Now Jake’s ready for his close-up
One trauma is more than enough for any child to deal with, but before Jake turned 16 he had experienced his parents’ divorce as well as his mother’s battles with breast cancer and redundancy. Causing stress and anxiety, these events also led to financial hardship for Jake and his mother.
As Jake grew older, he dreamed of pursuing a career in the performing arts. Realising it would be impossible for his mother to support his aspirations, Jake decided to learn a trade – but deep down he longed to work in front of or behind the camera.
Jake’s grandfather Mike, a Freemason, had always encouraged his grandson to pursue his dreams. When Mike was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2012, he encouraged Jake to reach out to the RMTGB for support. Jake was accepted as a beneficiary, gained a place at his chosen university and was offered a room at the RMTGB’s student residence, Ruspini House.
‘Without the Trust, I would not have been able to follow my dream,’ said Jake, who plans to become a Freemason after he graduates so that he can help other children to succeed and give back to the masonic community.
Find out how the RMTGB supported Jake by watching the video at www.rmtgb.org/jake
A unique masonic building in central London is enabling young people to take advantage of learning, training and work opportunities in the capital. Tabby Kinder steps inside Ruspini House
Hidden between the brick façades of central London’s swankiest offices and camouflaged within a narrow tree-lined street, Ruspini House is passed by thousands of people every day without a second glance. But inside the little-known masonic building on Parker Street, just a stone’s throw from Great Queen Street, twenty-seven young men and women are treasuring the first taste of independence that the house is giving them.
Owned and run by the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB), Ruspini House provides residential accommodation for young people who need a place to live while studying or undertaking work experience in London. Rents are kept very low, with residents also able to apply for financial funding for their tuition and accommodation fees.
Would-be actors live alongside accountants, trainee teachers cook dinner with their barrister friends and law students watch television in cosy companionship with interns at city banks. It’s a happy space, divided into flats with kitchens, lounges, bedrooms and bathrooms, and one that is seen as a godsend by many.
Jess Hayton, twenty-four, has been living in the house since 2010, and it has already provided a roof over her head for the final year of her bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and now the first years of a PhD in education, specialising in visual impairment in children. ‘I was twenty when I moved in and it was exciting to say the least,’ she says. ‘I had been living in a house-share in East Acton and it wasn’t ideal. When my dad showed me an article from Freemasonry Today that mentioned Ruspini House, it seemed too good to be true.’
The family connection
Jess’s father is a mason, but until her second year of university she had never come across the work done by the RMTGB for the children and grandchildren of Freemasons. Just weeks after sending off her application form, Jess was granted a place at the house and set about moving in. ‘It felt like a huge burden had been lifted,’ she says, ‘I was starting to wonder how I could possibly continue paying for both my tuition and my rent. It was pretty much either/or.’
Moving right to the middle of London is something Jess could never have done without Ruspini House.
‘I knew I could really focus on getting my degree now that I didn’t have the stress of worrying about money. Luckily another girl moved into the flat at the g same time as me, so we were newbies together, but everyone was really accommodating and friendly.’
Jess’s determination impressed the RMTGB, which has gone on to provide a bursary to pay for her master’s degree and PhD tuition, and kept a space for her to see out her education at the house for as long as she needs it. ‘I’m in an incredibly privileged position, and there’s no way I could have followed my aspirations like this without the help of the RMTGB and Ruspini House,’ says Jess. ‘My dad is so happy about all the support and is proud to be part of an organisation that is helping his daughter get a running jump in her career.’
‘It teaches them to be good all-round people, with friends from different walks of life; it’s the best learning curve they could get at this age.’ Jo-Anne Griffin
Jess’s flatmate Harriette Murphy credits Ruspini House for allowing her to properly focus on her studies. ‘I had a law degree and was working in the City to try to get enough money together to train as a barrister, but paying so much in rent meant I wasn’t saving enough to carry on with my education,’ she says. ‘Thankfully, my father helped me to apply to the RMTGB through his lodge in Hampshire and I was fortunate to receive substantial funding as well as a place to live.’
Now Harriette is working at an award-winning barristers’ chambers in London. ‘Being called to the Bar in 2012 was an exceptional moment for me and my family, but I could not have done it without the support and encouragement of the RMTGB,’ says Harriette.
‘I have a vast practice area and am hoping to achieve pupillage in the near future. I hope that one day I can help others through mentoring, or assisting in any way that I can to this wonderful organisation.’
Mistress of the house
Both Jess and Harriette knew that moving into Ruspini House, despite its finely tuned support network, would not be an easy ride. Jo-Anne Griffin is the Properties Administrator at the house and has overseen its day-to-day running for eleven years. She is determined to make sure the house produces driven and independent adults who are ready to take the first steps in their careers.
‘What we aim to do here is provide a stepping stone between their family home and their adult lives,’ says Jo-Anne. ‘They learn how to live independently, to take pride in the space they live in, have a bit of responsibility, and how to deal with financial issues.’
She sits down with whoever needs help and can work though plans for paying rent or handling debts already amassed before coming to the house.
Jo-Anne admits that she can be ‘a bit of a mother’ to the young residents. ‘They tend to come to me if there’s an issue. My previous career in social work means I have a calling for helping young people. I try to guide them towards handling things independently, particularly their cleaning and washing, but I am always on the end of the phone if they need me. Officially I clock off at 5.30pm, but the odd call at 11pm from someone needing a few words of advice isn’t unusual.’
Jo-Anne’s faith in the support given by the RMTGB at Ruspini House is unshakable. ‘It teaches them to be good all-round people, with friends from different walks of life and professions; it’s the best learning curve they could get at this age. They’re lucky, but I get the sense they really appreciate that – I don’t need to tell them,’ she says. ‘I have a lot of respect for the support that Freemasonry offers to members and their extended families, that’s what stands out most for me.’
Whether it’s giving financial, residential or emotional support, Jo-Anne admits that there’s no better feeling than helping the residents at Ruspini House take that first step into the big wide world. ‘It makes it all worthwhile when you get a card back saying someone has passed their exams with flying colours, got their dream job or moved to a house they love.’
Les Hutchinson, Chief Executive of the RMTGB, explains the thinking behind Ruspini House
‘The principle of Ruspini House is to help people working towards their careers, whether that’s studying or interning, or undertaking training and research. It has provided accommodation for around six hundred and fifty youngsters since opening in 1988. It’s safe, it’s secure, and, though not luxurious, it’s a base for young people to grow. Ruspini House is about helping youngsters make that step from education to career, so we want to support them during the transition from dependent child to independent adult. We always ask our beneficiaries when they leave to keep in touch. Some go on to become Freemasons and they come back and offer advice to the next set of young residents.’
13 March 2013
An address by VW Bro Mike Woodcock, President, and W Bro Les Hutchinson, PAGDC, Chief Executive, Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys
'A celebration of 225 years in supporting children by the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys'
VW Bro Mike Woodcock:
Brethren, on the ceiling frieze above the senior warden’s chair, is an image of Pythagoras. It reminds me that the antient Knights of Pythagoras had a saying “that a man never stands as tall as when he kneels to help a child”. Today, we want to tell you about a freemason who put that saying into action by creating the first central masonic charity 225 years ago.
He came, not from England, but from Italy, where he was a dentist - you might say he was of Italian extraction! He came to London in 1759. Then, a very different city with a population of only 800,000 crowded on the north bank of the Thames, between the tower and Westminster. Chelsea, Paddington and Marylebone were but farming villages.
England was becoming prosperous, the industrial revolution was underway and the English way of life, at least for the squire, the yeoman and the villager were the envy of Europe. But there was another side to society; the poor in the slums had a hard time, low wages, no welfare and a harsh penal regime. Gin houses advertising that you could get drunk for a penny and dead drunk for tuppence, were the escape and ruin of many.
It was to this London that thirty year old Bartholomew Ruspini came with letters of introduction from influential connections in France and Italy, ensuring his rapid entry into the highest circles of society. He set up a dentistry practice on Pall Mall opposite Carlton House, the residence of the Prince of Wales and he began to clean the teeth of royalty.
Ruspini was initiated into the Bush Lodge; became a founder of the Lodge of the Nine Muses, helped the Prince of Wales, which whom he had become a good friend, set up the Prince of Wales’s Lodge and he achieved the rank of Grand Sword Bearer, a rank he held until his death.
Although there were occasional casual grants for the children of deceased brethren from the committee of charity of the moderns and the steward’s lodge of the antients, there was no continuous provision and so 225 years ago, almost to the day, Ruspini established an orphanage school for girls.
He secured the first funding from his wealthy connections, including the Prince of Wales and the Dukes of York and Gloucester, and the Royal Cumberland School for Female Objects, was opened and named after the Duchess of Cumberland its first patron.
Fifteen girls met at Ruspini’s house on Pall Mall and processed to the new school, on the site of what is now the British Library. At the end of their school life, the girls were to return to their families or go into domestic service. School life was far from luxurious; meals consisted mainly of gruel, bread and beer with a weekly treat of boiled mutton – think of this brethren before you complain about your festive boards!
But Ruspini soon needed further funding for his school and so on its first anniversary he organised a church service and a dinner at which his masonic connections were invited to make donations - collected in a wooden box.
The event was called a festival and the collection an appeal. It raised 82 pounds, 10 shillings and 6 pence, about £9,000 in today’s values. That was freemasonry’s first festival appeal and it gave birth to the festival system which has endured for well over 200 years.
That brethren, is the collection box which started the festival system and it still bears the name of the Royal Cumberland School.
By now Ruspini had acquired a wide reputaton for benevolance and as result he received a papal knighthood conferring the title Chevalier.
What Ruspini had achieved inspired William Burwood and the United Mariner’s Lodge, to establish a similar charity for boys ten years later. The two charities grew and included the Royal Masonic Schools at Rickmansworth and Bushey.
But masonic boarding schools were not always the best solution and ‘out relief’ was started – financial grants for children who usually remained at home with their family attending local schools.
Eventually, this ‘out relief’ became the main support and in the 1980s, following the Bagnall Report, the girls and boys charities merged to form the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys.
W Bro Les Hutchinson:
If Ruspini were looking down on our proceedings today he would be extremely proud of his legacy and the impact it continues to have on the lives of so many.
The modern RMTGB is a far cry from its humble beginnings, but it still upholds the objects laid down for that first school, namely: to preserve children from the dangers and misfortunes to which their distressed situation may expose them; to train their young minds; and to qualify them to occupy useful stations in life.
We have moved on significantly from supporting just a few girls between the ages of five and ten and today we support almost 2,000 girls and boys, ranging from only a few months old to those completing full-time education, sometimes in their mid-twenties.
Today, our support is available to any child who is financially dependent on a freemason and this includes: step-children, adopted children and even grandchildren.
Today, just like in Ruspini’s day, our beneficiaries have one thing in common: they have all faced a life changing event that has reduced their family to a state of poverty. Around half of those we support have been affected by family breakdown; some have a parent who has a disability; almost a third have experienced the death of at least one parent – and some have lost both parents.
In the current economic climate more and more are from families affected by redundancy, unemployment or bankruptcy.
All of those we support are real children with real needs. And although we cannot completely erase tragedy, we can and do help to give them a brighter future.
Today, the majority of our grants are directed to children living at home, targeting the effects of poverty and helping to provide the best possible opportunities for them to succeed in life.
In addition to grants towards everyday costs, we also help with other essential items that can make all the difference to children, such as: school uniforms to ensure they fit in on their first day at school; extra-curricular activities to learn new skills, make friends and develop into well rounded young people; computer packages to enable them to complete their homework to the highest standard; and opportunities to develop rare and exceptional talent into a professional career.
We are responding to real needs of children in 2013, much like Ruspini was responding to real needs of children in his day.
But today, our work goes far beyond simply awarding and paying grants. Our skilled team of welfare advisers visit all the families in our care ensuring that they receive the appropriate support not just from us, but from the state and other providers. And our case advisers provide practical assistance and reassurance when families are at their lowest ebb.
As a celebrated philanthropist, Ruspini would be pleased to know that in addition to our core work, each year our grant making-scheme Stepping Stones helps thousands of non-masonic children.
He would also be proud that our choral bursary scheme provides other life-changing opportunities for children from low income families.
And his legacy now includes the work of Lifelites, our subsidiary charity which provides fun and educational technology, such as computers and games consoles, to every children’s hospice in the British Isles; helping to bring a little light into the lives of thousands young children who will never reach adulthood.
In these three ways we are demonstrating that masonic charity and Ruspini’s legacy are not just inward looking but a real force for good in wider society.
However, like Ruspini we need to work hard to secure funding to support our work. The short lease on that first school cost just £35 but we now spend over £9m each year and the festival system which he started continues to be the principal source of funding for the central masonic charities.
I have helped organise 25 festival appeals during which over £65 million has been raised for the trust. I am constantly astonished and immensely grateful for the generosity shown by the brethren and their families. Ruspini could never have imagined how his simple plan for securing the financial future of his school would become so pivotal to the existence and future of masonic charity.
But, what does the future hold for Ruspini’s legacy and that which is represented by that special collection box?
VW Bro Mike Woodcock:
Brethren, today, Ruspini would surely be proud that the charity he founded now cares for more disadvantaged children than at any time in its history.
He would be proud that the Royal Masonic School for Girls at Rickmansworth, although now an independent school, maintains a strong masonic tradition; providing a caring and special environment for some of our beneficiaries.
He would be proud that his name lives on in Ruspini House, located just behind Great Queen Street, where we provide accommodation for beneficiaries completing their education or beginning careers in London.
He would be proud that the endowment he helped to establish enables us to now spend on our beneficiaries on average, three times what we receive in donations from today’s freemasons.
He would be proud that the charity he founded now not only cares for boys as well as girls but works seamlessly with the other central charities providing, through Freemasonry Cares, a whole family approach – and as a man of change he would expect us to continue to evolve in order to meet the changing faces of society and of freemasonry.
But most of all he would be proud that never once in our 225 year history have we had to turn away a child in distress through lack of funds.
Brethren, that collection box is so much more than an item from a bygone age. It is a reminder that charity is at the heart of freemasonry and that we still rely on you, today’s freemasons, to support our vital work.
Let us finish with a passage taken from last year’s Prestonian lecture on Scouting and Freemasonry, words with which Ruspini would surely have agreed:
A child is a person who is going to carry on what you and I have started. He is to sit right where you are sitting and attend to those things that you and I think are important, after we have gone. We may adopt all the policies we please but how they will be carried out depends on him. Even if we make leagues and treaties, he will have to manage them. He will assume control of our cities, our provinces, countries and government (as well as scout troops and masonic lodges). All of our work is going to be judged and praised, or condemned, by him. Your reputation and future, and mine, are in his hands. All of our work is for him and the fate of our nations and all humanity is in his hands.
Chevalier Ruspini died 200 years ago this year and is buried at St James Church, Piccadilly. All the girls from his school attended his funeral wearing black cloaks.
Brethren, let us all remember not only those first girls but the hundreds and thousands of other disadvantaged children to whom we, as freemasons, have given a better start in life.
Thank you for listening to his and our story.
You can find out more information about the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys by visiting their website
It was Stuart's many years in the Petitions Department which allowed him to witness the modernisation of the RMTGB
For most of the RMTGB’s 220-year history, its work has focussed directly on providing an education for the distressed sons and daughters of Freemasons. But in more modern times the work of the RMTGB has changed significantly. Stuart French, who retires from the RMTGB in April 2011 after a career lasting over 40 years, has witnessed many of these changes.
In April 1970, after responding to a job advertisement in The Evening Standard, Stuart found himself working in the Card Index Department at The Royal Masonic Institution for Girls. ‘At that time, we mostly provided an education for children at our boarding schools if a Masonic family had suffered a distress – usually the death of the father,’ recalls Stuart, who rose through the ranks of the Petitions Department to his current role of Grants Manager. ‘But over the years we realised that we had to do more.’
Although his career took detours to the Festivals Department and managing the RMTGB’s first steps towards computerisation in the early 1980s, it was Stuart’s many years in the Petitions Department which allowed him to witness the modernisation of the RMTGB firsthand. The most significant change was the decision to close the Boys’ School at Bushey and establish the Girls School at Rickmansworth as an independent school outside of the RMTGB’s direct management.
Stuart says: ‘A reluctance to send children to boarding schools meant the Trust moved towards providing greater financial support to where it is most needed – usually at the family home. Nowadays we tailor all of our support to meet the specific needs of the family – beforehand it was based solely on the child’s age.’
Stuart’s career has also seen the RMTGB’s work expand to include the TalentAid scheme, the provision of student accommodation at Ruspini House, Choral Bursaries and non-Masonic grant making to other children’s charities. He remarks: ‘During my time at the Trust we have always tried to ensure that our support remained relevant to the children of the time, and I have valued the assistance so willingly given by the many almoners and visiting brothers whom I have worked alongside and who ensure that our support is given where it is most needed.’