Reach for the sky
Balancing the demands of homework while performing in a West End show, Blaze and his mother Sarah have their work cut out for them. Sophie Radice finds out how Case Almoner Humphrey Ball is helping the 11-year-old fulfil his dreams
Arriving at the South London home of Sarah Porter, I find her deep in conversation with Freemason Humphrey Ball. Since he was appointed the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys’ (RMTGB) Case Almoner for Sarah and her son Blaze just over a year ago, Humphrey has developed a strong relationship with this small family. Today, he has spent an hour talking over 11-year-old Blaze’s educational progress, working out the best approach to allay Sarah’s worries, even offering to go with her to visit his school to discuss concerns with his teachers.
‘What’s the point of just doing the bare minimum?’ asks Humphrey. ‘You might as well not do the job at all if you are just going to do a little bit here and there. I’d rather help Sarah and Blaze as much as I possibly can, even if it is just acting as a sounding board. At the moment we are working out the best plan of action to try and really improve Blaze’s weakest subjects at school.’
Foundations of the Trust
The primary aim of the RMTGB is to help children and young people with a masonic connection to overcome the barriers of poverty and to support their education when their family has suffered distress resulting in financial hardship.
The origins of the RMTGB go back as far as 1788 when Chevalier Ruspini established a school for the daughters of deceased and distressed Freemasons. A scheme for clothing and educating the sons of indigent Freemasons was introduced 10 years later in 1798. In 1982, the separate girls’ and boys’ charities were merged together into the Trust to create a single entity.
Sarah’s son Blaze is the grandson of a Freemason, and his father left home when he was a small baby. Last year he was awarded a full scholarship by a prestigious performing arts school. While this was an amazing feat for Blaze to accomplish, his mother, who suffers from ill health and is unable to work, was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to afford the additional costs, including his daily travel and school uniform.
The RMTGB therefore provided the extra support needed to cover these costs as well as an additional maintenance allowance. This allowance can pay for things such as school trips, extra lessons, sports equipment, travel costs and telephone and internet charges – all of which will help to benefit and improve the child’s or children’s daily lives.
BLAZE AND THE FREEMASONS
Sarah first heard about the Trust through her father, and was thrilled when she found out that the RMTGB was willing to help support Blaze through secondary school. ‘It was very touching to me that my father wanted Blaze to benefit from the Freemasons because I know that it is something that has always been an important part of his life. I wouldn’t have known about this charitable side of the Freemasons if my dad hadn’t told me about it and it has made our relationship as father and daughter closer. The support and generosity of the Freemasons and the RMTGB has really brought us together as a family because we both have the same goal – wanting the very best for Blaze. I didn’t want him to miss out because of our circumstances.’
Sarah and Humphrey are extremely proud of Blaze and it is not hard to understand why. Blaze’s raw talent and passion for performing saw him winning his first West End role in 2009, initially playing a member of Fagin’s gang and then the Artful Dodger in Oliver! at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. Earlier this year he featured in a short film called The Adopted Child, which is to be shown at Cannes Film Festival and he also performed alongside boy band The Wanted and singer Leona Lewis at the launch of Kinect – Microsoft’s motion-sensing game controller – at the Natural History Museum.
REAL RISING STAR
Blaze is currently one of the stars of the West End show Thriller Live touring the UK, playing the young Michael Jackson. With his talent attracting attention, Blaze was recently asked to partake in a short interview on a Dublin radio station and perform two Michael Jackson songs. As Sarah and Humphrey proudly replay a recording of the radio show, it is clear that Blaze is a complete natural, answering questions with ease, cracking jokes and singing beautifully. Blaze’s real interest is in dance, although his acting and singing skills make him perfect for musical theatre. Humphrey smiles as he listens to the interview and describes him as a ‘real rising star’.
Humphrey was initiated into the St Botolph’s Lodge, No. 2020, in 1984, and became Master in 1991. He was also Master in Honor Deo Lodge, No. 3562, in London in 1999, Master in Temple Manor Lodge, No. 8397, in Bromley in 2001 and 2003, and Master in John Carpenter Lodge, No. 1997, in London in 2005. He is additionally an Almoner in a number of lodges and chapters and is a visiting brother in London.
Humphrey had a serious stroke on 10 October 2008 and had to relearn walking, talking, speaking, reading and writing. However, he has been so determined to regain all of these skills that if he hadn’t mentioned the stroke, it would be hard to spot. His speech is full of the easy banter and wit that reveals his background as an export manager, salesman and businessman. When he was nominated to be a Case Almoner by the local lodge just over a year ago, because Sarah and Blaze lived relatively near to him, he jumped at the chance.
POSITIVE EFFECTS ALL ROUND
Elaborating on his decision to become a Case Almoner, Humphrey explains, ‘My work used to involve interacting with people all day and was a very sociable, lively and self-motivated sort of profession. I have a great deal of energy and am always out and about with the other charitable work I do for the Freemasons, but there was something about being personally involved with a family and being able to liaise between Sarah and the RMTGB that really appealed to me. I enjoy seeing first-hand the positive effects and benefits of this kind of Freemasons’ charitable support.’
Sarah is feeling anxious about the prospect of being a single mother in Blaze’s teenage years. She is very grateful for what she sees as the steadying influence of Humphrey and the RMTGB. ‘Just knowing that there are people who care about what he does and the way he responds to his opportunities is very important, rather than it just being me who is telling him what to do. This past year has far exceeded my expectations and it has been such a help to me to have Humphrey to talk to about Blaze’s progress. Humphrey has had a lot of life experience and met so many people and seen so many situations that his opinion and support is very valuable. I feel it is like having a second father.’
|What does a Case Almoner do?
The role of Case Almoner is particularly sensitive and it is important that they are both patient and good listeners. By the very nature of the RMTGB’s work, family circumstances will often be distressing and difficult and there may have been a recent bereavement, marriage break-up or illness that the family is coming to terms with. The Almoner’s relationship with the family will last until the child finishes their education or until their circumstances improve.
The Almoner acts as a link between the RMTGB and the family. They will not only help the family complete the necessary forms and assist the RMTGB in making the right decisions regarding how to best support each child but will also highlight proposed changes to the educational circumstances that might affect their eligibility for support or the level at which support should be provided.
Each year there is a Statement of Financial Position form sent directly to the family. One of the Almoner’s duties will be to visit the family to collect the form and to check that it has been completed correctly and to forward it to the RMTGB. This is vital to make sure that the RMTGB can calculate what support, if any, the family is eligible for during the next academic year and ensures the children or child receive the correct level of support to suit their needs. The Almoners will also regularly communicate with the RMTGB about beneficiaries’ academic or personal achievements and other good news stories.
In recent years, the RMTGB has held its AGM in various Provinces away from London. As a result, an increasing number of Freemasons and members of the public have been able to hear about the life-changing charitable support that the RMTGB is able to provide.
This year’s meeting was held at the Langstone Cliff Hotel in Dawlish under the chairmanship of Michael Penny, Provincial Grand Master for Devonshire. The RMTGB’s President and Chief Executive, together with members of Council and staff, explained the work of the charity to over 200 guests, including the Lord Lieutenant of Devon and the Lord Mayor of Exeter.
The presentations highlighted how the RMTGB’s annual expenditure, which this year amounted to over £9 million, makes a positive and lasting difference to more than 1,800 children and grandchildren of masonic families, all of whom have suffered a distress such as the death of a parent or have been adversely affected by unemployment or redundancy.
Talking about Talent
The RMTGB’s TalentAid scheme, which this year celebrates a decade of providing support to those who are exceptionally gifted in music, sport and the performing arts, was also highlighted at the meeting.
During an interlude in proceedings, Clio Williams, a former beneficiary of the scheme, delivered an operatic performance to demonstrate the very high level of ability that TalentAid encourages and supports.
The RMTGB’s ongoing support for those with no connection to the Craft was also promoted at the meeting, including the Choral Bursary and Stepping Stones schemes, as well as the in-kind support provided to the separate charity Lifelites. This charitable organisation supplies valuable entertainment and educational technology to children’s hospices.
The evening, held at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham, marked the conclusion of a five-year Festival Appeal that included many successful initiatives – from a Provincial lottery, which raised £36,500, to the sale of a range of masonic-themed merchandise.
‘The brethren of Worcestershire, and their wives and partners, have dug so deeply and, through their tremendous support, made a real difference to the lives of so many children,’ said RMTGB president Mike Woodcock.
Those present at the event included the Provincial Grand Master for Worcestershire, Richard Goddard, and the Deputy Grand Master, Jonathan Spence. Guests were treated to a range of musical entertainment before the result was announced.
Children missing out as masonic families struggle to cope with the prolonged economic downturn
The effects of the recession are still being felt by many masonic families. Enclosed with this edition of Freemasonry Today is the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB) 2010-2011 Annual Review. The document reveals that the RMTGB accepted 30 percent more new cases in 2010 compared with 2009. In total, 1,820 children and young people received support in 2010, and the trend shows no sign of reversing.
Not surprisingly, the number of financial distress cases has risen as the economy struggles to recover from the recent global financial turbulence. Children can do little to escape the effects of monetary hardship and often, despite the best efforts of their parents, miss out on opportunities that in previous years had been taken for granted – frequently with life-changing consequences.
The general rise in the cost of living, government cuts to local services such as libraries, school travel and the education maintenance allowance, coupled with a significant increase in tuition fees, mean that the cost of raising children is continuing to increase rapidly.
The RMTGB exists to ensure that financial hardship does not impact on the general welfare or education of children from masonic families. RMTGB chief executive Les Hutchinson is keen to stress that support is available for children and young people who may be affected. ‘It is a tragedy that it is so often the children who suffer most because of financial situations completely beyond their control,’ he says. ‘Even temporary financial difficulty lasting a few months can have life-changing consequences for children.’
READY AND WILLING TO HELP
Despite the increase in cases, and the higher costs of living, Hutchinson stresses that the generosity of Freemasons means that the RMTGB is in a strong position to assist those children and young people who most need help. ‘I would urge anyone struggling to support their children financially during this time to contact the RMTGB or their lodge almoner.’
Les Hutchinson, chief executive of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB), has been invested as president of the Old Masonians Association (OMA)
The OMA, which currently has about 1,000 members, keeps alive the memory of the Royal Masonic School for Boys, while encouraging an interest in the work of the RMTGB, its successor. It was founded in 1886 and, 125 years later, Hutchinson is proud to continue to strengthen the links between the modern charity and its ‘Old Boys’.
TalentAid, a scheme launched by the RMTGB to support the ambitions of talented young people, celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. The scheme was established in 2001 in response to a growing awareness that some families were making huge financial sacrifices to support their children’s ambitions to develop a career in sport or the performing arts.
RMTGB Chief Executive Les Hutchinson said: ‘Over the past decade we have awarded around £3 million in TalentAid grants to over 250 young people whose talent has been so exceptional that it represents their best career prospect.’
Cyclist Luke Gray has been supported since 2007. He is a prime example of the scheme’s ongoing success, having developed his sporting abilities into a high-achieving career. Currently 19 years old, he is ranked third in the world for his age in cyclo-cross, and hopes to compete in the 2016 Olympics.
For help and advice, download an information sheet and application form at www.rmtgb.org
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.’
Matthew Scanlan reports on a pilot scheme
The comedian Bob Hope once quipped, ‘If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.’ And as every Freemason knows, Freemasonry places great emphasis on a generous heart and charitable giving, even though not every member is aware of the charitable help that is available to both himself and his loved ones. Therefore, in the wake of a recent pilot scheme which was specifically launched to help raise awareness of the work of the masonic charities, Freemasonry Today decided to speak with those involved to see how the initiative went.
In September 2009 the four main masonic charities – the Freemasons’ Grand Charity, the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution and the Masonic Samaritan Fund – launched a joint pilot scheme called Freemasonry Cares to try and better inform members about their work.
For seven months the provinces of Bristol, Cambridgeshire, Durham and Yorkshire West Riding piloted the scheme, which focused on informing members and their dependents, as well as lapsed members (those who may have fallen on hard times or who have become too infirm to attend meetings), about the wide range of charitable help and support that they are eligible to apply for in times of need. And in all instances the message was simple: if you have a masonic connection and you are experiencing financial or healthcare problems, contact Freemasonry Cares.
In the words of Eric Heaviside, the Provincial Grand Master of Durham, ‘One of the most surprising things we discovered with Freemasonry Cares was just how many brethren and their families were totally unaware of the potential guidance and assistance available to them. Many simply go to their lodge and afterwards put away their regalia, and that’s it. And many in the province didn’t realise what they were entitled to; for some it never occurs to them to even seek advice in this regard.’
To tackle this shortfall in knowledge, a specially produced booklet was distributed throughout the four pilot provinces to members and widows of deceased masons. The booklets addressed commonly posed questions relating to both eligibility and the type of help available; help that typically ranges from purely financial related issues such as funeral costs or education support, to healthcare and family support, including hospital treatment, respite care and child maintenance. And in every province the booklets seem to have proved an unqualified success.
A key initiative of the scheme, information about which was also featured in the booklets, was the setting up of a confidential helpline number and this also appears to have won universal approval. For as Eric Heaviside once again explained, ‘One of the problems we frequently encounter is that a lot of our people are very proud people and they don’t want to call on charities. But we have tried to explain that it’s Anyone who wishes to contact Freemasonry Cares should ring the confidential helpline number: 0800 035 6090 more of an entitlement and not charity as such, and that appears to have helped somewhat’.
John Clayton, the Provincial Grand Master of Yorkshire West Riding, also noted that because calls made to the helpline number are dealt with in strict confidence, a greater number of masons have been encouraged to come forward and enquire about possible help, far more than was the case in the past.
He also pointed out that in the case of Yorkshire West Riding where there were already wellestablished charities such as Provincial Grand Master’s Fund, which in 2009-10 donated £425,662 principally to non-masonic charities, they have noticed an upturn in charitable applications by as much as sixty percent since the launch of the Freemasonry Cares scheme in the autumn of 2009. Therefore it was generally agreed that even in provinces such as this, the new initiative can not only better inform masons and their dependents about the good work of the charities, but it can also provide a boon for public relations.
The conclusion of the Provincial Grand Master of Cambridgeshire, Rodney Wolverson: ‘the initiative was very good, well presented and well thought out, and overall it was received very well, but most importantly, it also shows that Freemasonry really does care’.
This optimism is also borne out by the facts. For during the pilot year the number of grants awarded in the four test-case provinces saw an increase of thirty-six percent on the previous year, compared to a thirteen percent average increase across the rest of the country. Consequently, the initiative is now being rolled out nationally and over the next eighteen months provinces across England and Wales will be invited to introduce Freemasonry Cares in the hope that the pilot success can be repeated across rest of the country.
In addition, a separate scheme will provide support towards the accommodation costs of students and graduates at a time when other financial assistance is very limited. The Ruspini and Burwood House Trusts will provide accommodation grants of up to £3,000 to the children or grandchildren of Freemasons.
To be eligible for support, applicants need to be either postgraduates studying for a qualification that is highly beneficial for their careers, graduates undertaking unpaid work experience or students who need to undertake research away from their usual place of residence. This new scheme will operate alongside Ruspini House, the Trust’s existing student accommodation facility in central London which enables young people to take advantage of learning, training and work opportunities in the capital.
With your support, the RMTGB will continue to help children who are most in need. For more information on the Trust or either of these schemes, including how to apply, please visit www.rmtgb.org.
Donations have recently been received from the Provinces of Hampshire and Isle of Wight, Surrey, Shropshire and the Mark Province of Cumberland and Westmorland. Lodges and individuals have also given generously.
Some have even participated in fundraising events such as marathons, mountain runs, and, for Ivor Macklin from Kent, a freezing February swim around Boscombe Pier. The captains of Chobham Golf Club have also run a whole year of fundraising activities for the charity.
As well as donating and raising money, many Freemasons volunteer at the hospices to help maintain the Lifelites equipment and to ensure that care staff are trained to use it. They also organise additional fundraising for their local Lifelites project, enabling the charity’s support to continue.
Lifelites chief executive, Simone Enefer- Doy, said: ‘The support from Freemasons is very important to us and helps Lifelites make a world of difference to the lives of children in hospices. Our volunteers are local Freemasons and are a shining example of the good work that masons do for local communities around the country.’
Lifelites (Charity No. 1115655) is a separate but subsidiary charity of the RMTGB. If you would like to donate to, or help support your local Lifelites project, please call 0207 440 4200 or visit www.lifelites.org for more information.