Vote of confidence
In celebration of the Freemasons’ Tercentenary year, the public was invited by the MCF to vote for their favourite charities. John McCrohan, Head of Strategic Development & Special Projects at the MCF, explains the rationale behind this initiative
Tell us about your role…
I support the CEO and Board to bring together the activities of the four legacy charities that were amalgamated into the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) to ensure they continue to meet the needs of both the masonic community and the wider community through our non-masonic grant-making. In January 2011, I started working for the Masonic Samaritan Fund, one of those four legacy charities, as Grants Director and Deputy CEO. I held the post until the consolidation of the MCF in April 2016, when I took on my current role. As well as respecting the legacy of the four charities, it’s also my job to focus on the future and think about how we can do things differently – and better.
What are the Community Awards?
The full name is the MCF Community Awards –Tercentenary Fund. These are 300 grants totalling £3 million that acknowledge the 300-year anniversary of UGLE. The Awards were created in part to raise MCF’s profile within the masonic community, but also externally. This initiative was our first large-scale, public-facing activity, and was designed to let the wider public know about the good work that happens as a result of the generosity of the Freemasons. We typically spend up to £5 million a year supporting UK charities and responding to disasters and emergencies, both here and abroad. But to celebrate the Tercentenary, we wanted to do something in addition to that, which is where the idea for the £3 million Community Awards came from. We also wanted to celebrate the formation of the MCF.
How do the grants work?
They were for either £4,000, £6,000, £15,000 or £25,000, depending on how many votes a charity got. The grants were spread across all of our Provinces, and we allocated either four, six or eight grants to each depending on size. London got 26 because of its size. It was important that the charities we supported were operating, and helping people, locally. We wanted the grants to reassure masons that the MCF is pushing money back to their communities, to see that the money they give doesn’t get swallowed up in a black hole here in London. And, of course, we wanted to show that we apply good grant-making practice and observe good due diligence.
How did you decide who would qualify for a grant?
Firstly, I went to Provinces and said, ‘We’ve got money for you, we’ll be giving grants in your region, but we’d like you to tell us which charities are close to your heart.’ We then asked each Province and Metropolitan Grand Lodge to compile a list of their chosen charities, filtered down to their allocated number. The shortlists came to us and we carried out initial due diligence to make sure charities were eligible, that they weren’t already an active recipient of a grant, and so on. We then confirmed shortlists with the Provinces and Metropolitan Grand Lodge and began contacting charities, inviting them to formally apply for a grant. They still needed to complete an application, though by this stage they were guaranteed at least £4,000 – but could potentially get as much as £25,000 if they got the most votes.
What types of charities were nominated?
We had charities in every sector – from financial hardship, social exclusion and disadvantage through to health and disability, education and employability. We had community centres, initiatives reducing isolation and loneliness for older people and complementary emergency services – things like blood bikes, for example, which take blood supplies around a county.
And how did the general public phase of the vote work?
People voted primarily online – we promoted the vote on our website, and through our social media and masonic contacts. Having spoken to some charities that had already worked with the public on that kind of scale, however, it became clear that to really make the voting work, we needed the charities themselves to lead the promotion – on their own social-media sites and during public events. To do this, we provided them with materials showing masonic iconography and branding that they could use. And, of course, the competitive element of ‘more votes equals a bigger grant’ really spurred them on.
What were the responses like?
We ended up with 177,801 votes, which really blew away our expectations. Almost 160,000 of those votes were made online, with another 18,000 cast at local events. After people voted, there was an optional short survey of just two questions. One asked if the initiative had improved the voter’s opinion of Freemasonry. Some 57% of those who completed the survey – 36,000 people – said that it had improved their perception of Freemasonry. We believe that’s pretty strong evidence that the initiative really worked.
What did you learn from the project?
We’d never done anything like this before so we were all on a massive technological learning curve. We were very exposed, so the pressure was on – we only had six months to develop the project before it went live. We were still testing the voting pages, making sure the images were right and the copy was okay the day before launch. That was a bit stressful. It was all worth it when the charities, and public, told us they didn’t realise we operated on this scale or supported so many people in this way. Given that raising this awareness was one of our key drivers, I think we’ve been really successful. Going forward, we’ll be able to do something like this much more easily because all our building blocks are now in place.
What happens next?
We are going to monitor the projects throughout the 12 months that the grants last, and do a full evaluation at the end. We want to make sure that what we have done with this grant fund has made a real impact. In a year’s time we’ll go back and see what has worked, what hasn’t worked so well and what lessons have been learned. We’ll see how we can improve, if we do something like it again in future.
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Around the world
Four charities that have benefited from the Community Awards
Social Exclusion and Disability: Veterans in Action
Veterans in Action (VIA) helps armed service veterans who have suffered the effects of war or who have found the transition back to civilian life difficult. For the past six years, VIA has been organising walking expeditions that have needed support vehicles – Land Rovers and minibuses – which are now ageing and require maintenance. The funds from the MCF grant will be used to fund a new project called the Veterans Restorations Project, which aims to restore and upgrade the existing vehicles.
Financial Hardship: Centrepoint North East
Centrepoint is the UK’s leading charity working with homeless people aged sixteen to twenty-five. It supports more than 9,000 people a year, 800 of whom are from the North East. The grant will be used for its Rent Deposit Guarantee Scheme (RDGS), which aims to increase the supply of affordable rented accommodation to disadvantaged sixteen- to twenty-five-year-olds and those at risk of homelessness. As part of their acceptance on to RDGS, the person agrees to save with Centrepoint so they can afford their own cash bond as and when they move tenancy. This will enable them to have a secure base from which to build their future.
Education and Employability: Romney Resource Centre
Romney Resource Centre (RRC) was founded in 1999 and has developed a reputation as a centre of excellence, being the only provider of careers and skills advice, training, education and employment support in Romney Marsh for sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds and adults. Due to significant cutbacks in adult skills at the Skills Funding Agency, there is little further-education funding available for Romney Marsh communities – a critical situation if they are not able to upskill or attain updated qualifications. As a consequence, RRC is now seeking grant-funding support in order to continue its mission.
Health and Disability: HUTS
Now established for more than two decades, the Help Us To Survive (HUTS) Workshop supports individuals suffering with mental-health issues and learning disabilities across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. The therapeutic arts-based centre currently has more than 100 active members attending its workshop. The MCF award will go towards maintaining a full-time qualified ceramics and silkscreen-printing support worker. They provide support for members to explore creativity, gain confidence and to reduce isolation and deprivation within the rural community.
Despite inclement weather, the Province of Somerset safely delivered the special south west Tercentenary banner to the Province of Devonshire in the magnificent Exeter Cathedral
The banner recognises the special fraternal bond that exists between the South West Provinces and has toured to the Provincial Grand Lodges of Jersey, Hampshire and Isle of Wight, Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset. Devonshire will pass it on to the Provincial Grand Lodge of Cornwall later in the year.
The Provincial Teams from Somerset and Devon paraded in regalia and met in the nave of Exeter Cathedral where the banner was formally passed over.
Stuart Hadler, Provincial Grand Master of Somerset, and Ian Kingsbury, Provincial Grand Master of Devon, greeted one another and expressed their delight to be able to publicly show and acknowledge the 300th anniversary of the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge.
The efforts of Dorset Freemasons, with the support of Freemasons across the country, have given over 200 children a free adventure holiday for a week
This project, conceived in Dorset, was a unique way for Freemasonry to work for the benefit of the wider community, as well as providing an unprecedented opportunity to celebrate 300 years of Freemasonry in England. The Masonic Province of Dorset was delighted to host 209 deserving children for a Jurassic Coast Youth Adventure holiday.
122 children from Dorset schools were joined by a further 87 from 14 other Provinces as far afield as Durham and Cumberland and Westmorland at a cost of £500 for each participant, which was funded by Freemasons.
At the beginning of their stay, each child was given £20 pocket money, two specially designed t-shirts and a matching baseball cap as souvenirs. One of the organising team commented: ‘All the young people and many of the leaders on arrival were overjoyed and amazed at what Freemasonry had provided for them. Several children were moved to tears at not only being presented with t-shirts and a cap but pocket money as well. You could see on many faces that they were experiencing something beyond their imagination and dreams.’
One of the highlights of the week was the visit by the Assistant Grand Master and former Lord Mayor of London Sir David Wootton who, in the company of Dorset’s Provincial Grand Master Richard Merritt and the organising team, spent the morning watching the delight of the children dragon boat racing and raft building at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.
After joining the children for lunch at Osmington, he witnessed a host of activities including abseiling, fencing, aeroball, the giant swing, archery, a sensory trail and a beach walk. Following the children’s dinner, and before the evening camp fire, he had pleasure in presenting children with a group photograph and certificate in memory of and testament to their exciting stay.
The free holiday was organised by Dorset Masons and was entirely funded by many Masonic Lodges and their members across England and Wales.
Beaminster Museum in West Dorset is hosting a ‘300 years of Freemasonry’ exhibition which commemorates the Tercentenary of the formation of the first Grand Lodge of England
The exhibition gives an insight into Freemasonry and in particular, Beaminster Manor Lodge No. 1367, showing some of its activities and personalities.
It shows important aspects, including memorabilia of the history of Beaminster Manor Lodge and how it had played its part in local life in a rural community. It also aims to dispel some of the myths and mysteries around Freemasonry and answer questions posed by members of the general public.
The museum is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays 10:30am – 4pm and Sundays 2pm – 4:30pm.
The exhibition will be running until 29th October 2017.
On a hot summers night, the meeting of the Lodge of Amity No. 137 held on 19th July was anything but regular when Wiltshire Freemasons travelled to the Masonic Hall in Poole – the occasion being the Tercentenary banner handover between Dorset and near neighbours Wiltshire
Two Provincial Grand Masters, two Past Deputy Provincial Grand Masters and two Assistant Provincial Grand Masters added lustre to the occasion, which saw over 100 brethren witness the moment when Wiltshire's RW Bro Philip Bullock invited Dorset PrGM RW Bro Richard Merritt to receive the banner and pass it on to the Provincial Grand Master for Somerset.
In a ceremony planned and executed to perfection, the banner took its place in the Lodge room following an insightful explanation of its origins and journey around the South West Provinces thus far.
RW Bro Richard Merritt explained how the banner has travelled from Jersey, through Guernsey and Alderney to Hampshire and Isle of Wight before being entrusted to Wiltshire.
Having now been passed to Dorset, the next destination will be Somerset when RW Bro Richard Merritt will transfer the banner to his Somerset counterpart RW Bro Stuart Hadler during a special presentation ceremony to the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance at Henstridge on 9th August.
RW Bro Philip Bullock thanked the Province of Somerset and in particular, the Master and brethren of Lodge of Amity No. 137 for the generous and warm fraternal hospitality extended to the Wiltshire team.
Freemasons in the beautiful Georgian town of Blandford Forum in Dorset have been celebrating the Tercentenary in a unique way
Local Freemasons have been closely collaborating with the local museum, publicly celebrating the role of Freemasons in their community over the past 250 years.
The Provincial Grand Master for Dorset, Richard Merritt, encouraged Dorset Freemasons to celebrate 300 years of Freemasonry in England by engaging with their local communities. Blandford Freemasons leapt to the task with enthusiasm.
At an initial meeting with the Blandford Town Museum it became clear to all present that local Freemasons had a wealth of information about centuries of Blandford residents. The Museum soon realised that while there was a long list of well-known men of Blandford whose deeds were known, their membership of Freemasonry was not.
In a terrific exercise in collaboration between Blandford Freemasons and the museum, they identified 917 Freemasons with a Blandford connection from 1771 to date. These included farmers, shopkeepers, doctors, school teachers, Mayors and servicemen, the respected tradesmen of their town and ancestors of today’s Blandford residents.
This meticulous research was put on display at an open day at Blandford Masonic Hall to coincide with the town’s Georgian Fayre. During the Fayre, the town was closed to traffic, but the streets were full of visitors, hundreds of whom visited the Masonic Hall. The hall was decked with displays with a modern twist; looped audio visual displays sharing the space with posters, information boards, historic artefacts and other displays sharing a wealth of information
All the visitors gained an understanding of how closely the history of the town and the history of Blandford Freemasonry have been linked for 250 years. Visitors saw their ancestors stretching back beyond living memory and their connection with the town across the centuries.
Dorset’s Blackmore Vale Lodge, No. 3625, donated £500 to Sturminster Newton High School to pay for airport transfers when its choir and band recently went on tour in New York
The students performed in the Empire State Building and on the deck of an aircraft carrier, as well as visiting many landmarks in the city.
Dorset career guidance
For the past two years, Dorset masons have been mentoring students at the Oak Academy LeAF Campus in Bournemouth. Over 12 sessions, they have provided assistance, guidance and support to sixth-form students, helping them to establish a pathway to achieve their goals.
One student stated, ‘For me it’s been a huge support mechanism. I had decided to follow a career path without looking at the bigger picture but the mentors explore every possibility with you.’
Gill Blanshard, executive principal, added, ‘I would like to thank the Dorset Freemasons for the invaluable support that has been given. Having the time to discuss and plan the next step is extremely important, and the mentors have brought a wealth of experience and knowledge to help guide and assist our students in the next phase of their lives.’
The Province of Dorset continues to support the school in many ways, demonstrating the vital role that Freemasons can play in their community.
Health equipment in the community
The Province of Dorset has completed its programme of installing automated external defibrillators (AEDs) on the outside of masonic buildings across the county, as part of a series of presentations to the local community to commemorate Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Units have been fitted to 17 masonic halls and are available to any member of the public in an emergency. The funding came from Dorset Masonic Care (DMC) and The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, providing £32,500 and £5,000 respectively.
The units are located in locked, vandal-proof metal cabinets, which can be opened by calling 999 to obtain the access code. The control centre is then able to record when and where a unit has been used.
The challenge was not simply to go the extra mile for the 2014 RMBI Festival, but to go an extra 3 miles, vertically, and then jump out of a perfectly serviceable aeroplane! No less than 38 intrepid volunteer brethren, plus a surprising number of wives, partners and sons and daughters rose (literally) to the challenge.
After assembling for an 8:00am safety briefing at the Old Sarum Airfield on Saturday 4th May, the first team were kitted out with smart blue overalls and skydiving kit and told to stand by ready for a five minute notice of the impending take off. Friday 3rd had been a glorious sunny day with high white fluffy clouds and the forecast for Saturday had looked similarly promising. A cursory look at the local weather forecast for Dorset at 6:00am before leaving home on Saturday morning (when to the eye it looked to be less than promising) suggested that early morning gloom and occasional showers should diminish by 6:30am and be followed by sunshine and predominantly blue skies. Seems however that this didn’t apply to Old Sarum in Wiltshire, as I arrived at 9 o’clock with the windscreen wipers in full swing!
Would the jump be on? No one was really sure. Safety demands that the Dive Marshalls have an uninterrupted view of the landing area from 15,000 ft and with huge black clouds at 1,000 ft, frequent heavy downfalls and no signs of blue on the horizon, things were not looking too promising by 10 am news came over the Tannoy for the first group to stand down and remove their ‘chute harnesses but to be on 5 minute standby for any sign of a break in the cloud. If any of our team were nervous to start with, the delays certainly weren’t helping!
Then, just 30 minutes later, we saw a small break in the clouds, a tiny glimpse of blue, and the 5 minute warning was signalled to get the kit on and assemble ready to board the aircraft. The first group climbed aboard the Cessna 208 Turbo Prop Caravan aircraft which then taxied down to the beginning of the runway. The anticipation amongst the spectators reached fever pitch as the aircraft revved up and prepared for take-off... only to shut down again 30 seconds later as the wind direction suddenly changed and the patch of blue disappeared behind yet another rain cloud.
15 more anxious minutes passed with the skydivers, having vacated the plane, standing alongside staring up into the gloomy sky as a heavy cloudburst passed over and suddenly, they were all scrambling aboard again and the plane hurtled down the runway then climbing rapidly into the clouds. 25 minutes later, we could hear the plane but it was completely obscured as anxious eyes scoured the one patch of blue for the first glance of the first of our intrepid team.
A cry of 'There they are!' was heard from the crowd, and armed with the longest telephoto lens I have, I picked out a couple of tiny dark 1mm size pinpricks of an image in a sea of white hazy nothingness! Safety regulations demanded that no one was allowed near the landing site – just taking a worthwhile photograph was going to be a challenge in itself! After free-falling the first 10,000 ft, reaching 120mph in the gloomy sky, at 5,000 ft the parachutes opened and the gentle descent to terra firma began.
One anxious mum asked, 'Are all the parachutes open yet?', 'Can you see a green and black one yet?'
'Yes, I replied, it was the second-to-last one to leave the plane'. 'OK,' she said, 'I’ll look up now!'
So after 2½ hours of waiting for a weather slot, then a further 25 minutes of climbing to altitude the incredible adventure was all over in the less than 5 minutes it took to reach the ground. Judging by the beams of delight as our teams left the coach which had transported them back from the landing site, everyone enjoyed the exhilarating experience with hugs and kisses all round from the anxious and waiting supporters.
Quotes from the team included:
'It is some experience... without doubt the most thrilling thing I have done in a very long list of thrilling things!'
'The buzz you get as you exit the plane, the adrenalin rush of free-fall is amazing, once the canopy opens any nerves melt away, and the excitement of the view of Stone Henge from 5,000 ft, the ground plan of Old Sarum, and then the airfield where you know all your family and supporters are staring up wondering which chute is yours, then you get to wave at the crowds below, it is such exciting experience!'
'Then it’s all over, and all you want to do is to go straight back up again', 'But there always another year!'
All together a fantastic day and huge congratulations are due to the 38 jumpers representing 26 lodges who between them look to have raised in excess of £10,000 for the RMBI Festival and to Ray White for organising the event.