UK grocery doesn’t always have a great reputation when it comes to the countryside.
Supermarkets in particular have been accused of damaging commercial practices that have done much to undermine rural life. Yet mistrust of the industry has led many retailers to rethink how they work with farmers and they will have an opportunity to underscore that support next week.
From 11 July, the first ‘National Countryside Week’ will take place: a celebration of the British countryside and the people who care for it, organised by The Prince’s Countryside Fund. The brainchild of the Prince of Wales, the fund aims to support people who care for the countryside. It is raising money from a wide range of businesses including supermarkets and food suppliers to give out in grants to improve the long-term prospects of those rural communities that are most in need.
As grocers and suppliers, it is only right that we consider the many, often low-paid individuals who care for our countryside. We need to avoid thinking about ‘markets’ or ‘efficiencies’ in isolation of people people like Amy Harrison.
Amy is 21 and lives on a small hill farm in the Kentmere Valley where she tends her own flock of 110 rough fell sheep. She is now fulfilling her ambition to become a farmer thanks to the Hill Farm Succession Scheme, which has received a grant of £125,000 from the fund.
The fund has supported 1,000 direct beneficiaries and is currently supporting 13 projects. In February, we decided to give £10,000 to each of the Farm Crisis Charities to support them in their work.
In April, the fund was approached by ARC Addington and the Farm Crisis Network, who were facing a significant increase in workload. The trustees gave £25,000 and £15,000 to each. In June, the trustees were approached by Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Rural Support who were facing similar challenges, with a doubling of workload.
The fund was able to support them with the £1000 they needed to cope with the costs of this rise in cases. The support of such organisations means that PCF supporters are doing their bit to help shield UK farming against the shock of crisis.
From a UK Grocery perspective this first ‘National Countryside Week’ will see brands including Waitrose, Jordans, Hovis, Ryvita, McVitie’s, Red Sky and Twinings come together to promote the value of the British countryside and encourage the general public and other businesses to support the valuable work of The Prince’s Countryside Fund.
All the companies that have partnered with the Fund have a connection to the British countryside through the products and services they make or sell. This includes many other retailers such as Booths, Marks and Spencer, Asda and Morrisons.
My hope is that other retailers and brands might consider joining us in contributing to the development of this important, constructive, initiative. Already this year we have the additional support of Coutts, HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds TSB, Davidstow cheddar, Barbour and Musto. I am confident we can help create opportunities for many in hard-pressed rural areas and help ensure a thriving future for many of those who care for our countryside.
For details go to www.princescountrysidefund.org.uk.
Mark Price is MD of Waitrose