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A short history of Countrymen UK

While Countrymen UK is a recently registered charity, we’ve been on the go since 2011, so we’re a well-established organisation with a sustainable model and we’ll be celebrating our 10th Anniversary in 2021.

Backstory

Julie Plumley, a qualified social worker and a farmer in her own right, decided to open a Care Farm in Dorset to cater for people of all ages, but mainly young people in their teens and twenties.

Unfortunately, Julie’s dad, John Stockley, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, which led to a series of events that saw the first Countrymen Club being established in Dorset.

John had been a farmer from the age of thirteen, when he was evacuated at the start of WW2 from his home in Swanage to a sheep farm in Catistock. When the war ended, John decided not to return home, not to return to school, and to make farming his life’s work, which is exactly what he did.

John’s plight

After many decades in farming, a combination of problems made John think about retirement. The first was the outbreaks of brucellosis and foot and mouth disease in the late ‘90s. The second problem was that John was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, which he never referred to by its name – he just called it ‘this thing’ but everyone knew what he meant.

John didn’t want to believe he was ill. He just wanted to live his life and always thought about the future. But his deteriorating health meant that he spent most of his time indoors and only got to see family members, which were mostly women.

Something more was definitely needed

The family felt that John needed more stimulation, to get out of the house and to regain some of his earlier independence, so they did some research and found a local Parkinson’s Group. 

John’s attendance only lasted for two visits. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like the fact that he was only switching from one indoor environment at home to another one where the group met. He felt he had little in common with the other group members. He wanted to be outside with people who could share stories about farming and countryside pursuits. After trying another, similar group, he opted out. These groups weren’t for him.

Nothing suitable was available

The family then approached the local community mental health team to ask them about services that were available to men like John who wanted to be outdoors and active, but they were told that there were no such services available.

It was a frustrating time. All the family wanted, and all John wanted, was for him to be with likeminded men who shared some of his experiences and who wouldn’t be a constant reminder of his illness. He was looking for something that would give him back some independence and that would allow his wife some time of her own.

A new direction

Daughter Julie, who had founded Future Roots Care Farm, decided to take things in a different direction. If the services John and his family craved weren’t available, she would make them available, which led to her starting the Countrymen’s Club at Rylands Farm in Dorset. Through word of mouth, they soon had four men attending regularly, including Julie’s dad, John.

The four men had various conditions but, by coming together at a farm-based club, they could leave their conditions at the gate and become involved in activities they had a genuine interest in. John also got to use a mobility scooter which he loved, and he laughed so much when he was using it. The change in John was almost instantaneous. He still didn’t talk about his illness but that didn’t matter – he was more positive, more involved and much more independent.

The Club ran one session each week and it took about 3 years to build up to ten men attending. Throughout this time, Julie realised that they may be targeting the wrong people when trying to recruit new members to the Countrymen’s Club. She felt that targeting local hospitals and community mental health teams may be the wrong way to go. The people who really needed to be contacted were the family Carers. Once this was done, membership of the Club increased more quickly.

The Countrymen’s Club meant as much to Carers as it did for the men themselves. It gave Carers the respite they needed, especially when they realised how active and stimulated their men were. They regained their sense of self and had a real sense of purpose.

Unlike other services, the Carers don’t attend the Countrymen’s Club. It’s a men-only environment as that’s exactly what the men were asking for.

A time of discovery and growth

It was a period of growth for the Countrymen Club, with light lunches being served to the men shortly after their arrival, and new staff and volunteers being appointed.

When the Countrymen Group attracted coverage on local news, the BBC’s Countryfile got in touch and did a film on what the farm was doing. The phone lines went crazy, with people from all over the country wanting to know whether our service was available in their area.

This was when the Countrymen UK dream began and, with support from the National Lottery’s Accelerating Ideas Fund, plans were made to spread the successful model of Countrymen around the UK. 

Sadly, Julie’s dad, John, passed away shortly after the funding arrived, but his family are comforted by the knowledge that, because of him, other men get to use this service. His legacy lives on.

Growing nationally

The Lottery was so impressed by what was happening at the Countrymen’s Club in Dorset that it made a new three-year funding package available in 2017, but this was for a different purpose. The idea was now to take the model that had been developed in Dorset and to spread it to other care farms and gardens around the UK.

To achieve the aspirations of this three-year project, two new members of staff were appointed, including Project Manager, David Drysdale.

Part of the funding requirements was that a series of targets had to be achieved during the course of the project. One of the most important targets was to recruit ten other care farms in the UK and to provide training and support to them as they grew their own Countrymen UK Groups.

By the end of Year 2, the recruitment target had been met. Twelve farms, from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands had signed up to the Countrymen UK model and other farms were put onto a waiting list.

The support given to the new Countrymen UK Network included:

  • A series of training courses that covered start-up, marketing and communications, and running an effective Countrymen Group
  • A telephone and email enquiry service was established to answer questions and provide advice on virtually anything the farms needed to discuss
  • A full Operations Manual was made available to every farm, together with templates for administering the new Countrymen UK Groups
  • A selection of support materials such as customised leaflets and inclusion on the Countrymen UK website were made available
  • A nationwide public relations and promotional campaign attracted widespread coverage on radio, television, local and national press and in specialist publications
  • Countrymen UK also provided funding and weekly support to farms who wanted to opt into our Outreach Initiative – a crucial part of the project when everyone was suddenly faced with the Coronavirus pandemic.

As part of the Countrymen UK Project, the University of Essex was commissioned to carry out a monitoring and evaluation assignment to determine the positive impacts of the project. The university’s report is due to be published in December 2020.

Further expansion planned for 2021 and beyond

Our aims during 2021 are to consolidate the work we’ve already done and to recruit a greater number of care farms as members of the Countrymen UK Network.

Everyone who supports us – individuals, organisations and companies – can rely on our commitment to the growth and development of the many clubs within the Countrymen UK Network as we move into our second decade. 

Meet the Countrymen UK Team

Julie Plumley

Julie Plumley - CEO

Julie was born and raised on a farm and is still heavily involved in the industry. She also had over thirty years of experience as a social worker before setting up Future Roots, her Care Farm in Dorset.

This was initially aimed at providing services to children and young adults but when Julie’s dad, a lifelong farmer, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, it was decided to start the first Countrymen’s Club.

This has now been used as the model for all the farms and gardens in the Countrymen UK Network

countrymen david drysdale photo

David Drysdale - Project Manager

David spent over thirty years in marketing and communications and another twenty in community development and outdoor pursuits.

He was born in Scotland, the seventh child of a seventh child, on the same day as Dennis the Menace (Dennis got all the publicity.)

David thought he had retired and planned to spend his time riding around on his motorcycle… until the Countrymen UK project launched him on another adventure.

Countrymen UK - a Registered Charity

Countrymen UK became a Registered Charity in 2019

Charity registration No. 1184921

Our Trustees

Liz Rose – Chair
Julie Plumley – CEO
Rose Lockyear
Geoff Lockyear
Jonathan Herburt
Tobin Sykes
Tina Barton
Rebecca Elford

Wanted – Volunteers

All the farms and gardens in the Countrymen UK Network are keen to welcome volunteers who would like to help out or to be involved in our range of Countrymen Activities.

If you have some time to help out at any Countrymen UK Group, you can contact us centrally at admin@countrymenuk.org or contact the farm of your choice – their contact details are listed in The CUK Network section of this site.

Write for us

Join the Countrymen Conversation by writing for our website? Just follow our guidelines below.

What are we looking for?

We’re looking for informative, engaging and highly relevant articles and blog posts that will be of interest to Countrymen, their Carers and anyone else who shares an interest in the topics surrounding Countrymen UK, whether it’s about ageing, health, activities, fundraising, social services, welfare rights, farm and countryside experiences or a host of other relevant topics.

Content Guidelines

We prefer to receive content that’s original and unpublished. It could be text, photos, images or a combination of these.​ The length of articles or blog posts doesn’t really matter but it could be anything from 50 to 500 words.

You may link to external sources but only if they help readers to gain additional knowledge and insights. We won’t publish links that are self-promoting or could be seen as advertising or sales pages.

We encourage you to submit supporting images (photographs, graphics, etc) along with your text. These should be submitted as images of at least 1024 x 575 pixels and up to 4200 x 4200 pixels. Please submit as JPG or PNG formats with a maximum file size of 8MB.

Payments Vs Author Promotion

We neither pay for nor charge for guest content but we do promote our contributors and their work.
In addition to your main content, you should provide us with:

  • Your name as the author
  • A headshot image of yourself (this is optional but should be at least 1024 x
    1024 pixels and be submitted in a JPG or PNG format)
  • One link that takes readers to your website or blog.

Submitting your content to us

Please note that we delete all submissions if we suspect that the email is spam or if they look like something from a ‘content factory’.

You can submit content that is ready for publication or you can submit a proposal to us. If you submit a proposal, it should have a strong working title or suggested headline and should provide us with a clear insight into your central theme and how it will resonate with readers.

Editing

We retain the right to make any necessary edits after proofreading or to edit any content for reasons of space, clarity or impact. If we feel that any major editing is required, we will contact you and suggest that you undertake the edit. Alternatively, we may do the editing and send you a copy for your approval.

We may also provide a short introduction to your content if we feel that this will assist with the context or in scene-setting.

Intellectual Property Rights

As the creator of any content submissions to CUK, you retain all your rights to that content.

However, by making a submission, you are giving us a non-exclusive, royalty-free licence to publish that work and to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display the work. This license will be valid in perpetuity.

Also, in making your content submission, you are warranting that your content is original and that you own all rights to that content or have written permission to use it, whether it is in the form of text, photographs, video, audio, graphics or any other format and you fully indemnify Countrymen UK against any action from any party that may arise from your infringement of any other party’s rights.

Typical Countrymen Activities

The farms and gardens in the Countrymen UK Network all offer a range of tried and tested activities. Therefore, the following lists are only given as a guide to what may be available.

Active activities

Small building projects such as mending fences or animal enclosures and shelters.
Significant days on the calendar (cultural and religious dates such as a harvest festival, or it may be a Birthday or Christmas party.
Planting flowers and shrubs
Preparing food for animals
Feeding the animals
Helping with chores around the farm
Treasure hunts
Metal detecting
Days out
Boules
Horseshoes
Skittles
Pyrography
A garden party, bar-b-q or picnic
Woodworking
Creating seating areas
Creating gardens
Making walking sticks
Make a scarecrow
Painting and renovating trailers, fences, sheds etc
Planning, planting and picking vegetables
Using an apple press to make juice
Prep food for bird feeders
Making firelighters out of old newspapers
Chopping starter wood
Sorting nuts, bolts, nails etc
Making halters out of baler twine
Weaving
Football/cricket/ badminton etc
Stock judging

Passive activities

Walking
Reminiscing about their past; where they’ve been, what jobs they’ve done, etc.
Talking about their skills, aspirations, family, etc.
Singing
Name that tune
Conversations about what’s in the news or what the issues of the day might be
Reading aloud
Games, Puzzles, Jigsaws
Creating a personal diary and photo book
Bird watching
Photoshoots – getting involved in having their photos taken as they participate in activities or taking photos themselves to show what they’ve achieved or what they’ve noticed during the session
Telling stories
Artwork

Demonstrations

In addition to what appears on the above list, you may also find that an outside individual, organisation or company is invited to give a demonstration of a specific activity, which the Countrymen can get involved in. These may include:

  • A blacksmith – to demonstrate what they do and to involve the Countrymen in making a small item
  • A beekeeper – to speak about their work and to give out samples of honey that have been recently harvested
  • A cartoonist – to involve the men in creating some simple cartoon characters and possibly creating a caricature of the Countrymen themselves
  • A signer – to demonstrate and teach a few simple sign language words
  • A candle-maker – can demonstrate and allow the Countrymen to have a go
  • Pyrography – see how to burn words and images into wood then Countrymen have a go at creating something
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