Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Rural Support Trusts staffs up to meet demand

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Former Beef + Lamb NZ extension manager appointed to new GM role.
Maria Shanks said the RST’s goal is to walk alongside rural people during tough times and offer support.
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The Rural Support Trust has appointed a general manager in response to growing demand for its services.

Former Beef + Lamb NZ (BLNZ) extension manager Maria Shanks has taken up the newly created role. It is aimed at streamlining the trust’s services and ensuring support remains accessible to those who need it.

Shanks said she is looking forward to meeting those involved in the regional trusts and gaining an understanding of the valuable work they do – not only during times of crisis, but in building resilience for the future.

In her previous role with BLNZ, Shanks, who was brought up on a small farm near Gisborne, got to see the work the Rural Support Trust (RST) does on the ground, and the support it provides to rural communities. 

“This is a logical next step for me to keep supporting the industry from a wider perspective. It ticked a lot of boxes for me in terms of ways to support our farmers,” she said.

“Rural life, both farming and growing, will always have its challenges, and our goal is to walk alongside rural people during those tough times and help them come out of it stronger. 

“I’m looking forward to supporting the trust’s work so our rural people, who play such a big role in the livelihood of New Zealand, feel empowered and appreciated for the work they do.”

The RST is a collective of 14 regional trusts offering a free, confidential service to rural farming communities to help during times of crisis. It is committed to improving the health and wellbeing of the rural community and last year partnered with TV presenter-turned sheep and beef farmer Matt Chisholm to start a conversation about rural mental health through their Time Out Tour national roadshow.

Shanks said she is keen develop good policies and procedures to help the individual trusts do their job.

“Unfortunately the demand is increasing. We’ve had a lot of adverse events and there are a lot of stresses out there. I need to make sure I can support them as best I can.”

RST national chair Neil Bateup said the trust is excited to have Shanks on board.

“Alongside her previous rural industry experience it was clear to us that she is passionate about helping rural communities and encouraging those important conversations around mental health and resilience.

“The past few years has seen unprecedented demand for the help and support the trust provides, from the recent flooding in the north and droughts in the south, covid and Mycoplasma bovis, they’ve all taken a huge toll. 

“As a national organisation we are very aware of the pressures farmers and growers are facing right now and will continue to face in the future.”

Shanks will focus on strategy and leadership at a national level, and maintaining the trust’s relationships with funders, sponsors and stakeholders.

“By having centralised oversight of our national priorities, it will free up capacity on the ground and allow the regional trusts to identify opportunities to further support rural people where it’s needed and ensure no one is left behind.” 

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