Stephanie Powell

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Farming can be an isolated and stressful job with little opportunity to share problems and advice around a fireside so why not create a virtual version of that?

Welsh farmer Stephanie Powell has done just that with the Farming Fireside Chat UK page on Facebook.

If farmers can’t physically be in a room together because of time and distance then create that space in a virtual format, Stephanie decided.

She launched the page in January 2022 and it has since gone from strength to strength; members post their problems and others pitch in with advice and potential solutions.

For those with sensitive issues to discuss – perhaps they are frightened, struggling financially or feeling overwhelmed – posts can be anonymous.

“We have found that the anonymous button feature a godsend for people who have something particularly sensitive they want to share,’’ says Stephanie.

She leads a team of administrators and moderators – Helen Finnerty, Susan Findlay, Ben Jones, Alan Owens, Brenda Bayliss, Kirstie Duncan and William Anderson – who check in on members they have concerns about.

What makes this Facebook page different from others is that although it is monitored and led by an administration team, it is driven by a community of like-minded farming and rural people, all with a common purpose of helping and encouraging each other.

There is a list of helplines too because, as Stephanie explains, at the point when people are stressed they are not in the right mindset for searching for the number of a relevant support service.

The page even has lists of places where people who can’t afford to buy groceries to access cheap or free food. “Yes, it has happened, and several times,’’ says Stephanie. “We won’t let anyone go without, we will find a way on our page to help.’’

Applications to join are carefully checked by the administration team and posts and comments monitored.

The team also leads informal ‘chat nights’.

While many of the posts are from farmers who are struggling, the page also has light-hearted ones such as funny farming memes and jokes.

“Members appreciate the fun element which we work hard to keep as it cheers everyone up,’’ says Stephanie.

The format may be a virtual one but the community of users is now finding opportunities to meet up in person with real and lasting friendships being created.