The following article is from a speech delivered by Laura Chapman, Grand Charity chief executive, at an evening hosted by the Grand Charity at Freemasons' Hall, London as part of Freemasonry in the Community week
My association with Freemasonry is very recent and confined to my role in the Grand Charity.
My closest previous link, so my sister advised me when I was being interviewed for the job here, was that my Great Uncle Bill, from Buffalo, New York, had been a Mason some 50 years ago. Sadly, he died when I was very young and therefore was unable to share his Masonic experiences with me.
Before coming to work for the Grand Charity three years ago, my understanding of Freemasonry, its purpose and structure was, at best, limited. To the extent that I had perceptions at all, they were of an organisation that was introspective and secretive, and, therefore, was not likely to be of much use to anyone other than its members.
What a surprise I had!
I discovered that the Grand Charity alone over the past five years has made grants to charities of the wider community totalling nearly £11m. When the donations of the other central Masonic charities are included, that figure rises to £24m. This is before the donations made by Freemasons within their own communities through local and Provincial Lodges are considered.
No one has attempted to estimate the totality of Masonic giving to non-Masonic charities, but a conservative estimate would place the figure at well over £30m in this five-year period. In today's world of materialism and self-interest, one has to ask why Freemasons are so committed to community support?
The answer lies in the philosophical basis of the movement: a commitment to the three principles of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. Of these, the most important is charity: providing 'relief' for those who are less fortunate. These philosophical tenets are expressed practically by committed support for charitable activities, at both local Lodge and national level.
The Grand Charity is the central Masonic charity and is the primary vehicle for making grants to national charities, serving the wider communities of England and Wales.
The Grand Charity receives many hundreds of grant applications each year. Over the years, the council, or trustees, of the Charity have given a great deal of thought to which of these should be supported, and have developed policy guidelines for the selection of grants.
But, at a broader level, what is the Grand Charity trying to achieve on behalf of more than 300,000 Freemasons who support it? Five key objectives guide the grant-making policy of the Grand Charity.
First and foremost, is making a profound and significant difference for someone who is in great need.
Of the hundreds of applications made each year, those that receive priority are for people in the greatest distress, whose lives can be profoundly improved by our support.
The second key objective is realising as significant and widespread an impact as possible.
The Grand Charity seeks to support problems that are widespread in the population or changes that will ultimately bring benefits to many people, rather than a few people helped directly. Third is identifying areas of need that individual Freemasons and their families are worried about and affect their daily lives, and that they can then feel proud to be supporting.
The Grand Charity acts on behalf of all Freemasons in England and Wales and seeks to support those issues of the greatest concern to them and their families.
Fourth is offering opportunities for further involvement by local Lodges or individual Freemasons.
Many of the charities supported by the Grand Charity have offices throughout England and Wales and offer opportunities for volunteering or further involvement by local Lodges.
Finally, an objective that has become increasingly important in recent years is offering opportunities for the grants to be seen publicly to be making a genuine contribution to the well being of the wider community.
Raising public awareness about the charitable activities of Freemasons is a slow and difficult task, but one that most Masons believe to be very important.
Through the Grand Charity, the other central Masonic charities and the more than 8,000 Lodges throughout England and Wales, Masons are committing millions of pounds to help those who are less fortunate than themselves.