26 June 1998

Tough times mean RABI extends a hand to distressed working farmers

HELPING working farmers in distress has been an important part of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Instit-utions work in the last few months.

Staff manning the confidential helpline set up for farming families suffering severe financial hardship as a result of the current crisis in the agricultural industry, have received more than 100 calls in just over two months.

The charity provides financial help for needy farmers through its emergency fund as well as information about the state benefits to which they may be entitled. Welfare officer Ian Andrews told supporters at the charitys annual meeting in London that the money provided is for household debts – food, housing, services and clothing – so that any money a farmer has can be used for the farming business.

Mr Andrews said his major concern was getting information about the service RABI could provide to those in need.

Assisting needy, retired or disabled farmers, farm managers and their dependants is the charitys principal work and last year more than 1100 people received help, worth more than £1m.

But RABI is aiming to extend its role by including farm workers among the people it supports.

A resolution to this effect was carried at the 1997 annual meeting but the approval of the Charity Commission has still to be received.

The commission was contacted within days of the meeting, said chairman Angela Barton. "We had to convince the commission that we were doing all we could to help existing classes of beneficiaries."

Once the commission is satisfied the change has to be advertised for one month to enable any objections to be raised from other sources. If there are none the amended charter has to be put before the Privy Council, Mrs Barton explained.

She expects the matter to be settled in the coming months, but in the meantime the qualifying period for all categories of beneficiaries has been reduced from 20 years to 10.

RABI receives its income from donations, legacies and the fund-raising activities of the county committees and the annual meeting is an occasion where the committees work is celebrated with awards.

President Lord Plumb made the presentations and his first task was to give the cup for the honorary local secretary making the greatest contribution to the work of RABI to David Netherclift.

Mr Netherclift has served as hon secretary to the Kent County Committee for 30 years, during which he has collected awards on its behalf on several occasions, but this time he received a personal one.

&#42 Close county links

As well as organising fund-raising events he encourages close links with the beneficiaries in the county. Visits, particularly at Christmas when gift hampers are delivered and on birthdays, are a part of RABIs work which he considers very important.

Graham Littleton collected the Sam Taylor cup on behalf of the Gloucestershire committee which was considered to be the most outstanding one during 1997/98. A fun ride round the local colleges and a pop concert with music of the 50s and 60s were among the activities which helped raise money and the charitys profile.

Essex was awarded the Beaufort shield, which is for the county committee showing the greatest improvement in fund-raising, having raised almost £21,000 in the past year compared with £8,000 the previous year.

Committee chairman Barbara Watt accepted the shield and spoke of the efficient way in which the countys charity grain collection had been carried out and the good attendance at the RABI seminar.

Norfolk was awarded the Denis Brown shield for the county collecting the greatest amount of money a NFU member. County chairman Sir John Eastwood spoke of the good relationship the committee had with the NFU, of the successful pre-Norfolk Show drinks parties and "all those farmers who provide a days shooting in our auction of promises".

Ann Rogers

lInquiries: Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, Shaw House, 27 West Way, Oxford OX2 0QH, (01865-724931), helpline (01865-727888).

David Netherclift (left) hon secretary of the Kent commitee for 30 years, receives the RABI trophy from the charitys president Lord Plumb.