Within these four walls
Every day, the RMTGB’s welfare team travel the UK to help young people achieve their potential. Tabby Kinder goes on the road with Julia Young to visit the Stiles family and discovers how the charity is changing lives
Working for a charity that supports more than two thousand children and young people in their education and extra-curricular life can be a rewarding experience, but for the small group of people who make up the Welfare Adviser team at the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB), it’s a job that comes with responsibility.
Julia, Sam, Claire, David and Kate spend each day travelling the length and breadth of the country, visiting applicants to, and beneficiaries of, the RMTGB. They assess the support needed by new applicants and maintain ongoing contact with the many families already receiving the charity’s assistance.
This close-knit team of five non-masons plays an integral role in how and when financial grants are awarded by the RMTGB, directing families to state benefits and services, offering guidance about education or careers, and sometimes simply providing a friendly face to talk to or a shoulder to cry on. The team draws upon its collective expertise, which includes counselling, cognitive therapy, bereavement assistance, teaching, social work and disability legislation.
A supportive role
Julia Young has headed up the team as welfare manager for the past twelve years and spends roughly half her time visiting new applicants and the other half providing ongoing support for beneficiary families – some of whom have been receiving help from the trust for up to a decade. ‘The ability to listen with an empathetic ear is key to doing this job,’ she says.
New applications are received almost every day from families who have experienced bereavement, poverty, debt, desertion, divorce or disability, and visits can be emotionally challenging. ‘When the initial application form comes to us it can be difficult to get the whole picture; often families are embarrassed to outline the difficulties they are having, particularly when it involves financial worries or mental health issues. By visiting the family in person we can get a whole picture of what they need, not just a piece of paper outlining facts and figures.’
For Julia, it’s all about finding the balance between sympathy and professionalism, although through the course of her work she has become very close to some cases. ‘I have met families who are at their wits’ end due to the death of one or both parents. It’s the most wonderful thing to see a child develop from being very introverted to continuing their education with our help and eventually leaving sixth form with good A levels, on their way to university. I take great pride in all the children we help. Knowing they go on to achieve and be successful is very rewarding.’
‘When the application form comes to us it can be difficult to get the whole picture; by visiting the family we can see what they need, not just a piece of paper outlining facts and figures.’ Julia Young
The road to success
Les Hutchinson, chief executive of the RMTGB, says that the work of Julia and her team is vital. ‘The speed at which the team can visit families, giving them time and support when they’re at their lowest ebb, is very valuable to our primary purpose, which is to provide support for the children and grandchildren of deceased or distressed Freemasons,’ Les says. ‘Our job is to do what we can to minimise the impact of poverty on the child and make sure that neither their education nor their opportunities are compromised.’
The Stiles family is just one of the many supported by the RMTGB and today Julia has made the two-and-a-half hour drive to Christchurch from her home in Haywards Heath to check in on Pauline Stiles and her three children: Harriet, eighteen, Charles, twenty-one, and Georgia, twenty-three.
‘The RMTGB has changed my children’s lives, their futures and given them opportunities to grow. It has lifted a huge burden, both emotionally and financially.’ Pauline Stiles
When Pauline first approached the RMTGB in 2009 she was facing separation, the collapse of the family business, a son on his way to university, one daughter wishing to further her talent by attending a specialist basketball school, and another with severe disabilities that meant she needed round-the-clock care. Pauline’s mental health was deteriorating and she moved out of the family home with her children, relocating to the south coast.
‘We had a very intense life running a busy family business and looking after Georgia, who has special needs, and then things started to go wrong,’ she says. ‘When we moved out of our old home, Charles had just finished his A levels, and none of us knew what was going to happen. It was a very difficult situation. We had lost absolutely everything.’
The Stiles family has a historical relationship with the Freemasons; Pauline’s husband, brother-in-law and grandfather are all masons, and the Craft has always surrounded family life. ‘Before all our troubles started my husband would raise money for the school for autistic pupils that Georgia was attending in Southampton through his masonic lodge in Basingstoke,’ she says. ‘We were very involved in the fundraising side of it, encouraging the kids to collect twenty-pence pieces in Smarties tubes, and I’d attend the Ladies Day events. I never imagined that one day we would be on the receiving end. We never thought we’d be where we are.’
Financial support from the RMTGB has helped each of the children through a tumultuous and pivotal few years. Georgia returns from her full-time school for sixteen weeks of the year, and a holiday grant has meant that she, her sister and mum have been able to visit a respite camp for young people with disabilities on the Isle of Wight for a few nights each summer.
‘Despite her autism, Georgia loves going out and seeing new people and sights, so even just travelling on the boat was a huge experience for her,’ says Pauline. ‘Being able to take Harriet too meant that she could help me with Georgia, but she was also out there in the garden playing badminton with the other young people, teaching them how to play different games.’ Georgia is now finishing full-time education and has moved into her own accommodation, where she receives twenty-four-hour care assistance through government funding.
Harriet had a hard time in school, repeatedly held back due to severe dyslexia that went undiagnosed throughout most of her school life, putting her passion for playing basketball professionally on hold for a number of years and leaving her with low self-esteem. The RMTGB’s grant has allowed Harriet to complete her college education, and she has played basketball with the England team in games all over Europe. Harriet now plans to return to college in September to qualify as a personal trainer in order to work as a sports coach for people with learning disabilities. ‘I don’t know where I would be without their support. I definitely wouldn’t be at college now,’ says Harriet.
The scholarship grant has helped Charles attend Cardiff Metropolitan University, where he studies sports management. ‘I was working in Australia for a year when all the trouble started,’ he says. ‘I came back to the UK and everything had changed, my mum had moved away from where I had grown up and it was a difficult time for all of us. I wanted to go to university but it wasn’t feasible due to our money problems, and a student loan can only cover so much,’ he says. ‘The grant has made things a lot more simple and comfortable, and now I can enjoy the side of university that everyone else gets involved in instead of constantly worrying about whether I can afford to eat or pay my rent.’
The charitable support has helped lift the burden on Pauline, who worried that her personal problems were negatively affecting the lives of her children: ‘I’ve found the last few years very hard,’ she says, ‘but I would have found it immensely more difficult if I knew I was letting down my children as well, or denying them the opportunity to do what they want to do.’
Now the pressure has been eased, Pauline has been able to develop the confidence to get back into the workplace, volunteering at a charity called Crumbs three days a week – and she has recently been offered a full-time position. ‘The RMTGB has made things possible for the children that would have been totally impossible without their help. It has changed their lives, their futures and given them opportunities to grow. It has lifted a huge burden, both emotionally and financially, and thanks to that my children have grown into wonderful young people.’
The four masonic charities are undergoing a period of realignment to make the services they provide more effective. The changes will enable the charities to offer easily accessible and comprehensive support to Freemasons and their families countrywide.
One aspect of this process is the increasing co-ordination between the work of the Welfare Adviser team of the RMTGB with its counterpart Care Advice team at the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution.
Through this closer co-operation, the central masonic charities will be able to provide complete cradle-to-grave support, offering the same level of professional advice and help whether the applicant is a child, an elderly person, or a sick person. Les Hutchinson, RMTGB chief executive, says that ‘by minimising the differences between the charities, we are making our support as simple and easy as possible to access for those that need our help’.