Whole new world
Life changed for Finley when he took possession of a Wizzybug. Glyn Brown finds out how masonic funding is giving more children like Finley the mobility to explore
If you can’t move properly, life can be tough and require a bit of assistance. If you’re a child who wants to explore the world yet can’t get around, things are more daunting still. But charity Designability is working to change children’s lives for the better.
A group of occupational therapists, engineers and design experts, Designability pools expertise and practical research to develop groundbreaking products. One of its most ingenious innovations is the Wizzybug – a bright red, motorised wheelchair that gives freedom to under-fives with a range of physical issues. And it’s benefiting from a £38,250 award from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF).
A will to explore
Designability, previously the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering, is based at the Royal United Hospitals Bath; it’s here that the radical Wizzybug was trialled.
‘It came out of a conversation with the hospital’s children’s centre,’ says Alexandra Leach, Designability’s commercial manager. ‘It seemed children with movement disabilities were being restricted, kept in buggies and pushchairs way longer than other toddlers. Yet your average two-year-old is into everything, and by investigating they’re learning and understanding their place in the world.’
Leach notes that it must be frustrating for children with, for example, cerebral palsy and spinal muscular atrophy to be treated with such caution, as they have the same desires as any other toddler.
‘Finley was put into the Wizzybug and he was asked to drive it forward. “And he did! The smile on his face was just incredible.” ’ Rosalie Davies
‘The phrase for what can result is “learned helplessness”,’ says Rae Baines, senior children’s occupational therapist at Designability. ‘You can see how it happens. Carers, with the best intentions, can be overprotective. And some children eventually lose the ability to think and act for themselves.’
It must be hard for adults to stop this, though? ‘That’s where the Wizzybug is so great. At the very first assessment we see some parents who are used to stepping in, but we try to suggest that the way for their child to sort out how the bug works is to discover for themselves,’ says Baines.
The Wizzybug is for children from 14 months to about five years, an age group that the NHS in general doesn’t provide powered mobility for. The Wizzybug is operated by a simple joystick. ‘It doesn’t take long – sometimes during the assessment, they’re off and away,’ says Baines. ‘And you see this huge grin on their face – for the first time in their life, they can move.’
But allowing a previously immobile child to get from A to B is not all a Wizzybug can do. Baines explains: ‘It gives independence, autonomy about where they want to go. It provides environmental and spatial awareness and helps with manual dexterity and fine motor skills. As the child grows in confidence and determination, the brain gets a cognitive workout and begins to grow in size.’
All of which opens up possibilities for the future. ‘Because the Wizzybug is such a bright, friendly-looking device, it gets a lot of attention,’ says Baines. ‘So instead of passers-by maybe not knowing where to look if they see a disabled child, the child will be surrounded by amazed, impressed people. Which, apart from the wonderful social inclusion, helps the child’s communication skills.’
Children bond with their Wizzybugs, and give them names. According to Rosalie Davies, her three-year-old son Finley calls his Biz and, she says, ‘Biz really is the biz.’ Finley has type 2 spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA2. Rosalie and her partner Joel suspected a problem when he was about eight months old. ‘We could sit him and he’d sit, but he’d fall forward and wouldn’t use his arms to prop himself up, or if you put him on his tummy he wasn’t doing the little press-ups babies do.’
The discovery of SMA2 was made at 13 months. ‘It was pretty devastating,’ says Rosalie. ‘Atrophy means wasting away, so he’ll reach a certain point and then, if the nerves aren’t used, they’ll start to die.’ With hippotherapy building core strength, the Wizzybug can help with nerves and muscles in the neck, arms and hands.
The first day with Biz was ‘magical’. Finley was put into the Wizzybug and he was asked to drive it forward. ‘And he did! The smile on his face was just incredible. And I… well, I was a mess.’
Baines notes: ‘It can be an awful shock to find your child has a life-limiting condition. But to then find the Wizzybug, almost with a naughty character of its own…’
The mobility offered by the Wizzybug is just the start. When children grow out of them, they’re refurbished – each is robust enough for about three owners – but they will have taught children the skills to move on to bigger things. Rosalie and her family have started fundraising to buy Finley a powerchair. And because there’ll be no worries about him using it, she’s looking at a world that might involve all kinds of things – possibly including Paralympic sports such as powerchair football and bowls game boccia.
At Designability, the MCF grant will fund nine Wizzybugs. Leach says, ‘When we heard about the Freemasons’ grant, we were overwhelmed, and delighted when they came for a visit.’
And the MCF’s Chief Operating Officer Les Hutchinson couldn’t be happier. ‘Part of our mission is to help build better lives by promoting independence – for Freemasons, their families and the wider community. The free Wizzybug Loan Scheme is a great way to help children.’
For Finley and his mum, the impact is seen daily. Now, Finley can run away, ‘be naughty and cheeky’, and play hide and seek. ‘And I love him following me,’ says Rosalie. ‘I love walking a few steps and turning round, and there he is – things other people might take for granted.’
Wizzybug fact file
Each Wizzybug costs £4,750. This amount covers the build, assessment and refurbishments for other children.
As families with disabled children already have other outgoings, the only way these chairs can be made available is through the Wizzybug Loan Scheme, which is funded by donations and the fundraising efforts of local communities.
Invented in their current format in 2006, there are now 260 Wizzybugs across the country, but more applications come in every week as awareness grows.
FIND OUT MORE Get further information at www.designability.org.uk
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 37 SPRING 2017
I read with interest your article in the winter issue of Freemasonry Today about buggies for children with movement disabilities, in particular the Wizzybug, a fun motorised wheelchair for under-fives, and the Masonic Charitable Foundation grant of £38,250 to Designability – an admirable organisation, if I may say so.
We of the South Cheshire Masonic Golf Society have for 40 years been engaged in the fundraising and purchase of our variant of this machine: a sporting, stripped-down version, at a cost of £3,800.
In June this year we celebrate the handover of our 50th powerchair at a nearby golf club. To celebrate the handover during the celebration of 300 years of Grand Lodge, our Provincial Grand Master, Stephen Blank, and his team will attend a presentation at the golf club.
As your account states, when children are first installed in these chairs and realise what can make them ‘go’, the delight on their faces is a great pleasure to witness – there is no dry eye in the house.
We recently made great strides in membership increases, raising our society membership number from 35 to 109, and we now include non-masons as associate members, which can increase funds raised and introduce people to Freemasonry.
Our powerchairs are a very stripped-down version, yet comfortable for children to sit in. They are adjustable as the child grows older and need an increase in chair size. This, together with a regular service programme, makes a bargain out of £3,800.
Our society was started by a Chester businessman back in the 1970s when he saw an article in a magazine about the Peter Alliss Masters organisation, which Alliss had set up with similar aims as ourselves: a summer day’s fun on the golf course and something for the community at the same time (enquiries welcome).
Gil Auckland, Loyal City Lodge, No. 4839, Chester, Cheshire
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 38 SUMMER 2017
In the chair
A letter in Freemasonry Today, Issue 37, gave information on the aims of the South Cheshire Masonic Golf Society (SCMGS) and I thought it might be helpful if I provide further detail in clarification.
The society has indeed been in existence for 41 years as of now. In this time the members, and the lodges in the Cheshire area, have made some incredible donations to the cause of providing prescription powered wheelchairs to children who fall financially outside of the benefits or welfare system we have. We
I stress the word ‘prescription’ as many people are fooled by companies into buying off-the-shelf powered wheelchairs that are not suitable for the user. Ill-fitting chairs cause and worsen ailments. It is essential that chairs provided for the children are suitable for a span of up to five years. A growing child will easily have a specialised moulded seat replaced and adjustments made to the chair are that much better if the mechanics are correct at assessment.
There are national companies under the charitable banner who supply wheelchairs at an overpriced cost to cover the business. The SCMGS ensures that every chair is purchased at the most competitive price possible, enabling us to stretch our donations to the maximum.
The members of the society over the years have raised approximately £200,000 for the purchase of the wheelchairs; the 50th wheelchair is to be presented at Eastham Lodge Golf Club at the Cheshire Provincial Golf Day on 28 June. Our fixtures and forms are provided at www.scmgs.xyz for anyone wishing to support in any way.
A chair provides a child with a form of freedom that we, as able-bodied, ignore. It provides respite for a parent in the knowledge that their child is safe and able to be active of their own volition. To enable a child to socialise even a small amount, have friends and join in some fun and play can be a parent’s greatest wish and a child’s greatest happiness. A child’s laughter in play can melt the coldest heart. A small donation subscription is £10 per year and is always thankfully received.
We are so grateful to everyone who has supported this cause by even the smallest donation; every penny we receive goes to a chair.
Noel Martin, Loyal City Lodge, No. 4839, Chester, Cheshire
Devonshire Court was opened on the 2nd of November 1966 by the Late Queen Mother
It was the first of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) purpose built homes to be opened after a period of about 116 years since the formation of 'the Asylum for Worthy, Aged and Decayed Freemasons' was opened in Croydon.
The event was attended by many invited guests and residents of the Home. W Bro David Watson a trustee of the Masonic Charitable Foundation addressed the assembled guests, and residents on the work of the Charity, and that of the RMBI. Devonshire Court was then toasted in the usual manner with a glass of bubbly.
W Bro George Stamp a Past Master and Chaplain of the Holmes Lodge No. 4656, a past first Principal of the St Peter’s Chapter, and a member of the St. Peter’s Mark Lodge delivered a eulogy on behalf of the late Fred Lifford who had on his death bequeathed substantial sums to both Devonshire Court, and the Market Harborough Masonic improvement fund.
W Bro George then unveiled a plaque naming the newly refurbished lounge Lifford Lounge.
The residents and guests then continued to enjoy the afternoon and the entertainment.
Bringing eye care into focus
SeeAbility, which supports people with sight loss and multiple disabilities, will use the grant to part-fund a National Manager for Children and Families. This vital role oversees the running of a sight-testing research programme in specialist schools.
SeeAbility external affairs director Paula Spinks-Chamberlain, said, ‘We are delighted to receive this grant from the Masonic Charitable Foundation, which will help us deliver more specialist sight tests in more special schools.’
Shropshire goes walk about
A band of walkers completed a 45-mile hike from the masonic hall at Constitution Hill, Wellington, to the masonic hall at Brand Lane, Ludlow, in Shropshire, in two 10-hour journeys.
Deputy Provincial Grand Master Roger Pemberton, who had been on the walk, later travelled back to Ludlow for a meeting of the Lodge of the Marches, No. 611, where he received a cheque for £5,000 for the 2019 Festival Appeal in aid of The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, now part of the Masonic Charitable Foundation.
Tackling food waste in the West Midlands
One of the first major grants awarded by the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) has gone to FareShare West Midlands. John Hayward, Provincial Charity Steward for Warwickshire, visited the charity and presented a grant for £60,000 over three years, a contribution to the salary of the warehouse manager, together with assistance with transportation of food.
FareShare is a national operation with more than 20 centres. It is estimated that there are more than 3.4 million tonnes of food wasted every year by the UK food industry.
A day of festivities at the Raby Gala
The Gala was officially opened with the X Company Fifth Fusiliers band marching into the main arena followed by a horse and carriage transporting Provincial Grand Master Norman Heaviside, Festival Director John Thompson and MCF Chief Operating Officer Les Hutchinson.
Great North Air Ambulance director of charity services Deborah Lewis-Bynoe received a cheque for £4,000 from the MCF. Norman presented Les with a cheque for £250,000, bringing the total donated, just six months in
to the Festival, to £1 million.
Spreading the word
The Masonic Charitable Foundation’s Chief Executive David Innes reflects on how the charity is progressing in its goal to make support simpler to understand and easier to access
In the months since the Masonic Charitable Foundation launched, a great deal has already been achieved towards our ambition of a unified central masonic charity. Our staff have now come together as a single, stronger team, all the while continuing to deliver the same level of service that the masonic community expects and deserves.
In the first three months of operation we received almost 1,000 applications for support from Freemasons and their family members with a very high percentage (85 per cent) being approved. But we want to do even better – we want every masonic family to know we are here to help.
The purpose of bringing together the four charities was to make our support simpler to understand and easier to access, with straightforward eligibility criteria and clear processes.
Our representatives have been delivering talks across the country for the past few months, our new website is now live and we have distributed hundreds of thousands of leaflets. We are working hard to ensure that our message is heard, and we are relying on Freemasons to spread the word and make sure that no potential cases fall through the cracks.
‘In the first three months of operation we received almost 1,000 applications for support from Freemasons and their family members.’
The staff structure for the Masonic Charitable Foundation has begun to take shape, as follows:
Relief Chest Director – Suhail Alam
Head of Community Support and Research – Katrina Baker
Head of Masonic Support – Gareth Everett
Head of Strategic Development and Special Projects – John McCrohan
Head of Communications and Marketing – Harry Smith
Provincial Support Programme Lead – Natasha Ward
Grants Manager – Gill Bennett
Financial Controller – Philip Brennan
Donations Manager – Sue George
Advice and Support Manager – Maggie Holloway
Marketing Manager – Rachel Jones
Digital Communications Manager – Heather Crowe
Fundraising Manager – Alison Lott
Legacy Manager – Duncan Washbrook
Administration and Support Manager – Sarah Bartel
Following the launch of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), Laura Chapman and Richard Douglas, Chief Executives of The Freemasons’ Grand Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund respectively, left the team during the summer. Everyone at the MCF would like to thank both Laura and Richard for their years of dedication and wish them all the best for the future.
Annual General Meeting
The first Annual General Meeting of the Masonic Charitable Foundation will be held on Wednesday, 14 December 2016 at Freemasons’ Hall, 60 Great Queen Street, London, from 3:15pm to 4.45pm
Setting the stage
Britain’s Got Talent finalist Jasmine Elcock is hitting the high notes thanks to strong masonic support for her family, as Peter Watts discovers
‘Jasmine has always been singing,’ says Julian Elcock, adding with a laugh, ‘She even used to sing in her sleep.’ Julian, a mason since 2008, is talking about his 14-year-old daughter Jasmine, who provoked standing ovations, tears and Golden Buzzers as she sang her way to fourth place in the final of this year’s Britain’s Got Talent.
The result of talent and hard work, Jasmine’s success wouldn’t have been possible without the masons, who provided financial and emotional support after her dad’s business collapsed.
Jasmine beams as she recalls her audition on Britain’s Got Talent when her performance of Cher’s Believe wowed presenters Ant and Dec so much that they activated the Golden Buzzer, which automatically put her straight into the semi-final. ‘When Ant and Dec ran on to the stage I thought they were going to give me a hug, but then they pressed the Golden Buzzer and everything changed. To touch people’s emotions like that was amazing.’
After the audition, the family drove all the way from London to Durham so Jasmine could appear at a masonic event. ‘We drove for four hours, but nobody felt tired because we were on such a high after what had happened,’ says Julian.
As she progressed to the final, Jasmine received tremendous support from those around her. ‘My friends were very supportive,’ says Jasmine, who had to keep her involvement in Britain’s Got Talent secret for six months. ‘That was very hard – but when they found out, they leafleted the streets and put posters up asking people to vote for me.’
Jasmine is delighted to have come this far. ‘Just to get to the final and get fourth place out of thousands of people from all over the UK – as a 14-year-old, that’s something I’m proud of,’ she says.
More support came from the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, now part of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF). Les Hutchinson, Chief Operating Officer of the MCF, has known Jasmine for years, as he attends the same lodge as Julian, Fortis Green, No. 5145. ‘We always knew Jasmine was special,’ he says. ‘Julian would come to meetings with YouTube clips of her performing in talent contests. She was competing in Britain’s Got Talent on the same evening as a lodge meeting, so I encouraged all the members to get their phones out to vote.’
A way of life
The Freemasons supported the Elcock family with a grant to ease the financial distress they faced and provided a package of support for Jasmine and her brother Michael, including termly maintenance allowances and dancing and music lessons. In the time that the masons have supported her, Jasmine has also performed on the West End stage.
For the Elcocks, entertainment is a way of life. All three of Julian’s brothers are musicians and Jasmine’s brother Michael is a talented actor, poet and dancer, who has performed at London’s Barbican and studies at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. ‘Whenever Michael is looking for some advice for a song he turns to Jasmine and singing starts all over the house,’ says Julian.
Jasmine admires artists like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, whom she terms the ‘big belters’. Their diva approach seems a world apart from Jasmine’s unassuming personality, but she explains that their voices and how they presented themselves on stage inspires her. ‘It’s the hand movements, the gestures, how they stand,’ she says. ‘It helps me with my own performances. It’s the whole package.’
Both Michael’s and Jasmine’s talent has been nurtured by a succession of teachers and courses, while Jasmine has been attending talent shows for years. It takes discipline to make the most of such a talent, and Jasmine has to attend regular one-on-one lessons, complete singing homework after school, and watch her diet. ‘With using your lungs and diaphragm, you need to be fit,’ she explains.
Since the support of the masonic charities was fundamental in nurturing Jasmine’s voice, it’s no surprise that Julian describes his decision to join the masons in 2008 as one of the best he ever made. ‘Everything I read said it helped you to become a better person,’ says Julian, an accountant who ran his own transport business. ‘I met interesting people who could give advice and support, and developed rapport and friendships with people I could trust.’
‘They pressed the Golden Buzzer and everything changed. To touch people’s emotions like that was amazing.’ Jasmine Elcock
Making a contribution
When Julian lost his business in 2009, Les suggested he apply for help. ‘But I had a lot of pride and felt the business was always going to survive,’ remembers Julian. ‘Then I was given 28 days before the bank repossessed my house, and that was when I called the charity. It stepped in straight away and I also got back into employment. Through that, Jasmine and Michael could continue to develop. I can’t think what would have happened without that.’
Les is delighted that the support of masons has had such an inspiring, tangible result but emphasises that the MCF should not be seen as a last resort but a source of assistance as and when it is needed. ‘If you are a Freemason or the son, daughter, stepchild or grandchild of a Freemason and are in need of support, we urge you to come forward as soon as possible,’ he says. ‘I know that pride can be a stumbling block, but please come forward. We noticed in the last recession that we did not reach the peak in applications until about two years after it happened. People in need of support were struggling on for far too long.’
Mindful of the support she received from the masonic community, Jasmine has become a patron of the masonic charity Lifelites. Visiting children’s hospices and backing Lifelites’ fundraising campaigns, she is proud to take part and make a contribution: ‘Freemasons supported me and my family, so it’s nice to give something back in return.’
‘We always knew Jasmine was special. Julian would come to meetings with YouTube clips.’ Les Hutchinson
Triple backing for Midlands Air Ambulance rescue services
Three Provincial Grand Masters, Robert Vaughan (Worcestershire), Tim Henderson-Ross (Gloucestershire) and the Reverend David Bowen (Herefordshire) with his deputy Michael Roff, presented cheques totalling £12,000 to Midlands Air Ambulance.
Receiving the cheques was Michelle McCracken, fundraising manager at Strensham air ambulance base. The donations form part of the Masonic Charitable Foundation’s support for all of the 22 air rescue services in England and Wales, which since 2007 has totalled more than £2 million. An additional £6,000 was presented by the Reverend David Bowen from the Herefordshire Masonic Charity Association.
Grant underlines core values
A £20,000 Masonic Charitable Foundation grant to the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) will fund a social care caseworker to help people affected by spinal cord injury reintegrate into society.
The cheque was presented by Buckinghamshire Provincial Grand Master Gordon Robertson, who said: ‘This is one of the many ways in which masonic core values of friendship, integrity and charity are used to benefit the local community.’