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A fresh perspective on farming
Hugh Richards, owner of a family farm in Biddenden Kent, has navigated many ups and downs throughout his years in farming. The rising costs of living, combined with the isolating nature of farming, present unique challenges. Read how therapeutic coaching has helped Hugh change old patterns and discover a fresh new perspective.
Maintaining a strong mindset can have a positive impact on the health of your business but it isn’t always easy. To help, Lloyds Bank and Mental Health UK have teamed up to provide small business owners with free therapeutic coaching sessions. This unique blend of counselling and coaching is an effective tool that helps business owners like Hugh Richards to strengthen their mindset and improve mental resilience in their working life.
Back in 1995, Hugh took over the family farming business, swapping the dairy herds his parents had farmed since 1947 for beef cattle. In the years since then, Hugh’s mettle has been challenged constantly and he has weathered many storms, from external pressures like reductions in funding and changes in agricultural legislation to personal tragedies such as the death of his wife in 2004.
Hugh had to single-handedly raise three young children while continuing to farm, describing his experiences during that time as “rearing children while the farm was running itself”. Hugh’s eldest son, Lawrence, is now 27 and will be the third generation to farm at Biddenden, which now has a herd of over 100 cattle.
Working with his son is one way to ease some of the mental and emotional stresses of the job as well as the physical pressures. “Before my son came home, my life was very isolated. Farming is a very lonely existence. The stresses that are magnified because of that are unbearable,” Hugh says.
As part of the diversification plans for the farm, Hugh and Lawrence hope to launch a farm shop and cafe but the pair are coming up against planning issues and escalating costs. “I get my figures looked at by a business analyst who advised me to cut costs,” says Hugh. “All small farmers have been saving money by doing things ourselves. But this adds to the pressure.”
The current economic landscape is tough, affecting most small business owners. The financial pressures for farming are particularly unpredictable, with the price of cattle fluctuating and only one or two opportunities to go to market each year. “The stress of taking cattle to the market when you come home and haven’t made anything is exhausting,” Hugh says. “There’s real uncertainty and it’s got so much worse. I’m lucky because I’ve inherited 60 acres of land. Without the asset we’ve got rising in value I wouldn’t be able to survive. I still have a mortgage to pay.”
The isolating nature of farming means a relationship manager might be the only person with whom farmers feel they can talk to about their problems. Hugh values the support of his relationship manager, “He comes out once a year and advises,” Hugh says. “The biggest problem is that people are burying their heads in the sand. My philosophy is: If you haven’t planned, you plan to fail. It’s good to talk through your plan.”
“I went in wanting to improve my listening skills, but I came out focused on improving my wellbeing and my quality of life.”
“Louise, my Therapeutic Coach, has given me the tools to do this in just three sessions!”
Hugh Richards – Owner, Pullen Barn Farm
Hugh is a volunteer for the Farming Community Network, a voluntary organisation and charity that supports farmers and families within the farming community with both personal and business issues. While Hugh is clearly an experienced and resilient farmer, he opted into therapeutic coaching as a way of strengthening his listening skills but soon found another key area to address.
“I went in wanting to improve my listening skills, but I came out focused on improving my wellbeing and my quality of life,” Hugh laughs. “Louise, my Therapeutic Coach, has given me the tools to do this in just three sessions!”
The benefits of therapeutic coaching for Hugh have been tangible, upskilling an already resilient business owner to be able to give even more to his community. With Louise’s help, Hugh has honed his problem-solving skills and now has a greater awareness of some of the less helpful responses he’s developed over the years.
“I used to be quite argumentative, and I shut down. Louise enabled me to stop getting grumpy.”
Hugh is learning to be more flexible in his approach as well as benefiting from a healthy work-life balance. He believes farmers will see improvements in their mental health when they prioritise time for their social lives.
Hugh’s commitment to doing things differently extends to Lawrence too. “For instance, my son’s going to lead the farm shop project and we’ll discuss it together rather than me telling him exactly how it’s done.”
“My father grafted and grafted all his life, but found it hard to share at work, whereas I now try to be as open as possible with all my kids, in particular Lawrence, now he is home working alongside me. I also want Lawrence to know he can take time off and I will be here when he needs that,” Hugh smiles.