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Christmas. It?s a wonderful time of year. You?re surrounded by loving friends and family, for once you?ve actually done okay on the presents (the whisky?s appreciated and the jumper?s tolerable), it seems unlikely that you have any more space for even the smallest of sprouts, and your idea of gentle exercise in the short-term isn?t the Boxing Day shoot, it?s merely a brief shuffle to the sofa, the fire and the TV.

How about another scenario. What if, at Christmas, you feel intolerable stress as you?re suffocated by your friends and family. What if you don?t have a family and you?re completely alone? How would it be if you simply couldn?t afford presents and a turkey was an unnecessary extravagance? What if the idea of settling in front of the fire sounds unimaginably good, but you can?t pay for the fuel and the cost of a TV, let alone the licence, is too much to bear? And the Boxing Day walk-round?s not on since you lost your job as a keeper when the estate changed hands. Life?s not such a pleasant prospect.

It sounds extreme ? and vaguely patronising ? but such problems and genuine hardship do affect many people, particularly in rural areas, and not simply at Christmas, though at this time of year the issues are magnified several times over. The image of a former keeper and his wife down on their luck or an estate worker who?s lost his job and his house is a familiar one ? maybe you recognise someone you know, even yourself, in the description? but would you know where to turn when things become so unbearable?

It?s important to understand that there are specialists out there whose focus is on helping people in a huge variety of ways; they understand the specific problems faced by those affected by stress, depression, poverty, old age, mental breakdown and any number of conditions in rural areas. What?s more, they?re familiar with the enormous difficulty many in these situations have when it comes to overcoming their own personal pride. Frequently, that?s one of the biggest obstacles to a problem?s resolution and these organisations place a high priority on the maintenance of both confidentiality and dignity. So where do you start if you think you need help?

Here is a list of a few of the organisations out there.

The Gamekeepers? Welfare Trust

Established in 1992, the Gamekeeper?s Welfare Trust (GWT) is a registered charity established by BASC and the Game Conservancy Trust, which exists to support gamekeepers and members of associated industries. The GWT is happy to receive, in the strictest confidence, approaches from any members of the profession who know a keeper, stalker or gillie or their dependants who may qualify for consideration by the GWT in old age or where economic circumstances give rise to such need. The GWT can also advance funds for educational purposes for the benefit of young people who wish to make their living as keepers.

For details, visit www.basc.org.uk/content/gwelfaretrust or tel (01244) 573000.

The ARC-Addington fund

The ARC-Addington fund was introduced in the aftermath of foot-and-mouth to distribute relief funds. At the end of the grant campaign it still had several million pounds in reserve and now operates a Strategic Rural Housing Scheme, which is open to those who have to leave a non-viable rural business, resulting in the loss of the family home. The scheme facilitates successful applicants? moves to new properties either on a rented or shared-equity basis.

For details, visit www.arc-addingtonfund.org.uk or tel (02476) 690587.

The NGO Charitable Trust

The National Gamekeepers? Organisation?s Charitable Trust has benefited in recent years from tens of thousands of pounds donated by UK shooters and raised through super-beater Barry Atkinson?s Spider?s Appeal. Forty-nine out of 50 people in the UK have never met a keeper, so if you are trying to spread the word about the role of gamekeeping in Britain, this educational trust exists to assist you in that purpose. The trust can also offer careers advice.

For details, visit www.gamekeeperstrust.org.uk or fax (01384) 877748.

The Rural Stress Information Network (RSIN)

The RSIN offers a confidential listening service providing emotional and practical support to those suffering stress or distress in rural areas. The charity, which was established in 1996,
can signpost callers, if appropriate, to other organisations that provide local, practical and emotional support. The charity?s website has an excellent source of information on signs of stress specific to rural locations, which is useful for those concerned either for themselves or a friend or colleague.

For details, visit www.ruralnet.org.uk or tel (02476) 412916.

Mind ? The National Association for Mental Health

Mind is the leading mental health charity in England and Wales. It can offer confidential advice on a range of mental health issues. The charity has a particular section, Rural Minds, whose focus is on the development of care networks specifically for country people.

For details, visit www.mind.org.uk or tel (0845) 766 0163.

Samaritans

Samaritans is available 24 hours a day to provide confidential support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide.

For details, visit www.samaritans.org.uk or tel (0845) 790 9090.

The Institute of Rural Health

Principally of use to professionals seeking advice or help on rural issues, the Institute of Rural Health is a UK-wide academic charity, established in 1997, which works to inform, develop and promote the health and well-being of rural people through research and projects, education, training and policy advice.

For details, visit www.rural-health.ac.uk or tel (01686) 650800.

The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution

The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution?s (RABI) focus is principally on assisting retired farmers and farmworkers. RABI?s welfare team is fully trained in the complexities of the state benefits system and can work sensitively to help people help themselves, by claiming pension credits and other state entitlements. RABI also makes grants and awards for such things as TV licence fees, Christmas hampers and holidays for the elderly or disabled.

For details, visit www.rabi.org.uk or tel (01865) 724931.

The Royal British Legion

You may not think that you would be eligible for support from the legion, but 10.5million people in the UK are. To be eligible, you need to have served in the forces for a minimum of seven days, or be the dependant of someone who has.

For details, visit www.britishlegion.org.uk or tel (0845) 772 5725.

Countryside organisations

Don?t forget the key organisations, such as BASC, the Countryside Alliance and the National Gamekeepers? Organisation. Membership of these will give you access to sound advice on a number of issues, including access to initial legal advice. Membership benefits of these bodies go far further than simply the provision of shooting insurance.