An initiative called Plough On aimed at tackling rural isolation and loneliness in Northern Ireland has been developed after Tyrone-based Rural Support group’s research found that both issues are growing problems, especially in the farming community.

Plough On’s objective is to tackle rural isolation and loneliness and increase social opportunities for older male farmers.

The Kircubbin Plough On group was established in October 2021 and has 26 men registered, ranging from 66 to 91-years-old.

The Plough On project is focused on improving mental and physical wellbeing through socialisation and participation in farming-based activities and excursions monthly, encouraging individuals to get and stay well, physically and emotionally.

The group is led by both Ellen Woods and Scott Laidlaw who organise the meetings and trips chosen by the group members.

The Kircubbin Plough On group’s March meeting involved entertainment with archived film clips, mainly relevant to farming in the Ards and East Down along with some items of general interest.

Brónagh McAtasney, access and outreach officer from Northern Ireland Screen, Digital Film Archive selected excerpts that were relevant to her audience and supplied commentary, especially when extracts hadn’t sound.

Brónagh showed the oldest piece in the archive, taken at the cattle market in Derry in 1901 complete with cattle in the street, jaunting cars and horse drawn tram.

A demonstration of three-point linkage in 1940; film of a ploughing match at Crossgar in 1954 with 18 horses and seven tractors; a news item on an outbreak of fowl pest at Fairbairn’s Research Farm at Kircubbin in 1964; and a piece from Lesser Spotted Ulster with Joe Mahon on William Steele’s dairy farm at Kircubbin in 2011 when the rotary milking parlour had recently been installed, were among the items shown.

Rural loneliness

In addition to the regular events of the Kircubbin Plough On group, several of the group members have become involved in the community gardening project with Peninsula Healthy Living Centre.

They meet most Mondays at the Peninsula Healthy Living Centre, literally bringing new life to raised vegetable beds, and reinvigorating the polytunnels, overseen by the Centre’s Allan Reid. 

The Plough On Group members have an abundant amount of horticultural and agricultural knowledge which has created real value and success for the community gardening project.

This opportunity also resulted in boosting self-esteem and self-worth for some of the members.

Rural Support has expressed appreciation for the partnership with Peninsula Healthy Living Centre and the Ards and North Down Borough Council Hardship grant which made the activities possible.