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Memory Lane

with Tom Allen-Stevens

I farm a 175 hectare arable farm in Oxfordshire. I’m sure that many farmers hosting visits for older people worry about what the group will do, particularly if they have mobility problems. However, welcoming older people onto the farm is an amazing privilege, they have a wealth of experience and knowledge and being able to share that has been a special experience. Many older people can quite often feel socially isolated, so taking part in a farm visit not only brings people together but can really help improve their sense of well-being and participation in society.

Some of the older people that have visited our farm have lived locally for many, many years and have lots of memories of their own of the area and the countryside. The best thing for me about hosting these visits is that I get to talk about what I am passionate about, my farm, its history and the part it plays in the countryside and natural environment in the area.

I introduce myself, welcome everybody to the my farm and check that everyone is warm and comfortable and can hear me. I explain about the history of the farm, how long I have been farming, how long it has been in the family and the different generations that have farmed the land.

To trigger some memories and start conversations I have some old photographs and maps of the farm which I can put up on the barn wall or pass around the group to talk about. Some members of the group usually love having the opportunity to talk about their own memories of farming – sometimes some of them worked on farms during the war, often just helping out at harvest time or trying milking as children; others might have been land girls, or spent their holidays on farms. There are a whole range of topics you can talk about, peoples’ experience around food, such as rationing or ‘Dig for Victory’. We can all share our memories of being children, and how the countryside and farmland was our playground. Older people’s childhoods often have close connections to nature, from climbing trees and playing in haystacks to things we wouldn’t do now, like collecting eggs. Inevitably we talk about how things have changed and how the countryside isn’t the same as it used to be – there’s always the possibility for some lively debate!

As well as pictures I have some old farm tools for people to look at and hold – an old tractor would be fantastic – anything really that can prompt memories. I can then show them how the technology has changed and bring the visit into the present day and explain some of the challenges facing farmers such as population increases and the price of food as well as how government policies and environmental priorities create opportunities for nature to be cared for on farms.

If the group is up for it I take them on a gentle walk around the farm. I’ve chosen a route that is fairly level with solid surfaces and opportunities to take a break and sit down. It gives a flavour of the farm today without being too demanding. Some groups could be taken on a tractor ride with help from carers and assistants. It is important to work out with the group organiser what the visitors are capable of, and I have learned to be flexible. The main thing is to try to get older people involved and engaged in the visit, they are the ones that make these visits unique, their contributions, their memories, thoughts and opinions are at the heart of the visit experience.