Back to life
When illness or financial problems strike, pride can inhibit some masons from asking for support. Tabby Kinder finds out how Freemasonry Cares is ensuring masons and their dependants are helped quickly, simply and in confidence
With a flurry of winter coats and woollen gloves, David Blunt and his wife wrap up against the chilly January day. David positions himself onto a shiny electric scooter – a vehicle that, for him, makes leaving the house possible. The couple are beginning the trip to their nearby hospital in Rugby for a routine check-up.
It’s a journey they have made a couple of times a month since an illness left David with severe disabilities almost five years ago.
For David, acknowledging that he needed support in the form of the scooter was a challenge that took a while to overcome. ‘When I first came out of hospital I just didn’t admit my disabilities,’ he says. ‘I struggled for months before I admitted defeat and asked for some help.’ According to Warwickshire Assistant Provincial Grand Master Trevor Sturt, David’s situation is by no means unique: ‘His case is a classic example and one that was likely to have slipped through the net had Freemasonry Cares not existed.’
Freemasonry Cares is a joint initiative between the four national masonic charities – The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB), the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) and the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF) – to provide charitable support, financial and otherwise, to masons and their families.
While this support has always been available, a need was recognised at the heart of the organisation to make assistance more accessible, both to those who aren’t sure if they are eligible for help, and to those who are embarrassed to even ask for it. So far, it’s proving a huge success in getting people like David vitally important support.
David’s old scooter, gifted to him several years ago by the son of an old friend, urgently needed replacing, and after speaking to his lodge Almoner in the autumn of 2013, he was directed to the Freemasonry Cares hotline. ‘The MSF was then able to pick up his case, assess his needs and grant him the new mobile scooter he’s using today,’ Trevor says.
In the course of just a few months, the MSF then went on to replace David’s bath with an accessible shower unit, and also granted his wife an adjustable chair, easing the problems she has with her own mobility. ‘Accepting help through Freemasonry Cares was a psychological step for me, as well as a financial and physical one,’ says David. ‘My wife’s quality of life has been greatly improved by the support, particularly for her sanity now I am able to get out of the house. The scooter gives me the freedom to go out, get to appointments and meet people almost every day of the week.’
‘People can just call one number... It’s the simple approach that encourages people to understand there’s no harm in asking for help.’ Jess Grant
David’s story highlights the importance of not just communicating the support available to masons but also streamlining how enquiries are handled by the masonic charities. ‘The process is a lot more simple than it used to be,’ says Jess Grant, one of the core team of just three people responsible for planning and administering the initiative. ‘Now, people aren’t put off by wondering what charity is right for them or if they would even qualify, because they can just call one number and have instant access to everything on offer. It’s the simple approach that encourages people to understand there’s no harm in asking for help.’
Jess attributes the success of Freemasonry Cares so far to the confidential nature of the scheme that allows masons, their family members and widows to ask for support anonymously if they so choose – and many do. ‘It’s a voice on the end of the phone rather than a familiar person who they might have known for thirty years,’ says Jess. ‘We wanted to remove any obstacle that might stop someone from making that initial approach.’
For Jess, Freemasonry Cares is definitely working:
‘We get calls from people who have been gearing themselves up for some time to phone, especially in the cases of widows who may feel they’re doing their late husband a disservice by admitting to not being able to cope. But the calls are coming in greater numbers and the charities are supporting more people than ever.’
The enquiry level in David’s Province of Warwickshire is now running at around fifteen calls per month – three times higher than the number of calls made to the charities in the previous year. ‘We’ve had eighty-one enquiries processed in this Province this year, which is a ten-fold increase in assistance given by the charities to our members, already proving that Freemasonry Cares is encouraging the people who need help to ask for it,’ says Trevor.
Paul, a mason in Surrey (whose name has been changed by request), admits straightaway that he would not have asked for support unless he was able to do so privately. ‘When you have cancer it takes over your whole life and everyone you meet just wants to talk about it,’ he says. ‘The lodge is one of the few places I can go where nobody really knows my situation; it’s a relief.’
Easing the strain
Paul first discovered he had metastasized bowel cancer four years ago, adding a huge burden to his family responsibilities of being a single father to his seven-year-old daughter and the sole carer of his elderly mother.
‘It was alright at first, the government provided some basic support and the NHS have been able to manage my cancer,’ he says. ‘It’s good in the most important way, because I’m still alive, but ongoing treatment has really stretched me financially as I’m not able to work and my savings have completely disappeared.’
Just weeks after being encouraged by his lodge Almoner to put in a phone call to Freemasonry Cares, the Grand Charity was able to give Paul a £5,000 lump sum towards his general living costs. ‘I was resistant at first but the application process was simple. Julia Young from the RMTGB welfare team came round and we spoke for over an hour. I had been living on the edge of what I could afford every month, but this grant means I have a buffer so I can worry a little less about my outgoings and a little more about myself and my family.’
The RMTGB was able to provide Paul with a termly payment of £600 to pay for music lessons, clothes, school trips and holidays for his young daughter. ‘I was amazed and so grateful, it was more than I ever expected to receive, and being able to pay for my daughter’s Christmas presents without worrying was such a relief,’ says Paul. ‘Julia provided a friendly face without being someone I would need to see every day and that was important to me – we’re a bit resistant, us blokes! But as soon as I’d made the first contact, the whole thing became a little less daunting.’
‘My advice to someone reading this would be to just pick up the phone,’ says Jess, explaining that there is no such thing as an insignificant grant. ‘Somebody may call us up and need major heart surgery that costs £50,000, whereas someone else may call and say they need a mobility aid to get down the driveway. Both of these things can have a huge impact on someone’s quality of life, and we always strive to provide individual support in a reassuring and confidential manner.’
Surrey rank and file
Bob Jenkinson, Provincial Grand Almoner for Surrey, is a huge advocate of the Freemasonry Cares initiative and wants more people to receive the help they need. ‘We grabbed the opportunity to offer Freemasonry Cares to the brethren in Surrey because we recognised the same problems as The Freemasons’ Grand Charity – that the rank and file mason often doesn’t have a clue what any of the charities are about and even less idea of how to get support from them,’ he says.
Since adopting Freemasonry Cares and promoting it in meetings and literature across the Province, Surrey has seen the number of enquiries made to the charities increase by around twenty per cent on the previous year. ‘We’ve had about fifty enquiries to the Freemasonry Cares hotline this quarter, and I’m personally getting twice as many calls from people asking me to initiate contact for them, so the push has really generated an understanding of what the masonic charities are there to do,’ says Bob. Masons in Surrey have received almost £1 million in grants since the launch of the initiative in the area a year ago – up £160,000 on the previous year.