National Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs

Fun, Learning, and Achievement

YFC Made Me… a politician

A successful career championing conservation and the environment through journalism and politics was fuelled by skills learnt in YFC, says Minister Rebecca Pow, a former member of two Somerset clubs – Bath and Taunton. Debating competitions and a love of the performing arts saw the Minister travel the country with YFC and win awards for an infamous production of James and the Giant Peach…

You basically got roped into anything and everything and if there weren’t enough people you would find yourself doing something quite random that you perhaps hadn’t bargained for. But that’s the great thing about YFC. It gives people a chance to do different things – you don’t have to be brilliant, you can just rock up and have a go. And that’s good for people. 

I grew up on a mixed family farm in Bath that was a bit like The Archers. I joined Bath YFC when I was 15 and it was incredibly influential in my life. A lot of my experiences and friendships have stayed with me.

It was during my gap year before I went to university when I got really involved in the club. ¬ I had more time so they roped me into doing the debating and the entertainments competitions. I did everything really – hockey, stockjudging, you name it.

I even wrote a musical one year with someone I worked with at a local radio station. We got lots of the members to perform it who had never sung or danced on a stage before. We had great fun.

I entered lots of competitions at the annual rally – I even made a pair of overalls and I’m not very good at sewing! We had lessons and training in stockjudging, and lots of people passed on advice in debating as we progressed through the rounds, which was all really helpful. 

Without a shadow of a doubt, all that experience I had, in debating and speaking, stood me in brilliant stead. I didn’t learn that skill at university, I had done loads of it through YFC and from a young age you learn to think on your feet.

I was the press secretary for Bath YFC too, which was my first introduction to journalism.

I hadn’t set out to work in the media. I did a rural environmental science degree at London University Wye College – the first course in the country I could find that offered anything like that.

The degree was absolutely fascinating, and I am still talking about and working in those subjects today. When I finished university in the 1980s there was a mass recession and no jobs in my field of study as no one was talking about the environment back then. As I enjoyed the writing and performing side of things, I thought I could influence people with my environmental ideas by becoming a journalist.

I started working in local radio before moving to Taunton as a researcher for the NFU. I didn’t know a single person in Taunton, so I joined the local YFC, where I met a great collection of like-minded people. Many of them I am still in touch with today – in fact one of them went into hairdressing and still cuts my hair!

It’s also where I met my husband, Charles Clark, an agricultural auctioneer, with whom I ended up competing at a few national finals, including a rather memorable production of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. Charles was the director, as by this point he was too old to perform in it, and I was the narrator. It was an unusual choice of play for grown-ups because we had to get young farmers, many of whom had never been on the stage before, dressed up as giant insects. Some clever YFC members also made an amazing revolving giant peach for our impressive stage set.

The play was a huge success and we literally went on tour around the country as we kept winning rounds, until we made it to the national final in the Isle of Man. The final coincided with me clinching my dream job as a presenter on Radio 4’s Farming Today programme. I was too scared to tell the agricultural editor at the BBC that I needed to get to the Isle of Man for the final because I needed to present a live show on the Saturday morning.

The editor got wind of it though and said ‘How marvellous, you must go to the final. Don’t worry we’ll book you on a plane!” I flew from Heathrow to the Isle of Man, while the rest of my YFC mates had to rattle up there in some old vans with all the kit, being sick on the ferry. We won as well, which made it all worthwhile – and I even picked up the trophy for best actress and Charles won best director!

Taunton YFC also gave me my first experience in parliament. I was asked to be a spokesperson for YFC at a rural youth lobby and came to London to talk about the provision of rural jobs, low pay and lack of infrastructure. It’s bizarre that I ended up back in parliament in later life.

Despite my work in Radio 4 and then on HTV and ITV, I realised that while a journalist can influence thinking, in politics you can influence policy. So that was one of my drivers for trying to get to a ministerial role in Defra when the opportunity arose.

I ran my own communications and production company for a while, where I did a lot of work locally, and got very engaged in wanting to give something back to my community, where I am now an MP for Taunton Deane. It’s ultimately what led me to parliament.  

That’s something YFC teaches you. They’re very much community players. As a YFC member I was engaged in fundraising and very much part of the community – even through our notorious carol singing around the villages. 

You can feel quite isolated in rural communities and that’s why an organisation like Young Farmers is so great – to have a meeting place, to mix with other people, learn skills and to be part of your community. 

I would urge anyone to get involved and learn more about the countryside and where our food comes from because all of those things are incredibly important to how we live. 






 

 

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