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.