Changing the narrative – hearts and minds

Two weeks ago we held FACE’s Annual Meeting; not a dry committee event, but a chance to get together with our stakeholders in a relaxed setting to give some deep thought to the future of our work. The mix of sixty or so members, beneficiaries, funders, industry heads and FACE team met in the beautiful surrounds of in Bedfordshire where we heard from a number of thought-provoking contributors, and I had the chance to set out my vision for FACE’s work over the next five years.


Most importantly, I was able to ask the assembled group to consider and critique the proposals and to consider how they and their organisations can be part of the shared vision. The feedback and contributions were powerful and insightful – it reminded me again of the privileged position that FACE holds that we can command the attention and support of such an august group of people.

At the core of the emerging vision (there will be a future blog about this in detail) is a recognition that we need to change the narrative about farming and the managed countryside. To date, we’re mostly only reaching the minority of already-convinced teachers  – those who simply ‘get it’. If we want to engage the majority, then we can’t just shout louder, but must find wholly new ways of connecting with them.

In setting out how we need to change, I shared that we have a lot to learn from the adoption of innovation, or as Simon Sinek puts it, ‘Start with Why?’ . You can attract early adopters by simply telling them what you offer – they will already understand the benefits. To reach the majority of people, the approach is the other way around. You must first make the connection in terms of things that matter to them.

Each of the speakers in their own way talked about how we find new ways of engaging people in what is, after all, possibly the most important issue in all our lives. There is no more basic human need than being able to feed ourselves. And the challenge of doing that sustainably into the future is no small matter. But just how much do other people recognise this?

I showed the group the headline from the contentious article by George Monbiot It’s time to wean ourselves off the fairytale version of farming . While I don’t agree with George’s assessment of British farming, I do agree that there is an image of a bucolic past (that may never have existed) which gets perpetuated not only by children’s authors, but also by our own industry and even the education initiatives surrounding farming. On one hand it is both right and advantageous to connect people through a personal love for the countryside and for food. On the other hand, it makes the subject easy to dismiss if teachers have the idea that we can only offer cuddly animals, countryside crafts and aspic views.

We cannot expect people who are several generations disconnected from farming to instantly ‘get’ why it’s important to them. When we’re sitting upon education gold-dust (cutting-edge science, challenging ethical decisions, and complex business systems), we must use them for all they are worth to capture the imaginations of teachers so that all children and young adults understand the connection between farming and their daily lives. (spoiler alert – this is our newly-defined mission!)

Our new strategy will be all about how we translate all of this knowledge, and untap all the learning opportunities, and relate them to teachers and pupils in terms of the things that they care about. We have to bring them on a journey, starting where they are at. The Annual Meeting was a brilliant opportunity for partners to explore this further and to share what they can add to the mix to make this happen.

Speaking at the event Dimitri Houtart, Rural Affairs Champion for the BBC likened FACE to the BBC, in as much as we have to inform, educate and entertain. If we can do all three, there’s a good chance that we can make the leap to making farming become mainstream in education.


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