CLA South West Team in a Lockdown

The CLA South West team reflects on life in lockdown
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The South West team during Lockdown 1.0

Since the middle of March 2020, the CLA South West Team has been working from home. This has been a huge change to this close-knit team who instantly found themselves away from their colleagues, working in solitary at home or juggling family life.  

But, the work of the CLA has continued as “normally” as possible and the team has done a fantastic job of maintaining a business as usual approach to their jobs, adapting their working practices wherever possible, including regular team meetings and Committee meetings conducted using Zoom to dealing with enquiries relating to Covid-19 in a rapidly changing environment. 

We've been sad to miss out on the summer Show season, which is always a great opportunity for us to meet with as many members as possible over a few short weeks. We'll be looking forward to getting back out on the road for the 2021 season. 

The team may have been busy working to keep the region running as normally as possible, but what have they been doing to keep themselves occupied during Lockdown?

We hear from each of the team, Ann, Claire, Karen, Kim, Sarah, Tom and Will in this latest blog post.

Ann Maidment, Director CLA South West

Ann Maidment at home on the farm
Ann Maidment at home on the family farm

"As the realisation that lockdown was inevitable back in March, my thoughts turned to the impact of the region’s many rural businesses. This was not just the economic impact of the closure of the tourism industry almost overnight, but also the postponement and eventual cancellation of the wonderful shows that we all enjoy each summer.  The shows offer an important social aspect to our sector and have been very much missed.  I have been inspired by the community spirit and stories of Covid-19 heroes across our rural areas.  The businesses that adapted quickly to ensure their survival through this time are truly to be commended.

Although at times it has felt like the world has stood still during the last twelve weeks, for the CLA, work has continued both on Covid-19 related matters, but also on the wider agenda of future land policy.  As I write this, we are concluding the June round of Branch Committees, this time via Zoom video conferencing.  It is an opportunity to hear from the membership on policy matters both at a local level but also providing feedback to our national advisers. Subjects covered range from water strategy, future ELMS development, the Agricultural Bill and productivity funding, to name but a few of the items.  We heard from some of the region’s MPs, one of whom commended the CLA’s strength in its measured approach. I would whole heartedly endorse this view.

On a personal note, my time away from the home office has been no less quiet.  I have taken the opportunity whilst being at home to help with the family farm for which I am now in the partnership.  The farm is cattle focused at all stages from contract calf rearing through to pedigree sucklers, pedigree bull production, stores and finishers.  Between fencing, silaging, buying and selling at market, my brother and I have taken this time to make plans for the farm’s future reviewing our ways of working and making use of the resources available to us through the CLA, such as the Rural Asset Management Plan.  We have also submitted a Class Q application for the farm buildings, which will now need careful consideration for home office facilities!

As we start to consider getting back to some sort of normality, I am relieved to see 4 July as a saving grace for many of our region’s seasonal businesses, but I am under no illusion that there is still a long way to go before ‘normal’ practice resumes. 

Myself and the regional team look forward to seeing you all again soon, but in the meantime take the opportunities for wider learning and reviewing your business through the CLA webinars and resources, and most importantly keep safe and happy harvesting."

Claire Wright, Rural Surveyor

Claire Wright at home
Claire Wright during one of her early lockdown walks

"As one of the newer members of the team I was just starting to find my feet in the region when we went into lockdown. I had been looking forward to meeting lots of members at the summer shows but that wasn’t to be.

It has largely been business as usual for me and the other surveyors in the team only working from the spare room rather than my desk at CLA South West Towers. We are still at the end of a phone call or e-mail and have continued to deal with all member queries efficiently whether they were Covid related or about other topics.

All our meetings whether with the Local Enterprise Partnership, CLA committees or the Clean Devon group have all morphed into virtual meetings via zoom which has enabled me to keep in touch with local issues and to update the members on a rapidly changing situation.

Any remaining spare hours were spent on writing articles and blogs for Land & Business magazine and the website. These had a particular focus on mental health awareness week and farm diversification which are two areas that particularly interest me.  

I decided that lockdown would be a great time to start training for a half marathon with no other commitments to get in the way; this was the single worst idea that I have ever had! I’m definitely much fitter than I was at the start of the year but as I spend my evenings baking cakes and trying out tasty new recipes I haven’t lost a single ounce! 

Being a new resident of the South West I have taken the opportunity to explore the local area on the footpaths and I am looking forward to being able to get further afield  as the restrictions ease and get to know the parts of Devon and Somerset that I am less familiar with." 

Karen Gingell, Regional Administration Manager

Karen Gingell and her son Riley.jpg

"What strange times we are living in!  We are learning to work in ways that would not have been possible a few years ago and as a business have managed the transition to working from home successfully.

As Regional Administration Manager my role is to facilitate the smooth running of the South West regional office based in Biddestone, Wiltshire and help the team to work as efficiently and effectively as possible. 

When we received the government’s recommendation to work from home where possible, the office closed and all staff went their separate ways home.

Within a few days, it was apparent that due to the flexible IT system and recently reviewed CRM, the team were able to continue serving our members with the same dedication and response times as before lockdown. The team has utilized Zoom video conferencing to keep in touch with each other and with members. Distancing from the office and change in workload has given me the opportunity to revise office policies and procedures and review internal documentation.

We have also been telephoning members during these uncertain times and have had several calls with members who have been affected by Covid-19 in both health and business terms.  Many felt unsettled by the general uncertainty of the situation and what the future holds.

Recently, I have been working on committee arrangements, papers and taking minutes during the Zoom meetings. 

The CLA has been extremely supportive of my home life during this period.  Having to juggle work and homeschooling a 7-year-old boy was proving challenging.  Luckily, with the support of the team, I was able to accept a period of furlough, which enabled me to concentrate on the continued education of my son. This has seen varying degrees of success, from spending the day ‘studying’ YouTube (on a quiet day) to conducting mad experiments, baking cakes and learning about the Romans.

With such good weather during lockdown, we have played in the garden, taken walks to a local long barrow and gone on bike rides, all the time learning about our beautiful countryside.

If there is one thing, I am proud to say it is that my son is more than aware of how lucky he is to live in a rural area.  We always look up, around and appreciate the things we see. I think that we have been given a rare opportunity to reconsider the way we live and work and have the chance to become more flexible in our general approach.

I look forward to facing the next ‘new way of working’ and talking to my colleagues and members in the future."

Kim John, Communications Manager

Kim John jumping for joy
Kim celebrating a 5k personal best!

“This time has been incredibly busy for me as Communications Manager. The CLA continues to generate lots of press coverage both nationally and regionally with access continuing to be a hot topic. The first couple of weeks most of my time was spent issuing press releases and fielding media enquiries. During our Land Army campaign I would be liaising with members of the public who were interested in helping out farmers.

It was also really important that we continued to keep you, our members, informed of Government support and updates on Covid-19 and do this via our ENews and Member Monthly. I also make sure our social media is kept up to date with the latest to keep our followers informed.   

My role includes writing articles for the CLA Land & Business magazine (the favourite part of my job) and conducting interviews by Zoom or phone. 

Did you see our Access videos? I spent time working with National Access Adviser Sophie Dwerryhouse and SW Rural Surveyor Will Langer producing two videos surrounding the topic of access and public rights of way. These two videos filmed remotely with Sophie and Will, meant me getting out and filming during my, at the time, once per day permitted exercise, on the footpaths local to home. It took a few days to capture different footage but overall, we hope that you found the videos helpful. We’ve shared both of the videos in previous e-circulars and are available on the CLA External Affairs Youtube channel. 

Outside of work, I’ve been busy clocking up the miles walking – and not just for filming CLA videos! I’ve enjoyed walking or running the wonderful network of footpaths on my doorstep and as of 30 June completed a virtual half River Wye challenge walking and running 67 miles during the month. I’m an amateur photographer and you’ll often find my photos heading regional news circulars and having such beautiful Cotswold views on my doorstep has given me plenty of practice! I've also become brilliant at the art of using "nature's tripod" for taking photos of me (the above included)!

I’ve also taken up painting, I’m not particularly good at it but it’s a fantastic way to relax on rainy days. 

As time continues to march on, I look forward to once again joining my colleagues back at the office and to getting back out on the road meeting members and interviewing you for Land & Business articles.”

Sarah Fern, Events and Partnership Manager

Sarah Fern working from home
Sarah working from home in her kitchen

“This time has been difficult and strange for me. Initially my time was taken up cancelling all the spring and summer events, which was disheartening seeing a year’s worth of work disappear, with the knowledge that I wouldn’t be organising any events or seeing members any time soon.”

Following on from that came the postponement and then finally cancellation of all the shows across the region. This meant I was liaising with show offices, caterers and accommodation providers to try to move deposits and dates, originally to the postponed dates and then to 2021! It was distressing hearing from those involved whose businesses came to a standstill with little prospect of work until 2021, such as our caterers, who are known to many of you”

With my role virtually disappearing overnight with no events to plan or sponsors and speakers to liaise with for our seminars and shows I had to adapt to change very quickly. I am motivated by structure, planning, processes, lists and deadlines (however much I dislike the deadlines!) and suddenly I had none of these!”

What have I been doing instead? Since mid-March I have been part of an initiative to get in touch with CLA members and find out how they are coping during Covid-19 both personally and with their farming and rural businesses. I have had almost 200 conversations with members on the telephone listening, commiserating and passing on issues and information to our advisers, both regionally and importantly those shaping CLA policy and working on the enormous amount of Covid -19 advice and assistance provided to CLA members on our website and e-communications.”

I have really enjoyed talking to CLA members and finding out more about their businesses and thoughts on farming in the future. People have been incredibly stoic and I hope I have helped in some way by providing a friendly person with whom to chat and offload some issues and problems.”

Personally, I am lucky to have access to beautiful footpaths to walk and places to cycle and latterly to kayak. I have taken up running too, enjoying the beauty of the early mornings. My garden is flourishing and it has been wonderful to spend so much of the time I would normally be preparing and attending the county shows attending to my flowers instead! I’ve even baked some cakes! With all archery competitions cancelled, I have to confess to a less rigorous training regime but I am lucky that my archery target is next to the office and only 10 minutes from home. Now some of the woodland ranges have opened back up I can enjoy some peaceful “me time” with my bow after work in a tranquil woodland setting.”

Tom Mason, Rural Surveyor

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Tom Mason pre-lockdown

"Having joined the CLA at the beginning of June, it has been a slightly strange start with the current situation of us all working remotely. However, my colleagues here in the region and across the CLA have been brilliant in terms of the support and guidance to get me up and running as well as making me feel welcome and part of the team.

As one of the Rural Surveyors based here in the SW region, I have already been involved with assisting members with enquiries and providing Kim with some content for our member’s eNews. In addition to this, we have been running our county Committee Meetings over Zoom in the past few weeks which we feel have been working very well despite the adjustment to hosting these meetings virtually.

Outside of work, the benefit of working remotely for me has been valuable time to explore my new surroundings having relocated to the South West. However, I must say I am very much looking forward to the day we can back in the office so I can become fully immersed into CLA life!"

Will Langer, Rural Surveyor

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Will and his wife, Ella

"For me, the best (and busiest) time of the year in the South West is always the spring leading into summer. It’s a great opportunity for me to get to all the fantastic shows in the region and see our members offering advice and a glass of wine. The stark reality of 2020 however, has been quite different.

For the most part, myself and the other surveyors have all continued the ‘day job’ as if coronavirus had never happened, that is except for upping sticks and moving my desk to my dining room table. Members have continued to contact us with a variety of queries that Claire and I tackled in our usual fashion (with Tom joining the team a little bit later!). I have enjoyed being able to help our members on a number of issues in this fast-paced and unsettled world we find ourselves. This has included advising on holiday let access to grants, tenancy issues for commercial and residential, and increasingly with understanding furlough arrangements.

I’ve missed being able to get into the counties and with meeting members or attending stakeholder meetings where I represent farmers and landowners. This being said, many of these meetings have moved online which has meant that I have been in touch with groups on a variety of topics including heritage property, public rights of way and grant availability in the counties I cover, Cornwall and Dorset.

There was also a brief period where our National Access Adviser was away and I filled the gap helping our national teams with lobbying and advice on all things around public rights of way which was a great experience and I relished the challenge!

Outside of work, I have been getting fitter by running as often as I can, which will come as quite a shock to anyone that knows me! (It’s not my forte I can assure you). I have also taken up the lockdown trend of baking sourdough bread fairly regularly, and keeping my sourdough starter Leopold, (yes he has a name as apparently that’s what you do) alive. I have even learnt how to drive a steam train at a neighbour’s house. Admittedly, the train is smaller than me, you sit on it rather than in it and it goes about 12mph! Most enjoyable however, has been getting out with my wife Ella, and enjoying some long walks in the countryside which I am fortunate enough to have right on my doorstep!"