The Ben rallies for trade amid crisis

Support from companies, groups and individuals has been ‘heartwarming’

Chief executive of The Ben, Chris Gardner

SINCE its foundations were first laid over a century ago, The Ben (The Benevolent Society of the Licensed Trade of Scotland) has had one fundamental objective: to help those in the Scottish licensed trade who have fallen on hard times.

And down the years it has done exactly that. From one-off grants and financial assistance for beneficiaries to housing at its estate in Pitlochry and its mental health awareness campaign, The Ben has offered support – emotional and financial – to people of all ages right across the Scottish trade.

And, although nothing could have prepared anyone for the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown, The Ben’s track record of reacting quickly to help those in need stood it in good stead.

Chris Gardner, chief executive of The Ben, said there was an influx of enquiries from people looking for help from just before the trade shutdown on March 20.

“The first couple of weeks were really busy,” she told SLTN. “People didn’t really know where to turn, especially at the start of it all before furlough was announced.

“That’s the thing about The Ben, it’s very personal. We listen to individual circumstances because everyone’s situation is different. To know someone is on the end of the phone listening – I think people appreciate that.”

The Ben certainly rose to the challenge, helping around 600 people across the Scottish trade during the first three months of lockdown. It administered the Drinks Trust COVID-19 Relief Fund in Scotland, which saw more than 500 people receive a one-off grant; The Ben also issued grants totalling £40,000 to a further 80 people.

As well as helping those affected by the coronavirus lockdown, The Ben continued to support its beneficiaries and residents of its estate.

And all of this when many of its annual fundraising events had been cancelled due to the coronavirus lockdown.

John Hutchison of Heineken UK, who is the current president of The Ben

John Hutchison of Heineken UK, who is the current president of The Ben, said: “We had to face the stark reality of no funding from events coming in for six months, maybe longer,” he told SLTN.

“The Ben Dinner is the biggest fundraiser for us (generating around £100,000) and thankfully that’s held in February but the events since then had to be cancelled so myself and some of the board members have been looking at the funding position and how we can change our approach going forward.

“Although the events were cancelled we have seen so many companies and people who want to help The Ben and that has been amazing.

“We’ve had operators helping us, which is just incredible. We’ve had individuals raising money for The Ben. We’ve had drinks companies making donations or donating a percentage of online sales… companies have come to us, the trade has come to us and to have people volunteer their time and money to help has been amazing.

“If there’s a positive to take from all this, I think it’s the way people have been looking out for each other. It really feels like the trade has come together.”

That sentiment was echoed by Chris Gardner, who said it has been “heartwarming” the way individuals and companies have stepped up support for The Ben in recent months, and a “privilege” to pass that on to those in need.

“The message is that The Ben is still here to help,” she said.

“People shouldn’t be afraid to contact us and speak to us in confidence or to call our mental health helpline.

“And we know it’s tough times for everyone but if you can support The Ben please do, it really is helping people across the trade in Scotland.”

The Ben can be contacted on 0141 353 3596 or The Ben’s free mental health helpine can be reached on 0800 915 4610.