WHEN Kate Benson was a little girl she helped her dad Jack, the respected country writer, look after injured wildlife brought to the animal hospital Jack ran in their back garden at Little Eccleston.
Today he’s helping her run what amounts to a Welsh dude ranch for wannabe good lifers – those who yearn to get away from it all, grow their own food, raise their own animals and give the supermarkets a miss once in a while.
It’s a welcome reversal of roles for Jack – now a part-time tutor at one of the BBC’s favourite feature farms, which is now the base of Kate’s Country School.
Kate’s a Beavan not a Benson now – by marriage to Welsh sheep farmer Jim. Home is a 500 acre ‘super’ farm, a family partnership of two farms, near Abergavenny, at the foot of the Brecon Beacons.
Kate, 44 and Jim were thrust into the spotlight by the BBC series Lambing Live. This season they have brought 1,000 lambs in the world.
Jim once delivered 2,000 lambs in little more than two weeks. Silence falls over the hillsides approximately four months later – when the lambs bleat off to market.
Kate’s a rising star of farming in her own right. Having fronted Lambing Live with Kate Humble, she’s an occasional presenter of The One Show, and regularly called upon by TV, radio and other media.
Now the Beavan girl has launched her most ambitious venture, a sort of mini-Myerscough College – in Monmouthshire.
Kate says her parents Jack and Patty gave her and her two sisters Fiona and Lindsay an enduring love of the countryside.
Jack’s the Fylde’s own rural idyll guru. He penned Country Diary for 26 years for The Gazette, is a singer, poet, former Kirkham Open Prison tutor, author, and one of the most in-demand speakers on the circuit.
Kate’s roots are here. She was born in Out Rawcliffe and went to Blackpool and the Fylde College after attending Garstang High and Copp CE at Great Eccleston.
She later worked as a veterinary nurse in Blackpool.
“We were brought up to appreciate our surrounds,” she recalls. As a young girl I remember going bird watching in the early hours of the morning to see hen harriers with dad.
“We had a wildlife hospital in the garden and people would bring wild animals for us to help.
“My love of animals then led me to work at David Wadsworth’s Veterinary Surgery in Norbreck, where I trained as a Veterinary Nurse.
“It was a real turning point for me – until then I’d been a bit of a rebel and messed up.
“Mum and dad were very patient as I brought various animals home and crawled around the floor teaching baby blackbirds to peck at maggots!
“I also remember giving daily eye drops to a one-eyed hedgehog I kept in the garage.
“From there I moved to work with larger animals in Abergavenny, where I met Jim through Young Farmers. I still bring waifs and strays home to the farm!”
Kate worked at Chester Zoo before taking a degree in natural sciences through the Open University and getting her masters in environmental conservation management.
Now she’s hopes to recruit would-be students from the Fylde’s traditional farming heartlands – Over Wyre and south Fylde – as well as all walks of society.
The classes appeal to a broader range of people as more buy into the good life, ethical living, allotments, keeping chickens or running smallholdings.
Kate says the feedback she got after TV appearances spurred her on to create the country school. It started on an ad hoc basis, her dad invited to deliver a creative writing workshop, other friends dropping by to run courses in cider making, butchery, wildlife habitats, shearing, dry stone walling and, most popular (and messy) of all, lambing.
Effectively it’s teaching the art of country life to the masses.
“We keep it simple, try to give everybody an experience of the countryside,” says Kate. “It’s not just farming, it’s a good mix of subjects.”
Those attending include suited and booted consultants, social workers, teachers and the newly retired – or redundant – as well as agricultural students and farmer’s wives.
“Our courses cater for complete novices, smallholders and farming folk; whether you’ve got an entire farm, a few acres or just a garden, you’ll get hands-on experience, answers to your nagging questions and practical hints and tips to make life a little easier.”
Kate says the financial crisis will drive more to become more self sufficient because of the pressure on domestic budgets. “I also think it’s important kids are aware of where food comes from, and how crucial farms and indeed farmers are to the economy.”
n www.katescountryschool.co.uk or see www.bensonsbits.com
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