A dog can help an autistic child feel less stressed and make everyday activities a bit easier. Aileen Scoular explains how a grant from the MCF to Dogs for Good is allowing more families to feel less isolated
Two years ago, BBC drama The A Word opened viewers’ eyes to the challenges faced by families coping with autism. Children and adults diagnosed with autism will see, hear and feel the world differently from their peers and can struggle to engage. The condition is more common than many realise, with The National Autistic Society revealing that there are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK, including children and adults of all ages.
Autism touches families, too, and the condition is part of daily life for some 2.8 million people. One charity that fully understands the impact autism has on parents and carers is Dogs for Good. The Oxfordshire charity trains highly skilled assistance dogs to help adults and children with disabilities, as well as therapy dogs to work in communities and schools.
Dogs for Good trained its first autism assistance dog in 2007, and, more recently, the charity has developed a successful programme called Family Dog Workshops. These intimate sessions provide advice and support to parents of children with autism, allowing them to learn how a pet dog could benefit the whole family. As workshop leader Duncan Edwards explains, ‘We want owning a dog to be a positive, energising experience.’
Without specialist support, autistic people and their families are at risk of feeling isolated; autism can also cause severe anxiety that may affect an individual’s ability to engage in daily life. While there is no cure, expert support can help children and their families day to day – something that was backed up in research undertaken by Dogs for Good and the University of Lincoln in 2014. Not only were children with a family dog calmer, happier and less likely to have a meltdown, but within just 10 weeks of getting a family dog, parents also showed significantly reduced stress levels.
‘We have always been convinced that dogs can have a positive effect on the family dynamic,’ explains Peter Gorbing, Dogs for Good’s chief executive. ‘Just being able to take the dog for a walk gives you, as a parent, permission to leave the house and give yourself some space. And the silly things that dogs do can diffuse tension and make the whole family laugh together.’
The experience of parents who have attended Family Dog Workshops is testament to the value of the programme. Jacob’s family had a Labrador called Sam when mum Liz attended her first workshop. The experience was transformative: ‘I just couldn’t believe it when the instructors went through what they could teach us and how it might help Jacob. I sat there and cried because I knew it could be life-changing.’
Teenager Harry’s life has also been improved immeasurably by the introduction of the family dog, Barnaby. Now 15, Harry spends much less time alone, and the most positive result has been the family’s change of focus. Harry’s mum, Ceri, says, ‘Having a dog has benefited all of us – but particularly our daughter, Beth. Our world isn’t all about Harry any more; it’s about Barnaby.’
Kath, another workshop participant, echoes Ceri’s sentiments. Kath’s son, Mitchell, was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, and their family life has been transformed by an excitable cocker spaniel called Maggie.
‘Having Maggie has opened up more opportunities for us as a family than I could possibly have imagined,’ says Kath. ‘So much of our life is focussed on Mitchell, who’s an only child, and that puts a certain amount of pressure on him. Having a dog in our lives takes away some of the focus and reduces that pressure.’
From a practical perspective, owning a dog helps children with autism in many ways. Key benefits include companionship and motivation, encouraging children to develop regular routines and empowering them to try new things. Dogs can help in the development of motor skills – throwing a ball or teaching tricks, for example – and can act as a friendly role model. Even learning to say hello can be a big step.
‘Mitchell has never really understood the need for greetings and salutations – like hello and goodbye – so we’ve had to coach him in the past,’ explains Kath. ‘But the first day I picked him up from school with Maggie, he climbed into the car and straight away said, “Hello, Maggie.” That was a huge leap forward.’
‘I was considering an assistance dog, but I quickly realised that what we needed was just a happy family dog’
BREAKING NEW GROUND
Gorbing from Dogs for Good acknowledges that the programme has been a richer source of success stories than he ever imagined. ‘So much credit must go to the families,’ he says. ‘We provide the advice, but it’s up to the families to make dog ownership happen. And I’m delighted and grateful that so many have.’
The success of Dogs for Good brought the charity to the attention of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), and, in December 2017, the Charity Grants Committee awarded a grant of £60,000 over three years.
‘Autism appears to be much more prevalent than it used to be because the rates of diagnosis have changed,’ explains Andrew Ross, chairman of the Charity Grants Committee at the MCF. ‘My guess is that nearly every family within the masonic community will have some contact with autism, even if it’s not within their own family.
‘Parents of children with autism are working hard to deal with a very challenging condition, so the simple idea that owning a dog can really help many families – by having a calming effect or by helping a child to engage with the outside world – rather caught the committee’s imagination.’
For a small charity like Dogs for Good, the grant will go a long way. ‘We have to deliver on what we promise and meet our beneficiaries’ expectations, so a significant grant like this allows us to plan ahead with confidence,’ Gorbing says. ‘In future, we hope to offer Family Dog Workshops to even more parents. We’re thinking about how to offer online learning opportunities. We’re hugely grateful to the MCF for enabling us to continue what has turned out to be a genuinely groundbreaking programme.’
The three-year grant from the MCF means that a committed, sustained relationship can develop between the MCF and Dogs for Good, and the Charity Grants Committee will receive regular reports on how the money has been used. ‘It’s good to know that we’ll be able to look back in three years’ time and see the difference we have made to a large number of families,’ says Ross.
Kath explains how autism affects her family’s life, and why a cocker spaniel called Maggie has changed things for the better.
‘Mitchell is cautious by nature, but since we got Maggie a year ago, he has become much more confident – it has been incredible to watch. Throwing a toy for Maggie means he now understands the concept of taking turns, and that has helped him to become more relaxed around other children. His teachers are noticing the positive changes, too.
‘Originally, we were concerned about logistics, and that was where the Family Dog Workshops and the after-care support were so helpful. My husband, James, and I love dogs, but we knew we had to get it absolutely right. Initially, I was considering an assistance dog for Mitchell, but I quickly realised that what we needed was just a happy family dog.
‘For example, where Maggie really helps is with transitions. Even a simple transition from the TV to the dinner table is hard for Mitchell, and he needs some sort of activity in between. Now, Maggie acts as a welcome distraction. She has also boosted Mitchell’s confidence in open spaces.
‘Up until last summer, we were having to carry Mitchell around – he’s nearly six now, so that was becoming physically difficult. But when Maggie’s with us, Mitchell often runs ahead with her. Having a family dog has been great for me, too. I was driving everywhere and doing very little exercise. Now, I take Maggie for a daily walk, which gives me some head space and blows the cobwebs away.
‘The Family Dog Workshops were so comprehensive and relaxed, but the most important thing I learned is that there are no rules – different things work for different families and different dogs. I originally thought I’d do lots of puppy training and have this calm, placid dog, and instead we’ve ended up with a complete whirlwind! But that is perfect for Mitchell. Having Maggie bouncing around is ideal for a little boy who just needed to be brought out of himself. I honestly can’t imagine family life without her.’
A place for missing men
With bereaved men often finding it difficult to seek emotional support, hands-on initiatives like DIY workshops are providing sanctuaries where they can open up. Steven Short finds out how the MCF is helping in the hospice care sector
When a partner or family member dies, those looking after them not only have to say goodbye to the person they’ve lost, but also to their own identity as a caregiver. Many people have made great sacrifices to look after a loved one, often over months or years, and as this responsibility ends it can bring a sense of ‘Who am I now?’ as well as questions about the future.
At the same time, the bereaved can often feel cut adrift from those around them – and the support they experienced leading up to the death – at a time when they perhaps need it most, facing the practicalities of sorting out funeral and financial arrangements.
Hospices across the UK have, for many years, been accompanying people on this difficult journey. And the masonic community has long supported the incredible work they do – more than £12 million has been donated towards the operating costs of hospices throughout the country. Over time, it has become apparent that women are much more likely than men to seek out care and support, and that there is a need for programmes tailored to men who are bereaved, caregivers or coming to terms with their own illness. In response, a number of unique initiatives – such as ‘man sheds’ – have been developed to help these ‘missing men’.
A NEW WAY OF FUNDING
Historically, the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF)’s support for hospices has been via small grants across all Provinces. However, the MCF has determined that funds should be directed to where they’re needed most, helping to plug gaps in service provision and make the biggest impact. Working with Hospice UK, some of this year’s MCF grants will focus on bereavement support services.
‘We are constantly looking to improve our grant-making,’ says Katrina Kerr, head of charity grants at the MCF. ‘Our hospice grants in recent years undoubtedly made a tremendous difference in the palliative care sector, but over time it became apparent that we could direct the funds so generously donated to us by the masonic community in a more effective, strategic way.’
Due to the spike in births after the end of the Second World War, a generation of baby boomers is entering its seventies, meaning that now is a good time for Hospice UK and the MCF to be thinking about palliative care and bereavement support.
Karl Benn, head of grants at Hospice UK, agrees. ‘In the past year, hospices have supported around 46,000 people – adults and children – in coping with the death of a loved one,’ Benn says. ‘So there is clearly a need for bereavement care. We also talked to our members, who agreed that this was an area we should be focussing on.’
Benn and his team have worked with the MCF to develop and oversee the application process as well as the awarding of the first £150,000 allocated for grants through the new programme. ‘It was heavily oversubscribed,’ he notes. ‘We received applications for £1.5 million, so making our final allocations was really difficult.’
Grants were ultimately awarded to innovative bereavement support projects at hospices in seven Provinces, namely Staffordshire, East Kent, Sussex, Warwickshire, Essex, South Wales and West Lancashire, and in London. These focussed grants were in addition to £450,000 awarded in small grants last year to support 245 hospices under the former programme. Later this year, a further £300,000 will be available to fund the bereavement and support programme, with an additional £300,000 awarded in the form of small general grants as the new programme is introduced gradually over the coming years.
‘Terminally ill and bereaved men are very often reluctant to access traditional support’ Kathy Birch, Princess Alice Hospice
REACHING OUT TO MEN
Among the initiatives are several focussed on supporting men through the bereavement process. These will be hands-on, practical initiatives, where men can, in Benn’s words, ‘do some DIY, or work on renovating furniture – something they can get involved in rather than sitting around a table talking about feelings, which isn’t right for everybody.’
Martlets Hospice in Hove, for example, will run a men’s allotment project, while St Mary’s Hospice in Ulverston will introduce a ‘Make Do and Mend’ initiative. At the Princess Alice Hospice in Esher, Surrey, a Man Shed project is underway. The Man Shed, which will also be trialled at other hospices, offers the opportunity to engage in practical activities and learn skills while receiving ‘shoulder to shoulder’ support.
‘We had noticed at the hospice that the number of bereaved women who were coming forward to us for care and support outnumbered men by three to one, and so we sought to identify a new way to address this unmet need that was right on our doorstep,’ says Kathy Birch, day service programme lead at Princess Alice. ‘We wanted to reach out to the missing men within our communities, including bereaved husbands who have lost their sense of purpose, men who are caring for their partner and need someone to talk to, and men coming to terms with their own terminal illness.
‘Terminally ill and bereaved men are very often reluctant to access the traditional family-support offering, such as formal counselling or listening. Our data on those who seek care and support within a “traditional setting” certainly backed that up,’ Birch continues.
Kerr from the MCF agrees. ‘Men can find it more difficult to build social connections than women. It’s an unfortunate reality that men are less likely to share concerns about health and personal worries.’
The knowledge that men can find it hard to open up, especially in a formal face-to-face setting, inspired the team at Princess Alice to create the Man Shed programme. Birch says, ‘Our missing men can come together and put their skills and energy to use with a high degree of autonomy while talking to others who may be in the same situation and getting the support they need to face the future.’
A SPOT FOR SHEDDERS
The Man Shed idea originated in Australia, and Princess Alice is one of only a few hospice-based Man Sheds in the UK. As the name indicates, the shed at Princess Alice is a building consisting of a DIY workshop and a communal lounge. It was officially opened in June 2016, and within a month the hospice had 13 ‘shedders’ (patients, carers and bereaved relatives) involved in the project. By January of this year, that figure had risen to 112. Of those, 85.7 per cent are men, reflecting the need for spaces where they are able to cope in their own way.
At the Man Shed, shedders produce everything from bird boxes and chopping boards to bespoke memory boxes, which are then sold to raise yet more invaluable funds for the hospice. Shedders and project leaders also have come up with innovative ideas to help patients of the hospice, including a special raised cupholder that allows people who use a wheelchair to take a drink without having to bend over. They have also made a mobile trolley for the hospice library and benches for the garden.
‘I have cancer and I am a regular at the Day Hospice’s weekly social group,’ says one shedder. ‘I’ve recently started to visit the Man Shed and have made some smashing friends. When you walk in it feels like the sun has come out and the heaviness is lifted from your shoulders. Talking to people who know what you are going through really helps.’
Two teenage boys recently attended the Man Shed when their father was terminally ill, as he wanted them to learn vital skills while he could still be there. ‘Freemasons are fortunate to have a network of brethren around them for support during difficult times,’ Kerr says, ‘but not everyone is so lucky. Our grants will help to improve provisions for members of wider society.’
The Masonic Charitable Foundation has developed specialist knowledge and expertise in order to give more targeted support to beneficiaries, as Chief Executive David Innes explains
When HRH The Duke of Kent, Grand President of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), visited our offices at Freemasons’ Hall earlier this year, I was delighted to introduce him to our team and explain what we have achieved so far as a charity.
With around 5,000 members of the masonic community and hundreds of local and national charities supported each year since our launch, I am confident that the MCF has become the type of organisation that we hoped to create, supporting people from all walks of life with a wide range of needs.
GETTING SMARTER ABOUT WHAT WE DO
One of the benefits of forming the MCF has been the opportunity to develop specialist knowledge and expertise, rather than spreading our resources across many areas and limiting our impact.
With this in mind, we have made an informed decision to focus our energies and resources more intelligently and become smarter at what we do. From now on, our Charity Grants programme – historically referred to as ‘non-masonic giving’ – will target funding where it is most needed. Over the next five years, our grants will focus on two groups that we know the masonic community is keen to support: the young and the old.
Some of our grants will fund charitable projects that create the best start in life for disadvantaged children. Others will go to charities that help to reduce isolation in later life and support older people to actively participate in society.
FOR THOSE WHO NEED IT MOST
Research has shown that the early years of a child’s life are crucially important to their health, well-being and success as an adult, while our growing and ageing population means that the number of older, potentially lonely people is increasing.
By focussing our funding within these overstretched and underfunded areas, our new grants programmes will, over time, help to address these issues in your communities across all Provinces.
Our support for hospices has also been updated to focus on grants for innovative and in-demand projects that target specific changes in the palliative care sector. This year, grants have focussed on bereavement care services.
All of our programmes will involve partnerships with some of the country’s leading charities, including Age UK and Hospice UK. These organisations have a wealth of expert knowledge in their respective fields that we can draw upon to ensure we reach the parts of society where people need us the most.
While we strive to improve the way that we tackle society’s big issues, the well-being of Freemasons and their families remains paramount. We’ve been working hard to make sure the masonic community knows who we are and what we do, and recent figures suggest that the message is working. We are giving more, to more people: the number of grants awarded is up by 9 per cent and the amount we spend to support Freemasons and their families has increased by 19 per cent.
None of this would be possible without the generosity of Freemasons, and their family and friends. Thank you for your support.
‘We have made an informed decision to focus our energies and resources more intelligently’
Homelessness is on the rise, with more than 300,000 people in Britain homeless today – that’s one in every 200 people
It’s easy to presume that a person is only homeless if they’re sleeping under a worn-out sleeping bag in a shop doorway, wondering how they’ll afford their next meal or hot drink. The reality is that homelessness is a complex and misunderstood crisis.
‘The vast majority of homeless people are actually families or single people who are not sleeping rough, but instead are living in temporary, poor-quality accommodation such as B&Bs or hostels, harming their health and well-being in the process,’ explains Vicky Hines, Birmingham hub manager at Shelter UK, a charity dedicated to fighting homelessness.
‘Homelessness can feel very isolating, especially when temporary accommodation is far away from a person’s local community, support networks and friends. Children can find the whole experience hugely traumatic, and we’ve seen how seriously this can impact their education and harm their overall life chances.
’Recent reports reveal that 30,000 single-parent families were made homeless in 2017, according to Shelter – that’s at least 30,000 children that found themselves without a stable place to call home. Since 2016, the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) has given more than £300,000 to charities fighting homelessness across England and Wales; this includes a recent grant of £60,000 to Shelter Birmingham.
‘We have specialist local hubs at key locations across the country,’ Hines says. ‘This includes Shelter Birmingham. Thanks to the MCF’s funding, we can now fund an expert advice worker to reach hundreds of people in the local community who are in danger of homelessness or threatened with repossession.’
The MCF has also tackled homelessness within the masonic community. Ronnie, a Freemason and a successful head of recruitment, lost his home after personal addictions took control of his life.
‘My life was in turmoil – you couldn’t make it up,’ Ronnie says. ‘Everything came tumbling down and I ended up living in a tent in a wood for eight months. I was drinking heavily to keep the cold out at night and was in a bad way. In desperation, I moved into a rental property without any funds or deposit. I hoped I would be able to get some urgent support from the government, but it took so long that I faced being evicted.’
A Visiting Volunteer from Ronnie’s Province helped him through this difficult period. ‘He got in touch with the MCF on my behalf, and within 48 hours, an emergency grant was paid into my landlord’s bank account to cover my deposit and rent for a year. The MCF gave me the breathing space to get my life back on track. I’m eternally grateful.’
The Masonic Charitable Foundation has come up with five simple ways you can support its work, helping it to make an even greater impact on your behalf by building better lives for Freemasons, their families and the wider community
Relief is one of the fundamental principles of Freemasonry, with all masons pledging to support those who are less fortunate than themselves. However, working out the best ways to support others effectively can be a challenge in itself – how should you put your charitable nature into practise and make a real impact on wider society?
Talk about the MCF
The Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) can only support those who know about it, so telling your friends and family about the MCF’s work is a great way of reaching out to those who may be eligible for support. Whether you mention the MCF’s financial grants for Freemasons and their families; the Advice & Support Team, who can offer practical guidance; or the MCF’s funding for local and national charities, every conversation gives one more person the option of getting in touch should they need support.
Organise a social event
Whether it’s a quiz or a curry night, a raffle or a race, social events are a brilliant way of raising money and supporting the MCF – not to mention fun for all involved. Donations to take part in a quiz or sponsorship for a race are just a couple of ways of effectively raising money at an event. Whatever you arrange, all donations should be voluntary.
Ask for resources
Use Gift Aid envelopes
The MCF’s Relief Chest Scheme offers Gift Aid envelopes, which are an excellent way to increase the value of your donation to the MCF by allowing it to reclaim the tax back at no additional cost to you. Ask your Lodge Charity Steward or Secretary for MCF Gift Aid envelopes in which to donate via the Relief Chest Scheme. All you need to do is fill in the front of the envelope and hand it back to your Lodge Charity Steward.
Leave a legacy
Remembering the MCF in your will is a way of carrying out one final act of kindness. Your legacy could provide high-quality care for older members of the masonic family; give independence to people who need mobility equipment; advance groundbreaking medical research; or create educational opportunities for disadvantaged children. If you would like to learn more about leaving a legacy to the MCF, visit www.mcf.org.uk/legacy.
Just one of the thousands of children of Freemasons supported by the MCF when life took a turn for the worse, Liz Willingham reflects on how different her life might have been without the support of the charity throughout her education
The Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) is proud to champion the right for young people to access educational opportunities, regardless of difficult circumstances their family may face. Through grants to cover school costs and university scholarships, the MCF enables hundreds of young people every year to pursue their chosen careers.
When Liz Willingham was just 12 years old, she watched her father die of a stroke in the family’s garden. Now 47 years old, Liz says she recognises the crucial role played by the MCF afterwards. ‘I always remember it was Good Friday. It was just so sudden – he was only 55. If I recall, the Freemasons turned up at our door with support before anyone else.’
The process of dealing with a traumatic experience was hard, but Liz explains that the Freemasons were there through the entire journey.
‘The MCF got in touch with us and offered me a place at the Royal Masonic School for Girls, which was part of the charity at the time. I don’t even think we got in contact with them; it was just so proactively driven through the local masons.
‘The MCF financially supported me during my time at school right through to university, which made such a big difference. The family grief lasted a long time, and I was at a delicate stage in my life – just having the resources to fall back on gave me a lot of comfort.’
When Liz was given the chance to study Media and Communications at Bournemouth University, the MCF provided an additional grant to make sure she had the resources needed to complete her course.
‘I’ve run my own PR business for 19 and a half years now, and have had two children in between – I talk to them regularly about the support I received. Without the MCF’s support, who knows, I may not have started my business, met my husband or had our children!’
To watch Liz tell her story in her own words, visit the MCF’s YouTube channel at: www.youtube.com/masoniccharitablefoundation
The new issue of Better Lives is out now and focusses on the grants and support the MCF can provide when you are facing a crisis. To make sure you receive your copy of future issues of Better Lives magazine, please click ‘sign up’ at the bottom of the MCF’s homepage at www.mcf.org.uk
The Masonic Charitable Foundation has donated £20,000 to St Mary’s Hospice in Ulverston to support its Make Do and Mend project, aimed at giving bereaved people a chance to get out of the house and mend furniture
Jo Blake, head of clinical services at the hospice, explained: ‘Often we get donated items that may need a bit of work doing on them. The money will be spent in developing a workshop in the warehouse where this can be done by bereaved family members.
'It will give bereaved people an opportunity to get out of the house and talk with others who know what they are experiencing, whilst at the same time engaging in something constructive.’
The Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) has donated £4,400 to MS Action, a charity that has provided complementary treatments for those with multiple sclerosis for more than 20 years
The funds will assist with the running costs of the centre’s high-density oxygen treatment chamber in Walthamstow, East London. The donation presented by London masons will contribute towards operating costs for the specialist treatment – available not only to multiple sclerosis sufferers, but also adults and children with autism, cerebral palsy or Parkinson’s disease, as well as those who are recovering from a stroke or cancer.
Debbie Peacock, MS Action’s treasurer, said: ‘The donation from the MCF and London masons is helping to run and maintain our oxygen chamber. London Freemasonry’s support is invaluable.’
HRH The Duke of Kent, Grand Master and Grand President of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), was present for the official opening of the charity’s refurbished offices
Following the launch of the MCF, the offices underwent a much-needed refit to meet the staff’s changing needs. During the transition from several charities to a single organisation, it became clear that the existing office structure was a barrier to working as a unified team.
The renovation has created a space that is lighter, brighter and more open, with more facilities for staff to meet and collaborate with one another.
The Duke of Kent’s visit helps to demonstrate the impact of the MCF’s work and how all teams are working together to support the masonic and wider community.
Lincolnshire Freemasons have stepped in with a £3,000 donation to help Scunthorpe’s Forge project meet the growing demands for its services amongst those in poverty and suffering homelessness
The service, based on the town’s Cottage Beck Road, is facing more demands for help than at any time since it was launched almost 20 years ago, and this latest donation will be used as part funding for a part-time support worker to help meet the need.
The money is a donation from the Masonic Charitable Foundation and was made by representatives of Scunthorpe’s four masonic lodges, who were able join some of The Forge’s service users in a creative writing workshop.
The Forge is managed by Andrea Houghton, who said that staff had established partnerships with other agencies such as social local housing authorities, drug agencies, mental health agencies and social and private landlords, and as such was a hub at which those in need could access services in a safe and supportive environment. She said that by working closely with these agencies they were able to get help to where it was needed quickly.
The centre is now open for five mornings a week to provide support with a range of issues, and three afternoons a week for creative work. Lunches are provided, cooked by the service users themselves, and there were shower and laundry facilities, which had been introduced as the result of other financial help.
Andrea said: 'A number of factors, including changes in the benefits system, have meant numbers attending our Day Centre have almost doubled, and we can only see these numbers increasing. We say The Forge is about opportunities for change; it’s about helping people to help themselves, and build in them the resilience to be able to do that.'
Lincolnshire Freemason Stuart Pearcey said: 'The funds from the Masonic Charitable Foundation are an example of how we can support the work of non-Masonic organisations. Having funds available means that people working in support of the community can make a more effective contribution than they would otherwise be able to do.'