Thursday, 04 September 2014 01:00

Charity on the Welsh coastline

All walks of life

This summer, lodges across Wales united in a challenge to trek 1,000 miles in sixty days to support a children’s hospital. Sarah Holmes put on her hiking boots to spend a day on their epic journey

Picture the scene – it’s a balmy afternoon in late July. The sunshine beats mercilessly down over a golden belt of sand dunes on South Wales’s Bridgend coastline. In the distance, music echoes through the granular valleys as a trail of trekkers in matching white T-shirts slowly emerge, their Welsh voices chorusing in booming unison. They look like explorers venturing through the Saharan plains and, as they come closer, it becomes apparent that they’re singing Santana’s ‘Black Magic Woman’.

The lead crooner, Gareth Jenkins of Afan Lodge, No. 833, is an undertaker from Port Talbot. But today, equipped with his Bose speaker and backwards cap, he’s DJ Jazzy Jenks, self-appointed MC for the twenty-two-mile walk around this stretch of the coast. Along with thirty fellow Freemasons from lodges across Port Talbot, he’s attempting to complete the Glamorgan leg of the Walk Around Wales campaign to raise money for the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital Charity

Until now, it’s been a leisurely ramble through the woodlands and heather fields of Kenfig Nature Reserve, passing by the candy-coloured attractions of Coney Beach funfair. But the toughest route has yet to come. 

Ahead, the grassy ridges of the Merthyr Mawr dunes rise dramatically upwards. They are the second-highest dunes in Europe, and the place where Peter O’Toole filmed his 1962 adventure epic, Lawrence of Arabia. Luckily, the Port Talbot lodges are well prepared for the challenge. A fortifying hip flask is offered around the group before they dare tackle the ascent – a dose of liquid encouragement for the heroic fundraisers. 

‘If your family ever needed to use the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital, you know they’d be in safe hands.’ John Bendall

There are just three days left before the Walk Around Wales campaign comes full circle. Today, it falls to the Port Talbot lodges of Afan, No. 833; Baglan, No. 6079; Celtic Eagle, No. 9132; Margam Abbey, No. 5257; St Theodore, No. 8536; and Ynys, No. 8274, to complete the penultimate stretch. For Paul Haley, Worshipful Master of Services Lodge, No. 7139, this is the pinnacle of many months of careful planning. In January, inspired by a friend who had trekked the Welsh coastal path in just sixty days, Paul set about organising a fundraising event that would see lodges from across Wales come together to cover the same 1,000-mile stretch in relay. 

‘The idea had a fantastic reception from the masons at Services Lodge,’ explains Paul. ‘So we started to build up the schedule with the idea of enrolling a different lodge to complete each leg of the coastal path.’

Paul eventually managed to get twenty-six lodges to commit to the challenge, with members of his own lodge offering to fill in the gaps along the north coast. He also appropriated a mascot, a travelling gavel that would be carried through each stage of the journey by the participating walkers. On Sunday, 25 May, the first group left Penarth Masonic Hall on a counter-clockwise adventure around the Welsh border. Their aim was to raise £12,000 for the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital Charity, which supports the only children’s hospital in Wales. But the campaign quickly surpassed its target with the total now standing at £12,678. 

First-class care

For John Bendall of Baglan Lodge, the walk was a fantastic opportunity to give back to a worthwhile cause. ‘The Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital is first class,’ he says. ‘Obviously, you hope your family would never need to use it. But if they did, you know they’d be in safe hands. It’s a reassuring presence in the community.’ 

While Noah’s Ark is a familiar Welsh charity, less well known is the vital role Welsh Freemasonry had to play in the hospital’s establishment, with Freemason Lyn Jones launching the Noah’s Ark campaign in 1990.  

‘It took ten years of knocking heads together,’ Lyn explains. ‘But finally, in 2000, the public appeal got the green light.’ Since then, the charity has raised £10 million and overseen the successful completion of a state-of-the-art children’s hospital in Cardiff that treats over 100,000 seriously ill children every year.

In 2008, an appeal for a further £7 million was launched to fund the building of the second phase of the hospital, which will include two additional operating theatres, a new Critical Care Unit, and a hydrotherapy pool, as well as various improvements to its existing facilities. With completion due in 2015, this latest donation from the Walk Around Wales campaign is essential to helping the hospital reach its target. 

For Alan Bolger of Ynys Lodge, the walk was as much about enjoying the camaraderie of the day as raising money. ‘It’s a great way to meet other lodges and get to know people who you might never have spoken to before,’ he smiles. ‘The reward of making lifelong friendships is enough for me. If we raise awareness about a good cause – that’s even better.’  

Word spread about the walk via social media. Paul created his own hashtag, #circlecymru, which he used in tweets to local organisations and councils, encouraging their support. The campaign even drew the attention of Welsh TV personalities, including weather presenter Sian Lloyd, and The One Show host Alex Jones. 

‘It’s a great way of connecting with the community outside of Freemasonry, which is something I hoped this campaign would achieve,’ explains Paul. 

Back in Glamorgan, the midday heat has coalesced into an orange haze as the army of masons amble along the cliffs at Ogmore Bay. It’s the home stretch and, after scaling Merthyr Mawr dunes followed by some tiptoeing across the stepping stones by Ogmore Castle’s enchanting ruins, it’s safe to say all are now firmly focused on closing the gap between themselves and The Three Golden Cups pub in Southerndown. Even DJ Jazzy Jenks has gone quiet.

A crowd of family and friends cheer the masons across the tavern threshold. Having walked non-stop for ten and a half hours, a pint or two is well deserved. However, the real celebrations won’t take place until the following Saturday when the masons cross the final finish line at Barry Rugby Club.

‘The highlight for me has been seeing how willing everyone was to get involved,’ Paul beams. ‘The dedication of the lodges has helped to raise awareness of both Noah’s Ark and Freemasonry, which is fantastic.’

To donate to the Walk Around Wales campaign, visit www.justgiving.com/walk-around-wales

On the move

Special mention goes to the Provincial Wardens John Roberts and Rex Plowman, as well as the following Freemasons from Services Lodge, No. 7139, who spent a considerable number of days on the walk: Allun Jones and Alun Punter (ten days); Steve Hill (eight days); Mike Rudall, Clive Thomas and Martin Flanigan (four days).

The following lodges took part in the walk: Afan, No. 833; Baglan, No. 6079; Beehive, No. 6265; Breaksea, No. 8358; Celtic Eagle, No. 9132; Industria Cambrensis, No. 6700; Dinas Powis, No. 5997; Gnoll, No. 5057; Ionic, No. 6626; Llanilltud Fawr, No. 8644; Lodge of Three Pillars, No. 5857; Margam Abbey, No. 5257; Old Barrians, No. 6671; Penllergaer, No. 5567; Porthkerry, No. 6299; Preswylfa, No. 5792; Services, No. 7139; St Cecilia, No. 8748; St Quentin’s, No. 4778; St Theodore, No. 8536; Striguil, No. 2186; Wenvoe, No. 9038; Windsor, No. 1754; Wings, No. 8651, and Ynys, No. 8274

Thursday, 15 March 2012 16:50

The river giant

With the support of a grant from the Freemasons, Joshua Tonnar is rowing his way into Olympic contention as he subjects himself to a gruelling regime on the Thames, finds Miranda Thompson

The calm of a crisp January morning on the banks of the Thames is shattered by the hollering of eight sixty-somethings from a rowing boat looking for assistance. Luckily, there's an oar on hand to drag them back to shore. A twist of the Thames away from Hampton Court Palace, Molesey Boat Club welcomes rowing veterans onto the water. It's also home to the next generation of British rowers. Joshua Tonnar is a 21-year-old who is pursuing his Olympic dream with the help of funding from the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys' (RMTGB) TalentAid scheme.

At six foot six inches, Joshua was originally a rugby fanatic. However, his Freemason grandfather Len Howard spotted the potential for his height after his wife Charlotte read about the Sporting Giants campaign. In 2007, Steve Redgrave spearheaded this initiative to find those who fitted the tall, athletic physical requirements for rowing.

'I went to a meeting at Stonemarket and Ray Collings, the fundraising manager at the RMTGB, was there,' remembers Len. 'I asked him whether they still supported Freemasons' grandsons and I put Josh's name forward. The money has been invaluable.'

Joshua has just completed a ferocious fifteen-minute testing session and is about to devour a gigantic plate of beans on toast – his exercise regime means he's got to consume six thousand calories a day. He recalls how he got started: 'I was talent tested in a national search for potential Olympian talent. According to the scores, you were categorised into the sports you were suited to.' Joshua was a natural, smashing three records on his first day and his first ever ergometer test on a rowing machine saw him finish just eight seconds behind a record set by Matthew Pinsent.

FUNDING POTENTIAL OLYMPIANS

In 2008, Joshua was taken on by the Sporting Giants scheme, which quickly propelled him into the GB Rowing Team Start Programme. His coach, Team GB Start's Neasa Folan, explains her role: 'We identify, recruit and develop potential Olympians. We try to develop them as athletes, so we look at their physical capacities and technical rowing skills.'

With the rowing season running from September to June/July, the months are packed with assessments and trials testing, before invitations to join a squad are issued. This year, the focus is on making the Under 23 World Championships squad. '2016 would be his Olympics,' says Neasa. 'I think he's got reasonable prospects – he's certainly got a lot of the physical characteristics and potential.'

Studying sports sciences at St Mary's in Twickenham, Joshua relishes the opportunity he has been given. 'I want to win gold at 2016 and the two after that,' he says. 'I'm here for 7am. We train until 9.30 or 10am at the first session, have breakfast and then we're back at 11. In the afternoon I go to university, but I'm back here in the evening.'

The amount of work Joshua has to do makes the funding from the RMTGB even more crucial, as Neasa says, 'The athletes might be part of the Team GB rowing programme but they're not funded.'

'Everything about rowing is expensive. I can't live off my student loan and sponsorship, I need constant funding and that's where the Freemasons are helping me. Without the RMTGB's support, I probably wouldn't be able to train full time. I'm very grateful,' says Joshua, hoisting his boat onto colossal shoulders before making his way to the banks of the Thames.

 

TALKING TALENTAID

 

Founded in the eighteenth century, the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB), supports children and young people who have been affected by poverty, and aims to help improve their potential in life. TalentAid is just one of the schemes run by the charity and aims to ensure that those with exceptional talent pursue their dreams of becoming a professional in their field by providing grants to cover some of the costs associated with the talent. All TalentAid beneficiaries are required to have a masonic connection via their father, grandfather or guardian and all applications are subject to a financial test.

 

Since TalentAid’s launch in 2001, over two hundred and fifty exceptionally gifted young people have been supported by the RMTGB at a cost of around £3 million. Other TalentAid successes include rising stars in British swimming, kayaking and women’s football. Chief Executive Les Hutchinson explains, ‘These are the people with the highest level of talent, and quite often this talent represents their main opportunity to make a success of their lives. It’s vital they have support for it.’

 

Les is positive regarding the scheme’s support for Joshua. ‘It was obvious from the outset that he was participating in a very competitive training programme as well as being a holder of several records for his age. His desire to succeed and make a success in his chosen field was quite clear – and his potential ability to compete in the Olympics is very exciting. It really doesn’t come much more high profile than that.’

Letters to the Editor - FreemasonryToday No.18 - SUMMER 2012

 

Sir,

 

Following your coverage of the RMTGB’s assistance to talented young people, I was prompted to let you know about another such case. Freemason Carlton Johnson was a massive influence on Beehive Lodge, No. 6265, and a masonic mentor for so many. Despite his ailments he was determined to participate in Freemasonry to his utmost, notably as a charity steward. Following a long battle with Motor Neurone Disease, he died in March 1996 in his mid-fifties.

 

Stephen Rolley is the grandson of the late Carlton Johnson. Now in the final year of his diploma at Italia Conti, Stephen has been helped by the TalentAid scheme through the RMTGB. The purpose of his course is to further equip him with the skills required to enable him to work in a very competitive industry.

 

That Freemasonry has been able to help Stephen is but a tiny repayment of the debt owed to Carlton for the support he was able to offer others. Stephen is clearly showing many of the qualities that characterised his grandfather, such as resilience, focus, resolve, determination, an ability to relate to people and a great natural talent.

 

Roger Gale
Lodge of St Illtyd, No. 6078
Neath, South Wales

Published in RMTGB

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