Stories of a Changing Landscape, a Farmer's Perspective

Stories of a Changing Landscape, a Farmer’s Perspective.

Background to the project

It had been acknowledged by Swansea Rural Development Partnership’s Local Action Group that the demanding work involved in the farming and agricultural sector not only takes a physical toll on those working in the field, but it can also place immense strain on some farmers’ and land-based workers’ mental health, which has not always been openly recognised by those in the sector. This has become more apparent as a result of the Pandemic and the additional stresses being brought to the forefront; but also, as the Local Action Group membership has widened to include more agricultural representation, it has provided clearer understanding of the needs and challenges faced by of our farming communities in Swansea.

As we know farmers are faced daily with long working hours usually carried out on their own, which may in some cases result in feelings of isolation and loneliness. Varying weather conditions and threat of crop failures, loss of livestock, changes in environmental legislation and the political climate have resulted in lost opportunities and closed markets; all of which contribute to mounting financial pressures, leaving those in the agriculture and horticulture sectors open to vulnerability.

It is apparent that although we live in an age where more people are open to discussing concerns around mental health, the demographic appears to be those that are in the younger age bracket, who tend to lead a more cosmopolitan lifestyle rather than those who are over 40 and who work in the agricultural sector. Despite these changes there are still many long-standing stigmas in the farming culture that prevent open discussions around mental health issues especially in young men. This causes many people to have a limited understanding of the subject and are unaware of the signs around mental health, leaving them reluctant to talk about their concerns to family members, friends, or professionals; the result of which has led to many taking their own lives.

The Office of National Statistics has reported one agricultural worker in the UK takes their own life each week. According to statistics, the risk of suicide for men working in the agricultural industry is almost twice the national average.

In order to support farmers and land-based workers who may be quietly struggling, the industry and local communities need to talk about poor mental health issues more openly to erode some of the taboo that is built up over the years, as well as making it easier and more convenient for people to ask for help.

With this in mind, Swansea Rural Development Partnership’s Local Action Group commissioned “Stories of a Changing Landscape, a Farmer’s Perspective”. To document and celebrating local farming heritage looking at the challenges and successes of working the land and how farming practices have changed over the years, linking to sector specific support services for those who might be struggling silently in order to strengthen, support and create a resilient rural Swansea that has increase health and wellbeing.

It is hoped that the commission will takes steps towards normalising discussions around the wellbeing, highlighting that many people suffer from poor mental health, it has been reported that 1 in 4 people will suffer with poor mental health issues at some point in their life.

The aim of the project is to document the heritage and traditions of farming and land-based work in Gower and Rural Swansea, so that our agricultural past and communities are not lost but understood and appreciated by future generations to come.

Swansea Rural Development Partnership

The Partnership holds membership from Public, Private and 3rd Sector organisations who represent the interests of Swansea’s rural communities. The Partnership’s Local Action Group oversee the Rural Development Programme LEADER on behalf of Swansea Council.

Swansea RDP LEADER is a community led programme delivered in the 8 fully eligible wards of Mawr, Llangyfelach, Pontarddulais, Penclawdd, Fairwood, Bishopston, Pennard, and Gower; and partially supported in the 3 service wards of Clydach, Gorseinon and Gowerton.

Swansea Rural Development Partnership’s Local Action Group are grateful for the contribution from a number of partner organisations, namely, The Farming Community Network, The DPJ Foundation, Public Health Wales, Bangor University and RABI for all their input in developing the commission and for their continued support. The Partnership would also like to thank all the farmers and their families for their contribution on this project.

This project has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

Artists’ Bios

Florence Browne is a documentary filmmaker from Pembrokeshire. She is committed to using film as a tool for sharing underrepresented perspectives and changing the way we see the world. For five years she’s worked with communities in Cornwall and the South West, creating films, exhibitions and programmes for radio which reflect rural living today. Usually shooting alone, her work and approach is intimate and gives space for people to tell their stories at their own pace.

Now based in Wales, Stories of a Changing Landscape is her first collaboration with photographer Callum Baker, and an opportunity to explore the unique and immersive way of life for people involved in agriculture.

Callum Baker is a British documentary photographer whose work often centres on themes of connection and mental health. A lifelong curiosity and a decade spent photographing the diversity of the human experience have created a process committed to collaborating with contributors in place of making a subject of them. With empathy at the forefront of every project, he seeks to capture what life feels like for each individual.

Together, Florence and Callum have sought to amplify the voices and experiences of farmers in rural Swansea. Through this exhibition they hope to create a point of connection for agricultural workers struggling with some of the issues explored, and to give the general public a glimpse of what life is like for those feeding the nation.

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