Pass it on
Drawing upon the teamwork found in a game of football, sports charity Street League is giving unemployed young people new prospects. Sarah Holmes reports on how Freemasons are supporting the charity as it reaches out to even more communities
It’s a blustery winter afternoon at the Moberly Sports and Education Centre in north-west London and, despite the menacing grey sky above, twenty or so lads have gathered to play their weekly game of football. Refereeing is Adam White, a twenty-three-year-old sports coach from Wembley. He used to play in these games all the time, before he was referred on to study for a Football Association (FA) coaching qualification by Street League, the charity that organises the matches.
‘Three years ago, I would have been more inclined to stay in bed on a day like this,’ admits Adam. ‘But Street League gave me the opportunity to change my ways. It made me more motivated and confident.’
Established in 2001, Street League uses football to engage unemployed young people – both girls and boys – from disadvantaged backgrounds across England and Scotland.
The aim is to get as many individuals as possible back into training and employment through its innovative academy network, which teaches essential employability skills and GCSE-equivalent qualifications through a ten-week programme.
Now, thanks to a grant of £20,000 from the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB), Street League will be able to run an additional academy in south-west London – helping a further twenty young people to find employment in 2015.
At school, Adam was better known as the ‘naughty one’ – a reputation that only fuelled his disruptive behaviour. Things reached a head in 2006, when, at the age of fifteen, he was expelled. ‘School wasn’t the best time for me,’ he says. ‘I used to be silly and mess around. Football was the only thing that mattered, so my parents and teachers used it as a carrot to dangle in front of me to make me behave. I remember my mum hiding my trainers whenever I was naughty.’
After completing the Street League course in 2012, Adam went on to achieve his Level 1 FA coaching qualification, later returning to the charity to volunteer at two of its academies.
Now a paid Street League staff member, he is helping others to find focus in life, as he did. ‘As someone who has been through the process, it’s incredibly gratifying to see the lads come out the other side and get jobs,’ he says.
The passion of Street League’s latest cohort is clear at today’s match. Although the pitch isn’t in the best nick – the faded AstroTurf is torn and chewed up and mounds of leaves have piled up against the corners of the metal grate fencing – it doesn’t faze the youngsters. They bound enthusiastically around the pitch, chanting and encouraging their teammates as if they were playing at Wembley. For them, this is more than a simple football match: it’s a chance to turn their lives around.
‘Street League gave me the opportunity to change my ways. It made me more motivated and confident.’ Adam White
Street League attracts its numbers through free weekly football sessions for unemployed sixteen- to twenty-five-year-olds. When a player shows the desire to change their life, they will be invited to attend one of the quarterly ten-week academies, which are structured around two hours of classroom-based learning followed by two hours of football practice. It’s an innovative approach that continues to attract the attention of funders, including the RMTGB.
‘We found out about Street League through our Stepping Stones scheme, which the charity applied to,’ says Les Hutchinson, CEO of the RMTGB. ‘We always receive more requests for funding than we can possibly provide, but Street League stood out for its unique approach to helping young people.’
‘The academies offer both sport and education, giving their participants the opportunity to keep fit and achieve key qualifications,’ he continues. ‘That’s not to mention the careers guidance, mock interviews and CV-writing sessions they include in their curriculums. We award our grants to charities that are shown to have the biggest impact, and Street League proved to be a worthy recipient.’
The grant from the RMTGB acts as a formal seal of approval, which will hopefully encourage other sources to invest in Street League’s cause. With interest in the academies on the rise, expansion is a real priority for the charity. ‘This newest academy will help us branch out into communities facing real challenges in Lambeth and Wandsworth,’ says Nathan Persaud, Street League’s north London operations manager.
Typically, forty-three per cent of the young people Street League works with in south-west London will have previous criminal convictions, and only twenty-three per cent will have left school with any qualifications. They are some of the hardest-to-reach individuals in the city, but Street League’s football-oriented initiative is connecting with some of them.
‘Football is our hook,’ says Nathan. ‘It’s our unique way of engaging young people who might not otherwise be interested in the course. It gives it credibility in their eyes.’
Football is incorporated into every aspect of the academy, including the classroom hours. Participants brush up on their basic maths skills using fantasy football leagues, while the CVs of professional football players provide templates for the participants to learn how to apply for jobs. Many also study for FA-approved coaching qualifications, so they can go on to complete their mandatory work placements in local coaching clubs. ‘All participants have to complete one hundred hours of work experience, so we try to set them up with a meaningful placement in local businesses,’ adds Nathan.
Tackle the future
The support of Street League’s corporate sponsors TM Lewin, Barclays and Premier Inn has also proved integral in placing participants by offering internships, and in some instances long-term employment, to academy graduates. Last year, eight hundred and forty-seven young people went into employment, training or education after graduating from Street League, and this year that figure will exceed 1,000 for the first time.
But it’s not just the work done in the classroom that has an impact.
As Nathan explains, what these young people learn on the pitch is just as important: ‘It’s difficult to discuss softer skills like communication and teamwork with these guys. In a classroom environment, it might seem too intimate and too confrontational, but on the pitch we can teach them how to control their anger and communicate effectively within their team so that hopefully those skills will filter into their everyday lives.’
Wayne Smith is one such youngster whose confidence and career aspirations enjoyed a massive boost after participating in Street League. He joined the Kensal Rise academy in January 2014, then a shadow of the confident young man who captains his team through the match today. ‘At first, I just wanted to play football. I never dreamt I’d be able to establish a career in it,’ he says.
Through the academy, Wayne completed his Level 2 FA coaching qualification and gained experience as a volunteer coach by setting up drills and refereeing training sessions for successive groups. Now, he’s working towards his Level 3 award with hopes of going into coaching full-time.
For Wayne, the encouragement he has received has transformed his life, and it’s a sentiment that also rings true for Moussa Silakwa. Struggling through a media studies course at college when he first came to Street League, Moussa didn’t even have the confidence to talk to his own teammates during a match. Two years later, he runs a football academy in Battersea Park for teenagers pursuing a career in the industry. ‘It’s unbelievable how many opportunities are available through Street League,’ he says. ‘It can really take you places if you are willing to work.’
New life goals
Not all participants at Street League come straight from school. Filip Ricardo (pictured above) was studying politics in Manchester when he decided to pursue a career in football. ‘I only went to university because I didn’t know what else to do,’ he says. ‘If vocational options like Street League had been made more apparent in school, then I would definitely have gone for them.’
Having already achieved his A-levels, Filip used his time at Street League’s open football sessions to access one-to-one careers advice and support. Within two weeks he had been set up with a part-time job coaching school children. It was the first, fundamental break that enabled Filip to get a foot in the door of the football industry.
‘I realised you don’t need a degree to make it in life,’ he says. ‘If people don’t fit the mould at school, it’s easy to brand them the badly behaved kid. Teachers treat them differently, they miss out on opportunities, and that can make them more rebellious. But if these kids were told what they can do, instead of constantly being told what they can’t do, it could make a big difference.’
As the Province of Durham gears up for the launch of their next Festival, starting in 2016 in aid of the Royal Masonic Trust for Boys and Girls, it has been extremely encouraging that their Continuous Giving has been an enormous success
Provincial Grand Master for Durham, Eric Heaviside, has always been a champion of the Continuous Giving scheme and his now famous saying of 'The dripping tap will eventually fill the bath' is known Province-wide!
It was therefore with immense pride that Durham were able to invite President of the RMTGB, Mike Woodcock and Chief Executive Les Hutchinson to their Annual Promotions Meeting at Rainton Meadows Arena in November to present them with a cheque for £500,000.
The cheque was presented during the meeting after the PGM had delivered his Christmas Address and after receiving the donation Mike and Les took to the stage to thank the brethren for their fantastic generosity, explain in more depth about the fabulous work the RMTGB carries out and deliver a small talk on the history of masonic charity. Mike ended with the famous quote 'No man stands as tall as when he is stooped to help a child' and the 500 brethren present showed their appreciation with a rapturous applause.
With over 12 months until Durham officially enters Festival the brethren of the Province have given themselves every chance of making a huge difference to this most worthy cause, may the dripping tap continue till that bath overflows!
State of independence
Life-limited and disabled children are exploring the world in new ways thanks to cutting-edge technology provided by Lifelites. Imogen Beecroft talks to Chief Executive Simone Enefer-Doy about its work and masonic origins
When Daniel was diagnosed with a terminal illness, he told his carers that he ‘couldn’t do anything’. His condition had deteriorated so much that when he entered Richard House Children’s Hospice in London he was able to move just one arm. But one carer thought differently, recognising that if Daniel could move one arm, he could probably hold a video camera.
So the hospice developed a film club – a place where children could use technology specifically adapted for their needs to make films and animations.
Richard House now hosts its own Oscars-inspired ceremony every year. Parents come and watch as each child receives an award for their cinematographic efforts. But the technology doesn’t come cheap, and it’s only thanks to the work of the staff at the children’s charity Lifelites, led by Simone Enefer-Doy, that this was possible.
Working with children’s hospices across the UK and Ireland, Lifelites provides specialised technology to terminally ill children, many of whom have no other form of entertainment or communication. ‘When you have a disability you have to find different ways of doing things, but you don’t have to be excluded from activities. With technology we can explore those ways,’ says Enefer-Doy.
Lifelites began in 1998 as part of a Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB) millennium initiative. Les Hutchinson, Chief Executive of the RMTGB, visited seventeen children’s hospices to learn what their needs were. ‘We wanted to support them by harnessing technology that could be used by kids with very significant disabilities, who could get some stimulation and enjoyment from what we could provide.’
With more children’s hospices opening, it was clear by 2006 that the initial £7.5 million provided by the RMTGB might not be sufficient for the technology initiative to survive. ‘We predicted the movement would grow, but we didn’t think there would be forty-nine hospices within fifteen years,’ says Les. ‘Each of these brought a great deal of expense, because we needed to provide all the wiring, software, training and ongoing support for our technology. But then we thought, why don’t we set up a separate charity able to raise funds in its own right?’ And so Lifelites was born.
‘The RMTGB is very generous with its support and helps us to network within Freemasonry,’ explains Enefer-Doy. The RMTGB provides Lifelites with its offices and deals with its accounts, leaving the team of five to focus on fundraising and delivering the hospice projects. Beyond this, Lifelites is free to fundraise outside the masonic system, making it the only masonic charity to do so.
‘Lifelites is a really good example of how Freemasonry has created something that is providing a valuable service to the wider society,’ says Les. ‘It’s a masonic charity but it has a completely non-masonic outlook. Its only purpose is to support the children’s hospice movement.’
With a fundraising background including time spent at Scope and Marie Curie, Enefer-Doy was appointed chief executive in 2006 and the past few years have seen Lifelites flourish, with the charity winning a Tech4Good Award in 2011. Each hospice costs Lifelites about £50,000 over four years so the charity aims to replace the equipment at a quarter of the hospices every year. ‘We work on a four-year cycle, and consult with the hospices and children about what new technology they’d like before going to our donors,’ says Enefer-Doy.
Under her care, Lifelites has fostered many partnerships outside Freemasonry, both corporate and individual. The Thomas Cook Children’s Charity, for example, has been generous in its support. ‘They chose us because we said we’d provide these children with a great holiday, as they can’t go on normal holidays with their families.’
The funds raised by Thomas Cook Children’s Charity helped Lifelites to provide a flight simulator for Julia’s House in Dorset. ‘The staff got the children to pack a suitcase and make their own passports with the Lifelites technology. What they’re trying to do is give them the experience of going on a plane, even though they’re unable to.’
Lifelites is also working with students studying video game design at London South Bank University, as there are no high-level games developed specifically for people with disabilities, particularly for those aged thirteen to eighteen. ‘We pitched this to the students, and they designed games that can be played by young people with disabilities, who might be very cognitively able, if not physically so. The next step is for the developers to get these games produced,’ says Enefer-Doy.
With charity fundraising becoming increasingly competitive, Lifelites recently employed a new fundraising development manager with the goal of diversifying its funding base. The Ladies that Lunch for Lifelites initiative, for example, encourages women to get together with friends over a leisurely lunch to raise money for a good cause. ‘Gender-specific events work really well in fundraising so we tried to think what we could do for women only that could build our support,’ says Enefer-Doy.
Raising funds isn’t the only challenge Lifelites faces. ‘The children’s hospice movement itself is developing. One of the biggest issues is transition units for people at children’s hospices who reach eighteen, so we’re looking at what we can do. We want to keep our focus on technologies for disabilities and think about what we could provide for these older age groups.’
It’s a big task, but a rewarding one for Enefer-Doy and her team. ‘We’re small, we’re unknown, we don’t get a lot of automatic donations. But then, when people go with us to the hospices and see the technology and how excited the parents and kids are, it’s very moving and they understand why what we do is so important.’
For more information about Lifelites, please visit www.lifelites.org or call 020 7440 4200
Keeping in touch
The donations made by Lifelites have had a huge impact on disabled children like Josh Dolling, aged eleven, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour at twenty-six months. Josh is now paralysed down his left side, has impaired vision and suffers seizures.
His mother Helen says: ‘Josh has specialised needs and requires 24-hour care. But when playing games on the Lifelites touch-screen computer at his hospice (EACH Milton), he is engrossed and calm. I think it’s because he has some form of control. There’s no way we could afford to buy the computer, so for him to have it at the hospice is wonderful.’
EYEGAZE: Operated by just a flicker of the eye, Eyegaze technology lets even the most severely disabled children control a computer screen. Cost: £4,368
Simone Enefer-Doy: ‘I saw Eyegaze in 2007, but at £15,000 it was beyond our reach. Last year it dropped below £5,000 and I thought: “We can do this.”’
MOBILE MAGIC CARPET: Projecting an interactive image onto the floor, children can kick up leaves or play in the waves, even from their own beds. Cost: £7,000
Simone Enefer-Doy: ‘It used to be static and too expensive but now that it’s mobile it’s exactly what we want.’
Maddie’s story: a moving new video highlights the work of the RMTGB
The Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys has produced its first video case study, ‘Maddie’s story’, to highlight its work. Each year the RMTGB supports around two thousand children and young people from masonic families. Each of these children has experienced a life-changing event that has led to financial hardship for their family. This new video features Nottinghamshire Freemason Howard Mace and his wife Alex, who explain the difference that the RMTGB’s support has made to their seven-year-old daughter, Maddie.
In the video, Howard describes being diagnosed with kidney cancer and secondary cancer of the spine, a condition that means that he is unable to work. Alex goes on to explain how the RMTGB has helped by providing a regular maintenance allowance, which enables them to give Maddie the essential items that she needs.
RMTGB Chief Executive Les Hutchinson said, ‘This video has been a great success, really demonstrating the value of our work. I encourage all Freemasons and their families to visit our website and watch it.’
More than one thousand people viewed the video within the first week of its release at www.rmtgb.org/maddie and the RMTGB has plans to produce further videos.
Enthusiasm and commitment in Monmouthshire
In September, Monmouthshire Freemasons celebrated the conclusion of their 2013 Festival Appeal and a magnificent total of £1,219,414 for the RMTGB.
The Provincial Grand Master and Festival President, the Rev Malcolm Lane of the Welsh Province, launched the appeal just over five years ago. Malcolm, who also serves as a trustee of the RMTGB, congratulated his Province for their generosity and hard work. ‘I commend to you all the work of the RMTGB and in doing so I express on behalf of the Province my grateful thanks, bless you for your enthusiasm and commitment.’
After the total sum was revealed by RMTGB Chief Executive Les Hutchinson, the charity’s President Mike Woodcock expressed his heartfelt thanks to the one thousand three hundred members of the Province and their families during a passionate address in which he recalled his own childhood holidays in Monmouthshire.
The brethren of Monmouthshire and their families raised £1,002,013 towards the appeal – a remarkable achievement for a Province of only thirty lodges. Metropolitan Grand Lodge and other Provinces and Districts added a further £200,000.
The Festival event, held at the Celtic Manor Resort, was attended by Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes. More than four hundred guests enjoyed an evening of entertainment including Welsh harpist Sian Williams, the Only Boys Aloud choir (finalists of Britain’s Got Talent), Abertillery Orpheus Male Choir and soloist Robert Knight. Also in attendance was David Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouth.
‘Bless you for your enthusiasm and commitment.’ Rev Malcolm Lane
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’.
13 March 2013
An address by VW Bro Mike Woodcock, President, and W Bro Les Hutchinson, PAGDC, Chief Executive, Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys
'A celebration of 225 years in supporting children by the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys'
VW Bro Mike Woodcock:
Brethren, on the ceiling frieze above the senior warden’s chair, is an image of Pythagoras. It reminds me that the antient Knights of Pythagoras had a saying “that a man never stands as tall as when he kneels to help a child”. Today, we want to tell you about a freemason who put that saying into action by creating the first central masonic charity 225 years ago.
He came, not from England, but from Italy, where he was a dentist - you might say he was of Italian extraction! He came to London in 1759. Then, a very different city with a population of only 800,000 crowded on the north bank of the Thames, between the tower and Westminster. Chelsea, Paddington and Marylebone were but farming villages.
England was becoming prosperous, the industrial revolution was underway and the English way of life, at least for the squire, the yeoman and the villager were the envy of Europe. But there was another side to society; the poor in the slums had a hard time, low wages, no welfare and a harsh penal regime. Gin houses advertising that you could get drunk for a penny and dead drunk for tuppence, were the escape and ruin of many.
It was to this London that thirty year old Bartholomew Ruspini came with letters of introduction from influential connections in France and Italy, ensuring his rapid entry into the highest circles of society. He set up a dentistry practice on Pall Mall opposite Carlton House, the residence of the Prince of Wales and he began to clean the teeth of royalty.
Ruspini was initiated into the Bush Lodge; became a founder of the Lodge of the Nine Muses, helped the Prince of Wales, which whom he had become a good friend, set up the Prince of Wales’s Lodge and he achieved the rank of Grand Sword Bearer, a rank he held until his death.
Although there were occasional casual grants for the children of deceased brethren from the committee of charity of the moderns and the steward’s lodge of the antients, there was no continuous provision and so 225 years ago, almost to the day, Ruspini established an orphanage school for girls.
He secured the first funding from his wealthy connections, including the Prince of Wales and the Dukes of York and Gloucester, and the Royal Cumberland School for Female Objects, was opened and named after the Duchess of Cumberland its first patron.
Fifteen girls met at Ruspini’s house on Pall Mall and processed to the new school, on the site of what is now the British Library. At the end of their school life, the girls were to return to their families or go into domestic service. School life was far from luxurious; meals consisted mainly of gruel, bread and beer with a weekly treat of boiled mutton – think of this brethren before you complain about your festive boards!
But Ruspini soon needed further funding for his school and so on its first anniversary he organised a church service and a dinner at which his masonic connections were invited to make donations - collected in a wooden box.
The event was called a festival and the collection an appeal. It raised 82 pounds, 10 shillings and 6 pence, about £9,000 in today’s values. That was freemasonry’s first festival appeal and it gave birth to the festival system which has endured for well over 200 years.
That brethren, is the collection box which started the festival system and it still bears the name of the Royal Cumberland School.
By now Ruspini had acquired a wide reputaton for benevolance and as result he received a papal knighthood conferring the title Chevalier.
What Ruspini had achieved inspired William Burwood and the United Mariner’s Lodge, to establish a similar charity for boys ten years later. The two charities grew and included the Royal Masonic Schools at Rickmansworth and Bushey.
But masonic boarding schools were not always the best solution and ‘out relief’ was started – financial grants for children who usually remained at home with their family attending local schools.
Eventually, this ‘out relief’ became the main support and in the 1980s, following the Bagnall Report, the girls and boys charities merged to form the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys.
W Bro Les Hutchinson:
If Ruspini were looking down on our proceedings today he would be extremely proud of his legacy and the impact it continues to have on the lives of so many.
The modern RMTGB is a far cry from its humble beginnings, but it still upholds the objects laid down for that first school, namely: to preserve children from the dangers and misfortunes to which their distressed situation may expose them; to train their young minds; and to qualify them to occupy useful stations in life.
We have moved on significantly from supporting just a few girls between the ages of five and ten and today we support almost 2,000 girls and boys, ranging from only a few months old to those completing full-time education, sometimes in their mid-twenties.
Today, our support is available to any child who is financially dependent on a freemason and this includes: step-children, adopted children and even grandchildren.
Today, just like in Ruspini’s day, our beneficiaries have one thing in common: they have all faced a life changing event that has reduced their family to a state of poverty. Around half of those we support have been affected by family breakdown; some have a parent who has a disability; almost a third have experienced the death of at least one parent – and some have lost both parents.
In the current economic climate more and more are from families affected by redundancy, unemployment or bankruptcy.
All of those we support are real children with real needs. And although we cannot completely erase tragedy, we can and do help to give them a brighter future.
Today, the majority of our grants are directed to children living at home, targeting the effects of poverty and helping to provide the best possible opportunities for them to succeed in life.
In addition to grants towards everyday costs, we also help with other essential items that can make all the difference to children, such as: school uniforms to ensure they fit in on their first day at school; extra-curricular activities to learn new skills, make friends and develop into well rounded young people; computer packages to enable them to complete their homework to the highest standard; and opportunities to develop rare and exceptional talent into a professional career.
We are responding to real needs of children in 2013, much like Ruspini was responding to real needs of children in his day.
But today, our work goes far beyond simply awarding and paying grants. Our skilled team of welfare advisers visit all the families in our care ensuring that they receive the appropriate support not just from us, but from the state and other providers. And our case advisers provide practical assistance and reassurance when families are at their lowest ebb.
As a celebrated philanthropist, Ruspini would be pleased to know that in addition to our core work, each year our grant making-scheme Stepping Stones helps thousands of non-masonic children.
He would also be proud that our choral bursary scheme provides other life-changing opportunities for children from low income families.
And his legacy now includes the work of Lifelites, our subsidiary charity which provides fun and educational technology, such as computers and games consoles, to every children’s hospice in the British Isles; helping to bring a little light into the lives of thousands young children who will never reach adulthood.
In these three ways we are demonstrating that masonic charity and Ruspini’s legacy are not just inward looking but a real force for good in wider society.
However, like Ruspini we need to work hard to secure funding to support our work. The short lease on that first school cost just £35 but we now spend over £9m each year and the festival system which he started continues to be the principal source of funding for the central masonic charities.
I have helped organise 25 festival appeals during which over £65 million has been raised for the trust. I am constantly astonished and immensely grateful for the generosity shown by the brethren and their families. Ruspini could never have imagined how his simple plan for securing the financial future of his school would become so pivotal to the existence and future of masonic charity.
But, what does the future hold for Ruspini’s legacy and that which is represented by that special collection box?
VW Bro Mike Woodcock:
Brethren, today, Ruspini would surely be proud that the charity he founded now cares for more disadvantaged children than at any time in its history.
He would be proud that the Royal Masonic School for Girls at Rickmansworth, although now an independent school, maintains a strong masonic tradition; providing a caring and special environment for some of our beneficiaries.
He would be proud that his name lives on in Ruspini House, located just behind Great Queen Street, where we provide accommodation for beneficiaries completing their education or beginning careers in London.
He would be proud that the endowment he helped to establish enables us to now spend on our beneficiaries on average, three times what we receive in donations from today’s freemasons.
He would be proud that the charity he founded now not only cares for boys as well as girls but works seamlessly with the other central charities providing, through Freemasonry Cares, a whole family approach – and as a man of change he would expect us to continue to evolve in order to meet the changing faces of society and of freemasonry.
But most of all he would be proud that never once in our 225 year history have we had to turn away a child in distress through lack of funds.
Brethren, that collection box is so much more than an item from a bygone age. It is a reminder that charity is at the heart of freemasonry and that we still rely on you, today’s freemasons, to support our vital work.
Let us finish with a passage taken from last year’s Prestonian lecture on Scouting and Freemasonry, words with which Ruspini would surely have agreed:
A child is a person who is going to carry on what you and I have started. He is to sit right where you are sitting and attend to those things that you and I think are important, after we have gone. We may adopt all the policies we please but how they will be carried out depends on him. Even if we make leagues and treaties, he will have to manage them. He will assume control of our cities, our provinces, countries and government (as well as scout troops and masonic lodges). All of our work is going to be judged and praised, or condemned, by him. Your reputation and future, and mine, are in his hands. All of our work is for him and the fate of our nations and all humanity is in his hands.
Chevalier Ruspini died 200 years ago this year and is buried at St James Church, Piccadilly. All the girls from his school attended his funeral wearing black cloaks.
Brethren, let us all remember not only those first girls but the hundreds and thousands of other disadvantaged children to whom we, as freemasons, have given a better start in life.
Thank you for listening to his and our story.
You can find out more information about the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys by visiting their website
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
Forum highlights professionalism
An array of masonic fundraising talent gathered at Freemasons’ Hall in October for the 2012 Festival Forum, an annual event organised by the RMTGB on behalf of the four central masonic charities
The Festival Forum brings managers and directors of current and future festival appeals together. It gives them the opportunity to share ideas and learn about the charities they are raising vital funds for. There was no shortage of experience this year, with delegates attending from over 30 Provinces, having raised almost £60 million between them in support of the four central masonic charities.
RMTGB President, Mike Woodcock, opened the event and introduced representatives from the Provinces of Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire and Rutland and Worcestershire, who shared their experiences of the most recent festival appeals. David Macey, the Provincial Grand Master of Warwickshire, gave an address about the impact that his festival has had on his Province.
Forum delegates heard from speakers representing the central masonic charities, including RMTGB Chief Executive, Les Hutchinson. It was heard that festival donations were more important than ever, particularly in view of increasing calls for charitable support – over 5,000 Freemasons and dependants have received assistance during the past 12 months alone.
Delegates were briefed about the increasing number of services that are available to festival and other masonic fundraisers, which have been developed by the charities in response to the increasingly professional nature of modern fundraising. RMBI President, Willie Shackell, closed the forum by offering a message of thanks to all those who work so hard to support the four charities.
On 24 March 2012, seventy years after joining the former Royal Masonic Junior School, Tony Elliott was installed as the 2012/13 President of the Old Masonians Association at their Annual Dinner held at the Durham Masonic Hall, Old Elvet.
The Association comprises former pupils of the former
Tony’s links to the Association began in 1942 when, as a ten-year old boy, he joined the
Tony’s Masonic career began in 1954, when he was initiated into New Sanctuary Lodge No.6604 in the
To find out more about the OMA, please visit: http://www.oldmasonians.org