“I was 14 when Shane, my father, died. One day he was there, the next taken away by a sudden heart attack. He was 43. The overwhelming feelings of trauma, anger and pain are indescribable.”
James Bessant-Davies remembers his beloved dad, a former quarry manager and “fervent” IQ member and supporter while taking a break from his final year A-Level studies in Crickhowell, a small town in the Brecon Beacons, Wales.
“Shane started his career within Aggregate Industries when he was 27, as a mechanic in Cribarth Quarry, Mid-Wales. He quickly progressed to workshop manager, and a few years later became quarry manager. Whenever I visited, I was always amazed by how much people respected my father. He genuinely cared about those working with him. Even whilst pressured into doing paperwork, he would never say no when asked to fix a machine or lend a hand. The quarry reached 3,000 days without a health and safety incident under his leadership and was awarded the British Standard.”
James highlights how Shane was a member of the Brecknock Wildlife Trust and promoted ecology and wildlife within the quarry and surrounding area. The community benefited greatly from the Aggregates Levy fund, which Shane was key in accessing for local churches and town halls.
Despite fighting it, in 2014 Cribarth Quarry was mothballed. “Shane kept on as many people as possible to help with the restoration of the site and ensured the best possible redundancy packs for his men,” remembers James.
“Throughout this time, Shane was a fervent IQ member and supporter. Those values of respect and safety he held towards his men were reflected within the work of the Institute. Whilst it’s fair to say that he was not the most avid of readers, I have memories of him reading this very magazine [Aggregates Business Europe].”
A highly talented pianist and clarinettist, James has received support from the Institute of Quarrying Benevolent Fund (IQBF) to enable him to pursue his dream of studying music at university, with hopes of then going on to become a classical musician.
“After Shane’s death we received a letter from the Institute of Quarrying’s Benevolent Fund, to give us their condolences, and to make us aware that support was available if needed,” recalls James. “In 2019, we were struggling to keep up the weekly cost of lessons and my mum, Anna, and I contacted the Fund to see if they were able to help. Almost immediately they stepped in, fully covering the cost of clarinet lessons. This made a tremendous difference to us - myself and my mother. The outgoings from weekly lessons form a considerable sum at the end of the month, and this was a large burden lifted.
“I was later told by my clarinet teacher that my instrument was limiting my abilities. Once again, we contacted the fund, and after some research, a professional Buffet Crampon clarinet was provided. Words really failed me when this arrived. We couldn’t possibly have afforded anything like it. Since receiving it, my love of playing and my skills have improved exponentially.”
James says that having access to both a professional instrument and the high-quality lessons that the IQ Benevolent Fund provided, has opened so many doors for him.
“I simply would not be the same player today without their support. I have gone on to play in concerts with the Herefordshire Youth Orchestra, the English Symphony Orchestra, and a memorable concert with the National Youth Orchestra in the Barbican Centre [London], directed by well-known conductor Gustavo Dudamel. I have also played as a solo performer in several events, which have been instrumental in raising my confidence. I am currently in the process of auditioning for a bursary within the Music Corps of the Army, wherein they pay for your degree and guarantee a job at its completion. Once again, I would not have been at a standard eligible to apply for this if it were not for the support that I received.
“I owe so much to the Institute of Quarrying’s Benevolent Fund. Their charitable support has not only helped me but so many other families who have lost loved ones. I commend and thank them from the bottom of my heart.”
Established in 1925, after an eight-year campaign led by the Association of Quarry Managers in Caernarfon, North Wales, the IQBF has helped many members and families over the years facing financial uncertainties because of long-term illness, disability or death.
From financial support and advice to a regular phone call or email exchange to help with isolation, Wanda Zablocki, the IQBF welfare officer, is on hand to help.
“No one could have predicted the chaos caused by the Coronavirus. While the government’s recently extended furlough [Coronavirus Job Retention] scheme has supported many workers over the last few months, we’d like to remind IQ members that the Benevolent Fund is here to help them and their families through the most challenging times in their lives.
“We are currently helping a few individuals financially, including James, and recently made a one-off payment to an IQ member related to his circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic. We would like to help more in genuine need.
“We recently sent out a poster promoting the IQ Benevolent Fund to our bigger membership companies, and also sent out emails to individual members containing a pdf of the poster that they can print out and potentially put in their communal work areas. We want to be in touch with HR departments so that IQ members know they can access us if they are made redundant and need further support.”
Wanda said the IQ, which has 3,500 current members, also recently sent out a letter to former and retired IQ members and their families which encouraged them to get in touch if they needed support.
“I’ve now got just over 30 people that I offer ongoing non-financial support to. There was one gentleman I spoke to three months ago who told me I was the first person he’d spoken to since the Coronavirus lockdown. In the letter to families offering support, one of things we mentioned was providing a regular phone call throughout lockdown to help reduce the feelings of isolation. We had a phone call from the son of an elderly retired member to ask if we could call his father on a regular basis as he lives alone and is quite isolated. I now call him regularly to see how he is and have a chat. His son said it was a lovely thing to offer and says he’s sure it helps with his father’s mental wellbeing.
“The more I’m getting to know people, the more they feel able to tell me about situations they are struggling with. It allows me to be of more assistance to them. I think part of the issue is people’s perception of what the Fund is all about, not just in terms of general support, but who can access it. People assume that it’s only there for people who have significant ill health and can’t work or, perhaps, don’t have a big enough work pension, or need end-of-life care. But what we offer is so much wider than that.”
Wanda explains what happens when an IQ member or someone from an IQ member’s family contacts her to enquire about the IQBF.
“If someone is interested in applying to the Fund, I would have an initial conversation to find out what their circumstances are and what help they require. If they potentially meet our critieria, I would send out the application form which asks for a detailed financial statement along with evidence from bank statements and other documents. This is then reviewed and if the financial criteria is met, the application will be circulated to our Board of Trustees for a decision to be made. It’s very open in terms of there aren’t set things we will fund, or how long people have to be IQ members for.”
Speaking to me in early October, Wanda says she is preparing to respond to more IQBF enquiries when the twice-extended Government Job Retention Scheme ends on 31 March 2021. “I do think things will change when the financial cushion ends, and companies make decisions and let employees know about their intentions.
“The IQBF is being publicised much more now including on social media and in industry-related publications. We are making sure that IQ members understand that the IQBF is an important membership benefit. IQ membership is there to support individuals throughout their career and IQBF is there to support them through life.”
Wanda says that ACO (the Association of Charitable Organisations), which represents lots of national and local benevolent funds for different occupations, has also been an “amazing source of support” to the IQBF, including helping with information, guidance, policies and training.
Speaking about the IQBF, IQ chief executive officer James Thorne said: “Anyone contacting the IQBF can be assured that their situation will be treated with discretion and care, and each case that comes forward is treated individually by an independent board of trustees.”
Enquiries about the IQBF should be directed to Wanda Zablocki, IQBF welfare officer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 0115 855 6500.