Rural Support Trust dinners promote rural community wellbeing in Northland

Looking for a relaxed and fun way to connect farmers and rural communities, the Rural Support Trust (RST) started an initiative of hosting community dinners five years ago and have since hosted close to 100 dinners.

Noting an increase in pressures on farmers, the RST had decided they needed to bring farmers and rural communities together to boost social connections and provide an opportunity to highlight tactics for better mental and physical wellbeing.

“We had realized that getting up there and lecturing to a group of tired farmers was not a good way of presenting wellbeing.  In my experience, the moment you talk about wellbeing to a male farmer, they run a mile – we therefore needed to be more subtle about it,” says Colin Hannah, President of Federated Farmers Northland and active member of the Rural Support Trust.

The dinners are funded through donations from organisations and are entirely staffed by volunteers – from the purchasing of food through to cooking and serving on the evening.  The evenings also incorporate a quiz in the middle, with prizes for the winning team.

“We use the quiz as a vehicle to communicate some of the wellbeing messaging alongside funny or topical questions.  We have posters up around the hall with the “5 ways of wellbeing” on them and some of the quiz questions may relate to those,” says Colin. “With a prize at stake, it encourages people to concentrate, and we’ve found it is a fun way to encourage farmers to make time to boost their own mental health.”

With some of the larger events feeding up to 180 people, the dinners are open to anyone living in a rural area – there is no requirement to belong to any industry organisation.  The dinners typically operate over 8 months of the year with shutdowns over the busy winter calving season and over the Christmas/New Year summer months.

“In addition to providing a great opportunity for people to catch up with their neighbours, there are also opportunities to have a chat with someone from the RST who can provide advice or support for either a dinner guest or someone in their community they are concerned about,” says Colin.  “The biggest challenge for us is to get in front of the people who really need our help – someone in a depressed state may not necessarily want to go out to an event.  However, if we can provide these types of social occasions where support can be given in an informal manner, our hope is that rural communities will be able to better support each other.”