Counsellors deal with trauma of living in country

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The Independent Online

It has been cocooned from hardship for at least 150 years by the benevolent, aristocratic dynasty that still owns it, but the tiny, idyllic North Wales village of Llanelidan broke its own mould this week.

It has been cocooned from hardship for at least 150 years by the benevolent, aristocratic dynasty that still owns it, but the tiny, idyllic North Wales village of Llanelidan broke its own mould this week.

In the small village hall, converted from an army hut at the end of the First World War, locals submitted themselves, en masse, to mental health counselling. A session organised by the charity Mind was a remarkable, if understated, comment on the depth of rural Britain's economic blight. For earlier generations of proud, largely Welsh-speaking families here, publicly voicing private anxieties would have been unthinkable. But Mind, concerned about the effects of bottled-up anxieties, asked them to attend a meeting with its officers in a pilot project which may be repeated across Wales.

The aristocratic Naylor-Leyland family, which owns most of the village, can no longer offer salvation for its 300 inhabitants. The family's Nant Clwyd estate has been forced to let half its land - around 1,200 acres - in the last year, while lamb prices have fallen by 40 per cent. A group of shepherds and stockmen has just been laid off and even the estate's forestry business is suffering from cheap imports of French timber.

Mind is fiercely guarding the results of its two-hour meeting with locals, for fear of frightening away those whom it might coax out of traditional reticence. Jane Jones, rural development officer for the charity's Vale of Clwyd branch, who co-ordinated the meeting, said that its value depended on people's willingness to "come out with what's bothering them".

The problems are about more than a lack of money and jobs. The sense of village communion - strong in the days when every villager either worked on the estate or had retired from it - has clearly gone.

A Methodist church was dismantled long ago, a Baptist chapel stands empty and the village store was long since converted into a house. The community noticeboard is bare but for two offers of childminding and a bus timetable, recording the solitary direct daily service to the nearest town of Ruthin.

The Leyland Arms pub, owned by Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland, provides the best outlet for the despair of those who try in vain to make the land pay. "The tenant farmers won't sell up through bloody-minded pride," said the pub landlord, Mark Anderson. "They do turkeys at Christmas but everyone knows it's not enough."

It remains to be seen whether Mind can make any difference at a time when 70 per cent of tenant farmers across the United Kingdom say they are kept awake at night worrying about their situation. "We have to change the culture [of talking about problems] but it's like getting people to drive slowly on roads," said the local vicar, the Rev Chris Potter. "There's a great fear about mental health. There's an air of secrecy... because everything is so public."

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