Katrina Barclay studied the Organic Farming (Postgraduate Diploma) course at SRUC Aberdeen, and graduated in 2000. It was the course’s inaugural year. We spoke to Katrina to find out about her time as a student on the Craibstone Estate, and how it has helped lead to her current position as Manager at the Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET).
Katrina Barclay grew up on a mixed farm in Aberdeenshire.
“I’ve always had an interest in the countryside, in particular the working countryside. The opportunity to work with the land has always been a real interest to me in whatever I do- work, study, play.”
Katrina gained her degree in Biological Sciences from University of Aberdeen, but felt the need to continue her studies in a more focussed area. After looking at a Craibstone prospectus, she was alerted to the brand new MSc Organic Farming course due to its strong focus on soils.
The highlight of studying at Craibstone for Katrina was location.
“We used to go up to the hill farm at the back of Craibstone, and do a lot of crop sampling and quadrant throwing. Dick Taylor was the lecturer at the time. We’d try and take it in turns to get a lift up with Dick in his sports car with the top down- we really felt like we were swanning about!
“We were the first year on the MSc Organic Farming course, and were trying to manage the workload. There were quite a few all nighters in the computing suite with fellow students. There was great camaraderie. One of my fellow students once said to me that she performed better under pressure and I think we all had to adopt that ethos pretty quickly to survive!”
This sense of camaraderie with fellow students provided the basis for Katrina’s ‘life lessons’ that she got from studying at SRUC.
“The best thing is to embrace and enjoy it. You end up sitting alongside somebody that you wouldn’t naturally migrate towards in any other setting. It’s actually really useful to observe and understand how they cope in difficult situations- perhaps taking on a challenge that you would have shied away from. You learn from other people. And you can use this later on in your own life.”
Katrina found the teamwork at Craibstone to be inspiring.
“I think there is a life lesson on teamwork which comes from studying. There was one time I was in a lab just before Christmas washing potatoes in freezing cold water, so one of the PhD students could finish part of their project to get home in time for Christmas.
“Teamwork doesn’t have to be something you directly benefit from. You can see helping others as an opportunity to better yourself.”
After graduating from her MSc in Organic Farming, Katrina spent a grand total of two weeks back on the family farm before being approached by the Scottish Organic Producers Association (SOPA). After spending five years with SOPA, she then worked with the Soil Association looking at organic food production and consumption in Scotland.
Katrina then moved to the Lake District to work for the National Trust as their Food and Farming Learning Officer. For the next five years, she coordinated a programme that introduced farming to young visitors to the area.
“One of my favourite memories from that post was when we had some students from Birmingham. They all had very strong Brummie accents. And there was me with my Aberdonian accent, and a Cumbrian farmer with his strong accent. The students got to shear a sheep and they didn’t know what they were doing because nobody understood each other. It was hilarious. The students got so much more out of the visit, because of their time with the farmer.”
In 2011 Katrina joined the Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET) as one of their Project Coordinators organising school farm visits. RHET works with volunteers to provide free educational activities, to bring food, farming and working countryside to life for young people. Katrina enjoyed the coordinating role, however a position in the office team became vacant to support the network of RHET coordinators. Fast forward another 12 months and the opportunity then arose when Alison Motion left as manager and Katrina applied and secured and started in position of RHET Manager, in July 2014.
Key to Katrina’s current role is promoting RHET and its schools programme, and making the most of RHET’s stakeholder relationships.
“We work with an army of dedicated volunteers to deliver our work. It’s important they have the right support and resources. I also talk with stakeholder groups like the Young Farmers, QMS, NFUS about what we could do together that is going to benefit young people through engaging with those who work and live in rural Scotland. The role is wonderfully varied and being part of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland management team brings a huge range of opportunities to network and ultimately raise the profile of RHET”
RHET relies heavily on support from its volunteer network for the day-to-day delivery of its aims to get school groups interested about farming. Katrina encourages SRUC alumni to consider volunteering- from stewarding groups on farming estate visits, to acting as a tour guide at the Royal Highland Show. Volunteers do not need to have a farming background, just enthusiasm to take part.
“We are really blessed with our diverse range of volunteers. We have students with us who are looking to add volunteering to their CVs to help with their future job prospects. We have a number of SRUC staff who help by going into schools and help to deliver talks about food, farming and the countryside and careers in the rural sector. We have people who have retired and maybe want to help out once a year. We have some volunteers who help out several times a month because they get a sense of feeling connected, while others do it to build experience.”
RHET looks for additional volunteers each year for the Royal Highland Show in Ingliston.
“We are really keen to get hold of people who have visited the Show fairly frequently and know the layout of the showground. Schools want that unique opportunity of a personal guide. Volunteers really enjoy it, and the kids love it because they get to see parts of the showgrounds, all the nooks and crannies, that people wouldn’t normally venture into. Our volunteers can take them to their favourite places to see the Clydesdales or where to get a seat in the sun.”
If people can’t volunteer but would still like to support RHET, they can join a supporters club. Money raised this way goes directly to getting children out to working farms.
“Joining us at £25 a year really does help us in getting young people engaged with food and farming and the working countryside.”
For more information on RHET and how to volunteer or support its activities, visit: https://www.rhet.org.uk/