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.

Get in­volved

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

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