16 October 1998

Busy farmers wife and accountant still finds time for RABI

Farmers wife and mother

Nicky Lyon who runs her

own accountancy practice,

is the Royal Agricultural

Benevolent Institutions

newly elected honorary

treasurer. Nicholas Bond

went to South Essex

to meet her

If your idea of a typical industry benevolent institution trustee is someone who has given years of service to the industry and in their retirement wants to stay in touch, then Nicky Lyon doesnt match up. In fact, both as a farmers wife and as an accountant she is far from typical.

At 37 she is a long way from retirement, leading a busy but ordered life in which she finds time not only to serve on the RABI council and finance committee but also to be a trustee and honorary treasurer of the Confectioners Benevolent Fund.

Nicky did not have a farming background but when she was 16 a friend, with whom she used to ride, persuaded her to go to the local Young Farmers Club. There she met Robert, who was working on the family farm at North Benfleet, and, as she puts it, "that was that".

However, Nickys father had drummed into her that it did not matter what she chose to do in life but she must first qualify in a profession. So by the time she and Robert married she was well on the way to becoming a chartered accountant, working for a London firm and travelling the world auditing accounts.

At 21, on the death of his father, Robert had to take responsibility for the 1000 plus acre arable farm which he now runs with his younger brother, John. Nicky continued her career when she had her children, Ellena (now 11) and James (10), then in 1992 she set up her own accountancy practice.

&#42 Office suite

She now works from an office suite adjoining the farm house with a small staff, three cats and various dogs for company. No stranger to adapting to meet changing circumstances, Nicky has recently joined forces with a firm of accountants, Morgan Berkeley, to strengthen her practice and meet the demands of the 21st century.

Her first involvement with RABI was three years ago when Robert was chairman of Wickford and South East Essex NFU branch. They hosted a fair on the farm to raise funds for the institution and as a result Robert was invited as an Essex representative to the RABI annual meeting in London.

He was unable to go so Nicky went in his place. By chance she found herself sitting next to the auditor during the meeting and the RABI treasurer during the ensuing lunch. You can be sure that financial matters were a topic of conversation. Shortly after that she was invited to become a trustee.

While sensitive of its origins and the support which RABI has provided for farmers and their families over the past 138 years, Nicky feels strongly that change is necessary to meet the challenges of the future.

As she explains: "At present the funds raised by RABI supporters and the income from investments only just cover our annual expenditure. With the value of stock market investments dropping and the reclaiming of tax on dividends being phased out, investment income is set to decline.

"At the same time, with the current crisis in farming and the forthcoming extension of RABIs remit to include farm staff, we can expect a marked increase in calls on our resources. I believe that we must be prepared to look at the possibility of alliance with other similar charities where, by working together, we can benefit from economies of scale."

&#42 Putting it back

Nickys ideas for change are not just based on her views as an accountant. Her involvement with the Confectioners Benevolent Fund brings her into regular contact with local beneficiaries. "I feel that we should all put something back into society and I very much believe that we are not just there to hand out money. People need the support of a listening ear, someone to help them think through a problem or fill out a form.

"There is a need for welfare officers in the field. When we have a problem we all find it easier to talk to a stranger, who then becomes a friend, rather than to established friends or neighbours."

Nicky is also concerned about the grey areas in RABIs remit which have developed as the industry has changed. "Many farmers are having to turn to other activities which could then become their main source of income, farmers sons are becoming contractors and there is an increasing number of part-time and self-employed people working on farms.

"For example, part of our farm is now a golf course employing six green staff. While the main farm work is carried out by Robert, his brother and a farm manager, in the busy times such as harvest, when work is quiet on the golf course, some of the green staff work on the farm. We need to ensure that such people are not excluded from support if they need it."

Most of Nickys concerns for the future are shared by her fellow trustees and changes currently in train will see the strengthening of the RABI welfare department to meet the expected increase in calls for help and the need for personal support in the field.

RABI inquiries: (01865-724931).