09 May 2011

Agricultural helpline extends support to gay farmers

A chaplain running a dedicated helpline for gay farmers has received a steady number of calls from men struggling to cope with their sexuality.

Keith Ineson, who is himself gay, extended the remit of his chaplaincy after handling more than one case of a farmer suffering from depression and isolation because he felt unable to come out. Keith advertised his helpline in his local area and set up a website, www.gayfarmer.co.uk, to help farmers in similar situations. Within the first six months, the helpline received 52 calls in response to the extended service of care.

"The response has been overwhelming," said Keith whose helpline is funded by local Christian and secular groups in Cheshire. "Nearly all the farmers are over 50. Some are single, though not all. In all cases they felt they were imprisoned and believed they were the only gay farmer around. In many instances the farmers were so worried about the response they might receive that they texted or emailed the helpline anonymously. Rural communities are not like cosmopolitan, urban areas; there is the assumption that gay farmers don't exist."

The Arthur Rank Centre (ARC), a registered charity serving churches and the rural community, has backed the helpline. The Revd Graham Jones, national rural officer for the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church at the Arthur Rank Centre, said: "Farming is for many people an exciting and fulfilling industry in which to be involved. It is not without its pressures, however, and many farmers are subject to stresses and strains in their professional and personal lives."

The helpline was launched 14 months ago and the number of calls in response to the extended support has led to a need for volunteers. Christians with rural knowledge and an understanding of gay issues are invited to get in touch with Keith if they have an interest in becoming involved with supporting the chaplaincy.

Graham added: "Because of this commitment to rural and farming communities the Arthur Rank Centre is pleased to support the work of Keith Ineson and the helpline he has established for gay farmers. Keith is a good and longstanding friend of the ARC and his work as agricultural chaplain in Cheshire is enormously effective and very highly regarded. In setting up the helpline Keith has helped to liberate many who have felt imprisoned for years by their situation; feeling that they were the only gay farmer around and anxious about the response they might receive."

Robert Ford, the Cheshire county chairman of the National Farmers Union (NFU), said: "You could be in the middle of a crowded room and still feel lonely and isolated if you're depressed. Although I don't believe that farming or homosexuality within the industry are the root causes of depression, it's still very reassuring to know that Keith Ineson's helpline is available for those farmers who find themselves facing difficult times and the NFU wholeheartedly supports it." 

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