THE success of the Scottish Association of Young Farmers is a well-documented tale in the world of Scottish agriculture. The experiences the clubs provide – as well as the social lives – are long lamented as being an invaluable resource for young people living and working within the agricultural sector.

One woman who was at the forefront of making sure young people from the SAYFC’s West Area took as much as they could from their individual clubs, was Ellen Kerr. This stalwart of the association sadly passed away in 1982, but worked tirelessly to ensure those in the West Area were provided with the best opportunities they could get. Her influence continues to be priceless to this day.

A farmer’s daughter from near Hillington, Ellen worked for the SAYFC her whole life, starting in the office in Hope Street, in Glasgow, before moving to the old office at Paisley Market. A great champion of young people, she started group trips abroad and encouraged members to step out of their comfort zones and try new things.

Meeting at Sandy Wilkie’s home in Blantyre, current members of the board of what is now the Ellen Kerr Awards Scheme were keen to illustrate just what they do, and how Ellen’s legacy lives on in modern day young farmers. Sandy told The SF: “Ellen had a very unique working relationship with the late Bob Gregor, a famous secretary of the SAYFC. It was always, ‘Ms Kerr’, and ‘Mr Gregor’ – they had the utmost respect for each other. Very professional.

“Indeed, it was Bob Gregor that instigated the beginnings of the awards scheme. He wanted to do something to commemorate Ellen, and he got the West Area started in fund raising to get money in a kitty, in her memory.”

The £20,000 that was raised was invested by Mr Gregor and it was him and Watson Peat who truly kicked the trust off. Alongside the director of the SAYFC, John Kerr, the three of them established the trust, and also sat on the board as lifelong trustees.

With subsidised funding remaining an important part in allowing members of Young Farmer’s Clubs the variety of opportunities they currently are offered, the Ellen Kerr Awards Scheme is now as an integral of the SAYFC’s management.

It began in 1983 and has had three people sit as chairman – John Kerr in the beginning, Allan Craig who has just stepped down, and now Neil Sands, from Ayrshire, who is stepping up from sitting on the board. Board members sit for three years before stepping down, although they are encouraged to apply to sit again, and there have indeed been several return visitors.

Mary Welsh, is the current secretary, and Jim Montgomerie is the treasurer. They are ably backed by a team of lifelong trustees – Sandy Wilkie, Margaret Whiteford (who worked with Ellen), and Jimmy Ritchie, Ellen’s nephew. Talking about stepping down from the lead role, Allan Craig explained: “I decided after 20 years as chairman, it was a fitting time to take a step back and pass things into the able hands of Neil.”

Over the past year, funding has been awarded to members travelling to New Zealand for the agri-affairs study tour, European rally delegates, and exchangees travelling as far afield as Canada, Kansas and New Zealand. Clubs have received funding for laptops, printers, projectors, sports equipment and clothing, a marquee and even a storage container.

Ellen was noted for being very forward thinking, and this opened a lot of doors for the people she helped. Her closest colleague, Margaret explained: “Ellen saw the best in everyone. Even people who were maybe a wee bit rougher round the edges, she pulled them through, and I know a lot of them credit her for helping them get to where they are today. When I first started my job with her, she told me it would take three years to get to know the job – she was right – and I think that applies to any job. She was just a very smart lady.”

With regards to how the fund works, Neil explained: “The idea of the trust was always to serve the members. Whatever it paid out each year is relative in monetary terms to where it stood financially. The trust has well into six figures these days at its disposal, but will annually release around £5000 in grants, and that’s not because we’re being frugal, but because that was how things were set out to be run. We continue to adhere to that. For whatever a club has applied for, we pay out a percentage of what they ask for.”

“Not that we often say no,” interrupted past chairman, Allan. “It would take something drastic for us to turn down an application, we part fund most applications so that the club or person has a commitment to the project.”

The way the application process works is that West members and clubs are eligible to apply for funding for various activities throughout the year. The idea is that the activities and materials they apply for should have a positive impact on the welfare and activities of the club or district, and its members.

The Ellen Kerr trustees meet twice a year, after deadline dates of March and September 1, and assess each application – although it should be pointed out that applications can be made at any time throughout the year. Once their case has been made and any funding given, recipients must then provide ‘proof’ of where the money has gone – whether that be in the form of receipts, or for those given funding for travelling, a report on where they’ve been, and what they’ve got up to.

Sandy explained: “We get years where we get more applications than others, say anniversary years, but generally we expect around 15-20 for each application period, so it’s up to around 40 per year. What we do want to see are ‘unique’ applications. Something that’s a wee bit different and taken some thinking outside the box.

“Recently, a club applied for money to digitise old club photographs and we wholeheartedly encourage clubs to apply for funding for similar endeavours that would help to preserve the heritage of their club history. We would also love to see some of our more outlying West Area clubs get involved and come forward with applications. Ayrshire recently got funding to take a group over to Arran, so that kind of thing is great.”

Neil explained that they want people to know how accessible funding is. “We are aware that we only meet twice a year, but there is a ‘fast track’ method of application, for things at different times of year, so we don’t want clubs to get caught up in dates,” he explained. “They don’t necessarily have to wait for a meeting and I back Sandy in saying we would love to see some unique ideas come forward.”

Looking to the future, Neil added: “We just want to make sure that the fund is used to its full capacity. It really is a great resource for clubs and we really want to give out money – to the right, most worthwhile applications.”

Sandy explained that the trust has been trying to ‘move with the times’: “When the Trust first started, we gave out shields to clubs so they could attach badges to them when they won a regional honour. Many of these shields fell by the wayside, but we’ve been trying to encourage clubs to hunt them out, or even get them replaced where need be.

“For every West Area competition held, the winning club receives a small engraved medal from the Ellen Kerr Awards Scheme to attach onto their Ellen Kerr shields. Since the Ellen Kerr shields were first inaugurated in 1983, there has been approximately 800 medals given out. We’ve also re-designed our logo, to try and upgrade the brand a wee bit, and make sure everything is fit for purpose in this modern day. We’ve just been trying to rejuvenate things.”

In minutes from 1988, it’s written that ‘the only difference between a rut and grave, is a matter of depth’, and the trust should ‘encourage innovation and reward initiative’, and support ‘evolution and not revolution’. Statements by RF Gregor which sum the situation up nicely.

Ellen, who never married and dedicated her life to her work, was a character whose legacy lives on, and whose influence can still be seen in the hundreds of West Area SAYFC members who enjoy club trips and activities all these years after she passed away. “I think she would have been pleased with how things turned out. She would have been very proud,” concluded Margaret. “The only thing she might have been annoyed at would be having her name as the name of the trust, but that just sums her up!”

For more information contact Ellen Kerr secretary, Mary Welsh, on or on 07866 970779.