Four-year-old Isobel Walker has a burning, uncontrollable hunger that will always be with her
It is the most noticeable symptom of a rare condition called Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS).
As a result, her parents have to enforce a strict diet that will never end. Even worse, people with PWS can only consume 60 per cent of the calories that someone without the condition would eat, as their digestion works differently.
Isobel is one of 2,000 people in the country with PWS. Other symptoms include low muscle tone, poor temperature regulation, a risk of obesity and moderate learning difficulties.
It is 60 years since PWS was discovered, and the Masonic Charitable Foundation is marking the event with a grant of £10,000 to the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association UK. The donation will help to fund a support worker for families with a PWS child in the south of England.
Across Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Somalia more than 20 million people are on the brink of starvation
The Masonic Charitable Foundation has responded to an urgent appeal for support with an emergency grant of £100,000 to aid agency Plan International UK.
The grant will help Plan International UK, part of the Disasters Emergency Committee, to support vulnerable children and their families by distributing food packages and hygiene and water-purification kits; providing school meals to ensure children can resume their education; and helping to protect children from violence and abuse.
Always in good form
With Visiting Volunteers helping Freemasons and families in need complete the crucial paperwork required to access grants, Steven Short discovers that masonic support comes in many guises
Away to meet Freemason Robert James at his home in Bridgend, South Wales, to do some paperwork. Arwyn is a Visiting Volunteer, a recently introduced role with a remit to help those seeking assistance from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) to fill in the application forms correctly.
‘The forms aren’t complicated once you get to know them,’ says Arwyn, who is a member of Dewi Sant Lodge, No. 9067. ‘But it’s a bit like when you get a tax return: you look at the paperwork and you think, “Oh crikey, I’ll have a look a bit later,” then a couple of weeks pass, you realise you haven’t done it, so you have a go and send the form off… then you realise you haven’t filled in all the right sections.’
Every year the MCF supports hundreds of members of the masonic community. The support can come in many different forms, from help with essential living costs to grants following redundancy or bereavement. Grants can also be allocated for education or training for children and young people, for medical treatment or counselling, or even for minor home improvements.
The first step for anyone applying for financial assistance from the MCF is to fill out the relevant paperwork – something that, historically, wasn’t entirely straightforward.
In the past, whenever a Freemason or their dependant wished to apply for a grant, it was a requirement that they be visited by someone who would help them complete the relevant paperwork. This person would also need to ensure that all necessary supporting evidence was in place, that Ts were crossed and Is were dotted.
This task often fell to the local lodge almoner and it would come on top of existing pastoral care responsibilities – which might include attending funerals in a lodge’s name, visiting widows and brethren who no longer attended their lodge, and making hospital visits. Furthermore, the almoners would have no formal training or receive any support in this additional administrative work.
This increased workload combined with a lack of specialist knowledge meant the application forms submitted could sometimes contain errors. As a result, the system was revised in 2014 and a programme of Visiting Volunteers trialled across seven Provinces.
The role of the Visiting Volunteer is, as the name suggests, to visit the Freemasons and their families who apply for grants, helping them to correctly complete application forms, and to collect and collate all the information necessary for a request to be considered. The volunteers also have to prepare an objective, detailed report to support the application.
Unlike the overworked almoners – who are now able to dedicate their time to their community-focused duties – Visiting Volunteers are thoroughly trained in the application process.
George Royle, South Wales Provincial Grand Almoner, helped to develop this new model and recruited the Visiting Volunteers who now help with applications in his Province. ‘We have an initial two-day residential training programme,’ he says, ‘which is followed by regular refresher training.’
‘The scheme means that those in need have their applications dealt with more efficiently… It’s a great step forward’ George Royle
IN THE KNOW
The intensive training means that the Visiting Volunteers (also known as Petition Application Officers in the Province of South Wales) are up to speed on how forms need to be completed and aware of all the documentation that is required to support an application.
‘We learnt about things such as state benefits,’ says Arwyn, ‘so that we can highlight to applicants what benefits they might be entitled to. We also looked at confidentiality, data protection and safeguarding issues.’
Once a form has been completed and all the documentation collated, the Visiting Volunteer sends the application straight to London. Previously almoners submitted everything to their Provincial Grand Almoner. ‘I would check everything,’ says George, ‘and if something was missing, I would have to go back to the almoners, who would have to go back to the applicants. I would then countersign an application and send it off. Now all I get is an email copy for reference, and much less paperwork in the office.’
To date, Arwyn has worked with around 18 brethren and describes the experience of helping others as hugely satisfying. Someone he has assisted recently is Robert James, who applied for a grant for medical assistance with a heart condition. ‘I was on the NHS waiting list for an operation,’ says Robert. ‘The list just seemed to be getting longer. Some fellow Freemasons said I might be eligible for help from the MCF to get seen privately.’
As with every request he is asked to oversee, Arwyn’s involvement with Robert began with a phone call. ‘Calling someone and introducing yourself is a great way to start, as you can put applicants at ease and they have the name and number of a real person who can help them.’ The initial call also gives the Visiting Volunteer the opportunity to tell the applicant what to expect from a visit and what documentation they will need to gather ahead of it.
‘Within a couple of days of initially applying, I had spoken to Arwyn on the phone and arranged a time for him to come around. It was really quick and easy,’ says Robert.
George agrees that the new system has streamlined the application process considerably. ‘The scheme means that those in need have their applications dealt with more speedily and efficiently. I’ve known decisions about grants being made in a fortnight,’ he says. ‘It’s a great step forward.’
‘The first time Arwyn visited we discussed my situation in a bit more detail and looked at what I might be eligible for,’ says Robert.
The pair also discussed confidentiality issues – Visiting Volunteers are bound by the codes and policies of the MCF as well as by data protection laws. ‘People are sharing personal and sensitive information,’ says Arwyn, ‘they need to feel you can be trusted.’
It is also felt that divulging delicate information to a properly trained, objective third party is easier than sharing it with a local almoner, who the applicant may know well and see regularly at lodge.
A visit from a volunteer can last anything from 30 minutes to three hours, depending on what needs to be done, and the number of visits required varies. The second time Arwyn visited Robert at home, they completed the application form together and checked that all supporting documentation was in order.
‘The experience was marvellous,’ says Robert. ‘Within three weeks of Arwyn sending off the forms I was in having my operation. My heart is fantastic now. I feel like a new man.’
What does it take to be a Visiting Volunteer?
To recruit the much-needed Visiting Volunteers in South Wales, Provincial Grand Almoner George Royle placed an advert on the Freemasons’ website. ‘I interviewed 21 people,’ he says, ‘and selected 12.’ George describes his team as ‘extremely dedicated officers who are all willing to go the extra mile’.
Visiting Volunteer Arwyn Reynolds says he applied because the role requires many of the skills he honed in his professional life.
‘I had a keen sense of confidentiality because of my work in HR and as a manager,’ he says, ‘and I know the importance of communication skills and being able to engage with people.’
Other desirable attributes for being a Visiting Volunteer are an ability to remain objective and a good level of literacy, numeracy and IT skills. For Arwyn, the role also appealed because it came at a time when he was winding down his professional life but wanted to continue to use his time in a positive, useful way.
Head of Charity Grants Katrina Baker explains how the Masonic Charitable Foundation is looking to do more than simply award funds to eligible charities
As the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) enters its second year of operation, we have already established ourselves as one of the largest grant-making charities in the country.
As well as £15 million awarded to individual Freemasons and their families in the past year, we have already given over £4.5 million to more than 425 charities. Over the next few months, hundreds more will benefit from our Charity Grants programme and this year, 300 further charitable causes will benefit from an additional £3 million through our Community Awards - Tercentenary Fund.
Since the formation of the MCF, we have witnessed first-hand the growing strain faced by charities due to funding cuts and increased demand for their services. Crucially, many of them simply do not have the necessary time or resources to cope and, as a consequence, are unable to source the income, training and volunteers they require. With this in mind, we have started to explore other ways of supporting the charities we fund – ways that go beyond providing money alone.
A VALUABLE RESOURCE
The MCF has the ability to be more than just a grant maker. We have a number of valuable resources at our disposal – experience and expertise, a substantial community of Freemasons, a central geographical location, a vast number of significant relationships within the charitable sector and, of course, an ability to provide funding in a way that will have the biggest impact.
Using the knowledge we have built up over 228 years, we want to begin by assisting charities to become as efficient and effective as possible. We will provide advice and support, and over time we plan to establish a pool of expertise from within the masonic community that charities can utilise.
Through our experience and continued work with hundreds of charities, we aim to develop learning events for the benefit of the whole sector. Held in partnership with other leading charitable organisations, these events will be used to bring together specific knowledge and further education across the field. Two events are already being discussed with other charities and the Association of Charitable Foundations, and we hope to hold one later this year.
Making the most of our central location within Freemasons’ Hall, we also plan to hold regular networking events where the charities that we support get a chance to meet us, each other and other grant makers to forge stronger relationships across the sector.
Finally, we hope that in the future we will be able to work with organisations that support the entire charitable sector, such as independent think tanks, who use their practical insights, research and knowledge to highlight key issues in the field.
'We aspire to link charities in need of volunteers or experts with individual Freemasons, lodges and Provinces who can support them in their work’
The charities we fund have told us that there is an increasing need for this kind of support and, indeed, many of our peers in the grant-making world are already providing services beyond grants. There is one thing, though, that sets us apart from other organisations in the sector, and that is the backing of an active masonic community committed to giving its time and money to worthwhile causes.
At present, we work to ensure that Freemasons and their families are involved in our grant-making processes, from asking for feedback on local projects we assist to facilitating grant presentations. However, we aspire to link charities in need of volunteers or experts with individual Freemasons, lodges and Provinces who can support them in their work.
It is our hope that Freemasons across the country will be willing and eager to contribute their time, expertise or communication networks to benefit the charitable projects we are funding in their local area.
If we work together, we can not only start to build stronger relationships between the charities supported by the MCF and the masonic community that funds their work, but we can also ultimately ensure that those organisations are better placed to achieve their aims and make a difference to the most vulnerable people in our society.
Charles Yelland, APGM of the Province of Devonshire, presented a cheque for £2,002 on behalf of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) to Barnstaple’s North Devon Hospice
The Province has donated nearly £50,000 to the hospice since 1984, through individual donations from Devonshire’s 138 lodges and grants from the MCF and its predecessor charities.
The hospice provides expert palliative and family-centred care for patients within the community, including day care, in-home care, and bereavement and carers’ support groups.
Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton attended a meeting of the Worcestershire Installed Masters’ Lodge, No. 6889, where a talk was given on delivering the 2020 strategy for Freemasonry
Sir David was present to support the launch of the Worcestershire 2022 Festival Appeal. Masonic Charitable Foundation President Richard Hone emphasised the significant contribution from local and lodge-organised events, along with regular charitable giving.
Jasmine Elcock, a finalist in 2016’s Britain’s Got Talent show, provided the evening’s entertainment, and the Provincial Grand Lodge of Worcestershire's PGM Robert Vaughan announced the Festival target was to raise £2,022,000.
An advisory service in the North West for people with Huntington’s disease and their families can continue to take new referrals thanks to a £30,000 grant from Lancashire Freemasons and the Masonic Charitable Foundation
The Huntington’s Disease Association Advisory Service is delivered by experts on the condition and tailored to the individual needs of those affected. The mission of this specialist service is to demystify the disease, dispel misinformation and provide advice as well as practical and emotional support.
Referrals to the North West service grew considerably over the past year, with an increase of 115 per cent in Manchester and Cheshire, and 57 per cent in Cumbria and Lancashire.
A Southampton charity, the Rose Road Association, has been given a major grant by Hampshire & Isle of Wight Freemasons to provide short breaks for severely disabled children and young people when their families are in crisis
The Rose Road Association is celebrating its 65th anniversary and by coincidence the grant from the Province and the Masonic Charitable Foundation totals £65,250. The funding will provide 150 short breaks over three years.
The short breaks give severely disabled children and young people the one-to-one care that they need, while allowing their families to spend dedicated time with their non-disabled children, or even just to get a good night’s sleep.
The MCF invests in the future of both the masonic community and wider society by funding research into a range of health conditions and disabilities
While it may be some time before the outcomes of these research grants are announced, there have been two recent and notable developments as a result of masonic funding.
In 2015, £100,000 was awarded to the University of East Anglia to fund research into prostate cancer. The research has resulted in the development of a new test that makes the vital distinction between aggressive and less harmful forms of prostate cancer. The breakthrough will help to avoid unnecessary and damaging treatment for some cancer patients.
There has also been success in developing a new mode of healthcare for people with cystic fibrosis thanks to a £500,000 grant to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust in 2016. The funded project used the latest technology to enable patients to monitor their condition at home and liaise with specialist health teams remotely, rather than visiting a hospital. The trial has been successful in limiting infection and there is potential for the method to be translated to other conditions.
The MCF Charity Grants programme will be redefined over the coming months, but medical research will remain one of the charity’s top priorities.
Find out more: For more details, visit www.mcf.org.uk/community
The Province of Leicestershire and Rutland has raised £30,000 for the MCF thanks to a sports memorabilia auction that included Sir Henry Cooper’s boxing glove
In March, Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons held a sports memorabilia auction at the Leicester Tigers rugby ground as part of their five-year Festival Appeal in support of the Masonic Charitable Foundation.
Hosted by former England cricketer Ed Giddins, the evening raised more than £30,000, with lots including a wheel from Nigel Mansell’s Formula 1 car, a football signed by Pelé and Chris Froome’s Tour de France yellow jersey.
The most coveted lot was a pair of Sir Henry Cooper’s boxing gloves, which he used in the 1969 European Heavyweight Title fight in Rome against Piero Tomasoni, who Cooper beat in five rounds. The gloves sold for £1,800 alongside Cooper’s autograph and newspaper clippings about the fight. Freemason Mark Pierpoint donated the gloves, which had been given to his father, Ray, many years ago by a member of Cooper’s team.
David Hagger, Provincial Grand Master, said: ‘We have started our Tercentenary celebrations in style with this wonderful charity event. I’m thrilled that we have raised so much for the Masonic Charitable Foundation.’
The Province is among the first to launch a Festival Appeal in support of the MCF, and hopes to raise £1.8 million over five years.