A FARMER has told how people in Renfrewshire’s rural communities have become increasingly isolated due to the Covid pandemic.

Willie Harper, of Gryffe Wraes Farm, in Bridge of Weir, said the absence of annual farming shows and other events has made it difficult to socialise with others over the past year.

The 53-year-old told The Gazette: “Last summer, there were no agricultural shows where farmers would take their stock to, which had a big impact on some of the farmers living in remote areas with no family.

“We have actually had a few suicides of farmers within Renfrewshire and maybe the pandemic was one of the factors in these deaths.

“Farming, on the whole, has one of the highest rates of suicides and deaths, which is just the nature of the type of work we do, with the isolation, poor prices and weather-related issues.”

Willie believes poor broadband service in remote areas of Renfrewshire has also contributed to local farmers having difficulties keeping in touch with family and friends.

The dad-of-two said: “You do get isolated and the Scottish Government can make all the promises they like about rural broadband but it isn’t near where it should be.

“I’m fairly lucky because I’m between Houston and Bridge of Weir, so I’ve got pretty good internet service, but you don’t have to go a few miles outwith Houston and you can hardly get a decent phone line.

“The more isolated you are, the older the cables are and they’re not upgrading them fast enough. They don’t tend to upgrade them until there’s been an accident or the weather has brought them down.”

Stephen McLellan, chief executive of Recovery Across Mental Health (RAMH), believes the consequences of being socially disconnected has been brought to the fore by the pandemic.

He added: “The impact of Covid, the necessity to keep a physical distance and isolate, has only compounded the challenge of loneliness.

“RAMH has seen the devastating effect of loneliness on individuals and communities in the last 18 months and we have tried to adapt what we do to offer people the opportunity to reach out to others, albeit via media in the first instance.”

If you need someone to talk to, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123.