Members and staff of Inspire’s Abbeyview Community Wellbeing Service in Armagh were suitably inspired following a recent visit by the charity’s new Ambassador for Rural Wellbeing, local man, James Speers.
Inspire has been supporting people in the area with experience of mental ill-health and/or complex learning disabilities for many years now. Abbeyview in the centre of the City provides ‘day support’ opportunities for adults in a friendly and homely environment that helps members to achieve their full potential.
The Heathers is the charity’s other locally-based service in Armagh which provides support for a total of 23 service users within 6 shared living houses that enables those individuals to live as part of a warm, protective and welcoming community.
Inspire is also involved in helping to provide free confidential counselling support to students of Southern Regional College and also to staff of many local employers.
Although Inspire offers these types of community-based wellbeing services in all parts of Northern Ireland, and indeed it has also more recently expanded its services ‘over the boarder’ into the Monaghan and Dundalk areas, the charity has a particular ambition to promote a message of wellbeing to those that live and work in rural communities.
Around 33% of the population of Northern Ireland live in rural areas (as opposed to small or medium sized towns, or cities)
According to a research report produced by the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2010, rural dwellers are more likely to suffer higher levels of loneliness and social exclusion than their urban counterparts and vulnerable and marginalised groups such as lone parents, ethnic minorities, migrant workers, gay and lesbian people, the elderly and people with physical and intellectual disabilities face greater isolation
The same report found that in relation to issues of mental health, social factors such as fear about confidentiality in small rural communities can prevent individuals from making use of services.
This ‘barrier’ of stigma may account for the disparity in those accessing support in our rural communities, information published by the Mental Health Foundation in 2016 found that rates of diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems have been found to be lower in rural areas than urban areas
It is due to these wellbeing ‘inequalities’ that Inspire wants to do more to reach out to promote its services and challenge stigma through its Year of Wellbeing campaign. It has selected rural wellbeing as one of the issues it will attempt to educate others about, and to help do this, it has recruited James Speers as its new Ambassador for Rural Wellbeing to help spread the message.
James Speers is also the Deputy President of the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) and has been involved with Collone YFC club in Co Armagh, for over 16 years. James thoroughly believes that all the values in life that he has adopted and his achievements has been down to participation and social interaction within YFCU membership, it has been a key part of him maintaining his own sense of wellbeing.
Very much a local lad, James lives on and helps to manage a beef and sheep farm in partnership with his father.
Speaking about why he has accepted the role as ambassador with Inspire, James said: “I personally have experienced to date good positive mental health which I believe is mainly down to having strong family support from my mother and father and three older sisters.
“The social and peer supports benefits that come with being a member of YFCU and the opportunities to try new things it gives you have also been very beneficial to me.
“As someone who lives and breathes the country air, I am only too happy to engage with the rural community and spread information on how people living in rural communities can look after their wellbeing.”
Geoff Scott, Inspires PR & Marketing Manager explains why the charity approached James to take on this honorary title, he said: “We do know that issues such as mental ill-health, emotional issues or even learning disability or addiction can be difficult to open up about in our rural communities, which can leave people not sure where to turn for help if they are in difficulty or distress.
“James has proven through his many years of involvement with Young Farmers that he cares about the wellbeing of others living in his community. What’s more, he is someone who is well known within rural communities, in particular with other young people, and as such is someone others will listen to and respect.
“Partnering with James gives Inspire a great avenue to help take messages back out into rural environments that promote wellbeing, and the knowledge James has of what challenges are faced by those involved in the likes of farming, or indeed some of the challenges young people living in more isolated settings may face will be invaluable to us as a charity who are trying to offer support to others.”
Throughout the term of his ambassadorship, James has pledged to do all he can to help raise awareness on how others can look after and enhance their wellbeing, and also to promote awareness of the variety of services and supports offered by Inspire.
On a very practical level, James also hopes sharing how he has developed his own ‘toolkit’ for wellbeing by building and maintaining strong family and social connections may inspire others to take steps to do the same.
You can find out more about the services and supports that Inspire offers in the County Armagh area by visiting their website at www.inspirewellbeing.org
 Grieve, L., Kane, J., Hume, R., & Devlin, M. (2016). Family Resources Survey Rural Urban Report Northern Ireland 2013-14. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. https://www.communities-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/
 Northern Ireland Assembly, Research & Library Briefing Paper, 4th September 2010 Key Health Issues Affecting Rural Communities http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/globalassets/documents/raise/publications/2010/agriculture-rural-development/12510.pdf
 Mental Health Foundation Mental Health in Northern Ireland: Fundamental Facts 2016 https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/FF16%20Northern%20ireland.pdf
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