‘Celebrating 25 years of Rev Alan Robson’s service to the agricultural community and raising funds to secure the next 25 years of a chaplaincy service’.
Alan began his chaplaincy work in summer 1999, taking over from the first Agricultural Chaplain Rev Dr Gordon Gatward. Alan was inducted formally as Lincolnshire’s Agricultural Chaplain during September 1999 at Riseholme Agricultural College by the then Bishop Bob Hardy and Rev Reter Sulston Chair of the Methodist District.
He started ‘cold calling’ dozens of farmers in every part of Lincolnshire and within weeks Lincolnshire Farmers Support Group emerged practically supporting his Chaplaincy care. The farmers support group merged into a new organisation, LRSN, brought together by Alan and the late Dick Patrick. The Lincolnshire Rural Stress Network was subsequently renamed the Lincolnshire Rural Support Network.
The Early Years of LRSN
Early trustees included Philip Wynn OBE, Tony Molyneux and Jim Godfrey OBE and the late Revd David Creasey. With a paid ‘manager’ it became Lincolnshire Rural Support Network Charity and Co Ltd under Stuart Hemington’s Chairmanship. A grant through Lincolnshire Rural Community Council from Lloyds TSB Foundation of £60k spread over three years secured funding in those early years.
Michael Pitcher was appointed first manager then the wonderful Vanessa Lindley. At the first AGM there were five trustees. This grew into an open AGM held at Nocton Estates Sports Hall. Then, under Alison Twiddy’s leadership the whole team became a ‘wrap around‘ for the chaplaincy, Stuart passing the baton of Chairman to Meryl Ward.
Lincolnshire Agricultural Society and the Epic Centre
Setting up LRSN was very timely ahead of the catastrophic spread of Foot and Mouth. As a result of these experiences, Alan enrolled on a Master’s degree in Trauma and Disaster Management. One of the practical modules covered Project Management and resulted in an idea to create a physical building provisionally called the ‘Lincolnshire Life Centre’ – an environmental building to house multi-disciplinary events. Using his connections and network of contacts as a catalyst for the project, this became the EPIC Centre on the Lincolnshire Showground (Environment, People, Innovation and Co-operation), which was built between 2003-2006.
He was also involved in setting up a Migrant Workers Support Network called Integration Lincolnshire. All these experiences became a part of his final MSc dissertation “The plight of Seasonal Agricultural Workers”.
The Lincolnshire Agricultural Society connection continued with Alan appointed as honorary chaplain to the Show Society, and contributor to the education committee, helping source the funds for the pivotal appointment of the LAS education development officer.
He was made Ecumenical Canon by Bishop John Saxbee in 2003 for his services to Rural Lincolnshire.
Folk like Robert Needham and Dick Read and so many others proved to be steadfast supporters and a ‘whip-round’ for his robes and stole more than covered the cost.
Health Screening and The Health Hut
The health screening at Louth initially started up as a partnership between LRSN and East Lindsey Citizens Advice Bureau (ELCAB) when Alison Twiddy was running a 2 year project for ELCAB. Alison and one of the ELCAB team attended most weeks with Alan/Vanessa. A local GP was persuaded to loan the service a practice nurse every week and ELCAB reimbursed her wages. When the GP could no longer provide a nurse, thought was given to securing future funding.
In 2009 Alan was offered £10,000, from the daughter of a farmer who had taken his own life. She asked what could be done with the gift, and Alison and Alan put together the first business case for health screening services. The gift was used to fund Nurse Heather and health screening services at Louth Market – a service which has expanded to Spalding Bulb auction, Melton Mowbray livestock mart and the current LRSN ‘Health Hut’.
Alan met Dr Dee Gallop at a meeting who mentioned some possible health screening funding from the Choosing Health pot. Alan and Alison Twiddy went to meet Dr Gallop and she was very instrumental in helping Alison to draft and submit a business case from which LRSN was able to secure 3 years funding. Dr Gallop also became LRSN’s first medical director which secured LRSN’s early relationship with NHS funders.
LRSN has grown and diversified from those pioneering days, but Alan remains a significant contributor to the spiritual and pastoral care for farming individuals and families supporting over 70 last year. Chaplains go where others can’t, and the chaplaincy service at the heart of LRSN continues to provide a unique contribution.
Agricultural Chaplaincy and the Farming Community
In 2009 Alan received a ‘Rural Hero’ award by the Countryside Alliance at the House of Lords, he thinks the President of the Agricultural Society Ian Walter was the person responsible for nominating him. Jin Godfrey nominated Alan as a Fellow of the English Royal Agricultural Societies (FRAgS).
Alan has always been there to support farming people, through the hard times. He has conducted hundreds of funerals for farming families and joined in many celebrations at various harvests and shows.
Championing farming folk, Alan is a regular contributor and spokesperson on farming issues. Helping the resilience forum during the Wainfleet flooding, chairing the TB round table discussion, informing the Church on agricultural issues, the independence of the rural chaplain has been invaluable in shining a light on key issues in the Community.
Schools and Chair of Governors
Moving to Lincoln 8 years ago responsible for 3 churches in North Hykeham, opened up other opportunities. Alan became Chair of Green Synergy, a mental health gardening Charity. More recently he also become chaplain to the Order St John’s for Lincolnshire that has thirteen nursing homes alongside its first aid and ambulance services, and a trustee of the YMCA.
For almost 40 years, he has been a member and Chair of school Governing bodies connecting education and rural life. Starting at Wooton Primary, then Spilsby and Toyton All Saints primary schools, for a period at the same time. Then at De Aston Academy Market Rasen chair there for ten years and now chair at Sir Robert Pattinson Academy.
Alan has had a full, very productive and enjoyable ministry in many areas of Lincolnshire life not least preaching and having responsibility for Methodist Churches in the county.
Alan’s post is at risk and he now needs your support. Please join in our Celebrations and fund-raising activities. A list of events celebrating Alan’s 25 years can be found over on our events page.
All funds raised will ensure that this vital service can continue.