Countryside College is a new three-part observational documentary series starting tonight (Wednesday, August 26th) at 10.45pm on BBC One Northern Ireland.
It follows the ups and downs of the 2019/20 academic year for a diverse group of students from CAFRE in Northern Ireland (College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise).
CAFRE’s motto is to ‘learn by doing’ and this series follows a selection of students who thrive on cutting-edge practical studies and getting their hands dirty, whether that’s in farming, food, flowers or foals.
During the series, viewers get exclusive access to the three college campuses based at Enniskillen, Loughry and Greenmount to find out what it really takes for these students to become qualified ‘custodians of the countryside’.
Getting to grips with college life before lockdown
Filmed from September 2019 – June 2020, each episode concentrates on the chronological seasonal unfolding of the college term and captures the huge impact of the Coronavirus pandemic mid-way through the academic year.
The series tracks the experience of seven students of different ages and from different backgrounds as they get to grips with college life before and after lockdown.
The start of the college term finds each of the students immersed in their studies as they work towards their individual goals. For 21-year-old Luke Norton from Longford this is his second-year studying Equine Management in the Enniskillen campus and he’s hoping he will be one of the students picked to walk the foals in the sales ring at Tattersalls, County Meath.
In the Loughry campus, 20-year-old Jack Graham from Ballymoney is in his second-year studying Food Technology, Manufacturing and Sciences.
Much of his time is being taken up with The Chicken Challenge; his class has been given 12 weeks to develop a new chicken product that is nutritious, allergen-free, convenient and in sustainable packaging.
From hairdressing to clipping cattle
In the dairy centre amongst the 180 dairy cows, 34-year-old student Leanne Green from County Down has been using her hairdressing skills to clip the cattle.
Leanne and best friend, Katie Acheson, who met at Greenmount two years ago, are heading off on a shopping spree to the autumn Stirling bull sales where Leanne is hoping to buy the pedigree Shorthorn heifer of her dreams.
Meanwhile in Greenmount, 17-year-old Charlotte Houston from Ballyclare is in the first year of her agriculture course. She’s from a non-farming background and is getting to grips with farm machinery.
In contrast, 20-year-old Jack Nevin is already familiar with the tools of the trade having come from a long-established dairy farm outside Portrush. He is in his final year studying agriculture but his passion for fitness has him wondering what career he really wants.
While Jack is questioning whether or not to follow in the family tradition, 21-year-old Greenmount horticulture student, Niall Greene, from County Armagh has firm hopes to one day take over his father’s nursery business.
Niall works for his father at weekends and studies the science of plants at Greenmount during the week. He had been looking forward to his summer work placement in a nursery in Bordeaux when suddenly everything is put on hold.
The series uniquely captures first-hand how college life takes a dramatic twist for the students when Covid-19 strikes midway during second term and for the first time, since World War Two, all campuses at CAFRE are closed.
The students are forced to say goodbye to their classmates and find themselves having to adjust to learning from home while taking on challenging new roles as essential workers. As the country gradually eases out of lockdown, the students reflect on their remarkable rollercoaster of a year at Countryside College.
The series is narrated by County Tyrone actor, Fra Fee, and was made by Waddell Media for BBC Northern Ireland.