Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes was the guest of honour at the conclusion of the Nottinghamshire 2018 Festival, which raised over £2.6 million for the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys

Festival President Philip Marshall, the Provincial Grand Master of Nottinghamshire, presented a cheque to the Pro Grand Master for £2,645,907, which was raised by Nottinghamshire Freemasons over the six years of the festival appeal.

The day started with a celebration for young people. Children’s charities supported by Nottinghamshire Freemasons were invited to a spectacular outdoor event, free of charge, in the grounds of Kelham Hall near Newark. Over 1,000 people attended the event which included riding for the disabled, face painting, craft workshops, fairground rides and bouncy castles. The young people enjoyed a day of fun in a safe environment which was marshalled by Freemasons and the Nottinghamshire Scouts.

The evening celebration was attended by Freemasons from Nottinghamshire who had generously supported the 2018 Festival. A drinks reception in the late afternoon sunshine was followed by a banquet held in the Great Hall and Carriage Court of Kelham Hall. Over 560 Freemasons and their partners attended along with Freemasons from the surrounding Provinces and leaders of the Masonic Charitable Foundation.

Following a series of speeches by the leaders of the Festival and VIP’s, the Chief Operating Officer of the Masonic Charitable Foundation, Les Hutchinson, revealed the Festival total to the expectant gathering. He explained that the amount raised of £963 per member was the second highest ‘per-capita’ figure raised in any Masonic Festival – and second only to Nottinghamshire’s total from their previous Festival.

The incredible six year period of fundraising was concluded with a spectacular concert. World renowned girls’ choir Cantamus started the concert with enchanting performances of popular music tracks.

The girls were followed by Jasmine Ellcock, a recipient of support from The Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys and finalist in Britain’s Got Talent 2016. The concert, and Festival, was then brought to an appropriate crescendo by the winners of Britain’s Got Talent 2014, Collabro.

Food for thought

With funding from the Freemasons, Magic Breakfast wants to give underprivileged children in the north west of England the right ingredients to start their day

'In the sixth richest economy in the world, you’d think this couldn’t possibly be happening. But it is,’ says Carmel McConnell, founder of the charity Magic Breakfast.            

Nearly one in five children in the UK suffers from food insecurity, according to Unicef, meaning their families lack secure access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. ‘And the government’s own figures say that at least half a million children are waking up in homes where there isn’t any food,’ McConnell adds. This means that, until lunchtime, these children are at school without the energy and nutrition they need to learn effectively. ‘That isn’t a good thing for the child, the school or the country.’

McConnell used to run a consultancy in the City of London, but it was while carrying out research for a book that the true extent of food insecurity among British children hit home. She set up Magic Breakfast in 2003 with the goal of providing fuel for learning. 

‘In terms of thinking about the world that we want to build, you want people who are going into jobs with the right skills; you want people to have the chance for a good education,’ she says. ‘It seemed to me that a good breakfast would be a small part of the jigsaw that would really make quite a big difference.’

FUEL FOR LEARNING

Magic Breakfast now feeds more than 31,000 children every weekday morning, and partners with nearly 500 schools and pupil-referral units to provide a healthy breakfast that includes porridge, bagels, low-sugar cereals and fruit juice. It’s a meal that meets the school food standards set out by the Department for Education.

In order to qualify to partner with the charity, schools must have a student population in which 35 per cent or more are eligible for free school meals, or in which 50 per cent or more have qualified for free school meals at some point in the last six years. The schools must also contribute some food, such as spreads for bagels and milk to accompany the cereals. 

Critical to the work of the charity is that the meals are offered in such a way that the children in need don’t face any sort of stigma. ‘I wouldn’t go and get a bagel if I had to show I was poor to get it,’ McConnell says by way of example. As a result, the breakfasts are available to all students and often run alongside homework clubs. ‘For children who might be coming from very difficult or abusive homes, it’s a welcoming place that means they can have some time to do what they need to do and they’re settled in time for the start of the school day.’

‘Children now start the day having had a healthy breakfast and time to socialise and chill, meaning they are emotionally and physically equipped for the day ahead,’ says Fiona Pickering, headteacher of Windsor Community Primary School in Toxteth, Liverpool. ‘Our free breakfast club is absolutely vital for our school.’

As successful as the charity has been, there is more work to do, with some 300 schools on the waiting list. It’s one of the reasons that Magic Breakfast has been selected by the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) to receive a £28,000 grant that will be used to provide meals to 400 children at six schools in the Liverpool and Merseyside area.‘

In the same way that we support children and grandchildren of Freemasons when their families are facing hardship, we also work to support disadvantaged children and young people more generally,’ says MCF chief operating officer Les Hutchinson. ‘One thing we became aware of was that getting access to enough healthy food is fundamental to a child’s chances of having a good quality of life and going on to be successful as an adult.’

DRAMATIC IMPROVEMENT

Two particular pieces of evidence contributed to the MCF’s decision to support Magic Breakfast. The first was a 2017 Unicef report that found that children who are exposed to food insecurity ‘are more likely to face adverse health outcomes and developmental risk’, and that food hardship is also linked with ‘impaired academic performance, and is positively associated with experiencing shame at being out of food, and behavioural problems.’

The second was evidence showing how effective Magic Breakfasts could be. A 2016 study evaluated by researchers at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and the National Children’s Bureau found that, over the course of an academic year, year-two children in schools with a breakfast club made two additional months’ progress in reading, writing and maths when compared with a similar group at schools that didn’t receive support from the charity. 

Furthermore, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Public Health Nutrition found that 84 per cent of schools reported improved educational attainment among pupils who attended breakfast club. Some 96 per cent reported increased energy levels/alertness and 95 per cent reported improved concentration levels.

McConnell’s corporate background has taught her that statistical evidence is useful in convincing would-be donors that their contributions will make a difference. However, she points out that the wider problem has not yet been solved. If anything, it may be worsening.

AN EYE ON THE FUTURE

About 30 per cent of British children are living in income poverty, according to household data published by the government, and IFS projections suggest this is set to rise to 37 per cent by 2022. The difficulties facing many children all over the country have been highlighted by recent BBC reports in which one teacher spoke about how she saw children ‘filling their pockets with food’ because they didn’t get enough at home. Another noticed the unhealthy ‘grey skin’ and ‘pallor’ of some children relative to their peers from wealthier families. 

‘It’s something that I feel strongly about,’ McConnell says. ‘You get people from schools saying: “We had this little boy coming in. He was getting excluded and was always in trouble. We thought he was just naughty, but it turns out that his mum has to get up early and go to work. He’s got a younger brother who he has to get ready for school and there’s no food in the house.” No wonder he arrives cheesed off.’

There are problem areas all over the country, but the situation can be particularly severe in former industrial areas where the economy is weaker. Liverpool, which is the target of the MCF grant, was ranked the fourth most deprived local authority area in the 2015 Index of Multiple Deprivation. ‘We can’t let these kids be the ones who bear the brunt of these economic problems,’ says McConnell.

To that end, Magic Breakfast will count on the generosity of donors such as the masonic community and seek to build and maintain relationships with any businesses and brands that can lend a helping hand. The case that McConnell will continue making to prospective partners is that it’s not just about the children the charity helps – communities and, indeed, the nation can benefit. ‘We face a stark choice,’ she says. ‘We either get behind this generation of young people, or we will end up squandering a huge amount of human talent.’

Up to the plate

As the staff at the Parthenon restaurant busy themselves preparing Greek delicacies, they communicate in sign language. Matt Timms discovers how masonic funding is giving deaf people new opportunities and changing perceptions

Last year there was not a single Greek restaurant in Blackburn. So when the Parthenon flung its doors open in May, locals rejoiced that finally there was a place to enjoy some Mediterranean cuisine. Never one to do things by halves, Doug Alker, the man behind the place, brought over a chef from Greece, Greek waiters, and even a traditional Greek musical duo, complete with bouzouki (a traditional string instrument) and liberal use of the expression ‘Opa!’

Chef Petros Tsilgkiriau claims his moussaka is ‘perfect’, while the staff hardly let a night slide without a spot of traditional dance. It’s authentic Greek and shares much in common with any restaurant you would find in the motherland. However, it also has one major difference – most of the people working here are deaf.

Rather than bark orders at one another, the kitchen staff use British Sign Language, or BSL, to communicate in order to cook and prepare meals. All except Tsilgkiriau are deaf, and three of the workers have just started 18-month apprenticeships organised by the East Lancashire Deaf Society (ELDS) and funded by the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF).

Statistics show that deaf people are 50% less likely to find employment, education or training than those who are not hard of hearing, due mainly to difficulties around communicating verbally. Approximately 71% of the deaf community fail to achieve the government’s target of five GCSEs, exacerbating the issue further.

The £75,000 grant from the MCF will fully fund the Parthenon restaurant apprenticeship scheme three evenings a week for three years. It not only benefits the apprentices but improves perceptions of deaf people in Blackburn and beyond. With local businesses able to engage with the scheme, the hope is that it will open up employment opportunities for apprentices later in life.

CHANGING LIVES

‘We’ve created a working model here for how the deaf should be treated,’ says Alker, executive chair and managing director of the ELDS. ‘It’s a small-scale model, and all we need now is to expand. People should come in and see for themselves that this is how it can be done.’

The restaurant is a self-supporting, not-for-profit social enterprise established by the ELDS. It joins 11 other apprenticeships, including nurseries and a home-solutions programme, as part of the charity’s efforts to integrate deaf people into the community. ‘Perceptions have changed of what it means to be deaf,’ says Alker, who has headed up the ELDS for more than 20 years. 

Vasileios Orfanos, who goes by the name Lakis, has been working in the kitchen as an apprentice for three months. ‘To the hearing people who think deaf people can’t, it’s a nice message to say, “Yes, we can,”’ he says of the restaurant.

As a fan of Greek food and cooking, Orfanos says the apprenticeship has not only helped improve his skills in the kitchen, but his confidence, too. ‘Now that people see me here at work, I think attitudes have changed. Working here, I’ve seen a shift. People see that a deaf person can work and do anything that they want to do.’

Tanvir Shah, an ex-apprentice and now kitchen manager, has experienced many of the challenges that young deaf people face in work and education. Despite attending college and obtaining a qualification in mechanics, Shah has struggled to find a job. His hearing issues were deemed too great a risk by potential employers, and requests for interpreters proved too problematic – and expensive – to carry through.

‘That really hit my confidence,’ says Shah, who credits the ELDS apprenticeship for kick-starting his career. ‘I had the future to think about. I have to work for myself and provide for my daughter.’ After two years in the kitchen, he was asked if he wanted to work at the Parthenon permanently. Now he teaches apprentices, who can not only communicate with him on the same level, but also learn from his experiences. For Shah, the evolution from apprentice to mentor has paid huge dividends. ‘My confidence has skyrocketed,’ he says. ‘I’m not in this little box any more, nor do I feel so shy. I’m in a good place and just enjoying life.’

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS

Another apprentice, Cassie Chrysah, lives across the road from the restaurant, and arrived from Greece with aspirations to work as a waitress. She has seen first-hand how the ELDS can open doors. Chrysah previously expressed an interest in joinery back home, and the ELDS has now given her the chance to study it at college. ‘Of course, deaf people still encounter barriers. But situations like this mean people’s resistance dissolves,’ says Alker. ‘With Cassie, with the restaurant, with the dancing, our aim is to change perceptions.’

As executive manager and self-styled ‘mum to the group’, Clare Stocks says the Parthenon staff are more than just workmates. After the last customer has left, the staff get together for a sit-down meal. ‘I consider these people my family. It’s not like I really want to go home,’ says Orfanos. ‘In a world where people see me as disabled, here I’m treated as an equal.’

Issues such as social exclusion and isolation affect all areas of society, yet the media tends to focus on the elderly. ‘We sometimes forget that these same issues can affect people of any age, particularly those with disabilities,’ says Les Hutchinson, Chief Operating Officer of the MCF. ‘As a society, we are incredibly lucky that charities like the ELDS exist. They have proven that it is possible to combat educational and employment barriers for young deaf people.’

Full participation

The East Lancashire Deaf Society is a not-for-profit charity based in Blackburn that provides support to deaf groups across Lancashire. It aims to understand the diverse range of communication needs of deaf British Sign Language users, deaf-blind people, hard-of-hearing people and those who have lost theirhearing later in life. The society aims for individuals to get the same opportunities in education, employment, access and involvement as everyone else in the community. It achieves this through three key routes:

  • Advocacy
  • Information
  • Services

Find out more - click here.

The Tercentenary of the United Grand Lodge of England coincided with the end of the Provincial Grand Lodge of North Wales 2017 Festival Appeal, with two major events held in aid of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys

Recognising the unique opportunity that these two milestones presented to involve and interact with the public, they organised events in July and September this year.

A gloriously sunny 1st July saw the Tercentenary being recognised with a hugely successful ‘Big Party’ in the extensive grounds of Queen Elizabeth Court RMBI Care Home in Llandudno. Attracting over 1,400 attendees, including many young families from the local community, the day was a festival of live music, charity and market stalls, games of skill, fun fair rides, circus performers, circus workshops and craft demonstrations all supported by the Goose & Gridiron licensed bar and catering outlets.

A number of national charities that have benefited over the years from funding by the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) were present, giving the public a real insight into the way in which Freemasons have an impact on their local communities.

Visitors were astounded to see a secretly planned landing by a Wales Air Ambulance helicopter on the adjoining school field. Children, in particular, stood in awe as the big red helicopter settled no more than 100 metres from them. Provincial Grand Master Ieuan Redvers Jones, accompanied by the MCF's Chief Operating Officer Les Hutchison, presented a cheque for £4,000 to the helicopter pilot on the big stage.

All proceeds from the day, which amounted to over £21,000, were donated to the Friends of Queen Elizabeth Court to be used for the benefit of the elderly residents.

Following hot on the heels of the Big Party success, a spectacular Welsh flavoured Festival Gala was held at Venue Cymru, a modern theatre complex in Llandudno, on 9th September, during which the Province revealed the total raised by North Wales brethren for their 2017 Festival Appeal in aid of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys.

In the presence of the Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton and the Provincial Grand Master for North Wales Ieaun Redvers Jones, members and the public alike watched as short video clips highlighting charitable credentials were tantalizingly shown between acts until, nearing the finale, the stage screen lit up to reveal that the target set at £2.75million had been exceeded by a considerable amount – reaching £3.1 million!

This total raised represented an impressive achievement by the North Wales Freemasons, upon which they were enthusiastically congratulated during the formal addresses. Les Hutchison confirmed that the amount raised represented the second highest total raised per capita for any Festival Appeal.

Throughout the evening, the audience was treated to a spectacular and inspiring mixture of modern and traditional Welsh music and song by artists of local, national and international repute, which provided a most fitting tribute to the brethren of North Wales who have worked tirelessly to achieve such a magnificent Festival Appeal total.

Ewan Gordon and Oxfordshire Provincial Junior Grand Warden Dale Osborne clocked up the miles in the name of charity, as they walked from Oxford to Freemasons’ Hall

The intrepid pair started their journey on Saturday 5th August along the Thames Path, managing around 20 miles a day, and have helped to raise £3,000 for the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) in the process.

Five days later and having completed their journey outside Freemasons’ Hall on Thursday 10th August, they were greeted by David Innes, MCF Chief Executive, and Les Hutchinson, MFC Chief Operating Officer.

You can sponsor the pair by clicking here

Monday, 12 December 2016 12:57

Life in motion

Whole new world

Life changed for Finley when he took possession of a Wizzybug. Glyn Brown finds out how masonic funding is giving more children like Finley the mobility to explore

If you can’t move properly, life can be tough and require a bit of assistance. If you’re a child who wants to explore the world yet can’t get around, things are more daunting still. But charity Designability is working to change children’s lives for the better.

A group of occupational therapists, engineers and design experts, Designability pools expertise and practical research to develop groundbreaking products. One of its most ingenious innovations is the Wizzybug – a bright red, motorised wheelchair that gives freedom to under-fives with a range of physical issues. And it’s benefiting from a £38,250 award from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF).

A will to explore

Designability, previously the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering, is based at the Royal United Hospitals Bath; it’s here that the radical Wizzybug was trialled.

‘It came out of a conversation with the hospital’s children’s centre,’ says Alexandra Leach, Designability’s commercial manager. ‘It seemed children with movement disabilities were being restricted, kept in buggies and pushchairs way longer than other toddlers. Yet your average two-year-old is into everything, and by investigating they’re learning and understanding their place in the world.’

Leach notes that it must be frustrating for children with, for example, cerebral palsy and spinal muscular atrophy to be treated with such caution, as they have the same desires as any other toddler.

‘Finley was put into the Wizzybug and he was asked to drive it forward. “And he did! The smile on his face was just incredible.” ’ Rosalie Davies

First steps

‘The phrase for what can result is “learned helplessness”,’ says Rae Baines, senior children’s occupational therapist at Designability. ‘You can see how it happens. Carers, with the best intentions, can be overprotective. And some children eventually lose the ability to think and act for themselves.’

It must be hard for adults to stop this, though? ‘That’s where the Wizzybug is so great. At the very first assessment we see some parents who are used to stepping in, but we try to suggest that the way for their child to sort out how the bug works is to discover for themselves,’ says Baines.

The Wizzybug is for children from 14 months to about five years, an age group that the NHS in general doesn’t provide powered mobility for. The Wizzybug is operated by a simple joystick. ‘It doesn’t take long – sometimes during the assessment, they’re off and away,’ says Baines. ‘And you see this huge grin on their face – for the first time in their life, they can move.’

But allowing a previously immobile child to get from A to B is not all a Wizzybug can do. Baines explains: ‘It gives independence, autonomy about where they want to go. It provides environmental and spatial awareness and helps with manual dexterity and fine motor skills. As the child grows in confidence and determination, the brain gets a cognitive workout and begins to grow in size.’

New possibilities

All of which opens up possibilities for the future. ‘Because the Wizzybug is such a bright, friendly-looking device, it gets a lot of attention,’ says Baines. ‘So instead of passers-by maybe not knowing where to look if they see a disabled child, the child will be surrounded by amazed, impressed people. Which, apart from the wonderful social inclusion, helps the child’s communication skills.’

Children bond with their Wizzybugs, and give them names. According to Rosalie Davies, her three-year-old son Finley calls his Biz and, she says, ‘Biz really is the biz.’ Finley has type 2 spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA2. Rosalie and her partner Joel suspected a problem when he was about eight months old. ‘We could sit him and he’d sit, but he’d fall forward and wouldn’t use his arms to prop himself up, or if you put him on his tummy he wasn’t doing the little press-ups babies do.’

The discovery of SMA2 was made at 13 months. ‘It was pretty devastating,’ says Rosalie. ‘Atrophy means wasting away, so he’ll reach a certain point and then, if the nerves aren’t used, they’ll start to die.’ With hippotherapy building core strength, the Wizzybug can help with nerves and muscles in the neck, arms and hands.

The first day with Biz was ‘magical’. Finley was put into the Wizzybug and he was asked to drive it forward. ‘And he did! The smile on his face was just incredible. And I… well, I was a mess.’

Baines notes: ‘It can be an awful shock to find your child has a life-limiting condition. But to then find the Wizzybug, almost with a naughty character of its own…’

The mobility offered by the Wizzybug is just the start. When children grow out of them, they’re refurbished – each is robust enough for about three owners – but they will have taught children the skills to move on to bigger things. Rosalie and her family have started fundraising to buy Finley a powerchair. And because there’ll be no worries about him using it, she’s looking at a world that might involve all kinds of things – possibly including Paralympic sports such as powerchair football and bowls game boccia.

At Designability, the MCF grant will fund nine Wizzybugs. Leach says, ‘When we heard about the Freemasons’ grant, we were overwhelmed, and delighted when they came for a visit.’

And the MCF’s Chief Operating Officer Les Hutchinson couldn’t be happier. ‘Part of our mission is to help build better lives by promoting independence – for Freemasons, their families and the wider community. The free Wizzybug Loan Scheme is a great way to help children.’

For Finley and his mum, the impact is seen daily. Now, Finley can run away, ‘be naughty and cheeky’, and play hide and seek. ‘And I love him following me,’ says Rosalie. ‘I love walking a few steps and turning round, and there he is – things other people might take for granted.’

Wizzybug fact file

Each Wizzybug costs £4,750. This amount covers the build, assessment and refurbishments for other children.

As families with disabled children already have other outgoings, the only way these chairs can be made available is through the Wizzybug Loan Scheme, which is funded by donations and the fundraising efforts of local communities.

Invented in their current format in 2006, there are now 260 Wizzybugs across the country, but more applications come in every week as awareness grows.

FIND OUT MORE Get further information at www.designability.org.uk 

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 37 SPRING 2017

MOBILITY MATTERS

Sir,

I read with interest your article in the winter issue of Freemasonry Today about buggies for children with movement disabilities, in particular the Wizzybug, a fun motorised wheelchair for under-fives, and the Masonic Charitable Foundation grant of £38,250 to Designability – an admirable organisation, if I may say so.

We of the South Cheshire Masonic Golf Society have for 40 years been engaged in the fundraising and purchase of our variant of this machine: a sporting, stripped-down version, at a cost of £3,800.

In June this year we celebrate the handover of our 50th powerchair at a nearby golf club. To celebrate the handover during the celebration of 300 years of Grand Lodge, our Provincial Grand Master, Stephen Blank, and his team will attend a presentation at the golf club.

As your account states, when children are first installed in these chairs and realise what can make them ‘go’, the delight on their faces is a great pleasure to witness – there is no dry eye in the house.

We recently made great strides in membership increases, raising our society membership number from 35 to 109, and we now include non-masons as associate members, which can increase funds raised and introduce people to Freemasonry.

Our powerchairs are a very stripped-down version, yet comfortable for children to sit in. They are adjustable as the child grows older and need an increase in chair size. This, together with a regular service programme, makes a bargain out of £3,800.

Our society was started by a Chester businessman back in the 1970s when he saw an article in a magazine about the Peter Alliss Masters organisation, which Alliss had set up with similar aims as ourselves: a summer day’s fun on the golf course and something for the community at the same time (enquiries welcome).

Gil Auckland, Loyal City Lodge, No. 4839, Chester, Cheshire

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 38 SUMMER 2017

In the chair

Sir,

A letter in Freemasonry Today, Issue 37, gave information on the aims of the South Cheshire Masonic Golf Society (SCMGS) and I thought it might be helpful if I provide further detail in clarification.

The society has indeed been in existence for 41 years as of now. In this time the members, and the lodges in the Cheshire area, have made some incredible donations to the cause of providing prescription powered wheelchairs to children who fall financially outside of the benefits or welfare system we have. We
seek genuine hardship cases and extremely disabled children who become the beneficiaries.

I stress the word ‘prescription’ as many people are fooled by companies into buying off-the-shelf powered wheelchairs that are not suitable for the user. Ill-fitting chairs cause and worsen ailments. It is essential that chairs provided for the children are suitable for a span of up to five years. A growing child will easily have a specialised moulded seat replaced and adjustments made to the chair are that much better if the mechanics are correct at assessment.

There are national companies under the charitable banner who supply wheelchairs at an overpriced cost to cover the business. The SCMGS ensures that every chair is purchased at the most competitive price possible, enabling us to stretch our donations to the maximum.

The members of the society over the years have raised approximately £200,000 for the purchase of the wheelchairs; the 50th wheelchair is to be presented at Eastham Lodge Golf Club at the Cheshire Provincial Golf Day on 28 June. Our fixtures and forms are provided at www.scmgs.xyz for anyone wishing to support in any way.

A chair provides a child with a form of freedom that we, as able-bodied, ignore. It provides respite for a parent in the knowledge that their child is safe and able to be active of their own volition. To enable a child to socialise even a small amount, have friends and join in some fun and play can be a parent’s greatest wish and a child’s greatest happiness. A child’s laughter in play can melt the coldest heart. A small donation subscription is £10 per year and is always thankfully received.

We are so grateful to everyone who has supported this cause by even the smallest donation; every penny we receive goes to a chair.

Noel Martin, Loyal City Lodge, No. 4839, Chester, Cheshire

A day of festivities at the Raby Gala

Durham Freemasons celebrated a successful gala at Raby Castle on behalf of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, now part of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF).

The Gala was officially opened with the X Company Fifth Fusiliers band marching into the main arena followed by a horse and carriage transporting Provincial Grand Master Norman Heaviside, Festival Director John Thompson and MCF Chief Operating Officer Les Hutchinson.

Great North Air Ambulance director of charity services Deborah Lewis-Bynoe received a cheque for £4,000 from the MCF. Norman presented Les with a cheque for £250,000, bringing the total donated, just six months in
to the Festival, to £1 million.

Setting the stage

Britain’s Got Talent finalist Jasmine Elcock is hitting the high notes thanks to strong masonic support for her family, as Peter Watts discovers

‘Jasmine has always been singing,’ says Julian Elcock, adding with a laugh, ‘She even used to sing in her sleep.’ Julian, a mason since 2008, is talking about his 14-year-old daughter Jasmine, who provoked standing ovations, tears and Golden Buzzers as she sang her way to fourth place in the final of this year’s Britain’s Got Talent.

The result of talent and hard work, Jasmine’s success wouldn’t have been possible without the masons, who provided financial and emotional support after her dad’s business collapsed.

Jasmine beams as she recalls her audition on Britain’s Got Talent when her performance of Cher’s Believe wowed presenters Ant and Dec so much that they activated the Golden Buzzer, which automatically put her straight into the semi-final. ‘When Ant and Dec ran on to the stage I thought they were going to give me a hug, but then they pressed the Golden Buzzer and everything changed. To touch people’s emotions like that was amazing.’

After the audition, the family drove all the way from London to Durham so Jasmine could appear at a masonic event. ‘We drove for four hours, but nobody felt tired because we were on such a high after what had happened,’ says Julian.

Tremendous support

As she progressed to the final, Jasmine received tremendous support from those around her. ‘My friends were very supportive,’ says Jasmine, who had to keep her involvement in Britain’s Got Talent secret for six months. ‘That was very hard – but when they found out, they leafleted the streets and put posters up asking people to vote for me.’

Jasmine is delighted to have come this far. ‘Just to get to the final and get fourth place out of thousands of people from all over the UK – as a 14-year-old, that’s something I’m proud of,’ she says.

More support came from the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, now part of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF). Les Hutchinson, Chief Operating Officer of the MCF, has known Jasmine for years, as he attends the same lodge as Julian, Fortis Green, No. 5145. ‘We always knew Jasmine was special,’ he says. ‘Julian would come to meetings with YouTube clips of her performing in talent contests. She was competing in Britain’s Got Talent on the same evening as a lodge meeting, so I encouraged all the members to get their phones out to vote.’

A way of life

The Freemasons supported the Elcock family with a grant to ease the financial distress they faced and provided a package of support for Jasmine and her brother Michael, including termly maintenance allowances and dancing and music lessons. In the time that the masons have supported her, Jasmine has also performed on the West End stage.

For the Elcocks, entertainment is a way of life. All three of Julian’s brothers are musicians and Jasmine’s brother Michael is a talented actor, poet and dancer, who has performed at London’s Barbican and studies at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. ‘Whenever Michael is looking for some advice for a song he turns to Jasmine and singing starts all over the house,’ says Julian.

Jasmine admires artists like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, whom she terms the ‘big belters’. Their diva approach seems a world apart from Jasmine’s unassuming personality, but she explains that their voices and how they presented themselves on stage inspires her. ‘It’s the hand movements, the gestures, how they stand,’ she says. ‘It helps me with my own performances. It’s the whole package.’

Both Michael’s and Jasmine’s talent has been nurtured by a succession of teachers and courses, while Jasmine has been attending talent shows for years. It takes discipline to make the most of such a talent, and Jasmine has to attend regular one-on-one lessons, complete singing homework after school, and watch her diet. ‘With using your lungs and diaphragm, you need to be fit,’ she explains.

Since the support of the masonic charities was fundamental in nurturing Jasmine’s voice, it’s no surprise that Julian describes his decision to join the masons in 2008 as one of the best he ever made. ‘Everything I read said it helped you to become a better person,’ says Julian, an accountant who ran his own transport business. ‘I met interesting people who could give advice and support, and developed rapport and friendships with people I could trust.’

‘They pressed the Golden Buzzer and everything changed. To touch people’s emotions like that was amazing.’ Jasmine Elcock

Making a contribution

When Julian lost his business in 2009, Les suggested he apply for help. ‘But I had a lot of pride and felt the business was always going to survive,’ remembers Julian. ‘Then I was given 28 days before the bank repossessed my house, and that was when I called the charity. It stepped in straight away and I also got back into employment. Through that, Jasmine and Michael could continue to develop. I can’t think what would have happened without that.’

Les is delighted that the support of masons has had such an inspiring, tangible result but emphasises that the MCF should not be seen as a last resort but a source of assistance as and when it is needed. ‘If you are a Freemason or the son, daughter, stepchild or grandchild of a Freemason and are in need of support, we urge you to come forward as soon as possible,’ he says. ‘I know that pride can be a stumbling block, but please come forward. We noticed in the last recession that we did not reach the peak in applications until about two years after it happened. People in need of support were struggling on for far too long.’

Mindful of the support she received from the masonic community, Jasmine has become a patron of the masonic charity Lifelites. Visiting children’s hospices and backing Lifelites’ fundraising campaigns, she is proud to take part and make a contribution: ‘Freemasons supported me and my family, so it’s nice to give something back in return.’

‘We always knew Jasmine was special. Julian would come to meetings with YouTube clips.’ Les Hutchinson

Career climbing

A combination of physical and classroom activities is helping young people in Wales to take more control of their lives. Peter Watts learns how masonic funding is making this possible

Former Welsh rugby international Philippa Tuttiett watches with pride as a group of 16 young people encourage each other to tackle a climbing wall. ‘I never thought anything would get close to the feeling of playing for my country, but the last few days of this course are up there,’ she says. 

The course in question is Get On Track, which is organised by the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust and invites former athletes to provide mentoring and training for some of the 848,000 young people in England and Wales currently not in education, training or employment.

‘Some are really quite lost, with no confidence, and need some kind of goal or plan that will lift them back into society,’ says Tuttiett. ‘We give a lot of control back to young people. It’s a big step for them to come here and an amazing transition that they go through. When you see them come out the other side, with renewed confidence and able to get a job or a qualification, it’s incredibly rewarding.’

In 2015 the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust received more than £16,000 through a Community Support and Research grant from the Masonic Charitable Fund. The grant partly funded the delivery of a 14-month programme in Bridgend, the first Get On Track course to take place in Wales. This began in March and was spearheaded by Tuttiett and fellow mentor Christian Roberts, a former footballer for Cardiff and Swindon.

Using their sports backgrounds, Tuttiett and Roberts have helped young people such as 21-year-old Natasha, who has been out of work for two years. ‘I went to college and got a job, but the company I worked for went bankrupt,’ says Natasha. ‘That knocked my confidence a lot, and that’s what Get On Track is helping with. I wanted to feel more confident about myself. It’s been difficult without work. Also when you’re in work you need to be a team player and a problem solver. Philippa and Christian are very inspiring; they push you in a good way to get more out of yourself and not to be scared of doing something different.’

‘We turn lives around. It sounds corny, but it’s true. We see an incredible change in the directions lives are going.’ Philippa Tuttiett

Getting on track

The course enables the mentors to work alongside local corporate volunteers to teach employability skills such as CV-writing, interview techniques and filling in application forms. Qualifications in subjects such as first aid, food hygiene and sports leadership are also available. The results are impressive, with 72 per cent of young people who have taken part in Get On Track moving into employment, education or training within eight months. 

Tuttiett first heard about the Trust’s work when she was still playing rugby, but was only able to take a more active involvement upon retirement. ‘I did my first course last year and this is my second,’ she says, adding that the course not only helps young people in need of support, but also gives a fresh start to sports professionals as they face retirement, allowing them to use the skills they have developed in their sporting careers and transfer them to a new role. 

‘You develop so many skills that allow you to achieve your sporting goals, and these are perfect for the workplace or just everyday life,’ says Tuttiett. ‘I didn’t understand I was doing all these things; it was only when I trained to be a mentor that I realised.’

Get On Track draws on the skills learnt by athletes that enabled them to successfully manage their careers, from medal triumphs to sustaining an injury or loss of form, all while balancing family and work life. Whether it is communication, goal setting or time management, Tuttiett believes anybody can use these skills to develop a career or simply be a better person. ‘It’s not a sports course – although if they want to play football in the break, we can do that.’

The course encompasses numerous methods, all designed to boost confidence. ‘It’s a social and personal development course,’ says Tuttiett. ‘We build skills in a variety of ways. Every young person who comes on the course will have a different goal – some will want a job and others will want to return to education. Some will be doing their first CVs, while others need help to create a new CV that will present them in the best light.’

Tuttiett particularly appreciates that mentors can stay in touch with the participants. ‘We remain in contact and are available for a year after the course,’ she says. ‘We can find out how they are getting on and if there’s anything else we can do to help with their development. The young people also get to catch up with others on their course, so they can see how they are all getting on. As an add-on, they get a bursary of £80, which can be claimed at any point for 12 months after the course. Some spend it on clothes for interviews or on further training.’

Making it possible

Tuttiett is quick to acknowledge the role of masonic donations. ‘It’s fantastic,’ she says. ‘This would not happen without the support of organisations like the masons backing us. We turn lives around. It sounds corny, but it’s true. We see an incredible change in the directions lives are going. We get young people who are excluded from their families, from society, who are incredibly low, and after a couple of weeks they are motivated and confident and start to believe that they deserve to have a good life.’ 

Roberts, like Tuttiett, relishes the chance to help to make a difference. ‘I love this work more than playing. You can win a game of football and feel good for 24 hours but this has an impact on people’s lives and it’s an honour to be involved. 

The change in all of them from day one is amazing. We almost have to hold the reins in on them as they develop that swagger. Now we want to make sure they use that in the right way.’

Shared values

The value of the Get On Track course, developed by the charity founded by Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes, was apparent to the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF). ‘This is an innovative project that trains world-class athletes to become mentors for young people,’ says Les Hutchinson, the MCF’s Chief Operating Officer. ‘Athletes use their experiences to teach young people how to overcome adversity, stay focused and have the confidence, as well as the resilience, to deal with the highs and lows in their future careers.’

As Les highlights, the UK has a growing problem with young people who have left school and are struggling to find direction. Over the past five years, more than £17.4 million of masonic funding has been awarded to hundreds of local and national charities, many of which have improved the lives of thousands of children and young people by removing barriers to education and employment. 

For Les, these causes reflect Freemasonry’s central tenets. ‘At the heart of Freemasonry is a concern for people and a responsibility to help those in need. Mentoring has been embraced by the Craft to help new brethren grasp the main principles of Freemasonry and become involved in their lodges. These core values are clearly reflected in the mission of the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust.’

Musical night in Durham for festival launch

The Sage Gateshead, the world-class music venue on the banks of the River Tyne, was the stunning location to launch the Durham 2021 Festival in aid of the RMTGB. More than 1,000 tickets were sold to brethren and their families for the musical extravaganza, which was opened by community theatre group Enter CIC. Under the direction of Andrea Flynn, 30 children aged 13-20 provided songs from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival show ‘The Wind Road Boys’.

Festival Director John Thompson and Durham PGM Eric Heaviside welcomed RMTGB President Mike Woodcock and CEO Les Hutchinson. The PGM then presented a cheque for £250,000 towards the Festival target of £2,712,768, which follows a previous instalment of £500,000 in November 2014. 

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