Sally and her husband Steve own High House Farm in Northumberland, a home they share with many, many sheep. The land, which has been in Steve’s family for generations, is the perfect setting for Sally’s honest account of farming life, including the highs and lows of working the land.
In the summer of 2018, Sally and Steve sought help from R.A.B.I. Sally’s diary entries illustrate how even the hardest working farmers can sometimes face struggles that test them to their limits.
Sunday June 3, 2018
We’re not the only ones feeling the pinch. Poor grass growth, big heating bills and no money coming in from crops or sheep has pushed many local farmers to the brink. At least the kids have free school meals and Granny and Granddad to help them out with uniforms and shoes. In desperation we ring R.A.B.I. It’s embarrassing to have to ask for help, but we’re not sure what else to do.
Thursday June 7, 2018
Today we’re nervous as someone from R.A.B.I is visiting the house. Once the kids are at school we gather our bank statements and bills together and wait for the appointment, biting our nails and drinking endless cups of tea. When the R.A.B.I rep arrives he’s very nice and sympathetic. He carefully goes through our accounts and gives a short outline about how he can help.
R.A.B.I doesn’t assist with business finances, but will help us with our household bills, such as heating oil and clothes for the kids. He’s lovely and discreet and I babble onto him about how hard lambing has been, and farming in general. He nods and says all the right things, but when he leaves I walk into the lounge to find Steve siting on the sofa quietly, his head in his hands. I know what he’s thinking. Steve prides himself on being able to provide for his family and the knowledge that he’s not making enough money to even pay for our weekly food bill hits him very hard.
We’ve done everything we can, stretched finances, invested wisely, cut back all our expenses but we just can’t make ends meet. We sit in silence next to each other, each one with our own thoughts, until it’s time to go back out to check the sheep.
Monday June 11, 2018
R.A.B.I has sent us a letter. They have enclosed a small cheque to ‘assist with the purchase of heating oil and help with further household bills’. We are very grateful. It feels mortifying asking for help and I don’t suppose anyone knows how much we struggle with day to day costs. From the outside, we look on an even keel. We run a car, the kids are in clean clothes and have enough to eat, but it’s all a very thin veneer. I never thought we’d have to turn to charity to survive and I feel a curdling mixture of gratitude and shame as I look at the cheque.
For more from Sally, follow her on Twitter @PintSizedFarmer. For more information about the book, please contact Anna-Marie Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 7841 7841 or Valentina Zanca at email@example.com / 020 7841 6306
Pictured above is Sally Urwin. Photo courtesy of Paul Norris.