A volunteer for The Farming Community Network (FCN) charity has been awarded an MBE after decades of service in support of farmers and people living in rural communities.
Suzie Wilkinson, who volunteers with FCN in Somerset, has received her MBE as part of the King’s Birthday Honours, announced today.
Suzie was born in Weston Super Mare and grew up with a deep love of the countryside.
She started working in agriculture in the late 1960s with her husband Charlie, adopting roles in the pig and beef sectors, before taking over a dairy holding as a tenant farmer in the 1980s.
This gave Suzie insights into different types of farming and the unique challenges and pressures involved.
Suzie said: “The experiences of working in a family business, working for different farming companies, eventually running our own business, milking twice daily, and eventually downsizing to prepare for later life and retirement, have given me a realistic insight into different aspects of farming and family life which have helped me develop a greater understanding of ways I can help people in the role I have with FCN now.”
In 1995, Suzie was the pastoral support lead in the Somerset Women’s Farming Union. She joined FCN as a volunteer in the same year – when the charity was founded – back when it was called The Farm Crisis Network.
FCN was a joint venture between the Agricultural Christian Fellowship (ACF) and Germinate: The Arthur Rank Centre. It was founded by Christopher Jones MBE, who sadly passed away in May of this year.
Suzie was asked to be the volunteer coordinator for the FCN Somerset Group, which today has roughly 40 volunteers actively supporting local farmers in the county.
FCN volunteers ‘speak the language’ of farming and have invaluable experience of farming life and its unique pressures.
Suzie and her fellow FCN volunteers have provided vital support to farmers through daily challenges and stresses, as well as through devastating crises in agriculture – including through Swine Flu, BSE, Foot-and-Mouth and the Somerset Levels floods.
It is thanks to her role with FCN helping farmers and looking after the welfare of other volunteers, and the support of her husband Charlie, that Suzie has been able to achieve what she has today.
During her time with the charity Suzie has listened to the challenges faced by over 650 farmers – and in her role as an FCN volunteer has ‘walked with’ them to help them find a positive way forward through any issues faced.
Suzie said: “Farming is a unique way of life because everything is tied up on the farm. It is your livelihood and business, your daily work routine, your identity and lifestyle. For many it can be seen as idyllic, but it can also be very isolating and lonely – and sometimes farmers even feel pushed away from society.
“Our role in FCN is so simple yet so powerful. Some people have never been listened to – but talking to someone in confidence, who is non-judgemental and has empathy and respect, can be a life-changing experience. We build up trust with farmers so when times get tough and they need someone who really cares on their side, they can ring us for support. Sometimes this could be the difference between life and death.”
Suzie was recently made an Associate of the Royal Agricultural Society in further recognition of her hard work.
She has now stepped down from her role as coordinator of the FCN Somerset Group but continues to volunteer with the charity, supporting many farming families each month and sharing her experience with other volunteers.
Jude McCann, Chief Executive Officer of The Farming Community Network, said: “FCN is delighted that Suzie has received an MBE for her decades of service in support of the charity and the farming community whom we serve. Suzie’s knowledge, experience and empathy has helped countless farmers and farming families through difficult times and periods of stress. She embodies the vital role of FCN volunteers ‘walking with’ and supporting farming people. We are fortunate that Suzie continues to volunteer with the charity after all these years, passing on her knowledge to the next generation.”