National Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs

Fun, Learning, and Achievement

YFC Made Me… confident to shepherd on television

Shepherdess Ellen Helliwell is no stranger to working with celebrity farmers. The 28-year-old former Hope Valley and Penrith YFC member has worked on Countryfile presenter Adam Henson’s farm park for the past seven years and is now also helping farming novice Jeremy Clarkson with his flock on Diddly Squat Farm, while starring in the smash-hit series Clarkson’s Farm. Ellen reveals how the friends she made in YFC are still a huge part of her life

I don’t really know why anyone would have to contemplate joining YFC. It’s a no-brainer.

I was so keen to become a YFC member and tagged along with my older sister to activities at Hope Valley YFC in Derbyshire until I could join when I turned 10.

I grew up on a National Trust tenancy hill farm in the Peak District with beef and sheep. It was a remote area and so YFC meetings were an important social part of my week.

I didn’t realise at the time that it would open up so many connections across the country. There’s something about being in YFC that makes you part of this tight-knit group. Whether you’re starting college or moving to a different part of the country with work, you will always meet people who have been involved in YFC and it gives you so much in common.

Even better, if you join the local YFC in your new location, they’ll welcome you with open arms and get you out meeting new people, doing different activities and having fun. That was definitely my experience when I moved to Cumbria and joined Penrith YFC after many years with Hope Valley.

I enjoyed competing with YFC and was naturally drawn to the stockjudging competitions and tug of war. I made it to the national tug of war finals four times and our team won it at least twice.

Although I hated them at the time, the public speaking competitions at YFC are excellent. It wasn’t one of my favourite competitions to do but, looking back, it taught me so much and I gained more confidence from doing them. It’s really scary to start with, standing up and giving your reasons in stockjudging or presenting in public speaking competitions, but it does you a lot of good.

It was during my third year at Reaseheath College that I came down to the Cotswolds to help with lambing on Adam Henson’s farm.  After finishing college, I moved to Australia for a year and when I returned to the UK, I went back lambing for Adam. I then moved back to a farm up north, before moving into contract work, which took me all over the UK.

Four years later, I was offered a job on Adam’s farm as a stock woman and I now work with sheep, cows, pigs, horses and goats. As a Countryfile presenter the farm is often used for filming and so I’m used to cameramen working around us. You can sometimes spot me in the background on the programme and I have been filmed shearing a sheep before now too.

Getting a role on Clarkson’s Farm was through a contact at the National Sheep Association (NSA). I am an NSA Next Generation Ambassador and know sheep farmer Kevin Harrison through the organisation. I’d agreed to farm sit for Kevin when he went on holiday and after showing me around his farm, he told me he was getting involved in a new TV programme and they were looking for a shepherdess. He asked if I would be interested but I turned him down as I didn’t have the time.

Luckily, he asked me again, sharing only that the farm was in the Cotswolds, there wasn’t many sheep and that I would be fine. It wasn’t until I met the producer and looked around the farm that I found out it was for Jeremy Clarkson. I thought…this is going to be interesting! I was right.

I was told the programme wanted to show agriculture and farming in a true light and be something that farmers and non-farmers would watch. They pretty much nailed that.

I have had lots of messages from people saying they’re not involved in farming but watching the show has brought it to life for them, and they now appreciate how hard it is. I think the show has done the industry a lot of good.

It’s nice to know I’m inspiring the next generation. The average age of a farmer in this country is not particularly young and it’s not easy to get people into the industry and keep them. It’s not really a job, it’s a way of life.

We need more people to be interested in farming though – to want to know where their food comes from, to want to know how the animals are looked after, so they buy British and support local farmers. I think the programme is helping to do that.

The camera crew are on the farm with us a lot and sometimes I don’t even realise they’re filming me while I work – unless I’m asked to do something again, which can be tricky!  

I’ve made good friends with everyone on the show and they’re so much fun to work with. I haven’t thought to ask Kaleb Cooper about being a YFC member as I just assume everyone that’s young is involved. It’s more of a surprise if they’re not!

Experiences such as stockjudging, rallies, the tug of war or public speaking helped to build me as a person and gave me skills to use later in life in my career. And I have had so much fun along the way. 

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