WINTER WEATHER: Middleton-in-Teesdale charity Utass has helped upper dale farmers weather the Covid storm, working with them remotely to help process grant applications
WINTER WEATHER: Middleton-in-Teesdale charity Utass has helped upper dale farmers weather the Covid storm, working with them remotely to help process grant applications

UPPER dale farmers completed their basic payment scheme (BPS) claims in record time last year, thanks to the support from Utass (Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services).
This is despite the charity’s officers no being able to meet farmers face-to-face because of Covid-19 restrictions.
The charity’s annual meeting heard last week that some 206 farm businesses received BPS as well as stewardship and boundary grant support in 2020.
Strategic development officer Grace Crawford said: “Utass has adapted quickly in the face of the pandemic to ensure we have been able to provide the help, support and assistance that our dales communities have needed. Together we have been able to achieve a huge amount of work. Where the usual approach involves sitting down together to go over claim paperwork and maps, this year the team has worked hard with phone appointments, and although it hasn’t been as easy as previous years, all of the claims were submitted well in advance of the June deadline.”
She added that administrative support was given to six grazier groups, helping them to come together to access financial support for managing the land. Considerable effort was invested in negotiating a new agreement for the Cotherstone Moor group, she said.
This included difficulty in obtaining an accurate application pack, which was submitted in April last year. And following protracted negotiations, a 230-page agreement was reached early in January.
Ms Crawford said: “Well-established and functioning graziers groups may well be an important asset when the Government’s ELM scheme is rolled out.”
She said Utass continued to provide a voice to farmers in a variety of forums, discussions and consultations to ensure they were represented and better understood.
She added: “In a normal world we aim to bring people together where we can, but obviously 2020 meant we had to find new ways to provide our activities and contact.
“Our retired farmers’ lunches did manage to continue at the beginning of the year at three local auction marts, but since March regular contact has been made by telephone and we have been able to provide weekly meals to those who have wanted them.”
Utass chairman Richard Matthews said the pandemic had made Utass’ role in the upper dale all the more important. He paid tribute to the staff who he described as “wonderfully resilient” in keeping the charity’s core services going while offering additional help to those who had to self-isolate.
He said: “The increased workload brought on by the pandemic has meant that we have been even more reliant on our volunteers than usual and it is to them, to our excellent manager Bob Danby, our fantastic staff, our members, funders, patrons and trustees that I offer my heartfelt thanks.”
Mr Danby added: “Utass staff deserve unending praise – they willingly shouldered extra tasks and made the whole thing work. I have no hesitation in saying that without their ‘can do’ attitude we would not have been able to accomplish what we have.
“I feel privileged to work alongside them.
“Many thanks too, to all the volunteers, without whom we could not have delivered our services, there are too many to mention individually, but the contribution made by each and everyone is vastly appreciated, not only by the staff and I, but also by the residents they help, week in, week out.”