy and I were supposed to be retired.

It was time to slow down a little, do the things we had put on hold, but there is always work on a farm. We both had a lifetime of farming experience.

Two of our sons were nicely settled running the family farm and with little consultation between the two of us we were of the same mind that an opportunity had opened up for us to find a way to help and support other farmers in not so fortunate circumstances as ourselves.

We made contact with Farm Crisis Network, went through an interview proceedure and were accepted as volunteers with the responsibility of establishing a Suffolk FCN Group. Together with the Rev Sally Fogden, Anglican Agricultural Chaplain, we soon had a number of potentially interested persons from the farming community and local churches of various Christian denominations willing to give their expertise and time free of cost and to be available to “listen, walk with and support” those under stress or facing difficult times.

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The first meeting of the Suffolk FCN Group took place June 4, 1999, at our home, Ashes Farm, Mendlesham. Roy and I were appointed joint co-ordinators of the group and Sally was appointed chairman. The Suffolk FCN group became fully recognised with 10 accepted volunteers safely through their interviews.

Within only a few months many of our pig farmers were needing help and support when Classical Swine Fever was identified in pigs at an abattoir in Essex and spread quickly to Suffolk and Norfolk. Affected farms were isolated, pigs herds slaughtered and movement restrictions enforced that caused many difficult problems.

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Then soon after in 2001 came the much dreaded foot-and-mouth disease. The support of the FCN volunteers was very much needed, as also FCN coverage for Essex, and it was at this time I became sole co-ordinator of the Suffolk and Essex FCN Group. In addition I volunteered to take my turn staffing the FCN National Helpline for a four-hour session on the telephone, on three to four days per week.

The helpline – 0845 367 9990 – provides access to practical support to farmers and their families, 7am to 11pm every day, with a messenger service through the night. Calls taken by the helpline volunteer are passed to the relevant county co-ordinator who will ask the nearest volunteer to make quick contact and offer to visit if required.

Last July, after 12 years as coordinator of the group and secretary as well, it seemed time to encourage a younger volunteer to take over the reins.

There has been a happy change-over. Philip Miles has all my support and is doing a great job.

I am continuing as an active volunteer in the Suffolk and Essex group and also with the helpline which can be busy at times, up to six or seven calls in a four hour session when, for whatever the cause or reason, there is anxiety and stress.

More than 2,200 calls have been taken by myself since 2001 – all confidential but they make quite a story.

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