Worldwide innovations in rural affairs to be explored by new recipients of prestigious Churchill Fellowships

March 5, 2020

Today, 13 UK citizens will be awarded prestigious Churchill Fellowships to research the world’s best ideas, innovations and practices for rural affairs. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity funds inspiring individuals to travel the world and bring back new ideas that can be actioned in the UK.

These 13 Churchill Fellows will explore a range of issues in the areas of:

  • Employment
  • Farming
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Conservation
  • Supporting island communities
  • Tackling social isolation

Together, they will travel to 18 countries across 4 continents. The 2020 Churchill Fellowships in rural affairs are supported by a partnership with The Prince’s Countryside Fund. They are among 141 Churchill Fellows awarded this year across a range of vital topics.

Julia Weston, Chief Executive of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust said: “This year we have awarded Churchill Fellowships to 141 inspiring people from all areas of UK society, who will travel the world in search of the best solutions for the UK’s most pressing problems. They will explore innovations in a wide range of fields and bring back new ideas to strengthen their communities and professions across the UK. This is a crucial bridge of people and ideas between the UK and the world.”

Fellows’s projects include:


According to a recent report from the thinktank IPPR North, almost half of new jobs in England in the last decade were in London and the south-east, despite only a third of the population living in that region. Automation and digitisation are changing the nature of jobs and the skills required to do them, yet rural communities often face challenges in accessing retraining.

Interim Deputy Director at Cities and Local Growth Unit Annie Maciver will visit New Zealand and Sweden to research how to build skills in rural and town communities, in order to adapt to change in the labour market resulting from technology and decarbonisation.

Retired finance director Sara Dauncey will visit coastal sites in France, Spain and the Faroe Islands to research employment opportunities around seaweed farming in remote coastal regions.

“As a policy maker and educator, I know that education and training is the most powerful weapon we have to change the world. Technology can be a force for good, connecting us and allowing us to broaden our horizons. It can also widen the gap between town and rural communities, with worse digital connectivity and fewer digital services designed for their needs. I want to help connect those left behind by technology, like the older generations of my own family, who lost work and income as technology changed their jobs, to thrive through this technological revolution” – Annie Maciver


The UK farming industry is facing labour shortages, greater regulation on food security, increased demand on food production and the need to protect UK soil at risk from overuse. Many of its challenges will be affected by Brexit. The industry has an ageing population, with new entrant farmers facing multiple challenges – such as access to land, capital, resources, markets and training and support.

Assistant Farm Manager at Tolhurst Organic Francis Everson will research innovative farming systems which promote soil-health in field-scale organic vegetable production. He will travel to Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland and The Netherlands to visit farms, organisations and manufacturers who have developed innovative equipment and systems.

Steph Wetherell, Mentoring Programme Coordinator at The Landworkers’ Alliance, will be exploring how Canada and the USA support new entrant farmers.

Director at Rural and Remote Apprentices Link Limited, and former army officer, Fiona Galbraith will be exploring the potential to encourage into land-based careers the 20,000 military veterans who enter the civilian workforce each year. She will visit the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia to explore how they encourage veterans into farming.

“Currently three million tonnes of top soil are lost annually in the UK. The innovative farming systems I intend to report on have the potential to significantly reduce soil erosion and increase soil organic matter levels, providing environmental benefits by sequestering carbon and improving water infiltration and retention. I hope that my Fellowship helps farmers and growers to protect their most valuable asset, their soil, for future generations” – Francis Everson

Tackling social isolation

Over 9 million people in the UK – almost a fifth of the population – say they are always or often lonely and research shows that this has an impact on health and wellbeing. Despite the widely held view that rural areas are neighbourly, the reality is that many rural dwellers of all ages struggle to connect, due to weak social, transport and communications infrastructure. Certain minorities including refugees can find integration into rural communities challenging.

Former director of the Jo Cox Foundation Iona Lawrence will be exploring intergenerational social activities in rural communities in the USA and Uganda, to bring back ideas for rural communities in the UK.

Community Development Officer at Refugee Council Sepideh Mojabi will be exploring how Canada has implemented refugee resettlement policies and programmes in rural communities to inform a new initiative she’s working on in North Yorkshire.

“I grew up in rural Suffolk and I know first-hand the cost of loneliness and disconnection on people of all ages in rural communities where pubs, shops and other public spaces are closing. As a friend of Jo Cox and the former Director of the Jo Cox Foundation, I am driven by the belief that meaningful relationships are a gateway to understanding and empathy between people. I am looking forward to learning from people in rural America and Uganda, who are bringing people of all ages together to share time and experiences, build relationships and forge collective narratives of their lives and communities.” – Iona Lawrence

Everyone can apply for a Churchill Fellowship, regardless of age, background or qualifications, so long as they are a UK citizen aged 18 or over.