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.
Refresh for Ripon Cathedral
Ripon Cathedral has received two grants totalling £12,500 from the Province of Yorkshire, West Riding, which will help to pay for the renewal of ancient flagstones.
The Dean of Ripon John Dobson received the two grants – one for £7,500 from West Riding Masonic Charities Limited, and a second of £5,000 from the Masonic Charitable Foundation. These were presented by David Pratt, PGM; Jack Pigott, Chairman of West Riding Masonic Charities; and Paul Clarke, APGM.
James Newman, Deputy President and Chairman of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), as well as a member of the Three Counties (No. 9278) and Old Wellingburian (No. 5570) lodges in the Province of Northamptonshire & Huntingdonshire, has been named in the New Year’s Honours list, having been appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE)
The citation reads: ‘For services to Business, the Economy and Charity in Yorkshire.’ James, a chartered accountant by profession, said, ‘Naturally, I am absolutely delighted to be honoured in this way and particularly pleased with the “charity” part as it reflects my work at the RMBI [Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution] and will assist in my work for the MCF going forward.’
14 December 2016
An address by VW Bro His Honour Judge Richard Hone, President, and David Innes, Chief Executive
Richard Hone: Pro Grand Master, Deputy Grand Master and brethren, I am delighted to address Grand Lodge for the first time, as President of the Masonic Charitable Foundation, and I am very proud to be the first person to hold this position.
The launch of the Foundation marks a new era in the long and proud history of masonic charity that has been built on the increasing collaboration between the four charities over recent years.
Our new charity, which has been formed following the consolidation of the four central masonic charities, opened for business in April this year. The work necessary to establish the Foundation is now largely complete and it has been a significant undertaking to bring together four charities that have operated separately for many years, in some cases since the 18th century.
In recent times, the predecessor charities have supported 5,000 Freemasons and their family members each year, at an annual cost of around £15 million, and we anticipate operating on this scale, or hopefully higher, for the near future.
But behind these statistics, there are thousands of stories about Masonic families across England and Wales, whose lives have been blighted by unexpected distress. Each story is unique – some are affected by financial hardship, others by ill health, disability, or just plain old age! Some stories are brief, whilst others extend for many years.
But every story has three things in common. The first is that everyone involved is a Freemason, or his wife, widow, partner, child or even his grandchild. The second is that all of them have experienced some kind of challenge that has made their lives difficult. And the third is that we at the centre have supported them. It is this third commonality that, I believe, has been the main driver for establishing the Foundation and the area where the greatest benefit will be felt. With a single charity, it is now much easier to understand and access the support we provide.
An additional advantage, and one that is particularly beneficial to the reputation of Freemasonry as a whole, is that bringing the charities together has created a sizeable organisation within the UK charity sector. This will help us to raise our public profile and allow us to have a significant voice of influence within the sector.
Through the work of the previous charities, Freemasons provided support amounting to over £100 million in recent years to charities and medical research projects across England and Wales.
The Foundation is continuing this legacy and since our launch in April, 350 grants totalling over £3 million have been awarded to non-masonic causes, and more are planned before the end of the financial year.
Next year, in addition to our main grant-making programme, we will help celebrate the Tercentenary by awarding 300 additional grants totalling £3 million to local charities operating across England and Wales. Over the past two months Metropolitan and Provincial Grand Lodges have been nominating charities for these Community Awards. In January, we will be asking the selected charities to submit formal bids outlining the purpose and size of the grant they would like. Once the submissions have been reviewed and confirmed, we will be inviting everyone – both the masonic community and the general public – to vote for those charities that have been put forward.
Freemasonry will therefore be helping more charities than ever before during this important year and by involving the public in the voting process, many people will learn about the charitable nature of our fraternity.
Bringing the charities together has also allowed us to improve the way we communicate with those who make our work possible: Almoners, Charity Stewards and many others.
Last month, we hosted our first Provincial Grand Almoners’ Conference in Manchester under the MCF banner. One of the key themes was to provide guidance and training to those who are most closely involved in the application process. Similarly, we held a Festival Forum here at Freemasons’ Hall – a one-day conference, which brings together those running appeals so that they can share ideas, learn from one another and, as a result, raise more funds for our cause.
Whilst part of our yearly income comes from the Annual Contribution, the MCF, like its predecessor charities, will continue to rely on the festival system for the majority of its income. For the next few years, festivals are still in place for the separate charities and this year the Provinces of Norfolk, Cumberland and Westmorland, Cheshire, and Hampshire and Isle of Wight have all successfully concluded appeals, with the latter setting a new record of £7.7m raised. A remarkable achievement!
This year, the first appeals for the MCF have been launched in Essex – who I’m told have Hampshire’s total in their sights, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, with West Lancashire and Worcestershire to follow very soon in the New Year.
We are extremely grateful to all our donors and fundraisers and I hope that, at the end of this short presentation, you will agree with me that these donations are being well spent and carefully managed.
Whilst it is my privilege to be able to represent the MCF as its President here today, I cannot claim credit for the work that has taken place to get the new charity off the ground. Led by my Deputy President and Chairman, the Trustees and, of course, the staff of the MCF have taken on much of that responsibility.
They have all worked very hard over the last year or more and have achieved an enormous amount, as you will hear from David Innes shortly.
Looking ahead, I believe that we have – to all intents and purposes – realised our vision of creating a single charity that can support the next generation of Freemasons.
To tell you more about Foundation’s work so far this year and our plans for the future, I’m delighted to hand over to its first Chief Executive, David Innes.
David Innes: Pro Grand Master, brethren all – good morning. It is a huge privilege for me, as the MCF’s first Chief Executive, to helping to shape the next chapter in the proud history of masonic charitable support and I’m really enjoying the challenge.
At the time of my previous address to Grand Lodge in March, Leicester City sat at the top of the Premier League, David Cameron had no intention of leaving No. 10 this year and Donald Trump seemed far from securing the Republican nomination, let alone winning the Presidential race! Clearly a lot can happen in 9 months and that has certainly been the case within the MCF.
Back in March, you may recall that I spoke about a three-phase consolidation process to create the Foundation during this year.
The first stage was ensuring that the required legal and governance foundations were in place to underpin a new, integrated organisation with the appropriate structure and systems for the future. I’m pleased to report that this phase, which also involved the transfer of all CMC staff to the MCF and RMBI staff to the new RMBI Care Co, was completed successfully on 1 April.
The second phase, which took place during the summer months, was the actual reorganisation itself and the physical relocation of staff into their new teams, albeit in temporary locations. Again, this has been completed successfully and all staff are now in their new posts with new contracts.
The final phase is still ongoing and involves a period of bedding in, during which the policies and procedures of the MCF are being finalised and the necessary systems needed to run the charity are becoming fully operational, such as our new grant-management software. We have also undertaken a major job evaluation exercise to ensure that every employee, irrespective of their former charity, is paid on a fair and equal basis, and that salaries are set in line with the sector.
I am delighted with the way all our staff have approached this potentially unsettling process. They quickly grasped the concept of what we were trying to achieve, and have willingly embraced new ways of working. Several members of the team have worked for the charities for over 20 years and many more in excess of 10 years, and I’m pleased that we have been able to retain so much experience and expertise as the new organisation takes shape. The bottom line is that they have been fantastic!
From my own perspective, I handed over responsibility for RMBI Care Co to the new Managing Director, Mark Lloyd, in October. Since then, I have been able to focus fully on the MCF. I have formed a Senior Leadership Team comprising directors and heads of department which meets monthly to assist me in running the charity. The majority of the day-to-day management for grant-making and fundraising lies in the very capable hands of Les Hutchinson, our Chief Operating Officer.
We have recently appointed our first Finance Director, Charles Angus, who brings a great deal of experience and is settling in very well. Charles has taken over from our Interim FD Chris Head and, Pro Grand Master, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Chris for all that he has done to help get the MCF up-and-running during the past 10 months.
The finance function was undoubtedly the most complex to integrate and, together with the Finance Committee, chaired by Mike Heenan, the team has put in a huge amount of work to create a unified accounting system that is both fit for purpose and statutorily compliant.
The only major element of phase three outstanding is the reconfiguration of our office accommodation, most of which is two storeys directly below us. During this two month project, which began on Monday, we have set up temporary office accommodation in the Gallery Suite on the Ground Floor of Freemasons’ Hall, but plan to move back downstairs in early February.
The refit will further remove barriers – both physical and psychological – and enable the staff to work together far more efficiently within a shared culture and working environment. It has also served as an excellent spring-cleaning exercise!
At the current time, the Trustees and staff are working hard to ensure that everyone is aware of the changes that have taken place, and to firmly entrench the single charity concept and our new brand into the consciousness of the Craft.
Many visits have been made to Provinces by our Trustees and senior management to spread the word, and we are extremely grateful to all those PGMs who have given us the opportunity to speak in their Provinces.
All of us involved in the consolidation process have stressed that there should be no adverse effect on the charitable services we provide to those in need. As far as we are aware, that has been the case. Indeed, following our launch, enquires for support have increased with over 1,200 received within the last three months alone.
Looking to the future, the Foundation will continue to provide its wide range of grants for Freemasons and their families experiencing a financial, health or family need as we have always done. But having a single charity with broad objects provides us with opportunities that go far beyond just financial grants. We now have the chance to adapt our charity to be more responsive and to offer new services to meet the needs of the masonic community, now and in the future.
Whilst the Craft will spend much of next year celebrating the remarkable milestone of the Tercentenary, our thoughts are already turning to the longer-term – as we look to build a new charity for a new generation.
Now that the Trustee Board and the Committees that serve it are up and running and working well, over the next few months they will be looking to formulate a forward-looking strategy for the Foundation that will dictate the direction of travel during the next five years.
We are keeping a very open mind about what we could do better to support those in need and are willing to explore all manner of proposals, however radical they may appear.
I would like to reassure you that the views of the Craft will be sought and represented in our discussions. Our first members’ meeting and AGM takes place later today, at which two nominated members from each Province and London will be provided with an update about our work, and the opportunity to comment and question our activities. We are looking forward to welcoming the Deputy Grand Master.
We plan to share an overview of our strategy with the Craft towards the middle of next year and this should provide you with a sense of what the Foundation will look like in the future.
For now though, and with only the final few weeks of the year remaining, I am delighted with where we are and am confident that your charity is well placed for the future.
Brethren, on behalf of everyone at the Masonic Charitable Foundation, I wish you a happy Christmas and thank you for all that you are doing to support our work.
Giving a voice
The Choir with No Name puts on weekly singing groups and meals for the UK’s homeless and socially excluded. Emilee Tombs went along to a rehearsal to find out how the Masonic Charitable Foundation is helping
It’s a muggy Monday evening in London, and a group has started to gather on the steps of the Only Connect Theatre in Kings Cross. Some are old, some young, some large, some small, but all are chatting animatedly, waiting for the heavy metal doors to open. This is the weekly gathering of the Choir with No Name (CWNN), a charity set up in 2008 to offer weekly singing classes and dinner to the homeless and vulnerably housed. They’re anxious to get inside and start singing.
‘I first came to the choir because I needed something positive to concentrate on,’ says Stef, a 41-year-old ex drug addict who spent a lot of his young adult life homeless or in and out of institutions. ‘When I was 19, I was living on the streets of Piccadilly Circus and I became addicted to drugs. To fund my addiction, I shoplifted and worked as a prostitute. It was only when I came to choir and had something to get well for that I was able to successfully go to rehab and get myself clean.’
Now a freelance florist, Stef is just one of the success stories present at the singing session, with many other choir members eager to discuss not only their hardships but also their achievements, which they directly attribute to the weekly CWNN gatherings. At 6pm on the dot the doors swing open and the group filters downstairs to grab cups of tea and biscuits, passed out by sociable volunteers.
On a level
There’s no audition to join CWNN, no fees, and no obligation to attend every week. The initiative has proven popular and there are now four choirs in the UK: two in London, one in Birmingham and one in Liverpool. ‘Everyone here has different experiences,’ says Sascha, a flame-red-haired woman who is attending choir for the first time tonight. ‘There’s fellowship and sharing and community here that I’d been missing in my life. It’s unimaginably important to have groups like this.’
After spending 25 years working as a teacher in international schools in Japan, Uzbekistan, Nigeria, Kenya and Romania, Sascha returned to the UK to find herself homeless, and is currently living on friends’ couches while she tries to establish a life for herself in London again.
Vince, a long-standing member and Sascha’s friend, interrupts. ‘With some groups you don’t fit in,’ he says, ‘but everybody fits in here.’ Sascha agrees: ‘Exactly. Choir is kind of a leveller.’
‘There’s fellowship and sharing and community here that I’d been missing in my life. It’s unimaginably important.’ Sascha
For the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), CWNN is more than just a singing group. ‘The choir is about building people’s confidence and their social skills, as well as teaching them to be tolerant of others,’ says Caroline McHale, Senior Grants Officer at the MCF. ‘The beneficiaries are people who have been excluded from society in some way, so teamwork like this, which aims to reduce their isolation, is extremely important. The choir is the conduit, but for the members it’s so much more than that.’
After reviewing the choir’s application, the MCF donated £5,000 to help towards its running costs. ‘The fact that it runs workshops in hostels and day centres as well as the weekly choir, and was able to help 500 vulnerable adults last year, was important for us,’ says McHale.
It’s show time and the choir makes its way upstairs to a towering white room with wooden floors. Wrought-iron balustrades above are festooned with lights and there’s a stage at one end and a piano at the other. After strict instructions to not talk over each other from choir master Liz, the group gets into the warm-up exercises, sticking out tongues and pulling faces at each other, which elicits a belly-shaking laugh from the back of the room. ‘I’ve missed that laugh, Kevin,’ Liz calls to the black cap of a doubled-over figure in the third row. Kevin pulls himself together enough to join in again, grinning widely.
After learning a verse and chorus from Our House by Madness and David Bowie’s Life on Mars, we head back downstairs for vegetable fajitas in the break-out room. One of the choir ambassadors David notes that for some this might be the only meal they’ll get all week.
In 1993 a car accident left David with a severe brain injury, and singing in the choir became an integral part of his recovery. Like a number of the members he’s not currently homeless, but has experienced it to a degree in his life, and CWNN has provided him with help and support to find accommodation. ‘There was a whole lot of things I did to help me to be okay in mind and body again after the accident. When everything else ended or didn’t go well the choir was my constant.’
Having joined in 2010, David is one of the longest-standing members, and his role as ambassador sees him promoting the choir and helping to organise events, such as the upcoming Christmas concert at Shoreditch Town Hall. ‘Choir has done so much for me, and for everyone here,’ he says, looking to Stef, who is also an ambassador, for assurance.
Stef backs him up wholeheartedly. ‘Whether it’s the social interaction you enjoy or just popping in for a decent meal, you’ll instantly feel really comfortable,’ he says. ‘I’ve never felt so supported.’
FIND OUT MORE To read about the Choir with No Name, go to www.choirwithnoname.org
While financial support is invaluable for charities, hands-on help provides assistance of a different kind. Steven Short examines the importance of Freemasons rolling up their sleeves and giving their time to good causes
The Masonic Charitable Foundation’s (MCF) charity grants only launched in April 2016, but have already touched and improved thousands of lives. And not just by donating much-needed funds – the grants go beyond financial contributions to offer practical support and that most precious commodity, time.
To date, about £3.2 million in grants have been awarded. Andrew Ross OBE, Chairman of the MCF Charity Grants Committee, is pleased to report that applications for grants have recently increased dramatically as people recognise what the charity is offering. ‘We are quite a big player in the world of giving,’ he says, suspecting that a lot of fundraisers have noticed how the MCF is now actively funding local causes as well as national concerns.
But there is much more to this charitable work than just awarding grants. ‘I look at the doing, as well as the giving,’ explains Dan Thomas, who is Chairman of the Five of Nine Club for young and new masons as well as Worshipful Master of St Peter’s Lodge, No. 7334, in Birmingham.
Dan recently offered his time to Acorns Children’s Hospice in Selly Oak, which had a conference room in need of some attention. ‘They had this huge space that was tired and battered so I organised a team of members, as well as inviting family and friends along, and we basically took the room apart, repainted and redecorated it,’ says Dan. ‘We then ended up outside painting fences and tidying up the gardens, too.’
‘Volunteers really are the lifeblood of FareShare.’ Lindsay Boswell
Meeting a need
For Dan, the day at Acorns was an opportunity to connect with a community. ‘It was such a good feeling, and we’re looking forward to our next project,’ he says, referencing the volunteer work he has lined up with FareShare West Midlands (right), which redistributes surplus food that would otherwise go to waste. In June FareShare was awarded a three-year grant of £60,000 from the MCF, which will part-fund the salary of a warehouse manager and help towards refrigerated vans delivering surplus food to charities. Dan hopes to assist at a local soup kitchen that struggles for staff numbers. ‘We’re going to take a load of brethren out and work there to take the load off,’ he explains.
The offer from Dan and his fellow masons is something for which Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of FareShare, is thankful. ‘Volunteers really are the lifeblood of FareShare,’ he says. ‘Without them we wouldn’t be able to redistribute good, surplus food to hungry and vulnerable people.’
Another organisation that has benefited from an MCF grant is Living Paintings, Berkshire, which was awarded £40,000 to fund its Touch to See Book Clubs. These groups give blind and partially sighted people the chance to engage with topics such as art and history, via specially designed books and audio material.
‘The book club project brings members together so they can share and explore the books in company,’ says programme manager Maria Storesund. ‘The impact [of the grant] has been huge. The project is going off at a great pace. Thanks to the Freemasons, we’ve been able to provide our members with more support and give them the books they’ve been longing for.’
Ten to 15 copies are produced of each book, along with an audio CD or USB stick, ‘so everyone can look at the books together. People get really inspired; even our quieter members will begin to talk.’
Provincial Communications Officer for Berkshire Robin Kent arranged for Deputy Provincial Grand Master Colin Hayes and Provincial Grand Almoner David Jarvis to attend a Touch to See session, to witness first-hand the work the grant would be funding and make the presentation of the grant.
‘They were really impressed by what they saw,’ says Robin.
‘Thanks to the Freemasons, we’ve been able to provide our members with more support and give them the books they’ve been longing for.’ Maria Storesund
Freemasons have also pledged to support Touch to See Book Clubs on a practical basis. One way they are doing this came about as a direct result of the visit. ‘Talking to people at the session about their local needs, we saw that some people were struggling to actually get there,’ says Robin. The lodge is now in the process of setting up a series of lifts to remedy this situation. ‘We’re finding local drivers to take people to the sessions that the MCF funds. We had no idea there was this
need before we got involved.’
The volunteering with Touch to See Book Clubs and FareShare is a great example of how Freemasons are increasingly giving time as well as money to those in need, and taps into something Dan has identified during his work with young and new masons. ‘I want to explore taking the charitable arm of Freemasonry in a different direction, to do something that isn’t just about giving money,’ he says. ‘We want to take the Freemasons into the local community – to see what we can do for people, and let individual Freemasons see what we could do for people.’ Dan has created a #freemasonryinthecommunity hashtag for use on social media to support the idea.
The MCF’s Ross adds his thoughts: ‘There is no doubt that volunteering is a huge resource for good in this country, and the Freemasons, their families and their friends have a lot to give. We are reminded to be good citizens and to think about others. We’re reminded, as the words of the initiation put it, to be respectable in life and useful to mankind, and giving to charity is one important way in which we do this.’
And for organisations like FareShare, hands-on help will always be desperately needed. FareShare’s Boswell says, ‘We’re growing rapidly, so we’re on the lookout for more volunteers – sorting food, working as a delivery driver, or collecting food donations at Tesco during the Neighbourhood Food Collection, which takes place at the start of December.’
Both Dan and Robin believe that those who volunteer are rewarded equally to those on the receiving end of such generosity, albeit in a different way. ‘It gives you a great sense of achievement and wellbeing,’ says Dan, who also feels the work with Acorns Hospice helped to strengthen the Five of Nine Club. ‘We built relationships within the group. People learned new skills, and it gave everyone a sense of purpose and worth.’
Robin says, ‘Personally, I find it very rewarding actually making a contribution to the community. Freemasonry is about two things: making better people of the individuals who are Freemasons, and those people making a valid contribution to a better society.’
And of the MCF grants, Ross notes wisely, ‘We’re not the biggest grant giver, but we are a significant one: we have a budget of £4 million to £5 million, enough to make a significant impact,’ he says. ‘I think people know that masons are a generous bunch, but now we have an opportunity to think really seriously about how we can make an impact on society, for the better of everybody.’
‘We built relationships within the group. People learned new skills, and it gave everyone a sense of purpose and worth.’ Dan Thomas
FIND OUT MORE FARESHARE www.fareshare.org.uk
TOUCH TO SEE www.livingpaintings.org
Whole new world
Life changed for Finley when he took possession of a Wizzybug. Glyn Brown finds out how masonic funding is giving more children like Finley the mobility to explore
If you can’t move properly, life can be tough and require a bit of assistance. If you’re a child who wants to explore the world yet can’t get around, things are more daunting still. But charity Designability is working to change children’s lives for the better.
A group of occupational therapists, engineers and design experts, Designability pools expertise and practical research to develop groundbreaking products. One of its most ingenious innovations is the Wizzybug – a bright red, motorised wheelchair that gives freedom to under-fives with a range of physical issues. And it’s benefiting from a £38,250 award from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF).
A will to explore
Designability, previously the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering, is based at the Royal United Hospitals Bath; it’s here that the radical Wizzybug was trialled.
‘It came out of a conversation with the hospital’s children’s centre,’ says Alexandra Leach, Designability’s commercial manager. ‘It seemed children with movement disabilities were being restricted, kept in buggies and pushchairs way longer than other toddlers. Yet your average two-year-old is into everything, and by investigating they’re learning and understanding their place in the world.’
Leach notes that it must be frustrating for children with, for example, cerebral palsy and spinal muscular atrophy to be treated with such caution, as they have the same desires as any other toddler.
‘Finley was put into the Wizzybug and he was asked to drive it forward. “And he did! The smile on his face was just incredible.” ’ Rosalie Davies
‘The phrase for what can result is “learned helplessness”,’ says Rae Baines, senior children’s occupational therapist at Designability. ‘You can see how it happens. Carers, with the best intentions, can be overprotective. And some children eventually lose the ability to think and act for themselves.’
It must be hard for adults to stop this, though? ‘That’s where the Wizzybug is so great. At the very first assessment we see some parents who are used to stepping in, but we try to suggest that the way for their child to sort out how the bug works is to discover for themselves,’ says Baines.
The Wizzybug is for children from 14 months to about five years, an age group that the NHS in general doesn’t provide powered mobility for. The Wizzybug is operated by a simple joystick. ‘It doesn’t take long – sometimes during the assessment, they’re off and away,’ says Baines. ‘And you see this huge grin on their face – for the first time in their life, they can move.’
But allowing a previously immobile child to get from A to B is not all a Wizzybug can do. Baines explains: ‘It gives independence, autonomy about where they want to go. It provides environmental and spatial awareness and helps with manual dexterity and fine motor skills. As the child grows in confidence and determination, the brain gets a cognitive workout and begins to grow in size.’
All of which opens up possibilities for the future. ‘Because the Wizzybug is such a bright, friendly-looking device, it gets a lot of attention,’ says Baines. ‘So instead of passers-by maybe not knowing where to look if they see a disabled child, the child will be surrounded by amazed, impressed people. Which, apart from the wonderful social inclusion, helps the child’s communication skills.’
Children bond with their Wizzybugs, and give them names. According to Rosalie Davies, her three-year-old son Finley calls his Biz and, she says, ‘Biz really is the biz.’ Finley has type 2 spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA2. Rosalie and her partner Joel suspected a problem when he was about eight months old. ‘We could sit him and he’d sit, but he’d fall forward and wouldn’t use his arms to prop himself up, or if you put him on his tummy he wasn’t doing the little press-ups babies do.’
The discovery of SMA2 was made at 13 months. ‘It was pretty devastating,’ says Rosalie. ‘Atrophy means wasting away, so he’ll reach a certain point and then, if the nerves aren’t used, they’ll start to die.’ With hippotherapy building core strength, the Wizzybug can help with nerves and muscles in the neck, arms and hands.
The first day with Biz was ‘magical’. Finley was put into the Wizzybug and he was asked to drive it forward. ‘And he did! The smile on his face was just incredible. And I… well, I was a mess.’
Baines notes: ‘It can be an awful shock to find your child has a life-limiting condition. But to then find the Wizzybug, almost with a naughty character of its own…’
The mobility offered by the Wizzybug is just the start. When children grow out of them, they’re refurbished – each is robust enough for about three owners – but they will have taught children the skills to move on to bigger things. Rosalie and her family have started fundraising to buy Finley a powerchair. And because there’ll be no worries about him using it, she’s looking at a world that might involve all kinds of things – possibly including Paralympic sports such as powerchair football and bowls game boccia.
At Designability, the MCF grant will fund nine Wizzybugs. Leach says, ‘When we heard about the Freemasons’ grant, we were overwhelmed, and delighted when they came for a visit.’
And the MCF’s Chief Operating Officer Les Hutchinson couldn’t be happier. ‘Part of our mission is to help build better lives by promoting independence – for Freemasons, their families and the wider community. The free Wizzybug Loan Scheme is a great way to help children.’
For Finley and his mum, the impact is seen daily. Now, Finley can run away, ‘be naughty and cheeky’, and play hide and seek. ‘And I love him following me,’ says Rosalie. ‘I love walking a few steps and turning round, and there he is – things other people might take for granted.’
Wizzybug fact file
Each Wizzybug costs £4,750. This amount covers the build, assessment and refurbishments for other children.
As families with disabled children already have other outgoings, the only way these chairs can be made available is through the Wizzybug Loan Scheme, which is funded by donations and the fundraising efforts of local communities.
Invented in their current format in 2006, there are now 260 Wizzybugs across the country, but more applications come in every week as awareness grows.
FIND OUT MORE Get further information at www.designability.org.uk
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 37 SPRING 2017
I read with interest your article in the winter issue of Freemasonry Today about buggies for children with movement disabilities, in particular the Wizzybug, a fun motorised wheelchair for under-fives, and the Masonic Charitable Foundation grant of £38,250 to Designability – an admirable organisation, if I may say so.
We of the South Cheshire Masonic Golf Society have for 40 years been engaged in the fundraising and purchase of our variant of this machine: a sporting, stripped-down version, at a cost of £3,800.
In June this year we celebrate the handover of our 50th powerchair at a nearby golf club. To celebrate the handover during the celebration of 300 years of Grand Lodge, our Provincial Grand Master, Stephen Blank, and his team will attend a presentation at the golf club.
As your account states, when children are first installed in these chairs and realise what can make them ‘go’, the delight on their faces is a great pleasure to witness – there is no dry eye in the house.
We recently made great strides in membership increases, raising our society membership number from 35 to 109, and we now include non-masons as associate members, which can increase funds raised and introduce people to Freemasonry.
Our powerchairs are a very stripped-down version, yet comfortable for children to sit in. They are adjustable as the child grows older and need an increase in chair size. This, together with a regular service programme, makes a bargain out of £3,800.
Our society was started by a Chester businessman back in the 1970s when he saw an article in a magazine about the Peter Alliss Masters organisation, which Alliss had set up with similar aims as ourselves: a summer day’s fun on the golf course and something for the community at the same time (enquiries welcome).
Gil Auckland, Loyal City Lodge, No. 4839, Chester, Cheshire
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 38 SUMMER 2017
In the chair
A letter in Freemasonry Today, Issue 37, gave information on the aims of the South Cheshire Masonic Golf Society (SCMGS) and I thought it might be helpful if I provide further detail in clarification.
The society has indeed been in existence for 41 years as of now. In this time the members, and the lodges in the Cheshire area, have made some incredible donations to the cause of providing prescription powered wheelchairs to children who fall financially outside of the benefits or welfare system we have. We
I stress the word ‘prescription’ as many people are fooled by companies into buying off-the-shelf powered wheelchairs that are not suitable for the user. Ill-fitting chairs cause and worsen ailments. It is essential that chairs provided for the children are suitable for a span of up to five years. A growing child will easily have a specialised moulded seat replaced and adjustments made to the chair are that much better if the mechanics are correct at assessment.
There are national companies under the charitable banner who supply wheelchairs at an overpriced cost to cover the business. The SCMGS ensures that every chair is purchased at the most competitive price possible, enabling us to stretch our donations to the maximum.
The members of the society over the years have raised approximately £200,000 for the purchase of the wheelchairs; the 50th wheelchair is to be presented at Eastham Lodge Golf Club at the Cheshire Provincial Golf Day on 28 June. Our fixtures and forms are provided at www.scmgs.xyz for anyone wishing to support in any way.
A chair provides a child with a form of freedom that we, as able-bodied, ignore. It provides respite for a parent in the knowledge that their child is safe and able to be active of their own volition. To enable a child to socialise even a small amount, have friends and join in some fun and play can be a parent’s greatest wish and a child’s greatest happiness. A child’s laughter in play can melt the coldest heart. A small donation subscription is £10 per year and is always thankfully received.
We are so grateful to everyone who has supported this cause by even the smallest donation; every penny we receive goes to a chair.
Noel Martin, Loyal City Lodge, No. 4839, Chester, Cheshire
Devonshire Court was opened on the 2nd of November 1966 by the Late Queen Mother
It was the first of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) purpose built homes to be opened after a period of about 116 years since the formation of 'the Asylum for Worthy, Aged and Decayed Freemasons' was opened in Croydon.
The event was attended by many invited guests and residents of the Home. W Bro David Watson a trustee of the Masonic Charitable Foundation addressed the assembled guests, and residents on the work of the Charity, and that of the RMBI. Devonshire Court was then toasted in the usual manner with a glass of bubbly.
W Bro George Stamp a Past Master and Chaplain of the Holmes Lodge No. 4656, a past first Principal of the St Peter’s Chapter, and a member of the St. Peter’s Mark Lodge delivered a eulogy on behalf of the late Fred Lifford who had on his death bequeathed substantial sums to both Devonshire Court, and the Market Harborough Masonic improvement fund.
W Bro George then unveiled a plaque naming the newly refurbished lounge Lifford Lounge.
The residents and guests then continued to enjoy the afternoon and the entertainment.