A Southampton charity, the Rose Road Association, has been given a major grant by Hampshire & Isle of Wight Freemasons to provide short breaks for severely disabled children and young people when their families are in crisis
The Rose Road Association is celebrating its 65th anniversary and by coincidence the grant from the Province and the Masonic Charitable Foundation totals £65,250. The funding will provide 150 short breaks over three years.
The short breaks give severely disabled children and young people the one-to-one care that they need, while allowing their families to spend dedicated time with their non-disabled children, or even just to get a good night’s sleep.
The MCF invests in the future of both the masonic community and wider society by funding research into a range of health conditions and disabilities
While it may be some time before the outcomes of these research grants are announced, there have been two recent and notable developments as a result of masonic funding.
In 2015, £100,000 was awarded to the University of East Anglia to fund research into prostate cancer. The research has resulted in the development of a new test that makes the vital distinction between aggressive and less harmful forms of prostate cancer. The breakthrough will help to avoid unnecessary and damaging treatment for some cancer patients.
There has also been success in developing a new mode of healthcare for people with cystic fibrosis thanks to a £500,000 grant to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust in 2016. The funded project used the latest technology to enable patients to monitor their condition at home and liaise with specialist health teams remotely, rather than visiting a hospital. The trial has been successful in limiting infection and there is potential for the method to be translated to other conditions.
The MCF Charity Grants programme will be redefined over the coming months, but medical research will remain one of the charity’s top priorities.
Find out more: For more details, visit www.mcf.org.uk/community
The Province of Leicestershire and Rutland has raised £30,000 for the MCF thanks to a sports memorabilia auction that included Sir Henry Cooper’s boxing glove
In March, Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons held a sports memorabilia auction at the Leicester Tigers rugby ground as part of their five-year Festival Appeal in support of the Masonic Charitable Foundation.
Hosted by former England cricketer Ed Giddins, the evening raised more than £30,000, with lots including a wheel from Nigel Mansell’s Formula 1 car, a football signed by Pelé and Chris Froome’s Tour de France yellow jersey.
The most coveted lot was a pair of Sir Henry Cooper’s boxing gloves, which he used in the 1969 European Heavyweight Title fight in Rome against Piero Tomasoni, who Cooper beat in five rounds. The gloves sold for £1,800 alongside Cooper’s autograph and newspaper clippings about the fight. Freemason Mark Pierpoint donated the gloves, which had been given to his father, Ray, many years ago by a member of Cooper’s team.
David Hagger, Provincial Grand Master, said: ‘We have started our Tercentenary celebrations in style with this wonderful charity event. I’m thrilled that we have raised so much for the Masonic Charitable Foundation.’
The Province is among the first to launch a Festival Appeal in support of the MCF, and hopes to raise £1.8 million over five years.
Wicketz is giving young people in deprived areas access to cricket, with the aim of instilling values of teamwork and responsibility. Peter Watts discovers why it was an off-the-bat decision for the Masonic Charitable Foundation to get involved
Enjoyed the world over, cricket may be one of England’s most famous exports but it does require a little organisation. Participants need pads, bats and balls as well as a large playing area – not forgetting the time to spend the best part of a day standing in a field. These are obstacles that children in some communities are unable to overcome without support, which is why the Lord’s Taverners charity created the Wicketz programme.
Since 2012, Wicketz has given more than 2,200 youngsters living in areas of high social, economic and educational deprivation access to a cricket club. But at Wicketz, it isn’t just about teaching young people how to execute the perfect reverse sweep or deliver a googly. Rather, the focus is on improving social cohesion and teaching valuable life skills to children aged eight to 15 who may otherwise be left by the wayside.
It was this emphasis on life skills that prompted the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) to give a £50,000 grant to Wicketz to fund a two-year expansion project. ‘It’s a well thought through programme that will have impact where it is most needed and that’s music to our ears,’ says Les Hutchinson, MCF Chief Operating Officer and a keen cricket fan.
Wicketz targets areas and communities that often don’t have access to playing fields or sporting facilities. ‘As masons we want to enable people to actively participate in society, to become part of something and introduce that idea of a supportive culture,’ says Les, adding that the element of competitiveness in cricket is also important. ‘It’s character building and provides people with a sense of purpose. We’ll be using cricket as the catalyst to improve the lives of disadvantaged people.’
Wicketz began as a pilot scheme in West Ham in East London in 2012. The area was carefully selected due to its high level of social deprivation and lack of existing cricketing provision. ‘The overarching aim of our project is to set up a community club environment that will eventually become self-sustaining,’ explains Henry Hazlewood, cricket programme manager at Lord’s Taverners.
‘We fund everything initially – the coaching and the development – so the programme comes at no cost to the participants. Over time we engage volunteers and parents and embed them into the scheme. The club in West Ham is now integrated into the Essex league, and has a fee-paying structure and parent-volunteers. We have also upskilled volunteers so they can become coaches.’
The scheme has since expanded to Luton and is now branching into Bristol, Leicester and Birmingham. In Bristol, the MCF grant will fund three clubs and a local development officer. It will pay for coaching, playing facilities and equipment to ensure that weekly sessions can take place.
An independent charity that was founded in the Tavern pub at Lord’s cricket ground in London in 1950, Lord’s Taverners works closely with cricket authorities to improve the prospects of disadvantaged and disabled youngsters. The local development officer for Wicketz is therefore able to sit on regional county cricket boards to ensure local needs are met. ‘That allows us to fully embed with what is happening locally and get a real feel for the landscape,’ says Hazlewood.
While participants will benefit from weekly coaching, the project has not been created with the intention of finding the next Ben Stokes or Haseeb Hameed. Instead, the focus is on personal development and social cohesion.
‘Cricket is very cognitive; it’s a thinking game. There’s a lot we can draw out from it that has benefits outside of sport’ Henry Hazlewood
IT'S THE TAKING PART...
‘Cricket as an outcome is absolutely secondary,’ says Mark Bond, cricket programmes executive at Lord’s Taverners. ‘It’s not about making good cricket players, although that will likely happen through regular coaching anyway. It’s an open-door policy for people who have never picked up a bat or ball, as well as those who already have an ability and interest. We are not trying to find the next batch of world-class cricketers, we are more interested in their personal development.’
Wicketz goes to local schools to introduce the sport to the children, and then encourages them to join clubs set up by Wicketz outside the school environment. ‘We’re aware it’s a big commitment as we are asking children from deprived backgrounds, often with very little parental support, to come along off their own back,’ says Hazlewood. ‘But cricket is really just the tool of engagement to get them into the project. We want to enhance the prospects of the participants and improve their self-development. We target wider outcomes and life skills and do things like working with the NHS, fire brigade and police, things that are relevant to the local community.’
In Luton, one of Wicketz’s aims has been to improve social cohesion between different ethnic communities and discuss safety awareness surrounding the railway lines that criss-cross the area. In most regions, the local police force will be invited to take part. An officer will spend the first part of the session playing cricket, and the rest of the time talking to the youngsters about relevant issues. For some of the participants, this may be their first positive engagement with the police force. ‘They will play cricket for 20 minutes and see this officer isn’t that bad,’ says Hazlewood. ‘It’s a way of bringing down barriers.’
‘We are not trying to find the next batch of world-class cricketers, we are more interested in their personal development’ Mark Bond
While Wicketz may weave different community strands into the sessions, cricket remains central to the story. Hazlewood and Bond both highlight the way cricket is different to other major team sports in that it requires a great deal of individual responsibility, with players part of a team but also having to face a bowler on their own.
‘We think cricket has a lot of physical benefits and also helps communication and leadership,’ says Bond. ‘What really separates it from other team sports is the large element of individual responsibility. In other team sports, people can shy away a little bit, but in cricket you are part of a team and have to communicate, but you also have to take responsibility for your own performance.’
Hazlewood takes Bond’s point further. ‘Cricket is very cognitive; it’s a thinking game. There’s a lot we can draw out from the game that has benefits outside of sport,’ he says. ‘A lot of these outcomes are very soft and informal and worked out in sessions, and then there are more overt sessions such as working directly with the police.’
The overall aim is for the clubs to become self-sustaining and integrated into local leagues. In Bristol, Lord’s Taverners will be running local festivals to engage the various Wicketz programmes in competition, but there is also a shorter-term target for selected participants, who may be invited to join a three-day residential session where they can work on their game with professional cricketers and engage in more detailed workshops.
The Wicketz programme has already directly benefited more than 2,200 children, which shows the scheme’s impressive reach. However, Bond and Hazlewood emphasise it isn’t just about numbers. As Bond explains, ‘We don’t just want to get 100 kids through the door who love cricket, we want the kids who will really benefit.’
Ultimately, the hope is to improve lives in the wider community, not just for participants. ‘We are trying to create environments that benefit everyone and have different people from different backgrounds sitting together on the same committee,’ says Hazlewood. ‘We want to break down barriers that are prevalent and have an impact not just with the kids who come to the programme.’
Leicestershire and Rutland Freemason Paul Simpson is getting ready for the biggest challenge of his life when he cycles 300 miles for charity, as part of the celebrations of 300 years of English Freemasonry.
Paul, aged 51, is one of 20 Freemasons cycling to each of the 11 Masonic meeting places within Leicestershire and Rutland, followed by a hard slog to the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England at Freemasons' Hall.
When clocking up the 300 miles, they will take a short detour to the site of the former Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St Paul's Churchyard, London, where the first Grand Lodge was formed in June 1717 before they head back to Leicester.
Paul said: 'Little did I realise that when I purchased a bike for my 50th birthday in October 2015, in less than two years I would be attempting a 300 mile charity ride over four days.
'On my first ride I managed just six miles. I returned home out of breath and extremely hot and red faced due no doubt to the excess weight that I was carrying but my appetite for cycling was whetted.'
By July 2016, Paul had completed his first charity cycle ride, 40 miles for Archie’s Army, a charity set up to support a young boy with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. In April 2017, he completed the Rutland Sportive which covered 85 miles over the notorious Rutland hills.
After extensive training, and losing over two and half stone in weight, he is now ready to face the challenge of 300 miles in four consecutive days from Thursday 8th June 2017, which aims to raise £20,000 for the Rainbows Hospice for Children and Young People in Loughborough and the Masonic Charitable Foundation.
The Masonic Charitable Foundation supports Freemasons and their families as well as providing more than five million pounds in grants to good causes across England and Wales.
David Innes, Chief Executive of the Masonic Charitable Foundation, said: 'We’re very grateful to Paul and his friends for making this magnificent effort in support of the Masonic Charitable Foundation. We wish them all the very best of luck on their journey and look forward to welcoming them to Freemasons Hall on 9th June.'
The Rainbows Hospice for Children and Young People, based in Loughborough, provides care to those that are affected by life-limiting and life-threatening conditions.
Helen Lee-Smith, Head of Individual Giving at Rainbows, said: 'On behalf of everyone at Rainbows, I would like to thank Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons for supporting Rainbows with their 300 mile cycle ride to celebrate 300 years of Freemasonry.
'Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons are doing a wonderful thing raising funds to help us run the hospice - fundraising efforts make such a huge difference to both the children and young people at Rainbows and their families. We would like to wish them all the best for their challenge.'
You can donate to the team here.
Ambulance service flying high with funding boost from Masonic Charitable Foundation in Bedfordshire
On Sunday 30th April, Bedfordshire Freemasons attended the Icknield Road Club, 2017 Spring Sportive, at Redborne School in Ampthill
During the Family Fun Day, they presented a cheque for £4,000 to the East Anglian Air Ambulance. Anthony Henderson, the head of Bedfordshire Freemasons told us: 'Freemasonry in England is 300 years old this year, and charity is one of the foundations upon which Freemasonry is built. As part of our Tercentenary celebrations, we are giving an additional £3 million to local and national charities during 2017. This is in addition to the £30 million we annually give to charities and good causes. The £4,000 we gave to East Anglian Air Ambulance today is part of the £192,000 Freemasons recently gave to the 22 air ambulance and rescue services in England and Wales. This brings the total Freemasons have donated to air ambulance and rescue services in England and Wales since 2007 to £2.1 million.'
Amongst the Bedfordshire Freemasons was Wally Randal (pictured above holding his walking stick) a 101-year old Freemason from Leighton Buzzard. Wally, a former Desert Rat, a member of the Royal British Legion for over 60 years and the oldest poppy seller in England told us: 'A member of the air ambulance crew told me that the first helicopter flew in 1939 – some 78 years ago – and just one year before I joined the British Army to fight for King and country in the Second World War aged 24.'
Masonic Charitable Foundation donates £100,000 to East Africa food crisis appeal
Across Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Somalia, over 20 million people are on the brink of starvation. The Masonic Charitable Foundation has been among the first to respond, making an emergency grant of £100,000 to Plan International.
Drought, disease, conflict and displacement in the region have led to the first declaration of famine anywhere in the world in over six years and the UN has warned that the world is now facing the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945.
Our £100,000 grant will help Plan International to provide lifesaving support to over 970,000 people in East Africa, focusing on supporting vulnerable children and their families. This donation will help them to distribute food packages, water purification and hygiene kits. They will also provide school meals to ensure children can resume their education, as well as ensuring vulnerable children are protected from violence and abuse.
Tanya Barron, Chief Executive of Plan International UK, said: 'We’re enormously grateful to the Freemasons for their very generous grant. More than 800,000 children under five are severely malnourished. This grant will help us reach affected children and their families with urgent support.'
With predictions of further poor rainfall coupled with pockets of rising conflict, the situation is likely to deteriorate. Due to the scale of this disaster, swift humanitarian assistance is essential and the Masonic Charitable Foundation is committed to supporting communities who have been affected.
David Innes, Chief Executive of the Masonic Charitable Foundation said: 'The crisis in East Africa is one of the worst we have seen in many years and funds are needed now to provide lifesaving support to those affected. The Masonic Charitable Foundation is proud to be one of the first organisations to support this urgent appeal by providing a £100,000 grant to Plan International on behalf of Freemasons across England and Wales.'
Plan International UK is a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee, which this week launched an East Africa Crisis appeal. The DEC is made up of 13 leading aid agencies who together are responding to the food crisis in the region.
Tea for one
Up and down the country, Sunday tea parties offer companionship to elderly people who might otherwise face loneliness and isolation. Steven Short discovers how the Masonic Charitable Foundation is helping
Who did you have dinner with last night? Your partner? Friends? Work colleagues? Perhaps you ate dinner alone. If you did, imagine what it would be like to eat alone tonight and every night, or not to speak to another human being for weeks on end.
Sadly, this level of isolation has become normal for thousands of elderly people up and down the country. It is estimated that a third of people over the age of 70 eat alone every day, and that more than one million older people haven’t spoken to anyone for weeks.
‘It’s so easy for an elderly person to become isolated,’ says Suzan Hyland at Contact the Elderly. ‘If someone can’t walk to the shops for a chat, or can’t get to the door quickly enough when the postman or milkman rings, they can go for days without speaking to another human being.’
To help to improve the situation, the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) awarded Contact the Elderly £75,000 to enable it to provide more companionship to elderly and frail people aged 75 and over who live alone, something it has already been doing for more than 50 years.
The MCF grant will fund the role of a new national support officer, who will help to co-ordinate 700 of the 10,000 volunteers needed to organise monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties across the UK. These events provide a regular and vital friendship link for small groups of older and infirm people who live in isolation.
‘We currently have about 5,500 guests who we take out to a free tea every month,’ says Hyland. ‘But that is just the tip of the iceberg. We want to expand because we know the need is there. In most of our areas we have waiting lists of people wanting to join the groups.’
The grant will allow Contact the Elderly to grow the support it provides in difficult financial times with an increasing elderly population. Hyland, currently the charity’s only support officer working on a national level, highlights the reason for the heavy demand: ‘There’s a generation of elderly people who, because of the war and because of medical conditions associated with wartime and the period directly after, have ended up being alone.’
She explains that even if people do have family, relatives might only be able to visit two or three times a year. But living on one’s own needn’t mean always being alone, which is why the charity developed its tea party model.
On one Sunday of each month, a volunteer host invites a group of elderly people (typically aged 85-95) into their home for a free tea party. The same group meets 12 times a year – each time in a different home, with the host providing tea and refreshments from their own pocket.
The parties offer guests not just tea, but also companionship. Organised by volunteers of all ages, they bring together people who may never otherwise have met, and help to foster fulfilling relationships.
‘It’s a great model because the older guests get a lot of things to look forward to throughout the year,’ says Hyland, who is currently responsible not just for supporting existing volunteers, but also for recruiting new ones. The model works well because each volunteer only has to host one party a year, which helps with retention – some volunteers have been with the charity for 40 years.
Erica, a volunteer from Surbiton, Surrey, says: ‘It’s rewarding because you get to know the older guests and talk to them about what they’ve been up to. Seeing how much they enjoy the parties and how much they look forward to them is wonderful.’
Summing up her first tea party, one guest said, ‘It’s so nice to have a chance to dress up and go somewhere. I can’t remember when I last had such a lovely time.’ For another guest, the events were a turning point: ‘I felt like I’d come out of a dark tunnel and into the light. Before I joined Contact the Elderly I thought my life had ended, and now it’s started again.’
Some guests have reconnected with people they used to know but had lost contact with. ‘We’ve had people who went to school together who haven’t seen each other for 40 or 50 years,’ says Hyland. Attendees regularly phone each other, and the more mobile members meet outside their Sunday calendar dates.
But there is still work to do. ‘It can be frustrating when there is a need. I look at an area sometimes and see the waiting list and think, “I will get round to that…” but it just takes so long,’ says Hyland. ‘My basic role is supporting existing groups. Opening new ones has, sadly, had to come second. Appointing a new officer will make those extra groups possible. Instead of thinking “we could have a group here, we could have a group there”, we’ll have the manpower to make it happen, which is fantastic.’
It is estimated that the new officer will support 55 groups across the country, giving some 450 guests something to look forward to each month. The MCF grant that is making this possible is not the first instance of the masonic charity supporting Contact the Elderly – some £100,000 has been donated since 2000.
‘Freemasons have always been active in the community and loneliness and isolation in old age are issues that they are keen to help with,’ says David Innes, MCF Chief Executive. ‘Contact the Elderly was an obvious choice for our funding.
The MCF is delighted to support the charity with a grant to help to grow the tea parties, which do so much to bring companionship to older people’s lives.’
That companionship is summed up perfectly by one happy tea party participant, who says that once a month she tells her walls, ‘I can’t speak to you today, I’ve got real people to talk to.’
The volunteer driving force
Contact the Elderly not only recruits hosts for its parties but also volunteer drivers, who transport the guests on the day.
‘I got involved three years ago as I wanted to do something worthwhile with my Sunday afternoons – and I’m particularly partial to homemade cakes,’ says Thomas, who currently drives guests to tea parties in Birmingham and – like all drivers – pays for the petrol himself.
‘The ladies I drive are all good fun and really appreciate our efforts, even though it’s only a few hours a month.’ Thomas is fascinated to hear all their stories about life in the early part of the 20th century and during the war. ‘At Christmas I drove us into the city centre after our tea and cakes to look at the Christmas lights, which they hadn’t seen for years – that quick 15-minute diversion made their month and it made my month making theirs!’
A Special Olympics initiative is offering people with profound learning difficulties the chance to take part in sporting activities. Peter Watts finds out how Freemasons are supporting the scheme
Niamh-Elizabeth Reilly recalls a particular moment from the training programme she organises for people with profound and multiple learning difficulties when a mother of one of the participants had become very emotional at an end-of-course Challenge Day.
‘The mother said her son was 33 years old and that she’d never had the chance to see him participate in anything, to achieve anything before,’ says Reilly. ‘She was overwhelmed by the support from the crowd, with everybody cheering him on and seeing how he relished that. He was doing something she didn’t know he was capable of – a grip-and-release ball task she’d never seen him do before. That’s the impact [the programme] can have.’
The Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) hopes to encourage more such moments through its award of a £60,000 grant to Special Olympics GB to expand the Motor Activity Training Programme (MATP), funding additional resources and training so it can reach several thousand people rather than a few hundred. The 12-week course is directed at adults and children who are unable to participate in regular Special Olympics sessions as their disabilities are so complex.
‘The course is targeted at people with profound and multiple learning difficulties,’ says Andrew Ross, Chairman of the MCF Charity Grants Committee. ‘Physical exercise makes us feel confident, healthier and more resilient, and this programme is for a group who would otherwise not have access to these benefits.’
What makes MATP unique is that it is open to adults and children who tend to have little involvement in any physical activity due to the huge levels of support their learning difficulties demand. ‘There is a great difficulty in communication and often there are associated health needs such as diabetes or epilepsy that are complex,’ says Reilly.
Taking place in centres and schools that already have the required equipment – toilets, hoists, changing beds – the training is geared towards improving motor skills, using sports-related activity as a lever towards gaining greater control of the body.
Reece Wallace, a 16-year-old with gross global developmental delay and epilepsy, who is visually impaired and unable to walk or communicate verbally, has been taking part in MATP courses since he was 11.
His mother, Melinda, explains how it helps: ‘The programme breaks down all the key skills in terms of standing, stepping in a walker, gripping, releasing. Reece is currently focused on pushing a disc down a slide to knock skittles over and this teaches him to place it on the slide and then let go with intention rather than just flinging it. These are life skills; they can benefit other things.’
Each course addresses upper body skills, lower body skills, greater motor skills and fine motor skills. Sessions are inspired by sports – from swimming to badminton – and adapted for the capability of the participant. Walking or wheelchair events can take place on a track or in water, while others encourage kicking, hitting or throwing balls, or striking pucks and shuttlecocks. Collectively, the activities can improve health and wellbeing, motor skills, social skills, physical fitness and functional ability.
The sessions not only help the participants, they also benefit parents, carers and society as a whole by allowing people with profound disabilities to engage with the outside world. ‘It’s a win-win situation,’ says Reilly. ‘It is about introducing people to the idea that there are people with complex needs out there. We are trying to provide meaningful opportunity and engagement for everybody.’
As life expectancy has improved, Reilly says that there are now more children with profound disabilities in Special Educational Needs schools. ‘There can be some discomfort and fear towards disability, and the best way to combat that is by engagement, so people learn that just because there is no verbal communication that doesn’t mean you can’t communicate in other ways.’
The MATP sessions have been running for several years and there is now a long waiting list. But the support from the MCF means that the number of adults and children benefiting from the programme over the next three years will rise from a few hundred to around 4,500.
The grant will be used to develop resources and train additional coaches, and help to create 60 new MATP groups in schools and community clubs and eight Youth Sport Trust schools, as well as Come and Try sessions.
‘We are creating resource cards so that teachers have all the information they need for the different elements of the course,’ says Reilly. ‘It’s a resource we will be able to use again and again. We will also be training more tutors – individuals who have experience of people with these conditions so they understand the complexity and are able to communicate with the participants, parents and carers.’
‘There can be some discomfort and fear towards disability, and the best way to combat that is by engagement’ Niamh-Elizabeth Reilly
For the participants, progress can be slow but the benefits are enormous. Each course ends with a Challenge Day, which is a fully branded Special Olympics event. ‘These individuals aren’t just improving their motor skills, they are also getting the chance to be Special Olympic athletes and showcase their skills at Challenge Days, complete with opening and closing ceremonies,’ says Reilly.
For children like Reece and their parents, these events are unique and unforgettable. ‘It’s lovely to get the children together in this great encouraging atmosphere, to see all these big smiles on their faces,’ says Reece’s mother Melinda, enthusiastically. ‘Everybody is clapping and cheering while they achieve their goals. There’s nothing else like that for them or for us.’
Moving the yardstick
A city farm in one of the UK’s most disadvantaged areas is giving young people new confidence. Matt Timms looks at how masonic funding is supporting its vision to transform lives
St Werburghs in Bristol was almost totally overrun with crime in the 1980s after floods forced residents to vacate their homes. Locals recall how the fields became a dumping ground and once-prize allotments grew wild and untamed. Determined to regain some semblance of togetherness, they put a request in to the council for the land. But it wasn’t until sheep were introduced that the community started to properly re-energise.
St Werburghs City Farm has now been improving prospects for people living in the area for 30 years. The two-acre smallholding, one-acre community garden, two-and-a-half-acre conservation site and 13 acres of allotments have become the beating heart of the community. A place that once looked beyond help is thriving and a £38,125 grant awarded by the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) will allow the surrounding communities to grow still further.
Situated in the Bristol ward of Ashley, alongside four others that are among the 10 per cent most disadvantaged in the UK, St Werburghs City Farm provides practical, outdoor and therapeutic opportunities for permanently excluded and disengaged young people.
‘Each year, we support hundreds of causes, including those that provide employment opportunities for young people who are not in education, employment or training,’ says Katrina Baker, Head of Charity Grants at the MCF. ‘We decided to support St Werburghs City Farm because it engages, equips and empowers young people with the confidence and capacity to transform their lives.’
According to Alex, a 17-year-old participant in the farm’s Work2Learn placement scheme, ‘If anyone is in Bristol and they’re having a tough time, they should come to St Werburghs.’ Alex is just one of an estimated 704 people aged 14-19 – most of whom are struggling in mainstream education – who will benefit from the support the farm provides over the next three years thanks to the MCF grant. ‘The people here are my second family,’ he says. ‘We feel equal.’
Now into his third year on the farm, Alex had considered becoming a chef, a train driver and even joining the army, but a love of the outdoors, together with his experiences at St Werburghs, opened his eyes to the joys of farming. ‘Sometimes you just get the feeling you’ll be good at a job,’ he says. His time at St Werburghs has not only given him vital experience, it’s also boosted his confidence.
The farm’s youth development manager, Anna Morrow, has seen Alex and countless others change for the better as a result of the youth programme. ‘When things fall apart, that one day out a week can make all the difference – enough for them to be able to cope,’ she says.
‘St Werburghs City Farm engages, equips and empowers young people with the confidence and capacity to transform their lives’ Katrina Baker
Max, also 17, believes his time at St Werburghs has helped him in life: ‘Being here has shown me about teamwork. There will be some people you get on with, some you don’t, but that’s life and you have to accept that.’ For Max, interacting with people on the farm has exposed him to a world outside mainstream education and given him opportunities he otherwise might not have had. His mother has noticed a marked improvement in Max’s moods, and firmly believes he has benefited socially from having other adults to talk to.
Morrow recalls a 14-year-old young carer who used his placement to overcome problems at school, mostly to do with aggression. ‘He was doing everything at home: cooking, cleaning, taking the parent role,’ she says. ‘All that was taking its toll.’ Starting at just one morning a week, his experience at St Werburghs made such a difference that he ended up helping out three days a week and eventually went on to gain an apprenticeship in farming.
For young people living on the perimeters of society, schools are limited in how they can address complex personal issues, so having a place like the city farm can be a lifeline. ‘It’s all about relationships,’ says Beth Silvey, a youth worker at the farm. ‘Participants get to do things they’d never get to do anywhere else. And I think that builds trust. It’s a nurturing environment and they are very much part of the team. It’s a group activity that isn’t intense, so they talk to us. It’s like a family here.’
Growing a community
Personal development, self-esteem and support networks aside, an equally important aspect of the farm’s work is improved community cohesion, particularly in an area where so many young people live below the poverty line. More than half of children are living in income-deprived households in three areas within walking distance of the farm.
The thinking behind the project is clear: if you catch anxieties at an early stage then you’re able to address issues before they balloon out of control. ‘It’s really important,’ says Silvey, ‘it can tip the balance at a crucial time. And we wouldn’t be able to do that without the money from the Masonic Charitable Foundation.’
Thanks to the MCF grant and a new building, the farm has been able to extend all its work placements and start a new enterprise project. With the continued support of the MCF and the proud members of the community, St Werburghs City Farm has become an invaluable asset in bettering the situation facing young people in the area.
‘People come here because they’re accepted,’ says Max, who has himself been witness to some extraordinary stories. ‘The people are just nice; no one is bothered by difference.’ And in an area that continues to suffer from poverty, having a place that is very much loved and embraced by the community is crucial.