Founded about five years ago now, and coordinated to a large degree from a smallholding in Carrshield, the North Pennines Smallholders Association grew out of a series of workshop events held by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 2013, in particular the Nectarworks project, which has since come to the end of its natural life. Nectarworks was concerned with environmental matters in flower-rich areas (ie natural upland hay meadows) and their role in promoting the healthy life of bumble bees and other natural pollinators.
So the North Pennines Smallholders Association hopes to continue to network across the region, to link up smallholders, farmers and interested folk, with a continuing series of meetings, events, discussions, workshops and lectures. I chatted for a little while the other day with Graham Shore, who lives in Carrshield and is the vice-chair of the group and also its treasurer and first point of contact for membership, about the association and its interests.
Graham kindly called me so we could chat by speaker-phone, which was most felicitous for my note-taking; to correct any misapprehension I had about the group, he wanted to make it quite clear that the group doesn’t have a self-help sort of social care remit, though he recognised that there are challenges in the social sphere for lonely and isolated farming families, but rather it has an environmental, best practice approach to its meetings and events. The executive committee, of which Peter Sansom (who is well-known throughout the region for organising Farmers Markets) is the chair, and which includes Alistair Stevenson, a smallholder in Hexhamshire, and Fiona Gough who lives near Allendale, sends out a newsletter, at roughly quarterly intervals, informing the 50 member group of upcoming events.
These events are quite far-ranging, including such topics as: woodland management; willow weaving; sheep husbandry; wool spinning; a series of courses on animal maintenance run by local veterinarians; along with other matters of compelling environmental concern. For only £10 a year, members receive notice of the meetings in the newsletter, and a discount on the event fee when they attend. The best way to get into contact with the group is to sign up on their website, and fill in the standing order form available there for the yearly membership. The group also has a quiet facebook page as well. Around about September time, the group holds its Annual General Meeting, which is a great way to get involved in this helpful association. The association is sustained through its membership fees, its promotion of these interesting events, and, no doubt, donations of both time and monetary value from friendly individuals.
I was increasingly impressed with the breadth of contact and the network capacity of the group, as I chatted with Graham. Obviously interaction with the NP-AONB organisation is invaluable, but the group also has good contacts with DEFRA, which means that current governmental directives and policies can be explained usefully and reasonably within the group interactions.
Indeed, the group sounds exactly the sort of association our family would have signed up to when we arrived in Sparty Lea nearly thirty years ago. Back then, the only source of information relevant in any way to our own situation was the Smallholders Magazine (seemingly defunct now, or replaced by several other similar sorts of enterprise, as a quick Google search will confirm) which held a yearly show down in Yorkshire, as I recall. Now that we’re progressively downsizing, and concentrating on gardening challenges closer to the house, it doesn’t seem quite so crucial, but I’m rather jealous of folks starting out on the ‘good life’ trek, with these sorts of local resources, like the North Pennines Smallholders Association, available to them.
How nice to have a group of smallholding enthusiasts, eager to network with others, right in our own neighbourhood, here within the Allen Valleys!