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‘BEN cannot exist without support’

Ask your staff what they know about BEN. They should at least be aware of its name, especially as it is currently marking its centenary with a high profile campaign to raise an additional £3m.

But, according to the charity’s own research, far too few are aware of the support it gives to present and former employees of the motor industry and their families. Unless they are aware of its relevance, it is difficult to persuade them to give support.

BEN – the Motor and Allied Trades Benevolent Fund – has a welfare team that helps 15,000 people every year. It also operates residential homes, sheltered housing, palliative care and day care facilities for more than 350 disabled, terminally ill or elderly people.

Look after the pennies…
Like any company, the charity has to keep a tight reign on its budget. But its number one priority is providing a high standard of care and quality of life to those who need BEN’s help.

This doesn’t come cheap – it needs £200,000 per week just to cover its running costs. Any capital investment, such as refurbishing its properties, has to be found separately. And while much of its income is generated by rents and fees at its homes, paid by patients’ local authorities, around half is still reliant on the motor industry.

BEN ended the last financial year with a £592,284 deficit. Fundraising failed to reach its forecast, partly due to the timing of annual donations by major corporate donors, and other supporters who ceased trading. The high rate of staff churn in the industry is another problem, as payroll giving by employees within the sector also failed to reach its target.

Raising awareness
Chief executive Gerard Barclay says one of BEN’s biggest tasks in its centenary year is raising awareness of the support it provides for young people and entire families. This will help younger employees in the motor trade realize the charity’s relevance to them, and help with donations or fundraising.

“BEN is not always about charity and hand-outs and looking after the people in our homes,” he says. “Much of our time is spent giving people advice and comfort when their situation suddenly changes, such as when there’s a redundancy or serious illness. We point people in the right direction, even if it’s simply making sure they’re claiming the right benefits.”

Barclay made inroads into addressing this issue when he launched the inaugural National BEN Week on its 100th birthday, July 19, 2005. While events such as the BEN Ball each December and BEN Lunch in the spring are always well supported by the industry’s senior executives, this annual event invites people at all levels within the industry to stage a fundraising event. Everything from raffles to parachute jumps is encouraged.

“It’s quite a difficult job to make people understand that, without the industry’s support, BEN cannot exist,” says Barclay candidly. Like many in the motor retail sector, the charity was hit hard last year by the collapse of Britain’s last volume carmaker, MG Rover. It had long been a significant supporter, and its closure has already cost BEN around £100,000 in lost donations and sponsorship.

Ironically, Rover Cycles was one of the companies present at the inaugural meeting of BEN on July 19, 1905. “One hundred years on we have had numerous calls and requests for help from ex-MG Rover employees. However, this is a clear indicator that BEN is as relevant today as it was in 1905,” says Barclay.

Subsidizing residents’ care fee
BEN’s Birmingham-based welfare officers spent seven days at Longbridge providing support to its workers and their families. Barclay expects the impact of its closure to be long-lived. BEN is still dealing with 80 cases involving people who once worked at the Chrysler plant near Glasgow, and that closed in 1982.

Fundraising aside, BEN is focused on negotiating harder with the local authorities who contribute towards residents’ care fees. As councils are prepared to pay only a fixed rate, BEN is often left to cover the shortfall. Until recent years, it was subsidizing these costs by 36%. However, the charity is on track to reduce this to 20% by 2010.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# It recently restructured its management team following the retirement of deputy chief executive David Prescott. His duties have been shared between director of care services Jenny Brown, finance director and company secretary Brian Crell and personnel director Sara Howard. Prescott had been with BEN since 1979, and marked his departure by publishing a book, The Heart of the Industry, detailing BEN’s 100 year story. This is available from BEN, priced £10.99.

Motor retail employees helped by BEN

Sam Brown

Sam works for a large motor retail group. Soon after starting work, he developed pancreatitis and went into a coma. His body started to shut down and he was in hospital for 21 months. Sam was fully discharged in spring 2005.

He was allocated an adapted bungalow as he has to be in a wheelchair and has problems with speech. He also has episodes where he cannot co-ordinate or speak.

He has not lost his intelligence and would very much like to go back to work. Unfortunately, the only vacancy is on the help desk, which is not suitable because of his speech problems.

Sam needs care and domestic help. BEN has helped with bills and a ramp for him, and offers ongoing advice and support.

Eleanour Bowen

Eleanour worked for a dealership in personnel. She had long been a supporter of BEN and never imagined that she would need its help.

Eleanour’s husband found out that he had cancer, just after starting a new job and was not eligible for sick pay. He was going to be off work for several months.

The welfare officer went to see Eleanour at home and they had an indepth chat about all of the options open to them as a family. She appreciated the opportunity to explore her fears and options without being judged.

BEN helped Eleanour with the bills. Thankfully, her husband is now much improved and back at work.

Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals and companies

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