The Freemasons' Grand Charity AGM - June 2014

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Annual General Meeting of The Freemasons' Grand Charity 

11 June 2014 
An address by the President of the Grand Charity, Richard Hone, QC, and the Chief Executive, Laura Chapman

President (Richard Hone, QC):

Deputy Grand President and Members, welcome to the 34th Annual General Meeting of the Grand Charity. At the end of this meeting, we bid farewell to a past President, Grahame Elliott; a Deputy President, Ian Johnson and a Vice President, Ian Macbeth. These senior officers have played pivotal roles in the efficient running of the Grand Charity and on behalf of the Council and members here present, I want to thank them most warmly for all that they have done for the Charity over a long number of years and also for all they have done to assist me in particular.

I just want to endorse fully what the President of the Board of General Purposes has said about the unofficial and unauthorised history of Freemasonry being advertised with the improbable promise of half the net profit on sales being donated to the Grand Charity. I can confirm that we have had absolutely no contact with the publishers. The day job (if I may refer to it as that) reminds me that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Next year, our Annual General Meeting will be held at the September Quarterly Communication because as part of the wider re-organisation of the four central Masonic charities, it has been agreed that all four should have the same financial year-end of 31 March. So next year I shall be reporting on a 16-month period rather than the normal 12.

When I proof read the 44 pages of the Annual Report and Accounts, it demonstrates a year of steady progress - but there are highlights. In November 2013, there was the general meeting in Berkshire where four local mayors attended, with our own RW Bro Anthony West representing the Lord Lieutenant. The Provincial Grand Master, RW Bro Martin Peters, encouraged a terrific attendance of over 400 members with families and it was a marvellous opportunity to showcase our work and hear heart-rending stories from some of those who have been helped. You probably know that our areas of non-Masonic charitable support are Medical Research, Youth Opportunities, Vulnerable People and Hospices not substantially financed by the NHS. We know from the feed-back we have received that these are the most popular causes with you the members.

Since the formation of Grand Charity in 1980, which took over the work of Grand Lodge’s Board of Benevolence, we have enjoyed 28 Festivals which have raised a global total of no less than £57 million. With prudent investments, the annual contribution and generous legacies, we have been able to add to that £57 million and distribute over £120 million since 1981. Last September, the Province of Staffordshire held the 2013 Festival for the Grand Charity, which raised the stupendous total of £1.675 million from one of the smaller Provinces. I am so grateful to the Provincial Grand Master, RW Bro Sandy Stewart, who is also a member of our Council, for that tremendous support. Last year we gave grants totalling £6.6 million, first to distressed Freemasons and their families, and equally important to non-Masonic charities. With the other central Masonic charities, we donate over £20 million annually and that excludes Provincial and individual Masonic giving. It is a great story and the world should know that Freemasonry is and remains a truly terrific force for good.

May I turn now to the yellow paper of business on page 13, paragraph 18, and mention that after careful discussions with representatives of the Board of General Purposes we have decided to withdraw our recommendation for an increase in the annual contribution and that the amount for 2015 should remain as it. This situation will be kept under review between now and the next Annual General Meeting.

With that amendment, I now propose that the report of the Council on pages 10-13 be taken as read and adopted.

Deputy Grand President and members – unless anyone has any objections, I shall propose all these recommendations as one resolution.

In the absence of objection, I now move that the 19 Non-Masonic grants recommended under Agenda Items 3a. to 3s., which total £842,500, be approved.

Deputy Grand President and members – Item 5 relates to Emergency Grants. These are grants that, under the rules of the Grand Charity, may be authorised by the President without approval from the Council or from the membership, for either Masonic or non-Masonic purposes in cases of real or dire emergency. Such emergency assistance usually follows natural disasters in other parts of the world, but on occasions this country has its own emergency requirements. The business paper reports a number of grants that were made to assist flood relief operations earlier this year in the UK, and which the Pro Grand Master spoke about in his address to Grand Lodge last March. Since then, I have authorised an emergency grant of £30,000 to assist the three million people affected by flooding and landslides in the Balkans, where more than 100,000 homes are thought to have been destroyed. As is often the case when dealing with urgent aid in areas where the Grand Charity has no real appropriate contact, the British Red Cross has been given the money to assist us in seeing that it swiftly gets to where it is most needed.

I should now, with your permission Deputy Grand President, like to ask Laura Chapman, the Charity’s Chief Executive, to say a few words about further assistance that is given in the name of the Craft, but which falls outside of the normal reporting requirements.

Chief Executive (Laura Chapman):

Deputy Grand President and members. Almost ten years ago, whilst the majority of us were enjoying our Boxing Day lunch, a tsunami travelled 375 miles across 18 countries, leaving 1.7 million people homeless in just 75 minutes, eventually killing more than a quarter of a million people by the end of the day. As you may recall, the Grand Charity immediately made a grant of £100,000 on behalf of the Craft to assist with front-line relief efforts and I personally hand delivered that cheque to the offices of the Red Cross on the first day it re-opened after the Christmas break. In the next few days, before Freemasons’ Hall reopened, I received a number of telephone calls at home from Provincial contacts, asking if the Grand Charity planned to open a Relief Chest to receive donations from Masons and Lodges throughout UGLE who wanted to help the tsunami victims, but also wanted their donations to be associated with Freemasonry. The Grand Charity had never opened a Relief Chest before to receive donations for disaster relief, but it seemed to me to be a very reasonable request. So, even before FMH re-opened after the New Year, the Tsunami Relief Chest was up and running and receiving donations that would ultimately reach nearly £1m. The Trustees of the Grand Charity then approved a grant to Plan International to use the Relief Chest funds to help to reconstruct schools, health centres and other vital community services focussed on helping the children who had suffered so much.

Since then, for a number of catastrophic disasters, Masons have wanted to give more than the emergency grant that the Grand Charity invariably makes immediately after the disaster strikes. For these, the Grand Charity has opened a Relief Chest with the result that more than £1.25 million has so far been given by the Craft for 7 major disaster relief projects.

In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan – the worst storm ever to have hit land – caused widespread destruction across the Philippines, affecting an estimated 14.1 million people and sadly taking the lives of more than 6,000. A President’s emergency grant of £50,000 was immediately made to the British Red Cross and in response to further interest from the Craft to help with the longer term redevelopment efforts, the Council of the Grand Charity announced that its special Relief Chest would once again receive funds to be dedicated to a special project to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan rebuild their lives.

To date, £185,395 has been donated to the Typhoon Haiyan Relief Chest, which will be used, once again with the help of the charity Plan, to re-establish vital services within affected communities through the reconstruction, repair and equipping of 15 classrooms and two village health centres in East and West Samar. It is estimated that approximately 5,000 people will benefit in the first year alone following project completion. The classrooms and health centres, which will be constructed using disaster resilient designs following stringent building codes, will provide safe and engaging learning environments and quality healthcare services for thousands of children and families for many years to come. 

This project, along with the schools in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, Aceh Besar, Indonesia, Leogane, Haiti, the donation to the emergency relief and recovery programme in Japan (2011), and the fishing boats jealously guarded by the women of Tamil Nadu, India, to make sure that their men did not sell them on to the highest bidder, have all been possible only because of the outpouring of generous support that Masons, throughout the Craft, have given to those who have suffered so much from these catastrophic disasters. 

On behalf of those whom you have helped, thank you.

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