Comment: Under-the-radar good cause deserves support

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LAST week, I remembered the old grieve on my father’s farm. At seeding time or harvest, he would regret having to stop work at all and, as the men sat down for their meagre 15 minutes of a morning break, or lunchtime half hour, he would exhort them to “tak big bites at your pieces, boys. We’re helleva busy the day.”

Not for him the minor worries of indigestion when the spring planting fever or the harvest heat was on.

Just what he would have made of a four-hour lunch that I attended last week is hard to think, although another of his characteristics when words failed him was to remove his bonnet and stamp on it in rage.

I may not be as extreme as he was but somewhere in my genes is an inability to relax when it is only the middle of the day and there is work to be done.

However, in this instance it was all for an extremely good cause and the charity involved had benefitted considerably from our lengthy luncheon.

The financial boost to the organisation would then in turn benefit those who have worked in rural industries and who for a whole range of reasons have fallen on difficult times.

The event was a fund raiser for Scotland’s rural charity, RSABI – which some oldies, myself included, still like to refer to as the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution.

At the lunch, the close to 200 people present had a good meal thanks to the generosity of a number of companies including Scotbeef, which supplied some succulent beef and lamb, and Luffness Mains, home of the Stevenson family – long-term supporters of the charity – who had put the tatties on the plates.

Then we sat back and listened to the after dinner speaker, Adam Henson, a Countryfile presenter and director of the Cotswold Farm Park, which specialises in rare breeds conservation. He has carved out a career filling in the knowledge gap in the minds of the general public who do not understand much about farming. Like many others, I believe he has done an excellent job in explaining and promoting agriculture.

Those who were listening to this speech found out he has progressed to promoting himself – the marketing people would claim he has now become a brand.

In between the meal and the talk, the new team at RSABI was busy taking as much money off the diners in as many ways as possible: raffles, auctions and, if you had any cash left, you were encouraged to leave it in an envelope.

We may tend to forget as we bask in the mildness of a late autumn after a benevolent summer that last year was pretty horrendous and the cold, long, wet winter put added pressure on the charity as it helped out the less fortunate.

In 2012, more than 600 people across Scotland received support from RSABI to help tide them through. The weather may have been kinder so far this year but, with rising fuel bills and increased costs of living, the pressure on the charity remains.

The frustrating part for the agricultural press is that individual cases that might illustrate the level of hardship and need faced by those getting support from RSABI – and thus why it deserves our support – cannot be fully reported because of confidentiality.

This is perfectly understandable, especially in dealing with many country people who despite facing hardship remain fiercely independent. However, this need for anonymity and confidentiality means that the work the organisation does is out of the headlines and even out of sight of many who live and work in the countryside.

I mentioned the new team. The charity has for the first time in its 100-plus year history appointed a female chief executive.

But the appointment of Nina Clancy is no nod to gender equality, but a recognition that she is ideally suited to the task, as she holds the wide range of personal and communication skills that working for such a charity requires.

Perhaps the old grieve might not have understood the need for such a lengthy repast as we had last week, but he would have understood economic hardship in rural areas and the need to do something about it.