Celebrating 300 years

Up to the plate

As the staff at the Parthenon restaurant busy themselves preparing Greek delicacies, they communicate in sign language. Matt Timms discovers how masonic funding is giving deaf people new opportunities and changing perceptions

Last year there was not a single Greek restaurant in Blackburn. So when the Parthenon flung its doors open in May, locals rejoiced that finally there was a place to enjoy some Mediterranean cuisine. Never one to do things by halves, Doug Alker, the man behind the place, brought over a chef from Greece, Greek waiters, and even a traditional Greek musical duo, complete with bouzouki (a traditional string instrument) and liberal use of the expression ‘Opa!’

Chef Petros Tsilgkiriau claims his moussaka is ‘perfect’, while the staff hardly let a night slide without a spot of traditional dance. It’s authentic Greek and shares much in common with any restaurant you would find in the motherland. However, it also has one major difference – most of the people working here are deaf.

Rather than bark orders at one another, the kitchen staff use British Sign Language, or BSL, to communicate in order to cook and prepare meals. All except Tsilgkiriau are deaf, and three of the workers have just started 18-month apprenticeships organised by the East Lancashire Deaf Society (ELDS) and funded by the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF).

Statistics show that deaf people are 50% less likely to find employment, education or training than those who are not hard of hearing, due mainly to difficulties around communicating verbally. Approximately 71% of the deaf community fail to achieve the government’s target of five GCSEs, exacerbating the issue further.

The £75,000 grant from the MCF will fully fund the Parthenon restaurant apprenticeship scheme three evenings a week for three years. It not only benefits the apprentices but improves perceptions of deaf people in Blackburn and beyond. With local businesses able to engage with the scheme, the hope is that it will open up employment opportunities for apprentices later in life.

CHANGING LIVES

‘We’ve created a working model here for how the deaf should be treated,’ says Alker, executive chair and managing director of the ELDS. ‘It’s a small-scale model, and all we need now is to expand. People should come in and see for themselves that this is how it can be done.’

The restaurant is a self-supporting, not-for-profit social enterprise established by the ELDS. It joins 11 other apprenticeships, including nurseries and a home-solutions programme, as part of the charity’s efforts to integrate deaf people into the community. ‘Perceptions have changed of what it means to be deaf,’ says Alker, who has headed up the ELDS for more than 20 years. 

Vasileios Orfanos, who goes by the name Lakis, has been working in the kitchen as an apprentice for three months. ‘To the hearing people who think deaf people can’t, it’s a nice message to say, “Yes, we can,”’ he says of the restaurant.

As a fan of Greek food and cooking, Orfanos says the apprenticeship has not only helped improve his skills in the kitchen, but his confidence, too. ‘Now that people see me here at work, I think attitudes have changed. Working here, I’ve seen a shift. People see that a deaf person can work and do anything that they want to do.’

Tanvir Shah, an ex-apprentice and now kitchen manager, has experienced many of the challenges that young deaf people face in work and education. Despite attending college and obtaining a qualification in mechanics, Shah has struggled to find a job. His hearing issues were deemed too great a risk by potential employers, and requests for interpreters proved too problematic – and expensive – to carry through.

‘That really hit my confidence,’ says Shah, who credits the ELDS apprenticeship for kick-starting his career. ‘I had the future to think about. I have to work for myself and provide for my daughter.’ After two years in the kitchen, he was asked if he wanted to work at the Parthenon permanently. Now he teaches apprentices, who can not only communicate with him on the same level, but also learn from his experiences. For Shah, the evolution from apprentice to mentor has paid huge dividends. ‘My confidence has skyrocketed,’ he says. ‘I’m not in this little box any more, nor do I feel so shy. I’m in a good place and just enjoying life.’

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS

Another apprentice, Cassie Chrysah, lives across the road from the restaurant, and arrived from Greece with aspirations to work as a waitress. She has seen first-hand how the ELDS can open doors. Chrysah previously expressed an interest in joinery back home, and the ELDS has now given her the chance to study it at college. ‘Of course, deaf people still encounter barriers. But situations like this mean people’s resistance dissolves,’ says Alker. ‘With Cassie, with the restaurant, with the dancing, our aim is to change perceptions.’

As executive manager and self-styled ‘mum to the group’, Clare Stocks says the Parthenon staff are more than just workmates. After the last customer has left, the staff get together for a sit-down meal. ‘I consider these people my family. It’s not like I really want to go home,’ says Orfanos. ‘In a world where people see me as disabled, here I’m treated as an equal.’

Issues such as social exclusion and isolation affect all areas of society, yet the media tends to focus on the elderly. ‘We sometimes forget that these same issues can affect people of any age, particularly those with disabilities,’ says Les Hutchinson, Chief Operating Officer of the MCF. ‘As a society, we are incredibly lucky that charities like the ELDS exist. They have proven that it is possible to combat educational and employment barriers for young deaf people.’

Full participation

The East Lancashire Deaf Society is a not-for-profit charity based in Blackburn that provides support to deaf groups across Lancashire. It aims to understand the diverse range of communication needs of deaf British Sign Language users, deaf-blind people, hard-of-hearing people and those who have lost theirhearing later in life. The society aims for individuals to get the same opportunities in education, employment, access and involvement as everyone else in the community. It achieves this through three key routes:

  • Advocacy
  • Information
  • Services

Find out more - click here.

The Tercentenary of the United Grand Lodge of England coincided with the end of the Provincial Grand Lodge of North Wales 2017 Festival Appeal, with two major events held in aid of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys

Recognising the unique opportunity that these two milestones presented to involve and interact with the public, they organised events in July and September this year.

A gloriously sunny 1st July saw the Tercentenary being recognised with a hugely successful ‘Big Party’ in the extensive grounds of Queen Elizabeth Court RMBI Care Home in Llandudno. Attracting over 1,400 attendees, including many young families from the local community, the day was a festival of live music, charity and market stalls, games of skill, fun fair rides, circus performers, circus workshops and craft demonstrations all supported by the Goose & Gridiron licensed bar and catering outlets.

A number of national charities that have benefited over the years from funding by the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) were present, giving the public a real insight into the way in which Freemasons have an impact on their local communities.

Visitors were astounded to see a secretly planned landing by a Wales Air Ambulance helicopter on the adjoining school field. Children, in particular, stood in awe as the big red helicopter settled no more than 100 metres from them. Provincial Grand Master Ieuan Redvers Jones, accompanied by the MCF's Chief Operating Officer Les Hutchison, presented a cheque for £4,000 to the helicopter pilot on the big stage.

All proceeds from the day, which amounted to over £21,000, were donated to the Friends of Queen Elizabeth Court to be used for the benefit of the elderly residents.

Following hot on the heels of the Big Party success, a spectacular Welsh flavoured Festival Gala was held at Venue Cymru, a modern theatre complex in Llandudno, on 9th September, during which the Province revealed the total raised by North Wales brethren for their 2017 Festival Appeal in aid of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys.

In the presence of the Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton and the Provincial Grand Master for North Wales Ieaun Redvers Jones, members and the public alike watched as short video clips highlighting charitable credentials were tantalizingly shown between acts until, nearing the finale, the stage screen lit up to reveal that the target set at £2.75million had been exceeded by a considerable amount – reaching £3.1 million!

This total raised represented an impressive achievement by the North Wales Freemasons, upon which they were enthusiastically congratulated during the formal addresses. Les Hutchison confirmed that the amount raised represented the second highest total raised per capita for any Festival Appeal.

Throughout the evening, the audience was treated to a spectacular and inspiring mixture of modern and traditional Welsh music and song by artists of local, national and international repute, which provided a most fitting tribute to the brethren of North Wales who have worked tirelessly to achieve such a magnificent Festival Appeal total.

Ewan Gordon and Oxfordshire Provincial Junior Grand Warden Dale Osborne clocked up the miles in the name of charity, as they walked from Oxford to Freemasons’ Hall

The intrepid pair started their journey on Saturday 5th August along the Thames Path, managing around 20 miles a day, and have helped to raise £3,000 for the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) in the process.

Five days later and having completed their journey outside Freemasons’ Hall on Thursday 10th August, they were greeted by David Innes, MCF Chief Executive, and Les Hutchinson, MFC Chief Operating Officer.

You can sponsor the pair by clicking here

Monday, 12 December 2016 12:57

Life in motion

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

First steps

‘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.’

New possibilities

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 

A day of festivities at the Raby Gala

Durham Freemasons celebrated a successful gala at Raby Castle on behalf of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, now part of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF).

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.

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.

Tremendous support

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

Career climbing

A combination of physical and classroom activities is helping young people in Wales to take more control of their lives. Peter Watts learns how masonic funding is making this possible

Former Welsh rugby international Philippa Tuttiett watches with pride as a group of 16 young people encourage each other to tackle a climbing wall. ‘I never thought anything would get close to the feeling of playing for my country, but the last few days of this course are up there,’ she says. 

The course in question is Get On Track, which is organised by the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust and invites former athletes to provide mentoring and training for some of the 848,000 young people in England and Wales currently not in education, training or employment.

‘Some are really quite lost, with no confidence, and need some kind of goal or plan that will lift them back into society,’ says Tuttiett. ‘We give a lot of control back to young people. It’s a big step for them to come here and an amazing transition that they go through. When you see them come out the other side, with renewed confidence and able to get a job or a qualification, it’s incredibly rewarding.’

In 2015 the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust received more than £16,000 through a Community Support and Research grant from the Masonic Charitable Fund. The grant partly funded the delivery of a 14-month programme in Bridgend, the first Get On Track course to take place in Wales. This began in March and was spearheaded by Tuttiett and fellow mentor Christian Roberts, a former footballer for Cardiff and Swindon.

Using their sports backgrounds, Tuttiett and Roberts have helped young people such as 21-year-old Natasha, who has been out of work for two years. ‘I went to college and got a job, but the company I worked for went bankrupt,’ says Natasha. ‘That knocked my confidence a lot, and that’s what Get On Track is helping with. I wanted to feel more confident about myself. It’s been difficult without work. Also when you’re in work you need to be a team player and a problem solver. Philippa and Christian are very inspiring; they push you in a good way to get more out of yourself and not to be scared of doing something different.’

‘We turn lives around. It sounds corny, but it’s true. We see an incredible change in the directions lives are going.’ Philippa Tuttiett

Getting on track

The course enables the mentors to work alongside local corporate volunteers to teach employability skills such as CV-writing, interview techniques and filling in application forms. Qualifications in subjects such as first aid, food hygiene and sports leadership are also available. The results are impressive, with 72 per cent of young people who have taken part in Get On Track moving into employment, education or training within eight months. 

Tuttiett first heard about the Trust’s work when she was still playing rugby, but was only able to take a more active involvement upon retirement. ‘I did my first course last year and this is my second,’ she says, adding that the course not only helps young people in need of support, but also gives a fresh start to sports professionals as they face retirement, allowing them to use the skills they have developed in their sporting careers and transfer them to a new role. 

‘You develop so many skills that allow you to achieve your sporting goals, and these are perfect for the workplace or just everyday life,’ says Tuttiett. ‘I didn’t understand I was doing all these things; it was only when I trained to be a mentor that I realised.’

Get On Track draws on the skills learnt by athletes that enabled them to successfully manage their careers, from medal triumphs to sustaining an injury or loss of form, all while balancing family and work life. Whether it is communication, goal setting or time management, Tuttiett believes anybody can use these skills to develop a career or simply be a better person. ‘It’s not a sports course – although if they want to play football in the break, we can do that.’

The course encompasses numerous methods, all designed to boost confidence. ‘It’s a social and personal development course,’ says Tuttiett. ‘We build skills in a variety of ways. Every young person who comes on the course will have a different goal – some will want a job and others will want to return to education. Some will be doing their first CVs, while others need help to create a new CV that will present them in the best light.’

Tuttiett particularly appreciates that mentors can stay in touch with the participants. ‘We remain in contact and are available for a year after the course,’ she says. ‘We can find out how they are getting on and if there’s anything else we can do to help with their development. The young people also get to catch up with others on their course, so they can see how they are all getting on. As an add-on, they get a bursary of £80, which can be claimed at any point for 12 months after the course. Some spend it on clothes for interviews or on further training.’

Making it possible

Tuttiett is quick to acknowledge the role of masonic donations. ‘It’s fantastic,’ she says. ‘This would not happen without the support of organisations like the masons backing us. We turn lives around. It sounds corny, but it’s true. We see an incredible change in the directions lives are going. We get young people who are excluded from their families, from society, who are incredibly low, and after a couple of weeks they are motivated and confident and start to believe that they deserve to have a good life.’ 

Roberts, like Tuttiett, relishes the chance to help to make a difference. ‘I love this work more than playing. You can win a game of football and feel good for 24 hours but this has an impact on people’s lives and it’s an honour to be involved. 

The change in all of them from day one is amazing. We almost have to hold the reins in on them as they develop that swagger. Now we want to make sure they use that in the right way.’

Shared values

The value of the Get On Track course, developed by the charity founded by Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes, was apparent to the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF). ‘This is an innovative project that trains world-class athletes to become mentors for young people,’ says Les Hutchinson, the MCF’s Chief Operating Officer. ‘Athletes use their experiences to teach young people how to overcome adversity, stay focused and have the confidence, as well as the resilience, to deal with the highs and lows in their future careers.’

As Les highlights, the UK has a growing problem with young people who have left school and are struggling to find direction. Over the past five years, more than £17.4 million of masonic funding has been awarded to hundreds of local and national charities, many of which have improved the lives of thousands of children and young people by removing barriers to education and employment. 

For Les, these causes reflect Freemasonry’s central tenets. ‘At the heart of Freemasonry is a concern for people and a responsibility to help those in need. Mentoring has been embraced by the Craft to help new brethren grasp the main principles of Freemasonry and become involved in their lodges. These core values are clearly reflected in the mission of the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust.’

Musical night in Durham for festival launch

The Sage Gateshead, the world-class music venue on the banks of the River Tyne, was the stunning location to launch the Durham 2021 Festival in aid of the RMTGB. More than 1,000 tickets were sold to brethren and their families for the musical extravaganza, which was opened by community theatre group Enter CIC. Under the direction of Andrea Flynn, 30 children aged 13-20 provided songs from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival show ‘The Wind Road Boys’.

Festival Director John Thompson and Durham PGM Eric Heaviside welcomed RMTGB President Mike Woodcock and CEO Les Hutchinson. The PGM then presented a cheque for £250,000 towards the Festival target of £2,712,768, which follows a previous instalment of £500,000 in November 2014. 

Quarterly Communication

9 March 2016 
An address by VW Bro James Newman, Deputy President-designate, and David Innes, Chief Executive

James Newman

RW Bro Deputy Grand Master and brethren, firstly thank you very much for unanimously approving the changes to the Book of Constitutions a few minutes ago. These changes, in essence, facilitate the creation of the Masonic Charitable Foundation and its strong links to Grand Lodge by the appointment of a President and Deputy President.

Indeed brethren, to paraphrase that part of our initiation ceremony, which specifically relates to charity, if you had not approved the changes, 'the subject of this presentation would have to have been postponed'.

Happily, it is now only three weeks until the official launch of our new charity. MCF, which I am sure it will be known as, will open for business on 1 April. Despite the date being April Fools' Day, for those of us involved, it will be no joking matter. 

Your new charity has been established following a long and very thorough review of how the four central masonic charities currently operate, could work together in the future and how best they can collectively serve the masonic community in particular. The Bagnall Report in 1973 made quite a number of recommendations, some of which were implemented, but many others were not, as they were not felt appropriate at that time.

In those intervening 43 years, some attempts have been made to further integrate masonic charitable support but with little success. More importantly, both the Grand Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund have been successfully established and society and Freemasonry have both changed beyond recognition, so another major review was long overdue.

So why has this review succeeded in getting to such an advanced stage. As with all things, especially in Freemasonry, it's all about people and their willingness to compromise and work for a better solution.

In traditional masonic style, I will start at the top. Deputy Grand Master, we would like to offer our sincere thanks to you, for all your active support and encouragement throughout this whole process as well as your guidance through the black, or perhaps I should say, dark blue hole, that is masonic politics. Although not planned, it is entirely appropriate that you, as the Ruler responsible for charity affairs, should be in the chair at this particular meeting.

With so many Provincial Grand Masters present today, it is also an ideal opportunity to thank you all, and your predecessors, for both your foresight and your patience. Some years ago, you collectively identified the need for change. Your concept of the future has helped us shape what has now been developed and many of you have made, and continue to make, valued contributions to the process.

As you will realise, I am making this presentation on behalf of my fellow Presidents, both present and past. We have worked together now for a good number of years on this review, had some robust discussions along the way but always came back to the overriding objective – how do we create the best, long term and the most efficient solution to provide charitable support and protect our fundraising activities.

Whilst the Presidents have set the policies and persuaded and sometimes had to cajole their Trustees to support the review’s recommendations, I hope you will all agree that we owe a big debt to our four Chief Executives and their respective staff teams for the professional manner in which they have approached this review, and indeed, are now implementing it. 

Change can often be difficult, but our staff have been magnificent throughout and no matter what uncertainty they face for their own futures , they have ensured that the standard of service that you all have come to expect, has been maintained at a consistently high level.  

By now I hope you are all aware of the main reasons why the review came to the conclusion that consolidating the charities, by creating an overarching parent charity, was the best and most sustainable solution for the future. The rationale for what we have done is to make best use of the money you all so generously donate and to have a structured and flexible system of support carried out in the most efficient way.

To do this, we will create a single charitable fund with as few restrictions as possible on how we spend it, which will allow us to react to the specific demand or need for support at any point in time from the masonic and non-masonic community. Of course, the existing funds of each of the charities will continue to be spent for the purposes for which they have been raised, as David will explain shortly.

Therefore, I am delighted to hand over to David, our new Chief Executive, who has the unenviable task of knitting all this together, so that he can tell you about our vision for the future and how we plan to realise it.

David Innes

RW Deputy Grand Master and brethren all, as I am sure you appreciate only too well, the creation of the new Masonic Charitable Foundation is a very significant milestone in the evolution of charitable support, both within and by the masonic community. Although James has said I have an unenviable task, I feel deeply honoured to have been given the opportunity to lead this new charity during its all-important formative years – particularly as I am not a Freemason.

The logo of our new charity depicts a charitable heart at the centre of the widely recognised square and compasses symbol. It is our firm intention that MCF will become extremely well known and appreciated as a force for good by all Freemasons and their families, as well as by the wider charity sector and the public at large. At the same time, the MCF logo must become instantly recognisable as the symbol of masonic charity within the widest possible audience. We will all be working hard to ensure this happens.

I have also used our new logo to explain to staff the structure that we shall be implementing when the charities consolidate next month. The heart symbolises the core function of the charity, namely the provision of beneficial support to the masonic community. It also represents the continuation of the practical support provided to the Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Provincial Grand Lodges, in particular to Provincial Grand Almoners and Provincial Grand Charity Stewards who will remain as important as ever to the success of the new charity.

Similarly, the advice and support team will continue to be an integral element of this support network, operating as it does right in the heart of the masonic community. In time, we hope to expand our direct support by introducing new services – such as the Visiting Volunteer initiative – which we are currently piloting in a number of Provinces.

The heart also symbolises the extensive support available to the wider community through a variety of grants to other charitable causes and, when required, in response to natural disasters. The size and scale of the new charity will enable us to enter into major partnerships with other national charities, and to develop long term programmes of support of national significance, that will have a real and high profile impact. We shall also continue providing support to Lifelites and all the fantastic work it does in children’s hospices.

Another element of the operational support we provide to the masonic community and beyond, is our care homes. These will continue to be a very important part of what we do but, after 1 April, will be run by a separate charitable company within MCF known as RMBI Care Company. This company will have its own board of directors but will be fully accountable to the MCF Board.

Having decided to group all our current operations together for what I hope are obvious reasons, I am delighted that Les Hutchinson has been selected to be the Chief Operating Officer of our new charity and he is already hard at work.

The square underpins all these activities and represents the finance, secretariat and Relief Chest functions. The creation of a unified finance team will ensure that the very significant assets of the new charity are properly managed within all the appropriate regulations, and we are indebted to Chris Head for his help in getting this critical element up and running. Whilst we will be delighted to receive donations via any route, we would much prefer that the generous contributions of the Craft are made through the Relief Chest. It will also continue to deliver the valuable service that is already well-established on behalf of lodges, Provinces and festival appeals, and will be at the centre of our technological revolution.

Festival appeals will continue to be the main source of funding for MCF. During the first few years, those festivals that have already launched on behalf of one of the current four charities will continue to raise funds that will only be available for use according to the charitable objects of that particular charity.

However, this year will see the first MCF festivals launching in the Provinces of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. The funds raised will be available for use according to need across the full spectrum of charitable support.

The third element of the MCF logo is the compasses.

I have described these as setting the key parameters for MCF and ensuring that our communication messages encompass everything we do. Specifically those working in this area will help set the strategic direction for the charity, devise ways to evaluate its performance and facilitate communication with all our stakeholders.

As a new charity, it is vitally important to create a vision, determine KPIs and monitor the effectiveness of all that it does, particularly the use of our resources. It is also important that we look to identify new opportunities in which the MCF, on behalf of Freemasonry, can increase its support to the masonic community and beyond. I’m delighted that Laura Chapman is bringing her considerable experience of masonic charitable support to bear in this important area.

One of the reasons for moving away from the current model of four separate charities was to simplify the message about what the central masonic charities actually do and for whom. We are determined to use the move to a single charity, with a single brand, as an opportunity to deliver a single and effective message to the widest possible audience. The MCF Communications Committee, very ably supported by Richard Douglas, is already hard at work refining a strategy that will cover all activities of the charity and will utilise the complete range of communication channels. The good old fashioned paper materials, like the leaflet that you were given as you arrived for this meeting, will still have an important role to play. Increasingly we will also embrace and exploit digital technology and social media. Beyond that there is also a need to support the Grand Lodge strategy for Freemasonry in the 21st century, and to increase awareness of Freemasonry amongst the charity sector and the wider community.

With the deadline of 1 April rapidly approaching, you will be delighted to hear that the first phase of what I see as a three phase consolidation process is nearly complete.

Having been formally appointed to my new position in December last year, I have focused on ensuring that the required foundations are in place. This has been mainly about developing a new, integrated organisation structure and systems suitable for the future. Another key task has been the formal TUPE consultation process in respect of the transfer of staff to the new charity. This is a time-consuming but vital step, and one that needs to be done properly and carefully. This phase is nearly complete and will see all staff from the three grant-making charities, as well as a few staff from the RMBI, transfer to MCF on 1 April. At the same time, the remainder of the RMBI staff will be transferring to the new RMBI Care Company.

Phase 2, between April and July this year, will see the actual reorganisation itself. Again, in full consultation with staff, it will involve changes to team structures and the physical relocation of staff within the office accommodation. It is quite likely that many employees will have a new line manager and will need to get used to different ways of working.

The transition from four charities to one has, as one of its main purposes, the improvement of the support and services provided to our many and varied stakeholders. This period of transition will be very challenging for everyone involved and I would wish to add my own tribute to the way in which all the staff have worked to bring about this major evolution in the way masonic charity is delivered. I have stressed from the outset that retaining their experience and expertise is vital to achieving change. I know that the staff and Trustees share my determination to prevent any disruption to, or degradation of, the services we provide. In particular, the needs of our beneficiaries will remain paramount throughout and I am absolutely determined that we do not drop the ball in the process – although I’m very happy for Wales to drop it a few times on Saturday!!

Following the reorganisation, there will need to be a period of bedding in. I anticipate this third phase beginning as the masonic year resumes and staff return from their summer holidays. It is my aim that, by December, all new working practices, policies and procedures are totally bedded in, the new grant-making software is fully operational and MCF is firmly established.

Looking beyond this year, I see 2017 as being a busy year for all concerned. In addition to delivering ‘business as usual’, MCF will be supporting the many and varied tercentenary celebrations in conjunction with Grand Lodge.

However, some things won’t change, such the wide range of support provided by the Masonic community for financial, health and family related needs. The simple difference will be that help will be available from a single source, via a single application process that uses standardised eligibility criteria. There will no longer be the need to remember what the four different charities do and risk applying to the wrong one in the wrong way. Further details are provided in the leaflet, which also contains all the relevant contact details for MCF and these are valid now.

Another thing that won’t change is our support to the wider, non-masonic community. Through MCF, Freemasons will continue to support registered charities that help those facing issues with education and employability, financial hardship, age related challenges, health, disability, social exclusion and disadvantage. Support will also continue to be available for the advancement of medical and social research, hospices throughout England and Wales, the air ambulance and other rescue services, as well as disaster relief appeals.

All in all, we anticipate no real change to the support available but a simpler, easier to understand, easier to access, more efficient and more responsive organisation delivering that support – which is considerable.

Each year, support is provided to over 5,000 Freemasons and their families which last year amounted to £15.5 million. In addition to the support given to the masonic community, MCF will also look to allocate between three and a half and five million pounds per year to non-masonic causes. There will also be extra money available next year to commemorate the Tercentenary and further details will be made available in due course.  We would welcome your support in ensuring that these messages are communicated to all those who need to hear them.

I hope you will deduce from what I have said that this is an exciting and busy time for Masonic charity.  The formation of MCF is good news for beneficiaries, good news for donors and good news for the wider community beyond Freemasonry.

Thank you for listening.  I will now hand back to James who will tell you how MCF will be governed and remain accessible to its membership.

James Newman

Thank you David. Before we finish this short presentation, it's important you all know how MCF is to be governed and how you and the Craft generally are all to be represented.

A Trustee Board has been formed, has already met three times and meets again tomorrow. It has representatives from each of the four current charities and an excellent mix of skills. We have set up a number of committees, who are already hard at work advising on new integrated policies, assisting the executive team and making recommendations to the Trustee Board.

So far, I am glad to say that all is going well, everyone is still talking to each other and there is, of course, lots of brotherly love!

So how will all of you and the Craft be represented and be able to get your views across to the new Trustee Board and executive team? The membership of MCF will consist of the Trustees themselves plus two appointees from Metropolitan Grand Lodge and two from each Province. These nominees will be approved at each Metropolitan or Provincial meeting so that you will all know who they are and can, therefore, ask them to represent your views. There will be at least two members' meetings each year, one of which will be outside London.

Brethren, I mentioned earlier the charity address in the NE corner during our initiation ceremony. That address to the candidate, clearly sets out that charity is one of the key principles of being a mason, one of which we should all be proud of. 

That is why today is such a red letter day for Freemasonry in general and masonic charity in particular. We are about to create a very large and we hope nationally recognised, charity, which will become a beacon for us all. The funds we shall have at our disposal have been built up by our predecessors over two and a quarter centuries, and we owe it to them and our current donors and beneficiaries, to make it a success.

Deputy Grand Master and brethren, on behalf of everyone associated with MCF, we hope that you have found this presentation useful and that you will now spread the word about MCF across your Provinces and down here in London. Thank you for listening and we look forward to updating you later in the year.

Published in Speeches

The Craft and beyond

As the Tercentenary and new masonic charity launch approach, Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes reflects on the work required to reach these milestones

The past year has been a busy one. The emphasis was on honing the initiatives to keep us in line with the mission to build a positive reputation for Freemasonry and assure its long-term future.

Fundamental to ensuring that future has been the development of a clear strategy. The Membership Focus Group – supported by 18,000 responses to recent surveys – has shaped this plan, which has, in turn, been approved by the Rulers and by the Provincial Grand Masters. It concentrates on our vision and values but can only be achieved with the support of the majority of members.

Concurrently, the Tercentenary Planning Committee has been making great progress while liaising with Provincial Grand Masters, Provincial Grand Secretaries and Provincial 2017 Representatives. The majority of Provinces have advised the Planning Committee of their main events – sometimes with neighbouring Provinces. 

I am very encouraged by the level of enthusiasm that is being shown as we approach the United Grand Lodge of England’s 300th milestone celebration. 

I am delighted to confirm that the Charity Commission has formally approved the establishment of the Masonic Charitable Foundation. This has taken a long time to achieve and was a complicated operation overseen by the Deputy Grand Master, with most able help from the charity Presidents, Chief Executives and boards of trustees. We should all be most grateful to them for their hard work.

‘I am very encouraged by the level of enthusiasm that is being shown.’

Preparations for the launch in April 2016 are continuing. A shadow board and various committees have been formed and the first senior staff appointments have been made. David Innes of the RMBI will be the Foundation’s first Chief Executive and Les Hutchinson of the RMTGB will be the Chief Operating Officer. 

They both have a wealth of experience and knowledge and are well placed to lead the Foundation. I believe it is important to note that they faced strong competition for these jobs from outside the masonic charities. In advance of the launch, publicity about the Foundation will be increased throughout the Craft and beyond. 

I am also delighted to announce that the Grand Master in his capacity as First Grand Principal has appointed Gareth Jones, Provincial Grand Master for South Wales, to succeed David Williamson as Third Grand Principal in Supreme Grand Chapter, with effect from the Annual Royal Arch Investiture on 28 April 2016. 

The contribution made by David Williamson in his capacity as Third Grand Principal has been colossal, as his contribution has been throughout masonry. 

Published in UGLE
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