By Claire Inkson email@example.com
Fencing Contractors Association of New Zealand patron and mental health advocate Craig “Wiggy” Wiggins has taken his Lean on a gate, talk to a mate initiative to America’s midwest.
Wiggins was invited to introduce the initiative to American fencing contractors at the 2023 Fall Fencing Forum held in Indiana in October after meeting forum organiser Luke Gibson at the National Fieldays in Hamilton earlier this year.
“Luke holds the forum on his ranch, and we struck up a friendship when he visited New Zealand,” Wiggins said.
“He saw similarities between what’s going on here and over there, so he asked me to bring ‘Lean on a gate’ to the conference.”
Wiggins began the “Lean on a gate, talk to a mate” initiative during Covid restrictions when he noticed how isolated farmers and those living in rural areas were and how people’s mental health was suffering as a result.
The initiative encourages people to connect with their friends and neighbours and take five minutes daily to “lean on a gate, talk to a mate” like farmers traditionally did at saleyards and other events.
Wiggins said there were parallels between the struggles facing rural communities in America and those in New Zealand.
“There is a lot of isolation, financial pressure, family pressure, and a lot of pressure to live up to what’s expected.
“They have the same sort of anxieties and issues.
“It doesn’t matter what country you live in, it’s just how you deal with it and how you get help.”
The Fall Fencing Forum, which ran over three days, was a culmination of workshops and competitions, with fencing contractors attending from all over the United States.
Wiggins was one of the workshop facilitators, holding a “speakeasy” and encouraging conversations on mental health and wellbeing around a campfire in the evenings.
Wiggins said his experience with small communities, what they were, and their strength was the story he tried to tell.
“The fencing community over there is a community in itself,” he said.
“The mantra I go on is strong communities make strong people and strong people make strong communities.”
Wiggins was well received and was presented with a lever-action rifle trophy for the “person who delivered the most” at the forum as a token of appreciation.
This article was originally published in Rural Guardian.