As the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys celebrates its two hundred and twenty-fifth year, Chief Executive Les Hutchinson explains how the charity has evolved
How did you first hear about the RMTGB?
In the 1980s the face of masonic charitable support for children underwent a major change. Previously there had been two children’s charities – a girls’ charity and a boys’ charity – and they had come together to form the trust as we now know it. Having identified a need for additional skills within the new organisation, a letter was sent to every masonic Province asking: ‘Do any of your members have a son or daughter who is educated to A-level standard, capable of completing a degree and interested in a career in accountancy or management?’ My father was an active Freemason in Cheshire and North Wales and heard about the vacancies. I applied and joined the trust as a management trainee in January 1988.
What were your first impressions?
Until five years ago, the trust was based in offices opposite Freemasons’ Hall. When I first walked into the building, with its polished walnut panelling and open fireplaces, I felt like I had travelled back in time. It all seemed so old-fashioned, but the constant rattle of typewriters and adding machines suggested that the trust was a very active and focused organisation.
How did you progress from trainee?
I spent my first few years learning the ropes within the finance, petitions and fundraising departments.
At the end of my training I was drawn to petitions, as I enjoyed being at the heart of the charity, seeing first-hand the difference that our grants could make. A few years later I became a team leader, then worked my way through the ranks, taking on more responsibility as my career developed. All four masonic charities do a fantastic job, but my heart is with the trust. I was delighted to be appointed Chief Executive in 2008.
What major challenges does the RMTGB currently face?
Whether they have experienced the death or disability of a parent, or encountered a family break-up, all the children we help have experienced a significant event that has led to financial distress. It concerns me when I meet Freemasons or their families who hold deep-rooted misconceptions about our work. Often these views prevent them from coming forward in their hour of need or make them less likely to support our work. One of our biggest challenges is to ensure that people understand what we actually do.
‘We are currently helping around two thousand children. Last year we received the highest number of new applications since the trust was formed’
What are your main responsibilities?
In addition to the day-to-day management of the charity and reviewing applications for support, an important part of my role involves visiting lodges and provincial meetings. Festival appeals are a major source of income and under the current system, each Province usually supports each of the four charities once every forty years. I must ensure that we use this period of fundraising to maximum effect. Wherever I go I am always astonished and very grateful for the warmth and generosity shown towards the trust.
Has the type of support you give changed?
During my twenty-five years with the trust, the focus of our work has evolved to meet the changing needs of our masonic family, but there are those who think we exist simply to provide a posh education for posh kids. This is one misconception that we have to overcome. More than ninety per cent of the children we support go to a state school and live at home. We have also worked hard to identify how we can more effectively help children of distressed Freemasons succeed in life and today many of our grants target specific items like computers and school trips. In some circumstances, we also support the grandchildren of Freemasons, something that is not widely known within the Craft.
How are families assessed?
All our support is subject to a financial test. A family has to have a very low income – less than £5,000 a year to receive our maximum support – and nothing that we give replaces what the state should provide. Our welfare specialists help families look at what state benefits they can claim, and we review the circumstances of every family that we support each year. First and foremost we are a poverty charity.
Is the RMTGB under increasing pressure?
We are currently helping around two thousand children and young people and last year we received the highest number of new applications since 1986. Applications arising from redundancy, bankruptcy and unemployment are all increasing, as they did during previous recessions. Families often turn to us only when they reach breaking point; we would always prefer them to contact us as soon as possible. It is tragic when we are alerted to children whose well-being has suffered because the family assumed we could not help or they were too proud to contact us.
How do the four masonic charities work together?
In my view, the cooperation and understanding between the charities is closer now than it ever has been. We are all fundraising within the same group and supporting the same beneficiaries – albeit at different points in their lives. Sometimes there could be two or three masonic charities supporting the same family, so it made sense for us to move closer together. Our relocation into offices in Freemasons’ Hall helped with this process, as has the use of a single application form. We are also far more proactive and consistent in our support for almoners and charity stewards.
What’s next for the RMTGB?
Two hundred and twenty-five years have passed since the establishment of the first charity for supporting children of Freemasons. When you look back at what we have achieved, the hundreds of thousands of young people we have helped, you realise how important the trust’s work is. The needs of our masonic family will continue to change and, working ever closer with the other masonic charities, we must prepare ourselves for the challenges of the years ahead.
True to its aims
The mission of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB) is: ‘To relieve poverty and advance the education of children of a masonic family and, when funds permit, support other children in need.’
This year, the charity celebrates its two hundred and twenty-fifth birthday and can reflect on a shifting social landscape that has nevertheless seen the RMTGB stay true to its aims.
In 1788, Chevalier Bartholomew Ruspini and the Duchess of Cumberland set up a school for the daughters of distressed masons. A similar provision for boys was established in 1798. As these charities grew, financial assistance was also provided to support children living at home. Eventually these grants constituted the main work of the charities and a decision was made to move away from running schools altogether. A combined grant-making charity, now known as the RMTGB, became active in 1986.
Today the RMTGB provides help to children and young people by awarding financial grants to relieve poverty and help remove barriers to education. In recent years, schemes such as TalentAid and Choral Bursaries have been established to support exceptionally gifted young people. Initiatives such as Stepping Stones and the ongoing support for Lifelites (Registered Charity No. 1115655) demonstrate the RMTGB’s commitment to thousands of other disadvantaged children without a masonic connection.
To find out more about the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, visit www.rmtgb.org