Digital converts

Whether it’s paying bills or buying Christmas presents, we are increasingly being driven online to conduct sometimes complex transactions. Peter Watts finds out how masonic funding in Leicestershire is helping to close the digital divide for an older generation

Lindsay Prince volunteers as a Digital Champion, delivering technology support and advice for elderly people, and she never knows what to expect. It may be someone in their eighties wanting to log on to an online seminar, or someone in their sixties struggling to send their first text message.

‘Some can’t even use keyboards, but that’s what we’re there for,’ says Prince, who volunteers for Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland. ‘I feel strongly that anybody who isn’t online is disenfranchised from society. If they don’t engage with IT they are in danger of missing out. They can’t run a bank account, get tickets to an event or vote on Strictly. People are terrified by it, but once they take the first step they find they can get over that hump.’

It’s this belief in the importance of digital accessibility for social inclusion that has prompted the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) to provide £65,000 for Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland, which has been running the project in the region since 2014. The charity holds drop-in sessions at care homes, Age UK facilities, shops and town centres where anybody can attend and receive support for their tablet, laptop or smartphone. The funding will allow the project to run for another two years, employ an administrator and coordinator, and train volunteers. Troy Young, assistant director of Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland, says they hope to reach 2,000 people in that period.

 THE DIGITAL LEAP

One beneficiary of the sessions has been Aileen, 86, who is now able to use her tablet to access a range of services. ‘It’s taken me months to believe that I can’t damage the tablet, so the digital sessions have been as much about confidence using the tablet as they have been about learning what I can achieve by using it,’ she says. ‘YouTube is marvellous because I can watch and enjoy seminars on a range of topics.’

Aileen’s story is one that the MCF and Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland hope will be repeated over the next two years. ‘What we like about this project is that it tackles social isolation from two angles,’ explains David Innes, Chief Executive of the MCF. ‘One is that in this age, where an increasing amount of our day-to-day activity takes place on the internet, there’s a large number of elderly people who struggle with the technology. They can’t manage money, access bus timetables or make GP appointments. It’s a real challenge and narrows their horizons even more.’

The other benefit is that in the process of gaining technology training, participants will have social interaction with the people teaching them. ‘The fact they are taking part in an activity will give them something to look forward to,’ Innes says.

Prince says that several of her regular attendees make a point of coming to sessions in part because of this social aspect. Many Digital Champions are young, and Prince – who is 70 and began volunteering after retiring from further education – admits sometimes she gets mistaken as a participant rather than a volunteer. But she believes that her age gives comfort to attendees, who see that age doesn’t have to be a barrier to new technology.

EARLY LEARNING

Having trained as a Digital Champion, Prince thinks it’s vital to go at the right pace and avoid scaring attendees with technical language. ‘It’s important to understand how different people learn,’ she says. ‘You need to realise you are working at somebody else’s level. It depends on the person, their attitude and what they did in their career beforehand. If you’ve never worked with machines, it can be difficult. You start by finding out what they want to use it for and you have to be careful you don’t overwhelm them.’

It’s also important that sessions are enjoyable, and Age UK’s Young says that feedback has been positive. The project has discovered hundreds of older people who were keen to go online but couldn’t find anybody providing the advice they required. ‘They were often worried they’d be made to feel stupid, and some of them have had negative experiences that made them feel out of their depth, but these are relaxed sessions that can be fun,’ he says. 

Older people came to Young explaining that they had signed up for evening courses but were being taught about how to use spreadsheets or make presentations. ‘They weren’t interested in learning in such a structured way – they wanted advice and guidance about all the wonderful new technology. We started rolling out engagement sessions so people could have a play with the equipment. People were also coming to us very confused about the range of what was in the market, and they wanted impartial advice. A lot of it is about demystifying and making sure that older people don’t find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide.’

Young is intrigued by the potential of using digital technology to provide reminiscence therapy for people with dementia. He hopes that Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland will soon be able to find volunteers who have experience both with technology and dementia care. ‘I want to take this project to older people who might not use the technology but can still benefit from it,’ he says. ‘There’s been some very interesting stuff around virtual reality and dementia recently, where they use virtual reality to take people back to times they might remember and that have a calming, therapeutic effect.’

MAKING CONNECTIONS

As well as allowing the MCF to tackle social exclusion, the location of the project in the East Midlands allows the MCF to ensure masonic funds are evenly distributed.

‘We try to balance our grants, just as the masonic community is spread around the country,’ says Innes, who was previously Chief Executive at the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) and has experience of supporting elderly people.

‘I’ve seen for myself at the RMBI the difference that technology can make,’ he says. ‘Families are far more dispersed than they used to be, and with opportunities such as social media and Skype, you can connect to a family member anywhere in the world. In our masonic care homes, we provide connectivity to all residents, which has enabled older people to stay more in touch with relatives.’

Young is looking forward to continuing his work with Digital Champions like Prince, thanks to the MCF. ‘We were so pleased to get this funding because the grant will keep it going for another two years,’ he says. ‘And that’s important because the technology isn’t going away – we have plenty of demand. We want to make our sessions as inclusive as possible and ensure that all older people will benefit.’

Find out more about the work of Age UK in Leicester Shire & Rutland - click here.

The people, families and communities supported by the MCF have been its highest priority in 2017. Chief Executive David Innes explains how they will remain at the heart of what the MCF does in 2018

Another year has gone by, and what an incredible year it has been. The highlight of our 2017 was undoubtedly the success of the MCF Community Awards – Tercentenary Fund. You can read about the awards in more detail elsewhere in this issue of Freemasonry Today, but I would like to take the opportunity to thank those of you who voted; you were one of more than 177,000 people that helped us decide which local charities received the largest grants from our £3 million fund.

Between promoting the Community Awards and taking part in Tercentenary celebrations across the country, we have continued to help around 5,000 Freemasons and their family members who have a financial, health, family or care-related need. We have also supported some fantastic local and national charities through our Charity Grants programme.

If you would like to find out more about the difference your donations are making to Freemasons, their families and the wider community, I would encourage you to read a copy of our first Impact Report, which is available to download and order via our website.

‘With the festive season approaching, many of you will be thinking about resolutions for the New Year. At the Masonic Charitable Foundation, we too are planning for the future’

With the festive season approaching, many of you will be thinking about resolutions for the New Year. At the Masonic Charitable Foundation, we too are planning for the future. Since our launch, we have worked hard to establish ourselves as a charity that the masonic community can both rely on and proudly support. In the spring of 2018, we will be launching our new strategy that will guide our work for the next five years.

December is a time of celebration – but for some families, it can be a difficult time when financial struggles come to a head. If you need support, or know of somebody else who does, please do not hesitate to contact us. Even if we are unable to assist you ourselves, we can direct you towards other organisations that may be able to help.

Our enquiry line – 0800 035 60 90 – is open until 5pm on Thursday, 21 December, after which you can leave a voicemail or email us (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), and someone will contact you when the office reopens in January.

Guidance and top tips

The new Charity Steward’s and Almoner’s Guides are now available. Both guides provide guidance and top tips, and signpost to other useful sources of information. To order your copy of either guide, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Hampshire and Isle of Wight PGM Michael Wilks visited the Tall Ships Youth Trust at Gunwharf Marina, Portsmouth, in July, and presented £22,000 donated to the charity by the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF)

The donation will support young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). Wilks talked to the young people who had recently arrived to start their adventure and were looking forward to playing their part in assisting the crew, whatever the weather and sea conditions.

CEO Richard Leaman explained, ‘This bursary will allow us to get 50 NEET young people on board our vessels for sail training.

'We are immensely grateful to the Masonic Charitable Foundation for their generosity and support.’

Eight Devonshire charities benefited from a series of special MCF Community Awards from Devonshire Freemasons after an unprecedented public vote, with 178,801 people in England and Wales participating

The MCF Community Awards are a major part of UGLE’s 300th anniversary celebrations. The Masonic Charitable Foundation is distributing £3 million to 300 charities across the country, with the public vote deciding on the level of awards, which range from £4,000 to £25,000.

Presentations to the charities were made in September at a special ceremony in Plymouth by Provincial Grand Master Ian Kingsbury on behalf of the Masonic Charitable Foundation.

Find out more about the thinking behind the MCF Community Awards here.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017 00:00

RMBI joins dementia alliance

Care provider RMBI Care Co has joined Dementia Action Alliance (DAA), which connects 150 organisations across England that work with people living with dementia

RMBI Care Co provides residential care, nursing care and dementia support for Freemasons and their families in 17 care homes in England and Wales. Additionally, one home provides care for adults with learning difficulties.

Speaking of the partnership, Anne Child, Pharmacy and Dementia Specialist Lead at RMBI Care Co, says: ‘As a new member of DAA, we will be working with organisations to share best practice, build strong campaigns and better inform people about dementia. Raising awareness is vital to help those affected and ensure they can access support quicker and receive the best care possible.’

In its commitment to dementia care, RMBI Care Co has also teamed up with Alzheimer’s Society to encourage people to talk openly about dementia by becoming a Dementia Friend.

Find out more about RMBI Care Co at rmbi.org.uk

Tuesday, 12 December 2017 00:00

No need to choose when you call the MCF

When you call the MCF, you don’t need to decide which of your problems is most important – they may be able to help with all of them

When dealing with life’s challenges, it can be difficult to know where to start. Whether you’ve been made redundant, lost your partner or received a medical diagnosis, the knock-on effects often reach all areas of family life.

Sometimes, callers to the MCF’s freephone enquiry line are unaware of the full range of support available, or don’t want to ask for too much at once. The MCF’s experienced enquiries officers are trained to listen and ask the right questions to identify all the ways the charity can make life a little easier.

‘Myself and my wife, Jennifer, were forced to retire due to ill health within months of each other,’ said Scott, a Freemason. ‘We were forced to sell our home and move in with my parents, which took our daughters, Katie and Stephanie, away from their friends. We couldn’t afford to pay for the girls’ school shoes, let alone our bills. It was an incredibly stressful period.’

Scott heard about the MCF through his lodge Almoner. When he first got in touch with the charity, it was for help with daily living expenses – it was only after speaking with the MCF that he realised additional support was available for his children.

‘The MCF also paid for swimming and gymnastics lessons for Katie and Stephanie. It makes the world of difference to me that I don’t have to worry about the girls missing out on opportunities.’

If you’re a Freemason or a close relative of a Freemason, and are facing a difficult period of your life due to finance, health, family or care-related issues, call the MCF to see if it could help (0800 035 60 90)

Within the masonic community, families supported by the MCF who have children under the age of twenty-five in full-time education can apply for additional funding for extracurricular activities

The Masonic Charitable Foundation has supported Chris and Marina, and their children Tanya, Natasha and Rhys following Chris’ redundancy.

‘When things got hard for us, my wife wanted me to seek help – but I was stubborn. Then things got even harder, and that’s when I picked up the phone,’ explained Chris. ‘The MCF covered the cost of gymnastics, dancing and swimming lessons for the children.

‘All three are doing well because of the classes – especially Rhys. Now seven, he leads other children in the pre-school class and just won silver in his first competition.’

After-school clubs and weekend classes are a great way to keep children  busy and entertained. But did you know they are also a fun way for them to  learn new skills and gain fresh experiences?

A study of more than 6,400 children found that as well as achieving more at school, children who take part in extracurricular activities develop social, emotional and behavioural skills such as time management, confidence, teamwork and creativity.

The recent study, carried out by the Institute of Education at University College London, showed activities outside of school hours could help close the attainment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from wealthier families.

However, it also found there were still inequalities, as many low-income families struggled to afford the costs of sports clubs, private tuition and music lessons. With this in mind, the MCF provides opportunities for children and young people both within the masonic community and in wider society.

The MCF recently awarded a £37,000 grant to Boccia England, a charity that provides accessible activity opportunities for disabled people aged twelve to eighteen. Boccia is a ball sport especially designed to test muscle control and accuracy. It is practised in more than 50 countries and is also a Paralympic sport.

The grant will allow Boccia England to continue supporting young people with physical, learning and visual disabilities and encourage inclusion in physical activity for all.

The Province of West Lancashire was anxious to ensure that it celebrated the Tercentenary in style and with that in mind, two gala dinners took place within a few weeks of each other

At the main event, held at the Hilton Hotel, Blackpool, over 400 brethren and their partners gathered to attend the Provincial Tercentenary Gala Dinner. The evening began with the entrance of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison and his wife Maureen, who were accompanied by the principal guest, Assistant Grand Master Sir David Hugh Wootton. Also joining them was the chairman of the West Lancashire Tercentenary committee, Assistant Provincial Grand Master Tony Bent and his wife Lynda.

Following the dinner, the entertainment began in dramatic style when a waiter dropped a large tray of cutlery, apparently accidentally on to the dance floor. This got everyone’s attention but rather than a mishap, this was the start of a performance in which several theatrical ‘waiters’ performed a set of popular operatic arias to the delight of the audience.

As the customary toasts were made, Tony Harrison proposed the toast to the ‘Premier Grand Lodge’ on the occasion of its Tercentenary and then, following a brief synopsis of Sir David’s professional and Masonic career, offered a toast to the Assistant Grand Master. To further mark Sir David’s visit, Tony presented him with a cheque for £5,000 from the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity to pass on to the Lifelites charity, of which he is a patron.

He was also presented with a ‘Rail Atlas of Great Britain and Ireland’ and a special bottle of Martell Cognac which commemorated the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Martell Distillery. Sir David thanked Tony for his kind words and very generous gifts.

The evening’s raffle, which raised £1,920 in favour of the West Lancashire 2021 Masonic Charitable Foundation Festival, saw the lucky winners claiming a variety of prizes, including a coach holiday in the UK, flying lessons and a widescreen television.

At another event, held earlier in the north of the Province, over 200 Masons and their partners gathered at the Cumbria Grand Hotel to celebrate what was billed as ‘A Spectacular Banquet and Ball’, organised jointly by the Furness and Lancaster Masonic Groups. Once again, the revellers were joined by Tony and Maureen Harrison at a wonderful event that combined great food, marvellous entertainment and a spectacular firework finale.

Speeches were kept to a minimum with the emphasis firmly on having a relaxed and fun filled evening. The speech and double toast given by Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Grainger was so uncharacteristically short that it earned him rapturous applause!

Everyone pronounced both evenings to be a great success and a fitting way to celebrate such a memorable Masonic milestone in true West Lancashire style.

News that her organisation was going to be given £15,000 from the Masonic Charitable Foundation reduced Pat Ebbs to tears

“Words can’t explain what this means to us. No-one has even done anything like this for us before, and saying thank you just doesn’t seem to be enough,” she told Lincolnshire's Provincial Grand Master Graham Ives, when he went to Scunthorpe to make a formal presentation of the funds given to Magic Moments for Autisic Kids.

Pat is the driving force behind the charity, and knows better than most about life in families with autistic children – she has seven grandchildren suffering from it. 

The money is the largest single donation ever made to the group, which has the objective of preventing sufferers of autism from feeling isolated, of training them and giving them life experiences. 

Pat said the donation was a colossal sum of money and would make a significant difference to the families helped by the charity, which itself has been awarded an MBE. All of the money will be spent on providing experiences for the children, which will include a sledging trip and possibly a holiday in Wales at a venue specialising in holidays for disabled children.

Six Lincolnshire charities have benefited from Lincolnshire’s Community Awards after unprecedented public involvement. The Awards are a major part of Freemasonry’s 300th anniversary celebrations, with the Masonic Charitable Foundation distributing £3 million to 300 charities across the country.

All of the Lincolnshire charities were presented with their Awards by Graham Ives who commented: 'It was uplifting to hear the stories of the people who have been helped by these donations. Volunteers work so hard and to be able to provide the wherewithal for them to make an even more effective contribution is the perfect way to celebrate 300 years of Freemasonry. 

'We’ve been active in charity work for all of Freemasonry’s 300 years, but this is the first occasion we’ve asked the public to help us decide how to spend our money. We are very pleased that so many people from Lincolnshire took part in the vote.'

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