Norma Forbes works at the Southton Smallholding at Blackruthven, nestled in a peaceful pocket of land between the busy A9 and well-travelled A85 Crieff Road. As a horticultural team leader, she oversees a group of workers ranging from people with learning disabilities to those with mental health difficulties. All of them find themselves getting great enjoyment and developing important life skills by running a smallholding. The Smallholding is also home to a whole assortment of creatures, great and small, including ducks, geese, pigs, sheep and even a pair of Alpacas!
When she's not working hard keeping the troops in line at The Smallholding Norma likes to get out in the great outdoors, be it walking her beautiful border collie Mollie around Dunkeld or getting away from it all with her partner Richard in her Bedford Bambi camper van. We caught up with Norma to talk about her work, free time and even a little bit of a football. You'll never guess who she supports!
Tell us the weirdest/funniest thing that has ever happened to you at work?
I like to play practical jokes on the Team Members on April Fools Day. The best one was the day I announced that I had heard from the Government Farming Department (DEFRA) that there had been an outbreak of Loofprial (an anagram of April Fool) Disease and that all our animals had to be sprayed with a special liquid. I brought with me a canister of car windscreen wash with It took me hours to convince them that it was all a joke.“Loofprial Disease Treatment” printed on the side. I then told them that they all had to put on masks, wellies, waterproofs and protective glasses in order to apply the treatment. They all dutifully got dressed up taking about 15 minutes to get everyone ready. When they were all standing there waiting for me, I told them that DEFRA had called back saying that it had been a false alarm and that it was an April Fool. That's when it backfired spectacularly on me, as none of the team members would believe me and said that they wanted to treat the animals just in case. It took me hours to convince them that it was all a joke!
What signals the start of your days off?
A long walk with Molly my Border Collie then into my polytunnel or garden for the day. People regularly ask me if I get fed up gardening at home since I do it all day at work. I have to say that I really don't and at home, it is different as I don't get interrupted by people shouting “Norma!” all the time. I do miss the helpers though.
What might people be surprised to know about you?
I lived in London for 8 years. I played a fife (small flute) in a fife and drum band when I lived in County Wexford, Eire. I've never eaten at a McDonalds. I collect Art Deco vintage china. Take your pick!
What is the top of your bucket list
I would love to see the Grand Canyon but I have no real urge to travel to the rest of the USA to do it. Maybe someday I will.
What is the worst job you ever had?
Probably picking tatties in the days when they used scatter diggers. You had to look for the tatties over a large area and it made the job so much harder. I have been lucky that all my career jobs have been fulfilling in their own way.
Who or what inspires you?
The person who inspires me every day is my late mother, also called Norma. She had boundless energy and lived a full and productive life. She was involved in many charities and organisations along with raising my brother and myself. Following the death of my father, she volunteered at a leprosy and HIV mission in India for 18 years until her death in 2014. She would spend 6 months in India and then on her return to Scotland, she would give talks to raise funds for the mission. Her enthusiasm and work ethic have influenced me over the years and I hope that I can in some small way make as much of an impact as she did.
Tell us about the day you'd love to live again?
As a lifelong Saintee there is only one day I can choose, 17th May 2014. Some of my earliest memories are of being taken to Muirton Park by my parents and being lifted over the turnstiles. I remember well the games against SV Hamburg, Vasas SC and Zeljeznicar in the 1970s watching the great Henry Hall, John Connolly, Jim Pearson, Freddy Aitken etc. On the great day, I travelled to the match with my brother Kenny, niece Danielle and a minibus load of nervous hopefuls. I remember the butterflies in my stomach, not wishing to jinx anything by feeling too positive. Outside the ground my brother bought me a match scarf, the one I still use today when I go to McDiarmid. When we got to our seats behind the goal, we were in for a surprise. We were seated immediately next to our cousin Jamie and his family, the coincidence not lost on us as the good omens began to pile up.
Halftime saw us 1 – 0 up and we all talked nervously, not daring to dream. When Steven McLean scored the second goal the relief was overwhelming. A bit of breathing space and chants of “championi's” started to ring out. The final whistle went and we could start the celebrations. 'Sweet Caroline' sung with tears of joy running down our faces, and Tommy Wright leading the choir. Years of disappointment and “nearly there's” were made up for in that moment.
The journey home was a laugh, waving to every Dundee United supporter's bus or car on the way. You had to feel sorry for them travelling back the same route as the victors and passing the blue and white clad grouse at Broxden Roundabout must have been a relief, marking the end of the taunting. The rest of the day was spent reliving every moment of the game, and recounting the details to those who couldn't make it. The best day of my life marred only by the absence of my late father who would have revelled in it even more.
What's the best part about your job?
I am very lucky to have such a rewarding job and there are so many things that make it enjoyable. Working outdoors, watching team members grow in confidence and skills, seeing the Smallholding improve and develop, the laughs and good times we have most days. But the thrill I get every year when I see the first seedling appear through the soil makes me know that I have the best job in the world.
Complete this sentence; the best things in life are.... natural.
You can read more about Norma and the Southton Smallholding Project in our Stop Press article here >>>
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