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.
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
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.
Les Hutchinson, chief executive of the RMTGB, and Conrad Donaldson, Provincial Grand Charity Steward for Devonshire, presented a Supreme Gold Certificate to John Hodkinson, Master of Loyal Lodge of Industry, No. 421, to recognise the magnificent achievement of raising more than £50,000 towards Devonshire’s 2012 Festival.
Les thanked the members on behalf of the children and young people who will benefit from their donation, saying, ‘They are a shining example of what can be achieved with organised fundraising, enthusiastic support and generosity.’
With just under a year to go, Devon has already raised £3m and the appeal will conclude with an event on Saturday 17 November at the Riviera International Conference Centre in Torquay.
Children missing out as masonic families struggle to cope with the prolonged economic downturn
The effects of the recession are still being felt by many masonic families. Enclosed with this edition of Freemasonry Today is the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB) 2010-2011 Annual Review. The document reveals that the RMTGB accepted 30 percent more new cases in 2010 compared with 2009. In total, 1,820 children and young people received support in 2010, and the trend shows no sign of reversing.
Not surprisingly, the number of financial distress cases has risen as the economy struggles to recover from the recent global financial turbulence. Children can do little to escape the effects of monetary hardship and often, despite the best efforts of their parents, miss out on opportunities that in previous years had been taken for granted – frequently with life-changing consequences.
The general rise in the cost of living, government cuts to local services such as libraries, school travel and the education maintenance allowance, coupled with a significant increase in tuition fees, mean that the cost of raising children is continuing to increase rapidly.
The RMTGB exists to ensure that financial hardship does not impact on the general welfare or education of children from masonic families. RMTGB chief executive Les Hutchinson is keen to stress that support is available for children and young people who may be affected. ‘It is a tragedy that it is so often the children who suffer most because of financial situations completely beyond their control,’ he says. ‘Even temporary financial difficulty lasting a few months can have life-changing consequences for children.’
READY AND WILLING TO HELP
Despite the increase in cases, and the higher costs of living, Hutchinson stresses that the generosity of Freemasons means that the RMTGB is in a strong position to assist those children and young people who most need help. ‘I would urge anyone struggling to support their children financially during this time to contact the RMTGB or their lodge almoner.’
Les Hutchinson, chief executive of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB), has been invested as president of the Old Masonians Association (OMA)
The OMA, which currently has about 1,000 members, keeps alive the memory of the Royal Masonic School for Boys, while encouraging an interest in the work of the RMTGB, its successor. It was founded in 1886 and, 125 years later, Hutchinson is proud to continue to strengthen the links between the modern charity and its ‘Old Boys’.
TalentAid, a scheme launched by the RMTGB to support the ambitions of talented young people, celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. The scheme was established in 2001 in response to a growing awareness that some families were making huge financial sacrifices to support their children’s ambitions to develop a career in sport or the performing arts.
RMTGB Chief Executive Les Hutchinson said: ‘Over the past decade we have awarded around £3 million in TalentAid grants to over 250 young people whose talent has been so exceptional that it represents their best career prospect.’
Cyclist Luke Gray has been supported since 2007. He is a prime example of the scheme’s ongoing success, having developed his sporting abilities into a high-achieving career. Currently 19 years old, he is ranked third in the world for his age in cyclo-cross, and hopes to compete in the 2016 Olympics.
For help and advice, download an information sheet and application form at www.rmtgb.org
The continuing support the RMTGB provides to young people is only possible due to the donations that are often inspired by the imaginative fundraising activities of Freemasons.
This summer has witnessed prime examples of such imagination, with three incredible journeys being made to raise money for the RMTGB.
To mark the launch of the 2016 Festival, John Donoghue from the Province of Hampshire and Isle of Wight cycled over 500 miles to deliver Festival details to every masonic centre in the Province.
After four days of cycling, John said: ‘I thought it would be an eye-catching way to highlight the Festival and hope it marks the start of a successful period of fundraising for the RMTGB.’
John had previously donated a kidney to his daughter, making his journey even more remarkable. He is hoping his endeavours will raise in excess of £20,000 towards the Festival Appeal.
Manuel Mouzo and his son Sebastian walked the El Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain. Manuel, from Rochester in East Kent, said: ‘I had always wanted to make this spectacular journey and raising money for the RMTGB made the experience even more enjoyable.’
Their twenty-six-day journey has so far raised £1,000.
Buckinghamshire Freemasons organised the Rock Ride, a 1,500 mile cycle ride from Gibraltar to Stowe School. Nine cyclists took part in the journey which lasted fourteen days and involved climbs totalling twice the height of Mount Everest. As well as helping a number of other charities, the Rock Ride has so far raised over £22,000 for the 2010 Festival in support of the RMTGB.
Les Hutchinson, RMTGB Chief executive, commented: ‘These remarkable fundraising journeys show the charitable nature of Freemasonry at its very best. I am extremely grateful to everyone who raises funds for the RMTGB. We rely heavily on these important initiatives to support our lifechanging work, particularly during these difficult times.’
Go to www.rmtgb.org for further information about the work of the RMTGB and fundraising.