By Penny Montgomerie

WHAT a year 2020 was! For SAYFC, it meant the cancellation of major events and activities including Talent Spot, the Royal Highland Show, regional rallies, the International Exchange Programme, agri conference, agri study tour to Chile and the Cultivating Leader Programme.

Covid-19 also resulted in staff furlough, staff redundancy and the Young Farmers Centre remaining closed! For Young Farmer Clubs it saw the cancellation of most activities and events, which made retention of members – let alone the recruitment of new members – an uphill struggle.

For YF members, it meant they lost out on opportunities, they lost part of their social network and they have become more isolated.

At all levels, virtual events have been held where possible, but Zoom ‘fatigue’ has certainly set in and nothing beats the ability to be in a room with someone, interact and build that all important social network.

In 2021, we need to rebuild, we need to throw our full force behind getting activities and events at all levels back up and running, most importantly at club level, but also district and region to ensure the survival of the Young Farmer movement.

Staff, national and regional office bearers are all here to offer support to clubs, at a time when they face added challenges to re-engage with members who may have stepped back whilst adhering to Covid-19 restrictions – adding an extra layer of admin for club secretaries and other office bearers.

So, what have we got to look forward to in 2021? Well, we already know there will be no Talent Spot, Cabaret or Spotlights competitions but we’re hoping activities and events will be back up and running after the spring break in time for the start of the summer syllabus.

Planning will begin in January for regional rallies, the Royal Highland Show and other national events. We are very much looking forward to the Royal Highland Show with all competitions currently scheduled to take place as normal, with some simple adjustments required to allow for social distancing.

The finalists selected for the 2020 Young Farmer of the Year competition, which did not go ahead, will carry forward to a final to be held at the 2021 Royal Highland Show.

We will then be changing the current format of the competition holding eliminations over the summer with the final being held as part of the Agri and Rural Affairs Conference, from November 19-21, 2021, at the Royal Highland Showground.

The winner will be announced as part of a new black tie awards event on Saturday, November 20, in the new events facility on the showground.

As well as celebrating the winner of the Young farmer of the Year Competition it will also incorporate a series of awards recognising the work and contributions of grassroots members and supporters. This is very much the event I am most looking forward to in 2021!

We simply don’t do enough to give recognition to those that are the driving force behind the YF movement.

The year 2020 has been a catalyst for change, the cancellation of events has given us the opportunity to focus on developing opportunities whilst getting a better understanding of our members needs to ensure we are still fit for purpose.

In early summer, we carried out a consultation with current members, past members and supporters, with more than 250 responses received, which has given us food for thought, whilst also reminding us why we do what we do.

This was at a time when the stress of Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions were weighing heavily on the SAYFC team, both staff and office bearers.

Some alumni comments when asked ‘How would you describe SAYFC?’ included:

  • Forward thinking, unexpected
  • A valuable organisation for like minded young people to meet
  • Sociable, educational -like no other organisation
  • A good platform for guiding rural young people by giving them something to do, meet new people and learn new skills which are invaluable for the future.
  • Irreplaceable
  • Fantastic forward thinking youth organisation with masses to offer
  • Necessary to rural fabric.
  • Inclusive, fun, informative, confidence grower and best years of my life

As a result of the consultation, we have looked carefully at the structure of SAYFC and have made considerable changes to the top tier. National council will be replaced by a board of trustees, with six national committees below, each focusing on key development areas:–

  • Agri and Rural Affairs
  • Comms and Marketing
  • Competition and Events
  • Development and Wellbeing
  • Finance and Risk
  • International development

On each new committee there will be representatives from each region and co-options to allow any grass roots member the opportunity to get more involved. The election of new committees will take place in April.

A new Youth Forum is also being introduced, we need to get a better grasp on the views of our younger members in order to meet their needs and wants for the movement as well as developing future leaders of the Association.

Hopefully, the new restructure will help us emphasise the ‘led by the members, for the members’ ethos and give members the opportunities to be involved in their areas of interest. We need members to interact – they can influence, but they need to take part.

A modest financial loss is expected for 2020 but if it were not for the support from YF linked trusts, in particular Ingliston Trust and the SAYFC International Trust, the outlook would be significantly more challenging.

Charging membership fees in 2021 is inevitable, but we are in the process of working on a plan of action to potentially reduce rates, whilst also supporting the individual needs of each club. Membership fees are a challenge for SAYFC and for clubs – we hope to find a solution that works for both.

Arrangements will be finalised in the coming weeks and announcements made to clubs in mid-February.

In 2019/20, donations made by YFCs to local charities was more than £70,000. Fundraising and contributing to local communities is an important part of a club life, but clubs need to carefully look at their current financial situation.

After a year when fundraising activities have been curtailed, clubs need to realise the good work THEY do for their members and the opportunities they provide, plus the exceptional social network they offer and financial stability must be considered.

We are hugely grateful to all of our supporters. Please let this continue – whether that be as simple as buying a raffle ticket, volunteering as a mentor, acting as a trainer, judging a competition or joining SAYFC alumni ‘Friends of Young Farmers’. Get involved!

Together we can build on this to ensure SAYFC has a stable and healthy future, building and developing young people throughout rural Scotland.