A helping hand
For 25 years the Gamekeepers Welfare Trust has been working, largely unnoticed, to help keepers, ghillies and stalkers at times of need.
Gamekeepers, ghillies and stalkers are an independent bunch. Working alone and dealing with the many and varied pressures it takes to bring us the sport we love so much, theirs is a wonderful profession, but it’s also a tough one. Indeed, few occupations demand more. Retirement can be a peculiarly painful when a life has been lived actively and largely outdoors. Add to that the other issues that bedevil life; bereavement, unemployment, redundancy, loss of housing and the strain can become overwhelming, often for whole families. When hard times strike there are precious few places to turn.
Which is what makes the Gamekeepers Welfare Trust (GWT) and the work it does so vital. Following on from the Gamekeepers Benevolent Trust, the GWT was formed back in 1992 with the support of the major gamekeeping organisations and with generous donations from concerned individuals. For 25 years it has been working, largely unnoticed, to help keepers, ghillies and stalkers at times of need. This year will see the Trust and all who support its work celebrating that achievement.
There to help
It has never been needed as much as it is today. Gamekeeping has never been well-paid, but at least in the past big estates offered the security of longterm employment and tied cottages into retirement. Such posts are now largely things of the past as family estates are broken up and shoots become ever more commercially-driven. As a result aging keepers can find themselves in need of help as never before.
There is much to be proud of and countless examples of where the Trust has helped. It was through the GWT that a nurse, caring for a retired keeper in the last stages of cancer, was able to find support for him, and his family. From financial help to sending flowers, letters and an annual grant to his widow, the GWT has been there through it all. In her 12 years with the GWT, Helen MJ Benson, its Chief Operating Officer, has been involved in helping many families in their hour of need. But how much of a difference they can make depends hugely on awareness: “If that nurse had not gone to extra trouble to find out if there was a professional body, which looked after stalkers and gamekeepers and their families, then we could not have helped.” Ensuring that health services and other charities are aware of the GWT is a key aim of the Trust, breaking down the stigma attached to asking for help is another.
All those involved with the Trust, from volunteers to trustees, are intimately involved in the sporting world and have a deep understanding of the issues affecting those who work in the sector. Many have been involved from the outset, the chairman, the Earl of Aylesford; trustees Dr Mike Swan of the Game and Wildlife Conservancy Trust (GWCT) and Ian Grindy from BASC are still in place to this day, ensuring that the GWT is ready and able to meet the needs of those involved in the industry. “We’re all from the same sort of background; we know the keepering world, and the pressures. We’re just here to help,” says Helen. Although that’s not always the easiest of tasks: “Gamekeepers are by their very nature, very independent people, not many want to admit that they need help. And they really need to be sure that what they say is confidential – we can promise them that.” This discretion, understanding and breadth of support is fundamental to everything the Trust does, and vital to encourage those in need to come forward.
Recipients of help are, understandably, often reluctant to speak out so publicity is vital. This year will see the launch of the “Who you Gonna Call” – a help-card to promote the Trust’s 24-hour helpline. Completely confidential, it is not only there to assist with practical problems from housing and health to redundancy and employment rights, it offers callers a chance to talk through problems and worries, and is an invaluable way of reaching people who simply need a sympathetic ear. But the GWT is not content to rest there. Times have certainly changed over the last 25 years: ghillies and stalkers have had to adapt to threats to their careers, to the countryside and to the wildlife they devote their lives to. The GWT has also risen to the challenge and taken advantage of the advances in modern communication and technology to extend its reach. Support to those in need can also be provided via email, text messaging and other social networks.
So, what’s next for a charity that is already giving so much? Raising awareness of the work ranks high. “We are only as good as our profile – if people don’t know we exist then we can’t help,” says Helen. Within the industry itself, the GWT is about to launch its “Gamekeeping for Life” packs, which include useful tips during working life and retirement. These will be available to every gamekeeper, stalker and ghillie, either in work or in training. Grants are available to help disadvantaged youngsters access training. Once qualified, the GWT keeps a Gamekeepers Job register, a confidential and effective means of matching employer and employee. It also maintains strong as links to other employments agencies that are able to help Keepers find the right position.
These success stories depend, ultimately, on resources. Without our support, the
GWT cannot continue to help those most in need. And never has there been a better time to contribute; with a full year of events planned, getting involved has never been easier. A series of conferences on the theme of “Gamekeeping for Life” kick-started the programme with speakers outlining their experiences of how gamekeepers provide first class sport, and how difficult times can be overcome with courage, and cooperation. With examples of best practice and sustainable development at each event in prestigious settings, everyone from estate and shoot owners to gamekeepers, stalkers, ghillies and agents were welcomed. And it hasn’t stopped there. Throughout the year, there will be raffles, dinner-dances, and clay shoots, all ways to bring people together, have fun, raise funds and also raise awareness. For those with time, the GWT is also always grateful for volunteers who can help with expert advice. As with so many things, a small contribution really can make a big difference.
The Gamekeepers Welfare Trust is a remarkable organisation. From its hardworking staff to its dedicated team of volunteers and trustees; ever-ready with a personal touch, providing ongoing, open-ended support. It stands as a fine example of all that is best in the shooting community-resourcefulness, camaraderie and kindness. Twenty-five years of standing by, and standing up for the interests of keepers and their families is a wonderful achievement, worthy of celebration. From financial grants at times of hardship or ill health to advice and assistance, the contribution of the charity to the lives and careers of countless keepers and their families has been extensive. If help is needed, the Trust and its staff are there. In return, the GWT also deserves renewed recognition and support. What the Trust does is not easy but while its staff and volunteers remain committed, the Gamekeepers Welfare Trust will continue to always be there to help. We owe it to our sporting community to do the same.
Community The GWT’s contribution to keepers and their families has been extensive
Support All of those involved with the Trust are intimately involved in the sporting world