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 (started 1996)

The future for Rural Industries has never been more challenging.

The domination of the food supply by multi-national companies, changing consumer attitudes, increased demands for countryside access and changes to government and political representation, nationally, EU wide and internationally, are just some of the obstacles which face the industry.

The Challenge of Rural Leadership now in its 22nd year is managed by The Rural Business School at Duchy College, part of The Cornwall College Group and will take place from 7th January to 20th January 2018 at Dartington Hall, Devon.

The Challenge of Rural Leadership course is suitable for individuals in management positions and comprises an intensive programme of management and leadership skills as well as hosting speakers from significant and important organizations, and government agencies who contribute to the course delivery.

The aim is to provide high-achieving managers with the skills and capabilities to grow and thrive in continuously changing and increasingly challenging conditions.

This is a higher-managerial and strategic leadership course. It is designed to help you increase your influence on the rural community, both nationally and internationally and also to gain a greater insight into the political, financial and environmental challenges affecting the future of rural industries.

The Challenge of Rural Leadership is endorsed by the Worshipful Company of Farmers, and financial assistance is available towards the cost of the course.

For more information please contact the Course Director, Richard Soffe on 0845 458 7485 or email

The 2018 CRL Course delegates

The 23rd course runs from Sunday 7th January until Saturday 20th January 2017.

This year's delegates are :-

Matthew Hague  Suffolk
Rebecca Lamb  Kent
Bernadette Mortensen  Australian Nuffield 2015
Bob Nixon  Australian Nuffield 2014
James Speers  Belfast
Vicky Robinson Oxford
Michael Reynolds  Leicestershire
Andrew Wilson Suffolk
Jim Hayes Lincolnshire
Clare Wright Cambridgeshire
Christine Mc Dowell  Warwickshire
Gemma Rowland Cornwall
Penny Montgomery Scotland
Steven Lowe Derbyshire
Matthew Bell North Yorkshire
Tim Ledbury Somerset
Russell Carrington Hereford
Chris Edmunds Cumbria

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 join 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