The Prince’s Countryside Fund Forum 2016

On Tuesday 6th December 2016 I was invited to be a part of The Prince’s Countryside Fund Forum and I was delighted to engage with, and learn more about, this inspiring organisation…

The Prince’s Countryside Fund (PCF) was established by HRH The Prince of Wales in 2010 and aims to secure a brighter future for the British countryside. Their vision is of a confident, robust and sustainable agricultural and rural community, which is appreciated for its vital contribution to all our everyday lives, and the value of which cannot be underestimated. To support this vision PCF awards more than £1.3m in grants each year to rural enterprise projects across the UK, including the provision of training opportunities.

The PCF Forum #PCFForum took place at Church House, Westminster on Tuesday 6th December, with the following aims:
• Hear from grassroots organisations and sector bodies to learn about their programmes that have had a positive impact on individuals, business and rural communities.
• Discuss the challenges facing rural communities and British farming.
• Encourage debate to explore the most effective methods to improve the viability and resilience of rural communities with a view to inform future policy.
• Promote networking and collaboration between local, regional and national organisations.
• Celebrate the achievements of the PCF in the rural economy.

BBC Radio 4 Farming Today presenter Charlotte Smith hosted the day and after her opening words to the delegates (a mixture of past, present and hopefully future beneficiaries), Lord Curry of Kirkharle, Chairman, PCF addressed the event and highlighted why the PCF is so important to him and the British countryside. There have been many kind words written about Lord Curry and I’ll not take a huge part of this blog up by doing the same, but will simply say that after working with him over the last 8 months in his role as NLBC Board Chair, I am absolutely delighted he has committed to stay in his role for the next 3 years.

I was then invited onto the stage to join Charlotte, Lord Curry, Steve McLean (Head of Agriculture & Fisheries Sourcing, Marks and Spencer Plc) and Professor Mark Shucksmith OBE (Director, Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal), for a panel discussion around ‘Realising the potential and opportunity in rural communities’.

Each of us on the panel had been asked to deliver a 5-minute opening statement and I’d been briefed to focus on the gap in the range of people needed to work in rural careers, the opportunities to inspire people to consider a rural career, flexible learning opportunities and collaboration with industry to promote employment and training opportunities. The panel discussion aimed to set the scene for the day and be positive in nature, highlighting examples of collaboration and success within the parameters of the PCF grants programme as well as highlighting priorities as we move towards a post-Brexit era. Charlotte then probed us on our statements and a few challenging questions were taken from the floor.

After the panel session, there were workshop options either side of lunch; I chose the session on the excellent Duchy College Nurturing Excellence Programme, delivered by Angela Shepherd, followed by the session delivered by the Plunkett Foundation on the bringing together of communities to run services, showcasing the Llandegla Community Village Shop. Phil Tidey, Vice Chairman, of the Llandegla shop spoke and took questions from the audience. It came across as a wonderful project and highlighted the great value of a shop to a rural community, not just for goods, but also as a community hub.

In the afternoon we were joined at the Forum by HRH The Prince of Wales and were then treated to three wonderful lightning talks around the theme of ‘Aspirations for the future in our rural communities’. Helen Milner OBE, Good Things Foundation, highlighted the great potential for digital technology to enhance rural lives (a belief shared completely by NLBC!) Adam Day, Farmer Network, talked about the strength of rural communities when things go wrong, and his own experiences during the floods in Cumbria. The best, for me though, was a fantastic talk by Helen Reeve, a recipient of the PCF Land Rover Bursary in 2016. Helen is a dairy and beef farmer, and also a part-time lecturer in agriculture at Easton & Otley College. Helen’s talk was brilliant! Her opening line was “I love cows, I always have” and she mixed humour and humility with a clear warmness and passion for agriculture, the countryside, her students and of course cows! I spoke to her afterwards and was even more impressed. Helen is a great example of a person in industry who is now involved in the training of the next generations, and is just the type of person NLBC is keen to listen to and work closely with to get the skills development right. Helen has also embraced digital technology and you can follow her on Twitter @ReeveHelen

As I’d been involved with the panel, at the end of the day I had the opportunity of being introduced to HRH by Lord Curry and it was great to be asked questions about NLBC and share a joke with him! The whole day was recorded artistically by Debbie Roberts, who is the founder and Director of Engage Visually Ltd. Amazing to see this being created during the day and how Debbie wove all the various people, topics and talks into one visual record. Certainly a lady I’m aiming to work with in the future…

The PCF Forum was a great event, it showcased some fantastic projects and thanks goes to Helen Aldis, PCF for organising the Forum and Marks & Spencer for sponsoring the day. I was delighted to be invited, learnt much, met some inspiring people, had a really enjoyable day and am pleased that those who attended (including HRH) all now know a little bit more about the National Land Based College!


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