Many crofters already hold down a variety of jobs – from part-time shopkeepers to delivering mail – but the Scottish Crofting Federation’s (SCF) first diversification seminar is seeking novel ways of ensuring crofting thrives.
“Social crofting”, also known as care farming, is popular in Europe and parts of the UK. It involves short placements where people with problems such as learning difficulties or drug or alcohol issues can gain confidence and skills in an informal outdoor setting.
Generating income of around £80-£120 per day per placement, it is of great benefit in remote areas where there are few or no day centres. Costs are covered by agencies such as health boards as well as individuals “buying” their own care packages.
Many experts believe a natural setting with proximity to open spaces and animals can be cathartic for those feeling marginalised from mainstream society.
Patrick Krause, chief executive of the SCF, representing Scotland’s 13,000 crofters, said social crofting fitted in well with crofting culture.
“Crofters have always diversified and tend to have a variety of jobs on-croft and off-croft,” he said.
“Crofters have a social conscience. Crofting communities are used to working together and helping each other out.”
Bob Bull, a crofter from Glachbeg croft, North Kessock in the Black Isle, was one of the first crofters in Scotland to offer placements. Bull, a former rural studies teacher, said the positive reaction from a mother whose son with special needs had visited his 14-acre croft was one of the reasons for getting involved.
“Pupils from a special school in Inverness had come along for work experience. At the end of that week this woman said to me ‘my son, I’ve never seen him react so well. He came home talking, full of excitement about what he’s been doing. He’s about to leave school, will you have him back?’
“I told her it appealed to me but that I wasn’t ready. She then said ‘I’ll pay’. I suggested £15 a day but she said that wasn’t enough and suggested £120 as she wanted regular, reliable days. Then she said ‘there’s nothing incompatible in doing something you believe in and charging for it’.”
Another parent contacted Bull asking for a placement and the project grew by word of mouth. But Bull stresses that each person attending six-week placements has targets to meet which include feeding and providing drinking water for the animals, working with other people, cooking lunch, and developing independence skills.
“But I think it’s the croft and the animals which work the magic. It’s the context. Animals don’t pose a threat to people, there’s no pressure for people with learning difficulties to hold a conversation. Stroking animals, their warmth, it’s almost primeval and it works.”
Caroline Matheson, of Care Farming Scotland, a charity which promotes and oversees care farming on around 20 properties, said checks were carried out before placements were made.
The Sustain, Diversify and Grow conference in Newtonmore on 13-14 June will look at other ways of boosting rural communities such as digital crofting, and croft holidays.