Help at hand for North East farmers hit by flooding

Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution welfare officer Tom Armstrong.
Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution welfare officer Tom Armstrong.
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North East farmers hit by this winter’s flooding are being offered a helping hand by agriculture’s oldest welfare charity.

The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution is urging farmers in Northumberland and County Durham left out of pocket due to floods, or suffering financial hardship for any other reason, to get in touch.

The institution, founded in 1860, hands out grants worth about £2m altogether a year nationwide to farmers left unable to work by accidents or ill health or whose livelihoods have been hit by the likes of flooding or animal disease.

The charity gives handouts to about 1,500 families a year, but Tom Armstrong, its welfare officer for Northumberland and County Durham, says that many North East farmers are too proud to take advantage of the available funding.

In 2014, it gave out grants totalling more than £200,000 across Yorkshire, but in County Durham, the amount paid out was less than £15,500.

The charity has paid out £31,000 in the last month to farmers in Cumbria affected by flooding, but it has not received a single request for help from a flood victim in either Northumberland or Durham.

Mr Armstrong said: “Only one new person from County Durham has come forward to ask for our help in the past two years.”

“Wherever I go, no one seems to have heard of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, even though we are a well-established charity and this is a very strong farming area.

“In small communities, I understand that people can be reluctant to seek help and there’s a determination to struggle on and manage on your own.

“However, we exist to help farming people through tough times when they’ve nothing to fall back on, so they can carry on doing what they love.

“We work in complete confidence, and all inquiries are treated with compassion and discretion.”

The charity does not cover Scotland, but Mr Armstrong says he helps more people north of the border than he does in County Durham, mostly people who initially sought help while living in England and requiring ongoing support after moving north.

Mr Armstrong added: “It’s important that we keep trying to raise awareness of what we do.

“In Northumberland and County Durham, there are a lot of small farms and tenant farmers, so we want to catch people who need assistance and let them know that it’s OK to ask for help.

“Today, many people in the farming world continue to struggle through no fault of their own, which means the work of the institution is just as relevant as it ever was.

“Many people are surprised when they discover exactly how much help we can offer and the diverse ways in which this support is provided.”

Help is generally tailored to individuals’ needs, with the charity’s team of welfare officers making around 1,800 visits each year.

To apply for financial help from the charity, call 0808 281 9490 or email grants@rabi.org.uk