Thursday, 04 September 2014 01:00

Volunteers: the unsung heroes of the RMBI

Side by side

Around three hundred and fifty Freemasons volunteer regularly at RMBI care homes across England and Wales. Tabby Kinder meets the people who help residents combat loneliness, remain active and retain a sense of identity

Walking through the corridors of James Terry Court, the RMBI care home nestled in a quiet corner of South Croydon, Frank Lee and his wife Dot are in great demand. Residents stop to say hello to Frank and to hug Dot – and to ask after the couple’s many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

After eighteen years of volunteering here, Frank and his wife are part of the home, and the residents greet them as warmly as they do their own families. Frank is Chairman of the home’s Association of Friends – a group of volunteers who dedicate time each week to provide support to the care home staff, as well as friendship and entertainment to its residents. 

Each of the seventeen RMBI care homes across the country has its own association to provide extra support and friendship beyond the homes’ core services.

‘Freemasonry and volunteering go hand in hand,’ says Frank, who has been part of the Craft for forty years. 

‘It’s the residents that keep me coming back each month, though. They’re the most important people in the home, and it’s our job to make sure they spend the last few years of their lives feeling happy and secure.’

Frank has been Chairman of the Association of Friends of James Terry Court for five years, running the committee that consists of twelve men and six women. They each regularly visit the home to put on events for residents, escort them on trips to the pub, ballet or the theatre, and raise money. Each year, the volunteers raise around £20,000, which is spent hosting functions and buying new equipment to enhance the residents’ lives.

‘Freemasonry and volunteering go hand in hand. The residents keep me coming back… it’s our job to make sure they are happy and secure.’ Frank Lee

Sweet memories

Last year, money raised by the Association was also used to purchase twenty-eight new adjustable beds and a 1950s-style shop for the home’s Dementia Unit (complete with glass jars of sherbet lemons and an old manual till). Through its sweets and memorabilia, and giving residents the chance to work there, the shop helps re-create a bygone era and stimulates happy memories. 

‘It’s not easy for the residents when they first arrive – some of them don’t want to be here,’ says Frank. ‘It’s so important to me to make moving in easier for them and to ensure they settle in and come to feel safe here.’ 

As well as fairs, fetes and grand dinners on St Patrick’s Day, Christmas, Burns Night and St George’s Day – as well as a popular hog roast in July – Frank and his team hold regular coffee mornings, bingo and film nights. ‘It’s about making sure they don’t get bored,’ Frank laughs.

As a testament to Frank’s commitment to making sure residents are happy, his wife Dot keeps leaving our conversation to greet the ladies who live here, all of whom are overjoyed to see her. ‘I’ve always been a big believer in getting family involved,’ explains Frank. 

‘Dot and I are able to count many of these residents among our close friends, now.’ 

Festive philanthropy

Each year the committee hosts Christmas dinner for the residents of James Terry Court. ‘Freemasons should look after our elderly and do everything we can to help them,’ he says. ‘I’m very happy to be part of an organisation that makes sure this happens.’

The Association of Friends also holds a yearly Ladies’ Night for female residents who miss going to masonic events with their husbands. ‘They all look forward to it, queuing up for the salon months in advance and getting dressed up beautifully on the night,’ he explains.

Frank was recently awarded the prestigious Order of Mercy for his volunteering in the community by the League of Mercy Foundation, a royal body that recognises and rewards up to fifty volunteers nationwide each year. But he’s still modest about such recognition. ‘There are no individuals in the Association of Friends. I received the award for the time I’ve spent here, but I accepted it on behalf of the entire team.’

Charles Knowles, a new resident at James Terry Court, stops to talk about how the work being done by the volunteers has eased his transition into living there. ‘They come along here all the time and they treat me beautifully. You can’t ask for more than that,’ he says. 

‘Freemasons should look after our elderly and do everything we can to help them. I’m very happy to be part of an organisation that makes sure this happens.’ Frank Lee

Time and energy

Meet a few of the volunteers who regularly give their time and energy to help improve residents’ lives

‘I’ve been running the home shop for a long time now. It’s open every Tuesday morning and we sell sweets, crisps, chocolates, biscuits, toiletries, drinks and birthday cards. We have some of the residents to our home at Christmas time and Ted, my husband, still plays carpet bowls with them – something that started eighteen years ago!’ - Vi Melber, Patron of Lord Harris Court, Wokingham and Association of Friends member for 38 years

‘The home provides excellent nursing care to residents and the role of the Friends is to provide those things that aren’t part of the home’s remit, but that add hugely to their quality of life. We raise around £10,000 a year. If the home needs a wheelchair-converted mini bus, whenever it’s requested, we try our best to provide it.’ - David Lathrope, Chairman of the Association of Friends of Devonshire Court, Leicester and Association of Friends member for 12 years

‘We’re trying to make the living experience far more enjoyable at Scarbrough Court, and the funds raised by the Friends mean we can redecorate with vintage furniture and decorations – things that remind our residents of their younger days. A lot of the Friends have had loved ones here, so they’re aware of what’s needed.’ - Lesley Dawson, Home Manager of Scarbrough Court, Northumberland for two years

Published in RMBI

Appealing to the senses

A blossoming sensory garden initiative by the RMBI is helping to both lift the spirits of care home residents and connect with their past, as Sarah Holmes discovers

While gardens are a source of pleasure during the summer months, imagine if an uneven paving stone was enough to limit your enjoyment of a flower bed in full bloom. For the older generation, the great outdoors can sometimes feel like a hazardous place, with the security of indoors often seeming a far more sensible option.

Forty-one per cent of adults over the age of seventy take a twenty-minute walk less than once a year, according to statistics published by the British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health in 2012. In care homes, the figures are more worrying still, with seventy-eight per cent of men and eighty-six per cent of women classified as inactive.

At Queen Elizabeth Court in Llandudno, however, the scene could not be more different. The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) care home is set in an acre of sprawling lawns that play host to an award-winning patchwork of raised flower beds and vegetable plots. And thanks to a network of pathways, the garden is completely accessible to its residents. But it is the home’s sensory garden, funded primarily by local Freemasons and volunteers from its Association of Friends, that’s the real pièce de résistance.  

One of the four central masonic charities, the RMBI is dedicated to looking after Freemasons and their dependants in retirement, and sensory gardens are its latest initiative to improve the lives of residents in its care homes. Designed to stimulate all five senses, the gardens are especially therapeutic for people with dementia. ‘We want all of our residents’ lives to be as fulfilling as possible,’ explains Debra Keeling, Dementia Care Advisor at the RMBI. ‘The sensory gardens are fine-tuned to provide a safe, stimulating space that benefits all residents, including those with dementia.’ 

Working with landscaping specialist Ward Associates, which has links with the University of Stirling’s leading dementia centre, the RMBI developed a sensory garden blueprint in 2011 that could be used in its homes, with the help of grants.

In a sensory garden, colours, shapes and special features are introduced to assist visual impairment. 

Wind chimes and water features aid hearing, with specially surfaced paths creating noise when residents walk on them. Plants with different textures are grown so that people can touch and enjoy the variety, while cultivating herbs and vegetables means the residents can taste fresh, home-grown produce. 

With an expanding dementia support unit, Queen Elizabeth Court was a natural candidate for a grant, and its sensory garden helped the RMBI home take second place in the 2013 Llandudno in Bloom awards – adding to its roster of wins. 

‘We want all of our residents’ lives to be as fulfilling as possible. Sensory gardens provide a safe, stimulating space that benefits all residents, including those with dementia.’ Debra Keeling

While his work may be award winning, for Alan Roberts, the horticulturalist at Queen Elizabeth Court, outstanding resident care is the only priority when it comes to maintaining the garden. ‘It’s nice to win awards, but at the end of the day it’s the residents’ garden,’ he says. ‘It’s here to benefit them.’ 

Roberts acknowledges that without the RMBI’s investment and expertise, the sensory garden would never have happened. From flower beds raised to wheelchair height through to sheltered seating areas, the garden is an accessible and engaging space for all. Plants and flowers that appeal to the senses are particularly important for residents with dementia, for whom the smell of lavender or the sight of a daffodil is enough to reinvigorate a host of comforting memories.  

Encouraging involvement

There are plans for more improvements, too. ‘We’ve decided to create a water feature to get the residents out more, and eventually we’ll have decking with more raised flower beds outside the dementia wing, so it’s easy to access,’ Roberts explains. At present, the home has eleven raised beds where residents plant their own produce, such as tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries – and it is up to the residents to nurture everything through to harvest, when it will go straight to the kitchens, then onto their plates. 

‘It’s a great confidence booster,’ says Gary Carr, Activity Coordinator at Queen Elizabeth Court. ‘Our residents’ faces light up when somebody compliments them on something they’ve grown.’ 

Although it can be difficult to entice people out of their rooms, Carr and Roberts are never deterred. They regularly organise sessions to make hanging baskets and sunflower-growing competitions. ‘It’s an incredibly useful space,’ says Carr. ‘It adds another level of engagement to the activities, and is a great source of stimulation for residents in the dementia wing.’

By high summer, many residents will be visiting the garden at least once a week – some even two or three times a day. One resident in particular, Valerie Morris, adored the garden. Having been a keen gardener throughout her life, Val could often be found planting her favourite geraniums or engrossed in a gardening book. When she was moved to the dementia wing during the last four years of her life, the sensory garden provided a great source of comfort. 

‘Val was a lovely lady,’ recalls Roberts. ‘The garden really helped in the last few years. It reminded her of when she used to garden with her son. We always made sure there was a vase of geraniums in her room.’

It’s the willingness of staff like Carr and Roberts to go the extra mile, combined with the RMBI’s strategic sensitivity to evidence-based innovation, that allows the care homes to excel in the field of dementia care. 

‘We are experts in this area, and the sensory gardens are a key part of our offering for people with dementia,’ says Keeling. ‘It’s all about facilitating people’s interests, and the great thing is that the gardens can be enjoyed by everyone. All RMBI care homes with specialist dementia units already benefit from sensory gardens, so the next step is to introduce them to our other homes. It’s something that we will continue to develop to give real quality of life to our residents every day.’

Sowing the seeds

In addition to central funding from the RMBI, each care home has a dedicated volunteer group known as the Association of Friends. Their activities support care home provisions, such as the sensory gardens, and members also volunteer as companions for residents. 

Every year, their efforts culminate in a big outdoor event. This year, Queen Elizabeth Court will be gearing up for its annual summer fete, which will see more than twenty lodges and local businesses arrive to peddle their wares from marquees. Last year’s attractions included artisan cheeses and charcuterie, a dog display, the West Mercia Lodge brass band and a residents’ strawberry stall. 

To find out more, visit 

Published in RMBI
Thursday, 07 March 2013 00:00

Legacy boosts Kent care home

A legacy donation to an RMBI care home has expanded facilities for residents, with the opening of a new lounge and dining room

A new addition to the nursing facility was officially opened at RMBI’s care home in Chislehurst, Prince George Duke of Kent Court, by Metropolitan Grand Master Russell Race.

The Hinton Lounge and new dining room followed a generous £70,000 donation to the Home from St Paul’s Column Lodge, No. 7197, which meets in London. The donation had been left in legacy by Brenda Hinton, the widow of local Freemason Roy Hinton.

Roy was initiated into St Paul’s Column Lodge in March 1977, becoming the Assistant Secretary in April 1979. As well as being a passionate Freemason, Roy worked for more than thirty years at The Times and was greatly respected by both colleagues and brethren. Sadly, Roy died in October 1981, aged just fifty-four.

Brenda kept in close contact with the lodge and on her own death in 2010, left a substantial gift to be used as deemed appropriate by the Master, Wardens and brethren. On further discussion between the lodge and the Grand Charity Steward, it was agreed that some of the donation should be used to support improvements at Prince George Duke of Kent Court. The new lounge and dining room were named in lasting memory of the Hinton family.

The opening ceremony was attended by representatives of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge, St Paul’s Column Lodge, the Province of West Kent, the RMBI and the local Association of Friends. Following a welcome by RMBI President Willie Shackell, a formal presentation of the £70,000 cheque was made by Warren Thomas, Master of St Paul’s Column Lodge, and the brethren were appropriately thanked. Russell Race then unveiled the plaque for the Hinton Lounge and cut the ribbon.

Prince George Duke of Kent Court was purpose built in 1968 and is situated in a popular part of Kent. The home can accommodate seventy-four residents for both residential and nursing care and, like all RMBI homes, can cater for people with dementia. The home benefits from individual rooms and attractive communal areas, as well as wheelchair-accessible gardens, a fully stocked library and a hairdressing and pamper salon. There’s also a full programme of entertainment, social events, outings, gentle exercise classes and creative, cultural and intellectual activities.

Published in RMBI
Thursday, 17 May 2012 01:00

Double celebration at RMBI care home

RMBI care home Connaught Court, York held an open day to celebrate the opening of their new Dementia Support Wing.

The new Wing was funded with the £86,000 donation by the Province of Yorkshire, West Ridings. The Province has close ties with the Home and has been a great supporter of the work of the RMBI for many years.

The wing now has a fresher environment internally and alterations have been made to ensure that it is a modern dementia zone area.

The donation will also help to fund a sensory garden so that residents can enjoy the outside environment safely.

The event also saw the celebration of Dignity Action Day at the Home and was attended by residents, relatives and members from the Association of Friends.

Drinks and canapés were served at the events and an excellent time was had by all.

Published in RMBI

George Manley, resident at Prince Edward Duke of Kent Court, Essex, and the RMBI's oldest resident, celebrated his 105th birthday in style

The celebrations were attended by residents, Mr Manley’s friends, the Association of Friends, Deputy President of the RMBI Chris Caine and senior members of the RMBI.

The day commenced with a presentation from Alan Garner, President of the Association of Friends in which he highlighted some of George’s achievements and wished him a happy birthday from the Province of Essex. This was then followed with George receiving his gifts and cards including his all important card from The Queen.

The Colchester Town Crier, Mr Robert Needham, then announced Mr Manley’s birthday in the traditional manner and gave the captive audience a brief history of town criers and how communication has developed over the years. This was very apt in that Mr Manley has seen vast developments in technology to improve communication and in the way we live.

The day continued with a lunch for 20 of George’s friends and entertainment was provided by a singer in the afternoon with birthday cake and wine. George said “it was one of his best days ever”.

George has been a resident at the Home since it opened 14 years ago and says that he “wouldn’t get it much better than this”.

During his time at the Home he has visited 200 lodges across the UK and is also heavily involved in charity work, which he takes great pride in.

George has had many achievements in Provincial Freemasonry which have included being Master of two lodges at the same time, promoted to the rank of Past Provincial Grand Senior Warden and awarded the jewel Distinguished Service Medal to Essex Freemasonry.  Mr Manley will also be celebrating 50 years in Freemasonry next year, having joined in 1963.

Phase 1 of the rebuild at the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) care home James Terry Court, in Croydon, has been officially opened. The event was attended by more than 40 representatives from the Province of Surrey, the Association of Friends and the RMBI.

RMBI President Willie Shackell opened the event and spoke about the history of the RMBI, which started in East Croydon with its first home, named ‘Asylum for Worthy, Aged and Decayed Freemasons’ in 1850. Shackell went on to explain why the rebuild of the home was necessary, as it needed to adapt to the changing needs of older people.

Thanks were given to Dennis Vine, who oversaw the development of the home in his role as Co-opted Trustee. Julian Birch, Regional Property Operations Manager, who sadly passed away in October, was remembered for all his efforts in the rebuild. The Association of Friends and the Province of Surrey, Metropolitan Grand Lodge, and the Province of Hampshire & Isle of Wight were also thanked for their support. The event saw the official opening of the lounge and library by Eric Stuart-Bamford.

Published in RMBI

Phase 1 of the re-build at RMBI care home James Terry Court, Croydon has been officially opened.

The event was attended by over 40 representatives from the Province of Surrey, the Association of Friends and the RMBI.

RMBI President Willie Shackell opened the event and welcomed all attendees. Willie spoke about the history of the RMBI which started in East Croydon with its first Home named Asylum for Worthy, Aged and Decayed Freemasons’ in 1850. He went on to explain why the re-build of James Terry Court was necessary as the original Home was looking tired and needed to adapt to the ever changing needs of older people.

Thanks were given by Willie Shackell to Dennis Vine who had overseen the development of the Home in his role as Co-opted Trustee, to the residents of the Home for their patience with the building works and to the staff for providing high quality care during the re-build. Julian Birch, Regional Property Operations Manager who sadly passed away in October was remembered for all his efforts in the re-build of the Home

The Association of Friends and the Province of Surrey, Metropolitan Grand Lodge and the Province of Hampshire & Isle of Wight were also thanked for their generous and continued support of the Home and the RMBI.

Eric Stuart-Bamford, PGM of the Province of Surrey went on to speak about his appreciation and gratitude to Home Manager Di Collins and the staff at the Home for the services they provide to the residents. Mr Stuart-Bamford also recognised the support that the Association of Friends provide to the Home.

The event saw the official opening of the Lounge and Library by Eric Stuart-Bamford and also of the Therapy Room by Libby Stuart-Bamford. The Therapy Room was built using the generous donation provided by The Grand Stewards’ Lodge as part of their 275th anniversary celebrations.

Those present were given a tour of the new building and ended with canapés and refreshments.

Published in RMBI

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