Disabled young people at Chailey Heritage Foundation in East Sussex have received a significant boost to their planned state-of-the-art DREAM Centre, following a £25,000 grant from Sussex Freemasons

The Charity launched a £3.1 million appeal in 2016 to replace their ageing 1950s hall with a building large enough for children and young people with complex disabilities to participate in a mixture of arts and physical activities. Wheelchair football, power chair driving, trampolining, drama and dance will all be on offer alongside a sensory four dimensional experience, which will allow children to be ‘transported’ to different countries and experience sights and sounds from around the world.

The D.R.E.A.M (dynamic, real, experiential, amazing, magical) Centre is the latest chapter in the story of the Chailey Heritage Foundation, which has been changing the lives of young people with disabilities since 1903. 

The grant from Sussex Freemasons comes through the Masonic Charitable Foundation. Maurice Adams, Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Sussex, said: 'We are delighted to support Chailey Heritage Foundation with their appeal and look forward to seeing the D.R.E.A.M Centre in action when it opens in 2019.'

Ellie, a pupil at Chailey Heritage School, is a competitive child and typical of the young people who will benefit from the new facilities. This new indoor space will also house the powered wheelchair driving school which will benefit many of the young people who are learning to drive.

Carol, a teacher at Chailey Heritage School, who has been helping Ellie to reach her full potential, said: 'Thanks to Sussex Freemasons and all the other generous donors, the D.R.E.A.M. Centre will make it possible for Ellie and her friends to have a space large enough to play competitive sports and perform to friends and family on the purpose-built stage along with lots of other opportunities.'

Sally-Anne Murray, Development Director of Chailey Heritage Foundation said: 'We are enormously grateful for this grant. We rely on organisations like Sussex Freemasons to help us provide the ground-breaking facilities that really enrich the lives of those we care for.'

Milton Keynes Food Bank has received a donation of £3,000 from Buckinghamshire Freemasons

A certificate for the funds, donated via the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), was presented by Andrew Hough, MCF representative, and Mike Clanfield, Provincial Charity Steward for Buckinghamshire.

Milton Keynes Food Bank is an independent charity established to provide local families and individuals with essential food supplies at a time when they need it most, covering the days or sometimes weeks before other parts of the social care infrastructure can come into play.

The grant received has been used towards the transportation costs for the charity's gifted vehicles, which are used for delivering the emergency food parcels to their 12 serving centres across Milton Keynes.

Dorothy Barley Infant School in Dagenham is to receive dedicated, specialist support to help improve outcomes for vulnerable children and give them a better start in life, thanks to national charity Achievement for All and Essex Freemasons

A grant of £5,000 from Essex Freemasons, donated via the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), will allow Achievement for All to work with staff at Dorothy Barley to assist pupils to achieve greater potential in life by helping to lay down firm and positive aspirations to learn and succeed. The programme, which also involves parents and staff, has been proven to give youngsters the support they need, particularly in the early years

The £5,000 grant is part of a much larger grant of £240,000 given by Freemasons to 53 schools in England and Wales through Achievement for All’s award-winning Achieving Schools programme.

Achievement for All is a leading not-for-profit organisation that works in partnership with early years settings, schools and colleges, improving outcomes for all children and young people regardless of their background, challenge or need.

The grant will provide subsidised access to the Achieving Schools programme, which dramatically enhances the goals and outcomes of pupils and addresses the issues faced by children and staff though four key areas: leadership, teaching and learning, wider outcomes and opportunities, and parent and carer engagement. Schools who have benefited from this programme to date have seen a positive impact on the development of teaching, increased pupil attendance as well as improved confidence amongst pupils in their own abilities to achieve.

Christine James, Headteacher at Dorothy Barling, said: 'The grant will make a huge difference to this school. It will enable us to work closely with Achievement for All to identify children and parents in need of support and most importantly provide the time needed to concentrate on those youngsters that need it most.

'This school is very much part of the local community with parents who give us considerable support but we have some who need help and this money will enable us to make a difference.'

Colin Felton, Provincial Communications Officer for Essex Freemasons, said: 'We are very pleased to be able to help Achievement for All with their excellent programme at Dorothy Barling.

'Freemasons are very much part of the community and our 10,000 members are actively raising money for the MCF to ensure that grants to schools and other local charities can be made on a regular basis. We are delighted to be able to help this incredible initiative work in Dagenham.

'Developing children’s core strength and resilience can improve confidence and engage children in learning. By supporting these pupils now we can play an important part in helping them make the most of their education.'

Find out more about the £5,000 donation – watch this short video.

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.

A donation of over £61,000 from Lincolnshire Freemasons will support the Linkage Community Trust in its work to help people with learning difficulties to get into work

The £61,236 grant, which comes through the Masonic Charitable Foundation, will allow the Trust and the University of Lincoln to work with partners from the statutory and voluntary sectors to create an online support tool that, over the next few years, is expected to help hundreds of users develop Individualised Career Action Plans.

Linkage has been committed to supporting individuals with a learning disability and or autism to develop their independence for more than four decades. Although much progress has been made in many areas such as social integration, independent living and education, access to employment remains a huge challenge. Linkage sees employment as a key to independence and a major contributor to health and well-being.

Rex Richardson, Director of Care Services at Linkage, said: 'Getting people with autism and/or learning disabilities into employment can be complex and challenging. To do it successfully requires a planned and personalised approach, with all partners working together to achieve an identified and shared goal.

'Research shows that the benefits of employment for people with autism or learning disabilities can be immense, improving independence, well-being, reducing isolation and promoting better mental health - as well as providing many employers with a loyal and productive employee.'

It is estimated that there are around 7,500 individuals with autism in Lincolnshire. Data on employment figures for people with autism in Lincolnshire is limited, but national figures suggest only 15 per cent of adults with an autistic spectrum condition are in full time employment.

Mr Richardson added: 'We’re very grateful to Lincolnshire Freemasons for their generous support. This project is about bringing together organisations who share our commitment with the University of Lincoln to develop individualised career development plans which are comprehensive and efficient, which can identify their strengths and support them and employers in enabling disabled individuals to gain employment and to make an important contribution to the workforce.'

Graham Ives, Provincial Grand Master of Lincolnshire, said: 'We’re very pleased to be able to help the Linkage Community Trust, which is doing outstanding work supporting people with learning disabilities find employment. This not only provides enormous benefits to the job seekers, but also to local employers who obtain loyal and productive employees.'

Supportive sailors in Lincoln have transformed a £25,000 Tercentenary donation from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) into a specialist pontoon and a safety boat to transform the way it can help disabled people on to the water

The sailors are members of Hykeham Sailability, a charity launched in 2009 to provide sailing opportunities for disabled people in Lincolnshire, but at that time the group had no boats, equipment, sailing expertise, volunteers, or even potential members.

Led by non-sailing Keven Roberts, who sadly passed away in 2016, the group has secured thousands in funding, inspired and trained numerous volunteers and instructors and worked tirelessly to establish what is now a thriving, vibrant sailability club.

Hykeham Sailability is part of the national RYA Sailability programme, which supports disabled people in learning to sail and sailing regularly. The group’s aim is to give both adults and young people the freedom and confidence to get out on the water.

Lincolnshire Freemasons Walter Cook, Worshipful Master of Doric Lodge No. 362, and Terry Wallhead, from Witham Lodge No. 297, have visited the club to see the equipment bought with the MCF grant.

Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge

13 June 2018 
Report of the Board of General Purposes

Minutes

The Minutes of the Quarterly Communication of 14 March 2018 were confirmed.

The Minutes of the Annual Investiture of 25 April 2018 were confirmed.

Death of a former President

The Board had learned with great sadness of the death on 14 May of RW Bro Anthony Wilson, PSGW, who served as a member of the Board from 1995 to 1999 and again from 2001 until 31 December 2017, during the last thirteen and three-quarter years of which he was its President.

Annual dues

2019: The Board recommended that the annual dues (including VAT) payable to Grand Lodge in respect of each member of every Lodge for the year 2019 shall be:

A

A Resolution to this effect was approved.

Fees

2019: The Board recommended that the fees (exclusive of VAT) payable for registration, certificates and dispensations should be increased in line with inflation to:

Registration

A Resolution to put this into effect was approved.

Contribution to the Masonic Charitable Foundation

Under Rule 271 of the Book of Constitutions Grand Lodge must fix each year the annual contribution payable to the Masonic Charitable Foundation. After consultation with the Trustees of the Masonic Charitable Foundation it was agreed to recommend that for 2019 the annual contribution would remain at £17 in respect of each member of a Lodge in a Metropolitan Area or a Province, or in England and Wales that is unattached.

A Resolution to put this into effect was approved.

Prestonian Lectures

(I) 2017 The Grand Design

The Lecturer, Dr J.W. Daniel, had informed the Board that in addition to the four official deliveries to Lodge of the Grand Design, No. 6077 (Surrey); Worcestershire Installed Masters’ Lodge, No. 6889 (Worcestershire); Old Elizabethans’ Lodge, No. 8235 (East Lancashire); and The London Grand Rank Association, the Lecture was also delivered on seven other occasions throughout the Constitution. The Board expressed its thanks to Bro Daniel for the considerable time and effort he has spent in this connection.

(II) 2018 A Good Workman Praises his Tools: Masonic Metaphors in the Ancient World

The Prestonian Lecturer for 2018 is C.P. Noon. Four official Prestonian Lectures for 2018 have been or will be given under the auspices of: Stuart Lodge, No. 540 (Bedfordshire);

Durham Lodge of Installed Masters, No. 4441 (Durham); Derbyshire Lodge of Installed Masters, No. 8509 (Derbyshire); and Berkshire Lodge of Enlightenment, No. 9946 (Berkshire).

(III) 2019

The Board had submitted a nomination to the Trustees of the Prestonian Fund and they had appointed Michael Karn as Prestonian Lecturer for 2019. Bro Karn stated that the title of his Lecture will be English Freemasonry during the Great War.

Arrangements for the delivery of the Lectures to selected Lodges will be considered by the Board in November and applications are now invited from Lodges. Applications should be made to the Grand Secretary, through Metropolitan, Provincial or District Grand Secretaries.

The Board desired to emphasise the importance of these Lectures, the only ones held under the authority of the Grand Lodge. It was, therefore, hoped that applications for the privilege of having one of these official Lectures would be made only by Lodges which are prepared to afford facilities for all Freemasons in their area, as well as their own members, to participate and thus ensure an attendance worthy of the occasion.

Grand Lodge of Albania

The Board reported to the Grand Lodge in March that the conduct of the Grand Lodge of Albania, in particular in relation to Kosovo, was giving rise to disharmony with other European Grand Lodges, and recommended that the Grand Lodge suspend relations with the Grand Lodge of Albania. The suspension of relations appears to have had little or no effect on the conduct of that Grand Lodge, and the Board therefore considered that it had no alternative but to recommend that recognition be withdrawn from the Grand Lodge of Albania.

A Resolution to this effect was approved.

Erasure of lodges

The Board had received a report that sixteen Lodges had closed and had surrendered their Warrants. The Lodges are: First Lodge of Light, No. 468 (Warwickshire); Ryburn Lodge, No. 1283 (Yorkshire, West Riding); Captain Coram Lodge, No. 2737 (London); West Cheshire Lodge, No. 2977 (Cheshire); Lodge of Israel, No. 3170 (KwaZulu-Natal); Home County Lodge, No. 3451 (Surrey); St Ann’s Lodge, No. 3691 (London); Sincerity Lodge, No. 4424 (North Wales); St John’s Lodge, No. 4779 (Yorkshire, West Riding); Federation Lodge, No. 4807 (Warwickshire); Constancy Lodge, No. 6359 (Yorkshire, West Riding); Onward Lodge, No. 6528 (Cheshire); West London and Electric Lodge, No. 7404 (Middlesex); Frizington Lodge, No. 8082 (Cumberland and Westmorland); Concord Lodge of Monmouthshire Provincial Grand Stewards, No. 9010 (Monmouthshire) and Humanitas Lodge, No. 9261 (Middlesex).

A recommendation that they be erased was approved.

Grand Lodge accounts for 2017

The Audited Accounts of Grand Lodge for the year ended 31 December 2017 were approved.

Election of Grand Lodge auditors

The re-election of Crowe Clarke Whitehill LLP, as Auditors of Grand Lodge was approved.

The Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Grand Lodge received a talk by Dr Vicky Carroll, Director of The Library and Museum of Freemasonry.

List of new lodges

List of new lodges for which warrants had been granted by showing the dates from which their warrents became effective

26 April 2018

9962 Sewa Lodge Sierra Leone and The Gambia
9963 Phoenix Lodge Yorkshire, North and East Ridings
9964 Artemis Lodge Sussex

Quarterly Communications

A Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge will be held at noon on Wednesday, 12 September 2018. Subsequent Communications will be held on 12 December 2018, 13 March 2019, 12 June 2019 and 11 September 2019.

The Annual Investiture of Grand Officers takes place on 24 April 2019, and admission is by ticket only. A few tickets are allocated by ballot after provision has been made for those automatically entitled to attend. Full details were given in the Paper of Business for December Grand Lodge.

Supreme Grand Chapter

Convocations of Supreme Grand Chapter will be held on 14 November 2018, 25 April 2019 and 13 November 2019.

Published in UGLE

A mile in my shoes

For Freemason Mark Ormrod, the battlefield injuries he sustained proved to be a springboard to reinvent his life. But not all veterans respond the same way. Peter Watts finds out how, thanks to masonic funding, Combat Stress provides psychiatric support for ex-personnel

Christmas Eve in 2007 began with an ordinary patrol for Mark Ormrod, a Royal Marine on tour in Afghanistan. It ended with Mark in a coma and undergoing a life-saving operation after an improvised explosive device was triggered, leaving him without both legs and an arm. 

As a triple amputee, Mark found that Freemasonry provided some of the support he needed to get on with his life, having been initiated into the Royal Marines Plymouth Lodge, No. 9528, in 2008 while in a wheelchair. Today, Mark has prosthetic limbs and is an author, mentor and motivational speaker. He credits Freemasonry with providing invaluable support at a difficult time. 

‘It’s a really important part of dealing with stuff in life, having people around you as friends and brothers,’ he says. ‘It was very reassuring to know I had people who were encouraging and empowering, and as I progressed through the lodge it helped in terms of confidence and leadership. It’s helped holistically, in all areas. I also like the fact that we work with charities. That’s very fulfilling – being able to help other people is very rewarding.’

One of those charities is Combat Stress, an organisation that supports veterans with mental health issues. With increased pressure on the NHS and more former servicemen and women suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following gruelling experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) has awarded a £60,000 grant to Combat Stress to fund a community psychiatric nurse operating in the southwest of England, where Mark now lives.

For David Innes, the Chief Executive of the MCF and himself a retired British Army officer, there is a vital need for masonic support. ‘One of the core areas that the MCF supports on behalf of Freemasonry is helping as many people as we can who are suffering from social isolation and social exclusion – people who are not able to participate in society for a wide variety of reasons,’ says the former member of the Corps of Royal Engineers who reached the rank of Brigadier. 

‘If we can help those suffering from PTSD or mental health issues come to terms with the challenges they face, it gives them a chance to make something of the rest of their lives. Combat Stress does some fantastic work in this particular field.’

MENTAL HEALTH FOCUS

The MCF was particularly impressed with the focus Combat Stress gives to veterans with mental health issues, operating dedicated services from three regional hubs. ‘They are very focussed on helping those suffering from mental health issues – that is their core business. It’s what they are particularly good at, and they have a very good structure,’ says Innes. ‘The statistics they produce show that, in the vast majority of cases, they allow individuals to make significant improvements so they can get on with their lives.’

Combat Stress will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2019, having been founded after the First World War to support soldiers returning from the trenches. Today it offers clinical care so former servicemen and women have the tools and mechanisms they need to cope with their conditions. Care comes in a variety of forms, from occupational therapy and group counselling to a six-week residential course. 

The community psychiatric nurse funded by the MCF grant will provide support to around 500 ex-personnel. ‘The nurse will cover Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Bristol,’ explains Kirstie Tong, the trusts and foundations manager at Combat Stress. ‘In 2017, in the southwest, the community psychiatric nurse did 72 assessments for veterans with combat stress and 10 other assessments, and had 47 one-to-one appointments, 90 group contacts and 51 support-group contacts. The MCF grant will contribute towards a large part of the salary of this nurse until 2020. We are hugely grateful for the MCF and its continued support, which makes our work possible.’

Mark Ormrod didn’t require the support of Combat Stress as he recovered but recognises the importance of this type of work, particularly for former members of the armed forces, who may see mental health issues as a sign of weakness. ‘Although I’ve not worked with Combat Stress, I know it offers counselling, residential care and therapy,’ he says. ‘There’s a lot of stigma in the military with regard to mental health. People don’t always like going out and asking for support, but if it’s serious, you can point them towards the professionals at Combat Stress.’

OPENING UP

This stigma is slowly beginning to disappear. Tong says that while veterans of the Falklands War take an average of 15 years before contacting Combat Stress for support, a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan will do so in three years. That is unquestionably a positive thing, but it also means that Combat Stress faces increasing pressure on its services. ‘We have seen a 143 per cent increase in referrals in the last decade,’ says Tong. ‘We now support around 3,000 veterans across the armed forces each year and have 2,000 referrals. Around 80 per cent have PTSD and have experienced multiple traumas in their combat career.’

As Innes acknowledges from his own experience in the Corps of Royal Engineers, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were particularly traumatic: ‘Many of the men and women we are supporting now will have seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the intensity of those operations was ferocious.

‘People will have been exposed to events that, to be honest, are simply horrific,’ he says. ‘We are seeing an increase in PTSD as a result of those operations. Providing support to organisations like Combat Stress is vital. We are lucky today, because more is known about mental health than 40 years ago when I joined the army. It is discussed more widely, but soldiers still don’t tend to talk about things like that.’

Mark has found he can talk about his experiences with the Freemasons, who have provided him with an important support network after he left the friendship of the Royal Marines behind. ‘It filled that space, very much so,’ he says. ‘It’s the camaraderie, the brotherhood, the sense of belonging. Having that other family outside of your own, good people that you can rely on. I’m a little bit surprised at how important it’s become. What I love is that I have three children, I have three limbs missing, I have a full-time job, I travel a lot, and if I can’t make a meeting, I never get made to feel bad. They always say family first, then work, then lodge. That has allowed it to become a big part of my life. It’s never felt like hard work.’

A veteran’s story

David is a Royal Air Force veteran who started experiencing stress after leaving the armed services. After he had a stroke, he began to have anxiety attacks. 

Eventually, David contacted Combat Stress for advice and began to attend community group sessions. 

‘The groups are great,’ David says. ‘We are all different ages and from different walks of life, but in many ways we are all the same and experiencing the same things. ‘It’s made a huge difference to my happiness. The Combat Stress sessions help me better understand why I feel the way I do. 

‘In the military community we tend to think “just get on with it”, and unfortunately this might put people off seeking help. I’d say to others: listen to those close to you. You owe it to them to at least make that call to Combat Stress. You can be anonymous, but just talk to someone.’

Standing proud

Mark Ormrod is still feeling the effects of the landmine he stepped on 11 years ago. 

Quick action from his fellow Marines, and an innovative procedure carried out aboard a Chinook helicopter en route to the hospital, saved his life.

Mark woke up in Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, with both legs amputated above the knee and his right arm amputated above the elbow. The first triple amputee in the UK to survive the Afghanistan conflict, Mark was told by doctors he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Mark, however, decided to use his setback as a springboard for growth and reinvention.

He is now a motivational speaker, a peak performance coach and the author of the autobiographical Man Down. He has not used a wheelchair since June 2009.

Published in Features

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.’

Canine connection

A dog can help an autistic child feel less stressed and make everyday activities a bit easier. Aileen Scoular explains how a grant from the MCF to Dogs for Good is allowing more families to feel less isolated

Two years ago, BBC drama The A Word opened viewers’ eyes to the challenges faced by families coping with autism. Children and adults diagnosed with autism will see, hear and feel the world differently from their peers and can struggle to engage. The condition is more common than many realise, with The National Autistic Society revealing that there are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK, including children and adults of all ages. 

Autism touches families, too, and the condition is part of daily life for some 2.8 million people. One charity that fully understands the impact autism has on parents and carers is Dogs for Good. The Oxfordshire charity trains highly skilled assistance dogs to help adults and children with disabilities, as well as therapy dogs to work in communities and schools. 

Dogs for Good trained its first autism assistance dog in 2007, and, more recently, the charity has developed a successful programme called Family Dog Workshops. These intimate sessions provide advice and support to parents of children with autism, allowing them to learn how a pet dog could benefit the whole family. As workshop leader Duncan Edwards explains, ‘We want owning a dog to be a positive, energising experience.’

Without specialist support, autistic people and their families are at risk of feeling isolated; autism can also cause severe anxiety that may affect an individual’s ability to engage in daily life. While there is no cure, expert support can help children and their families day to day – something that was backed up in research undertaken by Dogs for Good and the University of Lincoln in 2014. Not only were children with a family dog calmer, happier and less likely to have a meltdown, but within just 10 weeks of getting a family dog, parents also showed significantly reduced stress levels.

A LIFE-CHANGER

‘We have always been convinced that dogs can have a positive effect on the family dynamic,’ explains Peter Gorbing, Dogs for Good’s chief executive. ‘Just being able to take the dog for a walk gives you, as a parent, permission to leave the house and give yourself some space. And the silly things that dogs do can diffuse tension and make the whole family laugh together.’

The experience of parents who have attended Family Dog Workshops is testament to the value of the programme. Jacob’s family had a Labrador called Sam when mum Liz attended her first workshop. The experience was transformative: ‘I just couldn’t believe it when the instructors went through what they could teach us and how it might help Jacob. I sat there and cried because I knew it could be life-changing.’

Teenager Harry’s life has also been improved immeasurably by the introduction of the family dog, Barnaby. Now 15, Harry spends much less time alone, and the most positive result has been the family’s change of focus. Harry’s mum, Ceri, says, ‘Having a dog has benefited all of us – but particularly our daughter, Beth. Our world isn’t all about Harry any more; it’s about Barnaby.’

Kath, another workshop participant, echoes Ceri’s sentiments. Kath’s son, Mitchell, was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, and their family life has been transformed by an excitable cocker spaniel called Maggie.

‘Having Maggie has opened up more opportunities for us as a family than I could possibly have imagined,’ says Kath. ‘So much of our life is focussed on Mitchell, who’s an only child, and that puts a certain amount of pressure on him. Having a dog in our lives takes away some of the focus and reduces that pressure.’

From a practical perspective, owning a dog helps children with autism in many ways. Key benefits include companionship and motivation, encouraging children to develop regular routines and empowering them to try new things. Dogs can help in the development of motor skills – throwing a ball or teaching tricks, for example – and can act as a friendly role model. Even learning to say hello can be a big step.

‘Mitchell has never really understood the need for greetings and salutations – like hello and goodbye – so we’ve had to coach him in the past,’ explains Kath. ‘But the first day I picked him up from school with Maggie, he climbed into the car and straight away said, “Hello, Maggie.” That was a huge leap forward.’

‘I was considering an assistance dog, but I quickly realised that what we needed was just a happy family dog’

BREAKING NEW GROUND

Gorbing from Dogs for Good acknowledges that the programme has been a richer source of success stories than he ever imagined. ‘So much credit must go to the families,’ he says. ‘We provide the advice, but it’s up to the families to make dog ownership happen. And I’m delighted and grateful that so many have.’

The success of Dogs for Good brought the charity to the attention of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), and, in December 2017, the Charity Grants Committee awarded a grant of £60,000 over three years. 

‘Autism appears to be much more prevalent than it used to be because the rates of diagnosis have changed,’ explains Andrew Ross, chairman of the Charity Grants Committee at the MCF. ‘My guess is that nearly every family within the masonic community will have some contact with autism, even if it’s not within their own family.

‘Parents of children with autism are working hard to deal with a very challenging condition, so the simple idea that owning a dog can really help many families – by having a calming effect or by helping a child to engage with the outside world – rather caught the committee’s imagination.’

For a small charity like Dogs for Good, the grant will go a long way. ‘We have to deliver on what we promise and meet our beneficiaries’ expectations, so a significant grant like this allows us to plan ahead with confidence,’ Gorbing says. ‘In future, we hope to offer Family Dog Workshops to even more parents. We’re thinking about how to offer online learning opportunities. We’re hugely grateful to the MCF for enabling us to continue what has turned out to be a genuinely groundbreaking programme.’

The three-year grant from the MCF means that a committed, sustained relationship can develop between the MCF and Dogs for Good, and the Charity Grants Committee will receive regular reports on how the money has been used. ‘It’s good to know that we’ll be able to look back in three years’ time and see the difference we have made to a large number of families,’ says Ross.

Mitchell’s story

Kath explains how autism affects her family’s life, and why a cocker spaniel called Maggie has changed things for the better.

‘Mitchell is cautious by nature, but since we got Maggie a year ago, he has become much more confident – it has been incredible to watch. Throwing a toy for Maggie means he now understands the concept of taking turns, and that has helped him to become more relaxed around other children. His teachers are noticing the positive changes, too.

‘Originally, we were concerned about logistics, and that was where the Family Dog Workshops and the after-care support were so helpful. My husband, James, and I love dogs, but we knew we had to get it absolutely right. Initially, I was considering an assistance dog for Mitchell, but I quickly realised that what we needed was just a happy family dog.

‘For example, where Maggie really helps is with transitions. Even a simple transition from the TV to the dinner table is hard for Mitchell, and he needs some sort of activity in between. Now, Maggie acts as a welcome distraction. She has also boosted Mitchell’s confidence in open spaces. 

‘Up until last summer, we were having to carry Mitchell around – he’s nearly six now, so that was becoming physically difficult. But when Maggie’s with us, Mitchell often runs ahead with her. Having a family dog has been great for me, too. I was driving everywhere and doing very little exercise. Now, I take Maggie for a daily walk, which gives me some head space and blows the cobwebs away. 

‘The Family Dog Workshops were so comprehensive and relaxed, but the most important thing I learned is that there are no rules – different things work for different families and different dogs. I originally thought I’d do lots of puppy training and have this calm, placid dog, and instead we’ve ended up with a complete whirlwind! But that is perfect for Mitchell. Having Maggie bouncing around is ideal for a little boy who just needed to be brought out of himself. I honestly can’t imagine family life without her.’

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