15 March 2002

Scot, biker & rural affairs minister

If theres one person who

doesnt conform to the

stereotypical image of a

pastor, its the Reverend

Gordon Gatward. But he

works tirelessly for the

farming community.

Tim Relf meets him

SOMEHOW you dont expect a pastor to have tattoos and be mad about motorbikes.

But Gordon Gatward is the proud owner of an 1100cc Honda and sports three tattoos: two of which allude to his Scottish heritage. "I dont have the name or the accent – so Ive got to show it somehow," he laughs.

"I guess Im just me," says Gordon, a Methodist minister who has had a lifelong passion for the countryside.

"From the age of 13, I worked on a farm every weekend and every holiday. My grandfather was a keeper and a crofter. Its bred in you.

"I love the industry," says Gordon, who now works as a director of the Arthur Rank Centre (ARC) – the three-way partnership between the RASE, the Rank Foundation and the churches.

"Two things that I love in life have come together – my farming and my faith."

Father-of-three Gordon came to this job in 1999, after a spell as an agricultural chaplain. From his Stoneleigh base, hes been in the front line of the fight to help farmers through one of the toughest times the industry has ever known.

Many now consider the ARC the "hub" of rural support work, with thousands of anxious people having found help and support through the Rural Stress Information Network, the Farm Crisis Network and Agricultural Chaplains – all of which have their roots in the ARC.

Gordon is also involved with the ARC-Addington Fund. Its given out more than 21,000 grants to farmers and their families totalling over £9.75m.

"Its been rather busy," says Gordon, understatedly. But in reality, hes faced a massive – and at times distressing – workload. "Wed done just about all we could – but there were times when you felt it was never enough.

"I wish we could have done more. Some people come to you for help – and no matter what you can do for them, their problems will still be there."

Gordons quick to praise everyone involved with the Addington Fund. "Theres an absolutely superb team under Ian Bell. I cant speak highly enough of that team."

Its strength is that, as well as cash help, it offers people the chance to talk to someone skilled in pastoral support with a farming background. "We never just sent money. We always sent a person, too."

&#42 Temporary move

The Addington Fund was originally only intended as a temporary measure. "But were now looking at new areas of need that we can respond to. Were now looking to the next 12 months at least."

Among the many other projects hes spearheaded have been promoting Rogation Sunday as the national day of prayer for farmers and the Green Ribbon campaign to promote awareness of the countrysides plight.

Meanwhile Gordon – though hes the first to speak of the good work done by others – has become a well-known figure in farming circles.

He was the first choice of many in last years farmers weeklys Farm Personality of the Year, an accolade which went to Anthony Gibson, the NFUs regional director in the South West.

"I was

dead

chuffed

for him," says Gordon. "If anybody deserved it, it was him."

Gordon was ordained in 1975 – but found his faith in his late teens – a time he describes as "difficult". His father had died and a period of soul-searching followed. "I had to sort out what I believed and where I was going."

Plans to go to the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester were shelved and he opted to work on his father-in-laws dairy farm in Bedfordshire. "I never did go to Cirencester. Thats part of the reason Im so glad I could do my PhD recently," he says.

"I felt very strongly that God wanted me in the mnistry – and the rural ministry."

His passion for all things rural becomes apparent again when he talks about his interests. He likes shooting and fishing, loves working sheepdogs and, until F&M, kept sheep on a small scale.

And, of course, he loves getting on the bike with his wife Janet – who works for the RSIN – and heading up to Scotland.

"All my interests and social life focus around the industry – I see it as an integral part of my Ministry.

"The fantastic thing is Ive always worked in farming and rural areas. Now, at this stage in my life, Im firmly back in farming – although still a minister."