An intrepid group of veteran soldiers, who are suffering the mental and physical effects of their service, are heading across the continent to Greece and back, thanks to a grant from Dorset Freemasons
The Veterans in Action (VIA) charity were awarded £25,000 from Dorset Freemasons last year for the Veterans Expedition Overland project, which comes through the Masonic Charitable Foundation. As a result, four Land Rovers left Freemasons' Hall this month on for an overland expedition driving from the UK to Greece and back, a journey of 7,000 miles passing through 14 different countries.
Veterans in Action helps veterans who have suffered the effects of war or who have found the transition to civilian life difficult. VIA also works to enable people to understand more about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and veterans' mental health issues. VIA uses the outdoors, centre-based projects, adventurous activities and expeditions to help veterans re-build their confidence, self-esteem, and self-belief. The charity was one of four to be nominated by Freemasons in Dorset, with local people voting to decide the level of their award.
Work started on the vehicles in November 2017, with a group of veterans from all over the UK, plus serving personnel from the local Tidworth Garrison, coming together once a month to work on first stripping the vehicles then fixing and preparing them for the overland expedition. To date, over 50 veterans and serving personnel have taken part in the project.
These vehicles will give longevity to the project and will be used to train veterans in all aspects of expedition planning, off road driving and active expeditions. Mini expeditions are currently being planned which are aimed at the local military garrison Tidworth in Wiltshire, where there are 15,000 troops and their families.
In 2019, after the expedition returns from Greece, Veterans In Action plan to do a year-long road trip around the UK to raise awareness of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. They hope to raise funds to buy a property which will be set up as a veterans retreat which will include many workshops and outdoor activities.
Following the Dorset Freemasons' grant, VIA were also awarded £10,000 from AVIVA, £10.000 from The Veterans Foundation and £10,000 from the National Lottery. They have also received sponsorship from many companies which include Maltings 4x4, All Makes 4x4, Terrafirma 4x4, UPOL, Raptor Paint, Premier Group, Curry's/KnowHow, Teng Tools and Regatta Outdoors, as well as individual masonic lodges from across Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset.
Billy MacLeod, Chief Operations Officer of Veterans In Action, said: 'The initial support of the grant of £25,000 from Dorset Freemasons made the Veterans Expeditions Overland project a reality. That's why we've decided to set off on our expedition from Freemasons' Hall. On our return we'd like the chance to visit as many lodges as we can around the country to show them what their support has achieved'.
Mark Burstow from Dorset Freemasons said: 'We're very pleased to be able to support Veterans in Action, who do outstanding work with veterans who are living with the effects of war. Our service personnel have given a great deal to our country and it's only right that we give something back to them.’
People in East Devon living with dementia and other degenerative conditions will be offered ‘armchair adventures’ and ‘musical life stories’ as part of an expanded reminiscence service, thanks to a £44,000 grant from Devonshire Freemasons to the Action East Devon charity
The Forget Me Not project will see trained volunteers and project staff run themed sessions for people with early onset dementia, helping them to collect music associated with their life stories. Music is downloaded onto portable personal music players, including headphones which can accommodate hearing aids.
The Armchair Travel sessions takes participants on an armchair tour of a chosen country, including music, large screen videos, food, celebrations, clothing and decorations from the destination country.
Memory boxes are provided for those with sensory impairment and memory loss, containing a collection of objects from the 1930’s to the 1970’s. The boxes are based on a theme such as Christmas Past, Looking Good, Staying Healthy, Royalty, In the Kitchen, School Days, Travels and Holidays, Tools and Gadgets, Home Front. The items are textured, scented, colourful and noisy, appealing to all the senses and prompting participants to share stories and compare past experiences.
Dementia is now the leading killer in the United Kingdom. Dementia rates in East Devon are far higher than the national average, which makes Forget Me Not such an essential service to people in the area.
Charlotte Hanson, Chief Executive of Action East Devon, said: 'We’re very grateful to Devonshire masons for their generous grant which will help us to make sure older people in East Devon continue to have their stories valued and that they and their families and carers are supported throughout their lives.
'This year we are celebrating Action East Devon’s 20th birthday and we are very excited to be able to carry on this work for a further three years.'
The £44,000 donation comes through the Masonic Charitable Foundation. Ian Kingsbury, Provincial Grand Master of Devonshire, commented: 'We’re very pleased to be able to help Action East Devon with this very valuable project to help people with dementia.
'Dementia rates in Devon being much higher than the national average, it’s especially important that we look at providing new services both for people with dementia and for their families and carers.'
Suffolk Freemasons Andy Gentle and Nick Moulton cycled all the way down to Freemasons' Hall on 12 September 2018, completing the final part of a four year challenge which has helped to raise over £21,600 towards their Festival 2019 for the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution
The Provincial Grand Master of Suffolk Ian Yeldham, together with his partner Amanda, wishing to show their support, accompanied Andy and Nick on this last cycle. All arrived safely and were greeted by Sir David Wootton, UGLE Assistant Grand Master, and James Newman, Chairman of the Masonic Charitable Foundation, along with around 70 supportive members from Suffolk.
Back in 2014, Andy and Nick came up with the idea of cycling to every lodge within the Province to attend a meeting, looking to raise awareness of the Festival whilst also hoping to gain an extra donation from each lodge they visited. With the added bonus of getting a little fitter and also being some of the very few to have visited all 68 lodges in the Province.
Their original target of £6,600 had to be re-evaluated due to fantastic support, as in the end the total amount raised was over £21,600 with 2,260 miles cycled.
Andy commented: 'The cycling challenge has been just that, no easy task either physically or logistically, with one of the hardest aspects being the juggle with work trying to fit in around all the various lodges meeting dates.
'But it was rewarding in so many ways, seeing the beautiful Suffolk countryside in a way we would never have otherwise seen it, making so many new friends amongst brothers and of course being so very well supported by all the lodges.'
Buckinghamshire Freemasons have donated £5,000 to Different Strokes, to assist the charity in their work to support and improve the lives of younger stroke survivors
Historically, stroke support has focused on those over the age of 65, but every year 25,000 people of working age and younger suffer a stroke. Often, they receive limited rehabilitation, emotional and practical help which they need to rebuild their lives.
The organisation seeks to help in a variety of ways including exercise and peer support groups, practical information on matters such as benefits and returning to work. They also offer an information line and collaborate with other organisations which champion the voice of the stroke survivor.
Austin Willett, Strategic Business Manager for Different Strokes, commented: 'We’re really grateful to the Buckinghamshire Freemasons for the grant they have given us. This will allow us to continue to provide quality services to younger stroke survivors and their families at a time when they most need help.
'As a charity that relies on the generosity of individuals and organisations to fund our services, it’s fantastic to know that the Freemasons recognise the impact of our work and are so supportive towards us.'
‘Suicide is the major cause of death in all people under 35 years of age’. That alarming statistic is one that will probably come as a major shock to many people. It certainly was to the group of West Lancashire Freemasons who were visiting the Warrington headquarters of the charity Papyrus, who have received a grant from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) of £65,342
The MCF has made the grant on behalf of the Province of West Lancashire, but on this occasion the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison was accompanied by his colleague from the neighbouring Province of Cheshire, Stephen Blank.
Papyrus, which was formed in 1997 in Lancashire, has three simple aims: provide confidential help and advice to young people and anyone worried about a young person; help others to prevent young suicide by working with and training professionals; and campaign and influence national policy. They summarise this as: Support, Equip and Influence.
The visitors were welcomed by CEO Ged Flynn, who explained the work that the charity does and also outlined the problems that are being faced nationally, as they try to de-stigmatise suicide and raise awareness of this tragic loss of young people. Ged stressed that the charity has values that it strongly promotes.
He said: 'We believe that many young suicides are preventable, and that no young person should suffer alone with thoughts or feelings of hopelessness. We believe that everyone can play a role in preventing young suicide.'
Stephen Habgood, who is the Chairman of Papyrus, then very movingly related his own story of the loss of his only child, Christopher 26, to suicide in 2009. Sarah Fitchett, a trustee of the charity, also shared her own tragic experience in speaking of the death of her 14-year-old son, Ben by suicide in 2013.
Their openness in speaking so frankly about their emotional experiences was a very moving revelation to the visitors but also cause for admiration, as they explained how they are working to try and prevent others having to experience the same trauma.
The £65,000 grant will enable the charity to engage another advisor to work on their HOPELineUK helpline (0800 068 4141), which is there to provide confidential support and advice to young people struggling with thoughts of suicide, and anyone worried about a young person.
With the Provincial Grand Lodge of Devonshire entering a five-year festival this year, the Widows Sons South west Chapter were keen to add their support
How best to raise money for the Festival and combine motorbikes? That’s when their secretary Michael O'Meara came up with the idea to attempt the Saddlesore 1,000; the first of the Ironbutt Endurance Runs. Their aim was to ride 1,000 miles in 24 hours. A tough ordeal driving that far in such a short space of time, whilst sat on a tiny seat exposed to the elements.
The route was worked out, the date confirmed and a target was set to raise £1,000, however due to the generosity of family, friends and members the day the ride took place they had already raised £1,500 for the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF). In fact, this figure will eventually exceed £2,000.
The day finally came on Saturday 25th August 2018 and they met at Exeter Services with family and friends to see them on their way. They headed north towards Glasgow, stopping only for fuel, then turned east to Berwick on Tweed, when they arrived they were greeted by a piper, drummer and members from the Northumberland and Durham Chapter of the Widows Sons.
They then headed south on the return leg of the journey, accompanied by the Northumberland and Durham Chapter riders, stopping off at the Angel of the North for a photographic record of the occasion.
Continuing south they met up with members of the Yorkshire Chapter who had a small food package for each of the riders and rode with them part of the way, finally stopping for coffee at Peterborough Services just before midnight having racked up 791 miles in under 15 hours. Topped up, they set off once again heading south, skirting London before picking up the M4 heading west to Bristol. They arrived back at Exeter Services at 04.44 hours in the morning having travelled 1,099 miles in 19 hours 45mins.
It was a great achievement for Jim Hayward, Gary Thomas, Tom Kingman and Michael O’Meara. They had a day riding the length and breadth of the country, meeting friends old and new and doing what they love best as Widows Sons – but more importantly they raised funds for the MCF, whose hard work helps countless people and supports charities both masonic and non-masonic around the country.
Disabled people in Sussex will have the same freedoms as everyone else to attend concerts and events thanks to two new mobile changing facilities funded from a £13,794 grant to the Bevern Trust charity from Sussex Freemasons
The new MigLoo mobile changing facilities will allow at least 30 people with profound disabilities to attend community events, festivals and outdoor activities. Attending venues with limited facilities previously meant that changing or going to the toilet for people with complex needs was impossible and that they could not stay for long or even attend at all.
For people with profound disabilities, using large motorised wheelchairs, even 'disabled toilet' facilities can prove challenging, might be dirty or not even accessible at all. The ‘Migloo Festival’ provides a fully portable, temporary hoisted Changing Place that utilises the innovative MigLoo hoisting system.
The unit can easily be erected to provide those with profound disabilities and the need for hoisting, the privacy to use a toilet or freshen up and enjoy the rest of their day. The grant from Sussex Freemasons comes through the Masonic Charitable Foundation.
Paul, a resident at Bevern View likes to try new things, he loves being sociable and above all Paul likes going out to new places and meeting people.
The MigLoo has transformed Paul’s life and for the first time, he will be able to go sailing at a specialist activity centre in Chichester because they will have the new mobile changing facilities. This new freedom will allow people like Paul to access new activities and live life to the full.
Matthew Cornish, Fundraising & Development Manager for The Bevern Trust, said: 'We are extremely grateful for the funding we have received from Sussex Freemasons. This donation provides a significant step towards achieving our ambition of allowing more freedom and opportunity for the many profoundly disabled people in Sussex.'
Maurice Adams, Assistant Provincial Grand Master of Sussex Freemasons, said: 'We’re very pleased to be able to support the Bevern Trust in helping people with disabilities to have the same chance to enjoy a day out as everyone else. We want to help make sure that events in Sussex are open to everyone, including disabled people.'
Fraternity without limits
Freemason Jason Liversidge may be living with motor neurone disease, but he's not letting it hold him back from any challenge
When asked what motivates him, Jason Liversidge has no hesitation. ‘It’s simple: my children, my wife and raising awareness of disability and the part I play in that. It’s showing the world that having a life-limiting illness isn't a reason to stop.’
Jason was just 37 years old when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND), an illness mostly affecting people in their 60s and 70s. The condition progresses over time, leading to muscle weakness, paralysis and death – sometimes within months of diagnosis. Jason is now in his fifth year with MND, but experienced symptoms as early as 2008.
There are 5,000 people living with MND in the UK at any one time, affecting two in every 100,000, but Jason has also been diagnosed with Fabry disease, which is even rarer. According to his doctors, he is the only person in the world suffering from both conditions.
He’s reliant on the support of others and He’s reliant on the support of others and is unable to walk or feed himself. But being virtually paralysed doesn’t hold him back.
Since his diagnoses, Jason has been breaking the boundaries of what should be possible. In 2017 he became the first person to climb Mount Snowdon in a wheelchair. A few months later he made history as the first person with MND to abseil the Humber Bridge. He’s also ridden the fastest zip line in the world, lapped Silverstone in a Formula One race car and raised thousands of pounds for charity – all in the past year.
In 2018, Jason will attempt his biggest and riskiest record yet. Speaking through the voice synthesiser he now has to use, he declares: ‘I plan to set the Guinness World Record for fastest speed in an electric wheelchair. The speed to beat is 55mph, but I want to go close to 100mph.’
‘Jason shows people that no matter what happens to you, no matter how bad things get, there’s always joy in life’
Sitting in the lobby of Tickton Grange Hotel in East Yorkshire, Jason is joined by his wife, Liz, and fellow masons from Wyke Millennium Lodge, No. 9696, into which he was initiated earlier this year.
‘Normally when a candidate is initiated, they do an undertaking – an oath. But, of course, Jason can’t speak properly; he can only talk through a voice synthesiser,’ explains Lodge Almoner Edward McGee. ‘So, the lodge sought permission for another member, Paul Matson, to have power of attorney and act as Jason’s voice. It was wonderful. Jason has proved to everyone that disabilities aren’t a barrier to becoming a Freemason.’
‘It was always something I had hoped to do – to follow in my family’s footsteps,’ says Jason, whose father, stepfather and grandfather were all masons. ‘The members have all been very welcoming. I’ve only been to the lodge once due to the summer break, so I’m waiting to go again and get a better insight. I’m looking forward to learning more about it.’
Whether it’s inspiring others through charity work, breaking world records or simply joining the Freemasons, Jason is resolute in making the most of his time. ‘He tries as hard as he can to live life to the absolute fullest,’ says Liz. ‘He’s amazingly positive – and so is our family. We’re determined to live life as normally as we can, for as long as we can.’
As Jason is the son of a Freemason, his daughters Poppy (five) and Lilly (six) have been receiving various forms of support from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) since his diagnosis. ‘The masons have done a lot for the girls,’ Liz says. ‘They’ve provided grants for extracurricular activities like horse riding and swimming lessons, and they've paid for school uniforms. They’ve given us money for some family days out so we can make memories together. The Freemasons are a fantastic organisation. They do so much good.’
WHENEVER AND WHEREVER
The MCF will continue to support the family however it can through grants that aim to relieve financial pressure. But it’s up to Jason’s masonic fraternity to be there when it matters the most. ‘There are two things we’ll do in the future,’ says Edward. ‘First is look after Jason and the immediate family. Then, when Jason passes away, we’ll look after Liz and the two kids. It’s a long-term issue. We’ll give them whatever support we can, wherever and whenever it’s appropriate.’
Sometimes the support will be financial. At other times it will be something as simple as a friendly chat or quick cup of tea. Either way, Edward lives just down the road from Jason, so he and his fellow masons will continue to be there for the rest of his family.
In the meantime, Jason has plenty of zest for life. Next up is a fundraising event for the Bendrigg Trust: potholing in the Yorkshire Dales. And then there’s the big one: aiming for 100mph in an electric wheelchair. Jason says it will be just like riding a bike.
‘I’ve always had a passion for speed, whether it’s on two wheels, four wheels or skis. But I can’t do that anymore; I can only drive my wheelchair,’ he says, smiling. ‘So, it seemed like the right way to go.’
‘Maybe people think Jason’s mad for doing all the things he does,’ adds Liz. ‘But it’s about breaking down the boundaries of disability. It’s about raising awareness of MND, of Fabry disease and of disability. Jason shows people that no matter what happens to you, no matter how bad things get, there is always joy in life. You just have to find it.’
Building from inspiration
Wyke Millennium Lodge was introduced to Jason through his power of attorney, Paul Matson, a builder and army veteran who served in the British military. In 2015, two years after Jason was diagnosed with MND, Paul received an email from the producers of the TV show DIY SOS, asking if he’d like to help renovate the home of a man suffering from a terminal illness. ‘Of course, I said yes,’ says Paul. ‘But before filming started, I had to survey the property – that’s when I met the owners, Jason and Liz. We quickly got to know each other and have been friends for a long time.’
Paul was so inspired by Jason’s determination that he started his own charity, Hull 4 Heroes, which provides homes for homeless veterans. One of his biggest projects has been to turn an entire row of derelict houses into a ‘Veteran Street’, complete with specially adapted homes for ex-service personnel. ‘It’s amazing. Because of Jason this whole thing has come about,’ says Paul.
Watch a video of Jason's initiation into Wyke Millennium Lodge, No. 9696, at: www.mcf.org.uk/jasons-initiation
It's the start
With an emphasis on professionalism and transparency, President of the Board of General Purposes Geoffrey Dearing wants to take Freemasonry to a new level of alignment
How would you describe your masonic progression?
It was a very slow burn. I helped to manage a law practice in East Kent and became a Freemason in 1974 when two of my partners, whom I respected, proposed and seconded me. I only used to go to four meetings a year as I couldn’t do more than that; I was very busy working around the courts. But I found that those four evenings were very relaxing, because you’re with different people who have a similar view of life.
I joined the Royal Arch in 1981. That was purely accidental: somebody’s son was a member of our lodge, and I got talking to his father, who turned out to be the Grand Superintendent for the Province of East Kent. But, again, I was very busy with the business, so nothing else happened until the end of the 1980s, when I was made a Steward in the Province in the Craft and the following year Senior Warden.
Along the way I spent a year as president of the Kent Law Society and became a Past Assistant Grand Registrar in 1994, which is a common office for a lawyer to take in Grand Lodge. But I wasn’t involved at all in the Province, as I had been made managing partner of one of Kent’s largest law firms. I just had no time for anything other than getting on with the business.
When did your focus change?
In 2004, I stepped down as managing partner. My firm very kindly kept me on as a consultant, and I found the change quite reinvigorating. When you’re responsible for two or three hundred people, you’re not able to do your own thing, because you are looking for consensus. I was able to go off and do things that interested me. I did a lot of lecturing on various legal-related bits and pieces and worked with some small companies.
By 2011, I had ceased to be a consultant and coincidentally received a telephone call asking if I would become Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent for East Kent. I’ve never had any grand career plan; if I have been asked to do a job and think I can do it, I’ve done it, simple as that. So that’s really why I’m sitting here now – it was never my ambition.
How did you approach the PGM role?
I went in there entirely cold. I hadn’t been on the executive and knew nothing about how the office ran. But I had run a business. So, I went in there and started asking questions – it was not commercial, and there was a lot that I could bring to it that would make it work better.
I believe strongly that communication is fundamental. Most of the really big errors and some of the biggest claims as a lawyer that I’ve been involved in were avoidable. Things get to where they get to because of poor communication or, indeed, a total lack of it. So, when I started in East Kent in 2011, I supported a communications team.
We don’t tend to know enough about what Freemasons do for a living, but I found that we had web designers, we had people who really understood software and we had people connected with the media and the written word. It meant that when we had the Holy Royal Arch 200-year celebrations in 2013, we were able to interest the media, and ITV came down.
‘When you have to make big calls, you need as much information as possible in order to get it right’
How have you found becoming President?
You’re in touch with every single aspect of how the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) runs, which is fascinating. I’m trustee of the Library and Museum, I’m on the Grand Master’s Council and I’m involved with the External Relations Committee. All aspects of what’s happening in Grand Lodge are ultimately the responsibility of the Board. It gives you an insight into the entire picture, and very few have that privilege.
When you have to make big calls, you need as much information as possible in order to get it right. I think in order to get everything joined up, to get alignment, the communication with the Provinces is very important. What goes on outside UGLE is every bit as important as what goes on inside it, so coming from the background I’ve had, I know about what goes on around the country in the Provinces. I’ve dealt with the same problems that other Provinces have experienced; I’ve got some understanding and some sympathy.
What do you mean by alignment?
The biggest thing in terms of what I hope can be achieved is improving alignment. If you ask what Freemasonry is about, it might be expressed entirely differently if it’s in Cornwall, Durham, Carlisle or London, but it should be broadly the same message. This hasn’t necessarily been the case, because everyone’s in their own areas, not always talking to others.
After the Second World War, there was a period when you just didn’t talk about Freemasonry, and people thought that was the norm. That did us no favours at all. You’re always going to have a lot of conspiracy theorists, and if you’re not providing correct information, that’s their oxygen. If they put false accusations in enough newspapers and say it often enough, people will believe it. We have to communicate.
What role does communication play in alignment?
What you do with communications and how you address those people who are talking nonsense is important. If someone publishes a newspaper article that says Freemasons have a lodge in Westminster with many MPs in it, that’s untrue. So challenge it. You do it quietly, but you do it fairly. And you make sure there’s an audit trail. I know the truth is far less exciting, but why don’t we have transparency? Why don’t we have complete openness? Why aren’t we relaxed? Why don’t we encourage the Library and Museum to talk openly about Freemasonry to people who visit us? I think that’s exactly how it should be and how it should develop.
How are you different to your predecessors?
I’m hugely respectful of tradition and history, but the success of Freemasonry will come from it being able to evolve. That’s how it has managed to survive for 300 years. My responsibility as President of the Board of General Purposes is to try to ensure that we stay relevant. It is our job to look at the big picture and the messages we put forward. We’ve got to get our thinking straight at the centre and then consider how to get the messages out there, making sure that all our organs of communication are going down the same lines.
The more we communicate, the better. David Staples is going to be a very good CEO for the organisation, and I think his approach to management has not been seen before at UGLE. But that is how it needs to be in the modern world. If we get the set-up, professionalism and the operation here as good as it can be, it’s the start.
Why should someone become a Freemason?
One of the attractions of Freemasonry is that it actually takes away a lot of insecurity, because it creates stability and has very good support mechanisms. If you think about the world today, a bit of consistency doesn’t go amiss.
If we can get alignment, I think Freemasonry will become more normal, more accepted and more understood. And that’s a good thing. It’s not for everybody; a lot of people don’t like the ceremonial that goes with it, but others do.
I don’t think it’s any accident that those who have been involved in the armed services or organisations that have a certain disciplinary culture find Freemasonry very attractive. I absolutely get that, but we all have different reasons. For me it’s actually about the people. I have met some terrific people along the way, and it’s been my privilege to know them and to spend time with them.
‘I’m hugely respectful of tradition and history, but the success of Freemasonry will come from it being able to evolve’
Where do you want masonry to be in five years?
It’s a big question. I don’t have a burning ambition for massive change, but I do have a goal to improve and evolve. The basics would be that we have good alignment within UGLE, including the Library and Museum and the Masonic Charitable Foundation. They’re separate and independent operations, but they’re both masonic and are golden opportunities for communication with the wider world.
I mentioned relevance before, because if Freemasonry is going to regenerate and be here in another 50 or 100 years, staying relevant will be part and parcel of that journey. Then there’s the way in which we communicate what we’re about – we have to do this in a much better way in order to strengthen our membership. It’s a big ambition, and I’m not sure that it can be achieved in five years, but we can certainly start the process.
We have a fantastic opportunity here. Today is not going to repeat itself tomorrow, or any other time, so we need to make the most of it. I always have the ambition that, every day, something constructive gets done.
As the London Symphony Orchestra helps to boost the provision of musical opportunities for young people with special needs across east London, we look at the MCF’s role and why former Lord Mayor Sir Andrew Parmley is lending his support
At LSO St Luke’s, an 18th-century Grade I listed church in London designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, it’s Make Music Day. The restored building is home to the expansive community and music education programme run by the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). Young people with learning difficulties or disabilities have come with their families to the centre in east London to explore different types of music-making. They play the drums, the violin and other instruments alongside musicians from the LSO, clearly enjoying the accessibility of the day and being able to share an activity specifically designed for them to take part in as a family – free of anxiety.
Make Music Day is part of the LSO’s On Track Special Schools project, which encourages creative music-making, devising models for working and nurturing the talent of the teachers and young people.
‘It’s great to have something that all of them as a family can come to – it’s not just about the young person who happens to have a learning disability,’ says David Nunn, project manager for LSO On Track. ‘For the family to have activities that they really feel are for them, that they can feel comfortable in, has been really significant.’
Through the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), London Freemasons have awarded £100,000 to LSO On Track to help produce inclusive ensembles, which will enable young people with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) to develop their musical skills alongside young people without SEND, using a combination of assistive music technology and traditional and electronic instruments. Ensembles will come together in autumn 2019 for a major performance.
‘This particular project will involve LSO musicians and specialist workshop leaders visiting schools within the boroughs, delivering exploratory music-making workshops to the pupils,’ says MCF chief executive David Innes. ‘Pupils who show an interest or an aptitude will be able to have further sessions to develop new skills and explore new instruments, sounds and composition techniques. There will be the chance for them to develop and grow, culminating in a performance for friends and family.’
APPEAL FROM THE LORD MAYOR
The proposal to contribute to the LSO On Track Special Schools project was submitted to the MCF’s grant-making programme via the Lord Mayor’s Appeal charity on behalf of the outgoing Lord Mayor of London Sir Andrew Parmley, who was recognised with a knighthood in this year’s New Year Honours for his lifelong services to music, education and civic engagement.
‘The LSO is the best orchestra in the world, and its outreach programme sees musicians working with young people, particularly those with learning difficulties. These young people, who wouldn’t ordinarily encounter professional musicians and real instruments, are able to have a go – composing and playing together and experiencing the joy that making music together can bring to a person,’ says Parmley, whose background is in music education.
‘The MCF has seen the benefit of this work and dug deep to find £100,000. We’re so grateful to them. As I owe most of my life to music, it’s very important to me that a large part of last year’s Lord Mayor’s Appeal was about making music and giving young people that advantage.’
The idea for LSO On Track came about in 2005, when London won the bid to stage the 2012 Olympics. ‘The LSO started thinking about the position of culture and what it could do in that area of east London, which was considered to be on our doorstep,’ explains the LSO’s Nunn.
‘From the beginning, there was an ambition to ensure that there was provision for young people with disabilities, particularly learning disabilities,’ Nunn says. ‘There are various barriers that young people with learning disabilities might have to learning an instrument in a traditional way or being able to do things in a group setting. So, there was a desire to find ways to make sure they were included and to engage with them.’
The top-level musicians who work with LSO On Track have experienced first-hand the effects of Make Music Days. Violinist Naoko Keatley has been playing with the LSO for four years, taking an active role in its outreach work, playing to and with adults and children with learning difficulties and disabilities. She’s found that music provides an alternative means of communication for some individuals.
‘You really feel the impact it has. Sometimes someone may not be able to speak, but they find a way of showing their appreciation through the music or start singing or dancing. And sometimes someone will pick up a random instrument and show a real talent for it. It also lets participants interact with each other, meet new kids and develop the social side of things.’
The project is not exclusively focused on classical instruments and makes use of digital technology. ‘It means that kids who don’t have the capacity to hold instruments are able to participate,’ says Keatley. ‘It really brings out this talent that would otherwise be hidden.’
Nunn adds: ‘The musicians benefit massively. We’ve got a huge pool of players who do this kind of work. Expanding the programme has allowed us to do more training for them, which has been great. They do something very specialist and they spend a lot of time on the concert platform. For them to have that individual connection with someone is hugely rewarding.’
The project’s aim to create new opportunities for young people with SEND dovetails with the MCF’s wider commitment to combatting social exclusion and isolation.‘
The masonic community is passionate about giving individuals who are facing a challenge in life a helping hand to get over that challenge and make the most of their lives,’ says Innes. ‘At the end of the two years I hope that more than 1,000 children will have been supported by this project and been able to participate in one way or another. That was an important point for us – to reach as many people as we can.’
‘The musicians benefit massively. For them to have that individual connection with someone is hugely rewarding’
Why musical inclusion is important
A growing body of research suggests that taking part in musical activities can provide a range of emotional, social and educational benefits to people with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND). Listening to and making music stimulates different areas of the brain, supporting verbal and non-verbal communication, as well as encouraging creativity, self-expression and social interaction.
However, a lack of funding, combined with a lack of local expertise, means that access to musical opportunities can be limited. There are few SEND music resources available outside of the school system, posing barriers for those wishing to take their participation in musical activities further. And young people with SEND attending mainstream schools are at risk of complete musical exclusion due to lack of knowledge and experience among staff.
‘It’s really important that organisations like the LSO make the resources they have available to people who may not otherwise be able to access them,’ says David Nunn from the LSO. ‘It can open doors for them and give them the opportunity to see what they are capable of. We work with a lot of schools and we want to offer students somewhere to go out of school time where they can pursue their own musical interests, working with the orchestra’s professional musicians.’