Volunteers: the unsung heroes of the RMBI

Thursday, 04 September 2014

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

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