Challenge Of Rural Leadership Course

Leadership Skills Training for Agricultural Business Leaders

CRL 2017 hard at work
Delegates at the 2017 CRL hard at work

The Challenge of Rural Leadership Course

 The Challenge of Rural Leadership Course is one the Worshipful Company of Farmers flagship educational offerings. It was established 20 years ago to help identify and develop the future leaders of the agricultural industry. The Course is run, on behalf of the Company, by the Rural Business School Team at the Duchy College and attracts delegates from not just the UK but from around the world.

A selection process for delegates takes place each year in October, via interviews held at our Livery Hall in the City of London.  We are looking for delegates who can generate a long term endowment benefit for the agricultural industry through participation on the course.

The course itself is held over a two week period at Dartington Hall, Devon in January of each year and the programme is designed to help enable the delegates to examine the specific challenges faced by rural industries. On the back of their analysis the whole group develops a greater awareness of the strategic issues likely to affect other rural businesses. There are also elements of the course to help delegates improve the motivation and communication skills that are so vital in today’s working environment, and particularly for this cohort, if they are going to go on and have influence in the rural community both nationally and internationally.  Financial, political and environmental issues are also addressed.

Delegates visit a leading argi-business to undertake a strategic review of the business, which is later presented back to the business owners. Over the course of their two weeks the group will be addressed by around thirty different, high quality speakers and presenters. And each course participant is individually profiled to help them better understand their own strengths, weaknesses and leadership style.

Eighteen delegates are selected for each course, with usually up to four being from overseas. It is the interaction, discussion and sharing of knowledge and experiences between delegates that is the magic ingredient, and which leads to the participants developing strong networks, and often lifelong friendships, throughout the rural industry.  In essence individuals come away from Dartington with seventeen non-executive directors!

2017 CRL Delegates
CRL Class of 2017 with Master Philip Wynn and Chairman of Education Graham Shooter

The 2017 CRL Course

This year The Challenge of Rural Leadership course reached an important milestone - its 21st birthday.

Led by Richard Soffe and Geoff Kerr of the Duchy College Rural Business School this inspirational course, held at Dartington between the 22nd January to 4th February 2017 had eighteen attendees: for the very first time a husband and wife team were among the delegates. Wayne and Nicki Mann, both Nuffield Scholars, travelled from Australia to jopin the course. The number also included Vojech Riha, a Spearhead employee from the Czech Republic, making up a delegate list of eight females and ten males which the group itself felt was an ideal candidate gender balance.

 The 2017 speakers included Dr Bryon Walter OBE who gave a very enlightening talk of his experience in the Balkan Conflict as a senior officer making very significant decisions under enormous pressure. Hospital A &E consultant Dr Andrew Appleboam led a discussion on prioritizing – by reference to the situations that he faced in his daily duties. The Minister of Agriculture - George Eustice - addressed the course on the final evening prior to the presentation dinner.

The following are a few short extract from the concluding summary of the two weeks at Dartington submitted by Wayne and Nicki Mann.

Dartington Hall which is a venue oozing with history, character and prestige, so fitting for this course. The minute one arrives and sees the gorgeous, immaculately kept gardens and the grand buildings you feel like royalty and have to step-up and play the part, which is just like leadership.

Every single participant was an accomplished, highly successful individual but so personable and passionate to help one another achieve a common goal of improving ourselves for the betterment of the agricultural sector. This greatly added to the success of the course.

We have formed friendships, allies, mentors, confidants as well as bonds for life. There is a phenomenon that groups that have attended this particular course in the past still gather annually just to catch up, visit farms and generally keep each other motivated and focused on the bigger purpose. I can see this year’s group being no exception.

Richard Soffe and Geoff Kerr, ably assisted by Chris Godolphin, spend all year ensuring they get the best selection of speakers to present to the course, they also interject with a strong framework of leadership tools to equip and assist us all get a chance to maximize our success as future leaders.There is opportunity for role play, work-shopping ideas and getting into the nuts and bolts of what it is to be a successful leader which sometimes includes very difficult and hard to make decisions, uncomfortable conversations or actions which can be very isolating and make us question ourselves and our purpose.

The first week revolves the group doing a case study on an agricultural based business located within 200kms of Dartington. Every year the business selected for the course to perform the case study on changes. This year it was a family owned and operated business with its principle activities being farmhouse cheese making, packing and selling; dairy, beef, arable and pig farming; plus an agricultural contracting 50/50 partnership as well as a countryside education program operated through a charity developed from an in-house education initiative. This gave the group a nice set of diverse challenges to get to grips with.

The second week focused more on individuals looking at ‘work/life balance’, emotional intelligence, ‘wellness’, ‘thinking politically’, viewing situations from ‘the balcony and not just the dance-floor’, considering other people’s points of view, encouraging and opening up to feedback, empowering team members by ‘giving the work back’ and giving confidence to step-up do a ‘power-pose’ and have those uncomfortable conversations we often avoid.

We all had opportunities to be the chairperson for the day to fine tune our leadership skills. Every participant had to present to the group on our background, our farming business, our goals and aspirations which was so impressive, exhilarating and challenged us to push ourselves further to keep up with the amazing people we were surrounded by.

The course concluded with a champagne reception with the Master of the Worshipful Company of Farmers and some of their senior members PLUS the UK Minister of Agriculture attended and addressed this function. 

The delegates for the 2107 CRL course were as follows ..
Nicki Mann - Australia*
Wade Mann - Australia*
Vojtech Riha - Czech Republic
James Orr - Scotland
Roger Lewis - Wales
Emily Borton - Cornwall
Andrew Smith - Cumbria
Timothy Isaac - Essex
Graham Clark - Gloucestershire
Fiona Anderson - Isle of Man
Sebastian Edwards - Norfolk
Simon  Bainbridge - Northumberland
Mark Cox - Somerset
Jennifer Hunter - Somerset
Katie Chapman - Yorkshire
Alice Midmer - Warwickshire
Vivienne Harris - Wiltshire
Holly Parry - Yorkshire

The 2018 CRL Course

The 22nd course will take place between January 7th and January 20th 2018. Interviews for the course will be held at the Farmers' and Fletchers' Hall at Three Cloth Street in October 2017. The photograph is of the 2015 attendees with the Master, Tony Alston, and course Director, Richard Soffe.

For further information and an application form visit the College website.