Agricultural helpline extends support to gay farmers

A chaplain running a dedicated helpline for gay farmers hasreceived a steady number of calls from men struggling to cope withtheir sexuality.

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

"The response has been overwhelming," said Keith whose helpline isfunded by local Christian and secular groups in Cheshire. "Nearlyall the farmers are over 50. Some are single, though not all. Inall cases they felt they were imprisoned and believed they were theonly gay farmer around. In many instances the farmers were soworried about the response they might receive that they texted oremailed the helpline anonymously. Rural communities are not likecosmopolitan, urban areas; there is the assumption that gay farmersdon't exist."

The Arthur Rank Centre (ARC), a registered charity serving churchesand the rural community, has backed the helpline. The Revd GrahamJones, national rural officer for the Methodist Church and theUnited Reformed Church at the Arthur Rank Centre, said: "Farming isfor many people an exciting and fulfilling industry in which to beinvolved. It is not without its pressures, however, and manyfarmers are subject to stresses and strains in their professionaland personal lives."

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

Graham added: "Because of this commitment to rural and farmingcommunities the Arthur Rank Centre is pleased to support the workof Keith Ineson and the helpline he has established for gayfarmers. Keith is a good and longstanding friend of the ARC and hiswork as agricultural chaplain in Cheshire is enormously effectiveand very highly regarded. In setting up the helpline Keith hashelped to liberate many who have felt imprisoned for years by theirsituation; feeling that they were the only gay farmer around andanxious about the response they might receive."

Robert Ford, the Cheshire county chairman of the National FarmersUnion (NFU), said: "You could be in the middle of a crowded roomand still feel lonely and isolated if you're depressed. Although Idon't believe that farming or homosexuality within the industry arethe root causes of depression, it's still very reassuring to knowthat Keith Ineson's helpline is available for those farmers whofind themselves facing difficult times and the NFU wholeheartedlysupports it."