Hunt staff work hard for little financial reward, but the Hunt Staff Benefit Society and the Hunt Servants’ Fund are there to help, Rebecca Jordan explains
AS you get older, one of the delights at Christmas is receiving a card which makes you pause to appreciate and engage in both the scene depicted and the festive season.
Last year, the Hunt Staff Benefit Society (HSBS) ticked all the boxes with prints from artists Daniel Crane and Cecil Aldin. Sales resulted in a profit just short of £4,000 – a much-needed boost to the coffers which suffered, en masse, due to Covid.
The Hunt Servants’ Benefit Society was set up in 1872 by, among others, Lady Theodora Guest, wife of Merthyr Guest, master of the Blackmore Vale (1884–1900). Three of its staunchest supporters, Lord Portsmouth, the Hon F Scott and Mr Anstruther Thomson, drew up a code of rules which still apply.
All masters were expected to attend the annual general meeting, held for many years in the subscription room at Tattersalls the day after the Derby.
In 2004 political correctness seeped in and, despite strong opposition from many employed in hunt service, the society replaced “Servant” with “Staff” in its nomenclature.
So, for just shy of 150 years, the HSBS has provided hunt staff – whether they work in kennels, stables or as a countryman – with a regulated pension scheme overseen by a financial committee, which today consists of some of the leading lights in the City and is currently managed by Cazenove Capital.
The Prince of Wales is its patron and governor. He hosts an annual meeting at Highgrove and is renowned for his close attention to detail in all aspects of the society and its beneficiaries.
This pension is specifically tailored to the needs of hunt staff who can choose to opt out of their employer’s workplace pension scheme to join the HSBS, or pay contributions to both.
Today 654 hunt staff take advantage of this scheme. In 2019, 15 new members signed up and 98 members are receiving their pension through the HSBS, which had funds of just over £20m at the end of 2019.
The HSBS (a friendly society) provides good pensions for staff in their retirement because fundraising, donations, hunt donations, legacies and honorary membership subscriptions cover all costs; no fees are deducted from individual pensions.
“The success of our fundraising will become increasingly important over the coming years,” says Alastair Jackson, the HSBS’ fundraising director. “We have to jump through all the same hoops as other pension schemes; this is getting more expensive. But we are determined to protect our membership and continue to offer them the best possible pension.”
THE Hunt Servants’ Fund (HSF), which is a charity, is run separately to the HSBS. However, they work closely together to assist hunt staff in different ways.
The HSF is run by trustees Tim Easby, Robin Greenwood, Rosie Vestey and Alastair Jackson. Its objective is to help both serving and retired hunt staff who have fallen on hard times or who may have been injured, require hospital care or physiotherapy. This charity relies solely on its own investment income, legacies and donations from
The welfare of hunt staff and their families has been a core concern for the HSF since its inception. Salaries are at the lower end of the spectrum for all who work in hunting – and the welcome perk of skin money is a thing of the past. So, if a problem occurs there is often little savings to fall back on.
“Staff do get into problems and it is then up to the trustees to decide when to help,” says Alastair. “Over the years there have been accidents either out hunting or in kennels which mean staff can’t work. We have stepped in on many occasions and helped out either with a one-off or regular payment.
“The Fund has paid rent for widows of hunt staff and even funeral expenses. It recently paid a contribution towards an ex-huntsman’s hip operation: he had provided years of sport for many subscribers and the trustees felt it was only right to help him.
“There is also the opportunity of financial help to set up another business if leaving hunt service.
“Many hunt staff are too proud to come forward themselves, but we live in a very tight-knit community and often another hunt servant will phone up and let us know where there is a problem. And it is all worthwhile for the lovely letters of gratitude we receive.”
OBVIOUSLY, the HSBS’s committee is concerned it has lost nearly a year’s worth of fundraising. With no hunting for most of last season, online cap donations were a saviour but this contribution was well short of a “normal” year when about £33,000 is received in caps and donations from hunts.
Fortunately, an online auction last summer achieved £24,000. This June, 44 auction lots include a day at Ditcheat hosted by trainer Paul Nicholls, a riding expedition to Kyrgyzstan led by Countess Alexandra Tolstoy, exclusive fishing as well the chance of a mare’s service to Tomatillo (the eventer Tamarillo’s genetic clone).
The Hunting Shop Horn and Hound Ball is held at York Racecourse in October. Tickets are likely to sell fast, as the 500 on offer for last year’s event sold out.
“We have noticed and are very grateful for the increase in honorary membership subscriptions which are just £30 a year,” says Alastair, who is keen more hunts pass on HSBS news through their hunt email lists to ensure all subscribers are aware of the both HSBS and HSF and their ongoing activities.
Income from HSBS honorary and life membership in 2019 was £35,649. But just 27 new members were enrolled, five of which took life membership at £600.
If each foxhound pack, for example, recruited that number of new members at £30 each, that would raise more than £140,000 in a shot. It would make all the difference to the staff who work all hours, rain or shine, to provide sport for us all.
HSBS 2021 FUNDRAISING EVENTS
June: online silent auction
1 August: HSBS Polo Day at Beaufort Polo Club
6 September: visit to Raby Castle, Co Durham
23 September: Young Hunters’ Drinks Evening at the Cavalry and Guards Club, London
23 October: The Hunting Shop Horn and Hound Ball at
You can also read this feature in the 13 May issue of Horse & Hound magazine.
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