Wayne Ingram: Freemason and serial fundraiser

Monday, 12 December 2016

A better person

Whether it’s organising a football match in a war zone or catching fish by hand in a life raft, Wayne Ingram is a serial fundraiser. Imogen Beecroft discovers why joining Freemasonry was the logical step

Despite having raised more than £100,000 to give one boy life-changing facial surgery, £67,000 to build an orphanage in Africa, and £12,000 for Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), Wayne Ingram doesn’t spend much time considering his role in improving the quality of people’s lives. ‘I don’t really think about my involvement,’ he says.

‘I’m just glad it happened.’

While Wayne describes himself as ‘lucky’, ‘fortunate’ and ‘a better person’ to have been able to raise these funds, it’s hard to believe there are many who could have achieved what he has.

Masonic values

Wayne’s commitment and compassion sit well with his membership of the Craft.

His father a mason, Wayne joined All Souls Lodge, No. 170, based in Dorset, in 2007. ‘When they asked if I wanted to join I said yes – I don’t think people realise quite how much Freemasons do for charity. At first, I just enjoyed going to the events and didn’t want to seek progression. But it’s such an amazing lodge: most of them are ex-servicemen and there’s a great family atmosphere.’

Worshipful Master Grant Baker from Portland-based United Service Lodge – which Wayne joined in 2014 following four years working abroad – is amazed by Wayne’s fundraising efforts. ‘He’s a one-man collection band, a phenomenon. He is a great example of a mason displaying true masonic behaviour in every possible way. He doesn’t need to put the suit on: it’s in the way he lives his life. Concerning himself with other people’s welfare is just in his personality.’

Wayne speaks fondly of the support he’s received from the masonic community. ‘They’ve never put any pressure on me, but last year I decided I’d like to progress so have started to move up the ladder. I’ve made some amazing friends and I think it’s good for the whole family. It’s such a lovely collection of people – yes, they think I’m mad occasionally, but are extremely supportive of my fundraising.’

‘He doesn’t need to put the suit on: it’s in the way he lives his life. Concerning himself with other people’s welfare is just in his personality.’ Grant Baker

Plea for help

Wayne’s fundraising fervour began after a chance meeting with a man in Bosnia. It was an unusual encounter, but something Wayne believes ‘happened for a reason’. He was working in reconnaissance in the army when he heard about Stefan Savic, a boy of four born with a facial cleft – a block of bone in the centre of his face. At the time, Wayne was chasing the chief of police out of a police station, as the chief tried to avoid a scheduled meeting. Wayne leapt over a counter to reach him, tripped, and ended up in a ball of dust on the floor. ‘Looking down at me was Milos, Stefan’s father, and we just started laughing.’

When the two began talking, Milos showed some pictures of Stefan, which had a profound effect on Wayne. ‘You never want to see any child disfigured, injured or hurt,’ he says. Stefan’s family had approached a hospital in Paris to help him, but the fees for the operation were over €30,000 (about £27,000 in today’s money). With Milos earning just €180 (£160) per month, he knew this wasn’t an option and asked Wayne for assistance. Wayne couldn’t say no: ‘I just thought: I’m going to do this.’

Initially, Wayne admits, he was naive in his expectations. ‘I thought he could just have an operation and that’d be it.

I didn’t think that 13 years later I’d still be raising funds for him. I wrote to lots of celebrities, expecting the money to come flooding in. And it didn’t.’

Typical to Wayne’s determined character, it was a rejection letter from a celebrity, apologising for not being able to help, that spurred him on. Still stationed in Bosnia, Wayne organised a football match between the British Army and local nationals, uniting previously warring Serbs, Muslims and Croats on one team – no mean feat – to raise more than €6,000 (£5,000).

Wayne continued fundraising in camp and when he returned home began holding barbecues and shaking his collection bucket in supermarkets. ‘There have been many, many sleepless nights when the money just wasn’t coming in. I put my motorbike up for sale at one point.’

Wayne was also searching for a surgeon to help with Stefan’s surgery and managed to enlist the help of David Dunaway. Wayne credits Dunaway – who has performed all Stefan’s operations pro bono – with changing Stefan’s life. ‘I’m the lucky one to have met Stefan, contacted David, and asked people to donate. But it’s the magic of David’s skill that has changed Stefan’s life,’ he says.

Opening the door

Stefan’s first operation in 2003 was a success, but it was the start of a very long road for the boy, who, Wayne says, takes it all in his stride. ‘We have a fantastic relationship, and keep in touch via social media. He’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. He just gets on with it. He’s never complained: for his last operation he had a morphine syringe for when the pain was too much and pressed it once. The nurses couldn’t believe it.’

Over the next 13 years, Stefan has needed a series of lengthy operations, all of which were performed by Dunaway with funds raised by Wayne. During this time, Wayne saw what he could achieve when he set his mind to it, which opened the door to other fundraising efforts.

When working in Nouadhibou, Africa, in 2012 Wayne was asked to do a health and safety audit on an orphanage. ‘The first thing I saw was a doll, stuck to the wall, to show the children what a toy looked like. There were 40 children sleeping on the floor, in a room with no lights, open sewage and rats running around. They had nothing at all.’

True to form, Wayne set about raising money for the children, intending to cycle 900km across the African countryside. When this was thwarted because of a kidnap threat, he altered the challenge to have expats and locals cycle in a gym for 24 hours under the banner, ‘Cross a Mile n’ Bring a Smile’, raising £67,000 to build a completely new orphanage.

Once settled back home in Portland, Wayne started working as a paramedic. In 2015, he decided to raise money for GOSH, where Stefan’s operations were performed. ‘As a nation we are always giving to various charities – so I had to do something completely different to encourage people to donate.’

Different it certainly was: Wayne spent seven days and nights in a 1.3m2 life raft 300m off the Dorset coast. Initially, he planned to take four days’ worth of food and water, but when his wife suggested this sounded easy he limited it to 24 hours’ food and water. He completed the challenge, using a reverse-osmosis pump for clean water and catching fish with his hands for food. He raised £12,727 for the GOSH Family Centre, which enables parents to stay with their children while they are in hospital.

On 18 October 2016, Dunaway performed Stefan’s final operation. It went smoothly, and Stefan is now heading home so that he can go back to school. As for Wayne, what’s next? ‘Work-wise, I’d like to move into practising offshore medicine on oil rigs,’ he says. ‘In terms of fundraising, I’m up for anything. If anyone needs help, I’ll help.’

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