Living in the house that helps

Friday, 05 December 2014

Great expectations

A unique masonic building in central London is enabling young people to take advantage of learning, training and work opportunities in the capital. Tabby Kinder steps inside Ruspini House

Hidden between the brick façades of central London’s swankiest offices and camouflaged within a narrow tree-lined street, Ruspini House is passed by thousands of people every day without a second glance. But inside the little-known masonic building on Parker Street, just a stone’s throw from Great Queen Street, twenty-seven young men and women are treasuring the first taste of independence that the house is giving them.

Owned and run by the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB), Ruspini House provides residential accommodation for young people who need a place to live while studying or undertaking work experience in London. Rents are kept very low, with residents also able to apply for financial funding for their tuition and accommodation fees. 

Would-be actors live alongside accountants, trainee teachers cook dinner with their barrister friends and law students watch television in cosy companionship with interns at city banks. It’s a happy space, divided into flats with kitchens, lounges, bedrooms and bathrooms, and one that is seen as a godsend by many.

Jess Hayton, twenty-four, has been living in the house since 2010, and it has already provided a roof over her head for the final year of her bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and now the first years of a PhD in education, specialising in visual impairment in children. ‘I was twenty when I moved in and it was exciting to say the least,’ she says. ‘I had been living in a house-share in East Acton and it wasn’t ideal. When my dad showed me an article from Freemasonry Today that mentioned Ruspini House, it seemed too good to be true.’

The family connection

Jess’s father is a mason, but until her second year of university she had never come across the work done by the RMTGB for the children and grandchildren of Freemasons. Just weeks after sending off her application form, Jess was granted a place at the house and set about moving in. ‘It felt like a huge burden had been lifted,’ she says, ‘I was starting to wonder how I could possibly continue paying for both my tuition and my rent. It was pretty much either/or.’

Moving right to the middle of London is something Jess could never have done without Ruspini House. 

‘I knew I could really focus on getting my degree now that I didn’t have the stress of worrying about money. Luckily another girl moved into the flat at the g same time as me, so we were newbies together, but everyone was really accommodating and friendly.’

Jess’s determination impressed the RMTGB, which has gone on to provide a bursary to pay for her master’s degree and PhD tuition, and kept a space for her to see out her education at the house for as long as she needs it. ‘I’m in an incredibly privileged position, and there’s no way I could have followed my aspirations like this without the help of the RMTGB and Ruspini House,’ says Jess. ‘My dad is so happy about all the support and is proud to be part of an organisation that is helping his daughter get a running jump in her career.’

‘It teaches them to be good all-round people, with friends from different walks of life; it’s the best learning curve they could get at this age.’ Jo-Anne Griffin

Jess’s flatmate Harriette Murphy credits Ruspini House for allowing her to properly focus on her studies. ‘I had a law degree and was working in the City to try to get enough money together to train as a barrister, but paying so much in rent meant I wasn’t saving enough to carry on with my education,’ she says. ‘Thankfully, my father helped me to apply to the RMTGB through his lodge in Hampshire and I was fortunate to receive substantial funding as well as a place to live.’

Now Harriette is working at an award-winning barristers’ chambers in London. ‘Being called to the Bar in 2012 was an exceptional moment for me and my family, but I could not have done it without the support and encouragement of the RMTGB,’ says Harriette. 

‘I have a vast practice area and am hoping to achieve pupillage in the near future. I hope that one day I can help others through mentoring, or assisting in any way that I can to this wonderful organisation.’

Mistress of the house

Both Jess and Harriette knew that moving into Ruspini House, despite its finely tuned support network, would not be an easy ride. Jo-Anne Griffin is the Properties Administrator at the house and has overseen its day-to-day running for eleven years. She is determined to make sure the house produces driven and independent adults who are ready to take the first steps in their careers.

‘What we aim to do here is provide a stepping stone between their family home and their adult lives,’ says Jo-Anne. ‘They learn how to live independently, to take pride in the space they live in, have a bit of responsibility, and how to deal with financial issues.’ 

She sits down with whoever needs help and can work though plans for paying rent or handling debts already amassed before coming to the house.

Jo-Anne admits that she can be ‘a bit of a mother’ to the young residents. ‘They tend to come to me if there’s an issue. My previous career in social work means I have a calling for helping young people. I try to guide them towards handling things independently, particularly their cleaning and washing, but I am always on the end of the phone if they need me. Officially I clock off at 5.30pm, but the odd call at 11pm from someone needing a few words of advice isn’t unusual.’

Jo-Anne’s faith in the support given by the RMTGB at Ruspini House is unshakable. ‘It teaches them to be good all-round people, with friends from different walks of life and professions; it’s the best learning curve they could get at this age. They’re lucky, but I get the sense they really appreciate that – I don’t need to tell them,’ she says. ‘I have a lot of respect for the support that Freemasonry offers to members and their extended families, that’s what stands out most for me.’

Whether it’s giving financial, residential or emotional support, Jo-Anne admits that there’s no better feeling than helping the residents at Ruspini House take that first step into the big wide world. ‘It makes it all worthwhile when you get a card back saying someone has passed their exams with flying colours, got their dream job or moved to a house they love.’

Building bricks

Les Hutchinson, Chief Executive of the RMTGB, explains the thinking behind Ruspini House

‘The principle of Ruspini House is to help people working towards their careers, whether that’s studying or interning, or undertaking training and research. It has provided accommodation for around six hundred and fifty youngsters since opening in 1988. It’s safe, it’s secure, and, though not luxurious, it’s a base for young people to grow. Ruspini House is about helping youngsters make that step from education to career, so we want to support them during the transition from dependent child to independent adult. We always ask our beneficiaries when they leave to keep in touch. Some go on to become Freemasons and they come back and offer advice to the next set of young residents.’

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