A farming couple who have hosted more than 200 UK agricultural students on their New Zealand farm over a 40-year period are to hold a special reunion in Wales.
Geoff and Ailsa Neilson farmed beef and sheep near Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island. In 1977 the couple began hosting students from the Welsh Agricultural College after Mr Neilson visited the college during a Nuffield Scholarship study trip.
He struck up a close relationship with the college, now the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, and the last visiting student left in 2019.
The couple have also forged strong ties with the students over the 40 years. And, with a visit to the UK scheduled for the New Year, Mr and Mrs Neilson hope to meet as many of them as possible.
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The plan is to host a social event in Aberystwyth from 1pm on 21 January 2023, followed by a reunion dinner in the evening. Mr Neilson said the dinner would be complementary for former students, their partners and families.
While all of the students’ names are recorded in the farm’s visitor book, Mr and Mrs Neilson are concerned some details may be out of date and have issued an appeal for any student who worked on their farm to get in touch.
One past student, Alun Jones, who is now chief executive of Menter a Busnes in Aberystwyth, is helping the Neilsons track down students and with the reunion arrangements.
Mr Jones described the Neilsons as amazing and very welcoming.
“It was a wonderful experience, and I know I and others who were fortunate enough to spend time with them made friends for life.
“We’ve stayed in touch over the years, and Geoff and Ailsa have visited Wales and the UK on several occasions.
“But this time, instead of travelling around, we hope everyone will come to them for what I’m sure will be a wonderful day catching up and reminiscing.”
Mr Neilson said it had been a privilege to have helped students and scholars on a Welsh Sheep Strategy training programme.
“It has been a tremendous experience for our family and our farm. We have truly established an understanding of each other’s cultures and established life-long friendships.
“With absolute honesty, there is not one of our friends who have visited we would not welcome back into our home, and indeed some have been back!”