THE Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, or RABI for short, has been around for 159 years, helping farming people in financial need.

However, we still come across people who have worked in farming all their lives and haven’t heard of us.

I live in Barnard Castle and am privileged to be one of 12 trustees who have overall responsibility for the charity.

Our roles and remits are set out in our royal charter and by-laws; we’re honoured to have The Queen as our patron and The Duke of Gloucester as our president.

RABI’s day-to-day work is carried out by our team of full and part-time staff, led by chief executive officer Alicia Chivers. We have an office in Oxford but we have regional managers and welfare officers all over England and Wales, including the north.

In 2018, we gave out grants of £437,825 to 215 working families, a 47 per cent increase on 2017’s figure of £297,000. Historically, RABI has probably been best known for helping the elderly, sick and disabled, but year on year we are being asked to do much more to support working farmers, farmworkers and their dependants and we fully expect that trend to continue.

2018 was a difficult year for many in farming with adverse weather a contributing factor. Lots of families struggled to recover from the effects of the “Beast from the East” in the spring because they were subsequently hit by a prolonged and testing summer drought.

Locally, we gave out £17,449 in County Durham last year to 11 families in hardship. We want to do more because we know the need is greater than those figures might suggest. Farmers, in our experience, do not readily seek charity.

However, there is no shame in turning to RABI for help through the bad times. Every six weeks or so, our grants committee meets to assess the claims for help that we have received. Every meeting is humbling because you get to see the people behind the statistics and hear real life stories that force you to be thankful for everything you have got.

In the coming months, with many uncertainties on the horizon, the farming environment could become even more testing. If you’re struggling to cope, please call our Helpline 0808 281 9490 in complete confidence.