It was concern over poverty in the farming community that led Essex farmer John Joseph Mechi to found the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (R.A.B.I) in 1860.
In 1859 Mechi wrote to The Times to rally support to form the institution and to seek funds to distribute to people in need. By 1860 he had received 700 replies and donations of 1,700 guineas, as well as 450 pledges from people prepared to give annual donations.
Initially the grants entitled farmers in need to: £40 a year and 1.5 tons of coal for married couples, £26 a year and 1.5 tons of coal for single males and £20 a year and 1 ton of coal for females. Children were also to be fed, clothed and educated.
For many years applications outweighed available funds, but support gathered pace and by the mid-1930s we were supporting 1,000 people at an annual cost of £32,000.
Queen Victoria was R.A.B.I’s first patron and succeeding monarchs followed suit, including George V who granted us our Royal Charter in 1935 to mark our 75th anniversary. The Charter was amended in 1999 to entitle farmworkers to help too, and again in 2012 to reflect our work in the 21st century.
In 2010 we marked our 150th anniversary. Now every year we help around 2,000 people and give out approximately £2 million in grants. Our message is simple: times change, but needs don’t.