Vote of confidence
In celebration of the Freemasons’ Tercentenary year, the public was invited by the MCF to vote for their favourite charities. John McCrohan, Head of Strategic Development & Special Projects at the MCF, explains the rationale behind this initiative
Tell us about your role…
I support the CEO and Board to bring together the activities of the four legacy charities that were amalgamated into the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) to ensure they continue to meet the needs of both the masonic community and the wider community through our non-masonic grant-making. In January 2011, I started working for the Masonic Samaritan Fund, one of those four legacy charities, as Grants Director and Deputy CEO. I held the post until the consolidation of the MCF in April 2016, when I took on my current role. As well as respecting the legacy of the four charities, it’s also my job to focus on the future and think about how we can do things differently – and better.
What are the Community Awards?
The full name is the MCF Community Awards –Tercentenary Fund. These are 300 grants totalling £3 million that acknowledge the 300-year anniversary of UGLE. The Awards were created in part to raise MCF’s profile within the masonic community, but also externally. This initiative was our first large-scale, public-facing activity, and was designed to let the wider public know about the good work that happens as a result of the generosity of the Freemasons. We typically spend up to £5 million a year supporting UK charities and responding to disasters and emergencies, both here and abroad. But to celebrate the Tercentenary, we wanted to do something in addition to that, which is where the idea for the £3 million Community Awards came from. We also wanted to celebrate the formation of the MCF.
How do the grants work?
They were for either £4,000, £6,000, £15,000 or £25,000, depending on how many votes a charity got. The grants were spread across all of our Provinces, and we allocated either four, six or eight grants to each depending on size. London got 26 because of its size. It was important that the charities we supported were operating, and helping people, locally. We wanted the grants to reassure masons that the MCF is pushing money back to their communities, to see that the money they give doesn’t get swallowed up in a black hole here in London. And, of course, we wanted to show that we apply good grant-making practice and observe good due diligence.
How did you decide who would qualify for a grant?
Firstly, I went to Provinces and said, ‘We’ve got money for you, we’ll be giving grants in your region, but we’d like you to tell us which charities are close to your heart.’ We then asked each Province and Metropolitan Grand Lodge to compile a list of their chosen charities, filtered down to their allocated number. The shortlists came to us and we carried out initial due diligence to make sure charities were eligible, that they weren’t already an active recipient of a grant, and so on. We then confirmed shortlists with the Provinces and Metropolitan Grand Lodge and began contacting charities, inviting them to formally apply for a grant. They still needed to complete an application, though by this stage they were guaranteed at least £4,000 – but could potentially get as much as £25,000 if they got the most votes.
What types of charities were nominated?
We had charities in every sector – from financial hardship, social exclusion and disadvantage through to health and disability, education and employability. We had community centres, initiatives reducing isolation and loneliness for older people and complementary emergency services – things like blood bikes, for example, which take blood supplies around a county.
And how did the general public phase of the vote work?
People voted primarily online – we promoted the vote on our website, and through our social media and masonic contacts. Having spoken to some charities that had already worked with the public on that kind of scale, however, it became clear that to really make the voting work, we needed the charities themselves to lead the promotion – on their own social-media sites and during public events. To do this, we provided them with materials showing masonic iconography and branding that they could use. And, of course, the competitive element of ‘more votes equals a bigger grant’ really spurred them on.
What were the responses like?
We ended up with 177,801 votes, which really blew away our expectations. Almost 160,000 of those votes were made online, with another 18,000 cast at local events. After people voted, there was an optional short survey of just two questions. One asked if the initiative had improved the voter’s opinion of Freemasonry. Some 57% of those who completed the survey – 36,000 people – said that it had improved their perception of Freemasonry. We believe that’s pretty strong evidence that the initiative really worked.
What did you learn from the project?
We’d never done anything like this before so we were all on a massive technological learning curve. We were very exposed, so the pressure was on – we only had six months to develop the project before it went live. We were still testing the voting pages, making sure the images were right and the copy was okay the day before launch. That was a bit stressful. It was all worth it when the charities, and public, told us they didn’t realise we operated on this scale or supported so many people in this way. Given that raising this awareness was one of our key drivers, I think we’ve been really successful. Going forward, we’ll be able to do something like this much more easily because all our building blocks are now in place.
What happens next?
We are going to monitor the projects throughout the 12 months that the grants last, and do a full evaluation at the end. We want to make sure that what we have done with this grant fund has made a real impact. In a year’s time we’ll go back and see what has worked, what hasn’t worked so well and what lessons have been learned. We’ll see how we can improve, if we do something like it again in future.
Find out more - click here.
Around the world
Four charities that have benefited from the Community Awards
Social Exclusion and Disability: Veterans in Action
Veterans in Action (VIA) helps armed service veterans who have suffered the effects of war or who have found the transition back to civilian life difficult. For the past six years, VIA has been organising walking expeditions that have needed support vehicles – Land Rovers and minibuses – which are now ageing and require maintenance. The funds from the MCF grant will be used to fund a new project called the Veterans Restorations Project, which aims to restore and upgrade the existing vehicles.
Financial Hardship: Centrepoint North East
Centrepoint is the UK’s leading charity working with homeless people aged sixteen to twenty-five. It supports more than 9,000 people a year, 800 of whom are from the North East. The grant will be used for its Rent Deposit Guarantee Scheme (RDGS), which aims to increase the supply of affordable rented accommodation to disadvantaged sixteen- to twenty-five-year-olds and those at risk of homelessness. As part of their acceptance on to RDGS, the person agrees to save with Centrepoint so they can afford their own cash bond as and when they move tenancy. This will enable them to have a secure base from which to build their future.
Education and Employability: Romney Resource Centre
Romney Resource Centre (RRC) was founded in 1999 and has developed a reputation as a centre of excellence, being the only provider of careers and skills advice, training, education and employment support in Romney Marsh for sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds and adults. Due to significant cutbacks in adult skills at the Skills Funding Agency, there is little further-education funding available for Romney Marsh communities – a critical situation if they are not able to upskill or attain updated qualifications. As a consequence, RRC is now seeking grant-funding support in order to continue its mission.
Health and Disability: HUTS
Now established for more than two decades, the Help Us To Survive (HUTS) Workshop supports individuals suffering with mental-health issues and learning disabilities across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. The therapeutic arts-based centre currently has more than 100 active members attending its workshop. The MCF award will go towards maintaining a full-time qualified ceramics and silkscreen-printing support worker. They provide support for members to explore creativity, gain confidence and to reduce isolation and deprivation within the rural community.
More than 30 charities have benefited from £150,000 donated by West Wales as part of the Province’s Tercentenary celebrations
Grants were presented at a dinner held in Fishguard attended by local Freemasons and charity representatives, with entertainment provided by The Goodwick Brass Band.
A £56,000 grant from West Wales Freemasons has helped to fund a new ambulance for the Haverfordwest Division of St John Cymru Wales
The new ambulance was presented to St John Cymru Wales on Sunday July 2nd at St David’s Cathedral, as part of a Thanksgiving Service to mark the United Grand Lodge of England’s Tercentenary, and will be used by volunteers to provide medical cover at a range of community events.
The service was attended by Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Dyfed, Miss Sara Edwards and The High Sheriff of Dyfed, Mrs Sue Balsom.
Other attendees included the Prior of the Priory for Wales, Sir Paul Williams and the Chief Executive of the charity, Keith Dunn OBE, along with volunteers from the Haverfordwest Division.
Sir Paul Williams commented: ‘We are extremely grateful to West Wales Freemasons for providing such a generous grant to ensure St John Cymru Wales can fulfill its commitments in Haverfordwest and the wider community.’
Chief Executive for St John Cymru Wales, Keith Dunn OBE, said: ‘The Haverfordwest Division has 57 dedicated volunteers who generously devote more than 5,000 hours every year to support the public. In addition to providing medical cover, this new ambulance can also be used at events where our volunteers can help to encourage more people to learn first aid.’
Freemasonry was represented by The Past Pro Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, The Marquis of Northampton, and The Provincial Grand Master of West Wales, Stephen Hookey, along with more than 200 West Wales Freemasons, who processed to and from the service in full Masonic regalia.
Stephen Hookey said: ‘We are very proud to be able to support St John Cymru Wales. A new ambulance will help them with their potentially life-saving work at events right across West Wales. They are a huge asset to our community.’
The grant from West Wales Freemason comes through the Masonic Charitable Foundation, which is funded by Freemasons and their families from across England and Wales.
Surprise guest at West Wales chapter
The Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes was a surprise guest at the installation meeting of Dinbych Chapter, No. 1177, in the Province of West Wales. Bradley Davies, a long-time friend of Peter Lowndes, was being installed in the chapter chair for a record fifth time.
The Pro First Grand Principal had told Grand Superintendent Stephen Hookey that he would like to come and surprise his friend, so a plot was hatched to smuggle him into the meeting without anyone finding out, and it proved a huge success.
Pride and confidence
Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes explains why members should be proud to share aspects of masonic ritual with friends and family
In the middle of May I was at the Grand Charity Festival in West Wales. It exemplified how good we, as masons, are at raising money and, dare I say, at celebrating that achievement at the end of the road. A wonderful evening was had by all.
I have said many times in the past that charity is not necessarily the masons’ raison d’être – but it is certainly a most important by-product of how all of us are taught to live our lives.
In this regard I have always thought that the Charge after Initiation is the best possible rule to guide us in what we do.
It lays out quite clearly the duties that we owe to God, to our neighbours and to ourselves; how we should respect the laws of the country in which we live – whether that is the country of our birth or the country where we currently reside; how we should behave as individuals; and the other excellent qualities of character to which we should adhere.
Whenever I deliver this Charge, I am always struck by the important message that it contains. At a personal level, I find the lines ‘by paying due obedience to the laws of any state which may for a time become the place of your residence or afford you its protection’ extremely pertinent. This is as a result of having delivered this Charge on the evening of 9/11, and I have to admit to having stumbled a bit when I got to that section. I am still always reminded of those dreadful events every time I hear this Charge delivered.
As we all know, any member of the public can acquire their own copy of our ritual simply by going into a shop and making the purchase. We have no concerns in that regard, as there is nothing therein that we are not happy for them to know about.
I would go further. I believe there are certain passages that we should be proud to show to non-members, most particularly to members of our families. Top of my list would be the Charge to the Initiate, with a close second being the Charity Charge, although that, perhaps, might need a bit of explanation.
‘We have so much to shout about – our history, charity work, enjoyment in life and code of conduct being just a few.’
Time to celebrate
As you know, 2017 is fast approaching. The run-up to it, as well as the celebrations during the year, are surely the right time to show our pride in being a member of our wonderful Order. We have improved our public image immeasurably over the past 20 years and now is the time to really push this aspect hard.
We have so many things to shout about – our history, our charity work, our enjoyment in life and our code of conduct being just a few. Of course any organisation with 200,000 members is going to have a few rotten apples, but we have no more than our fair share, and I strongly suspect we have far fewer than most organisations of an equivalent size.
Given all this, let’s make sure we approach our Tercentenary with both pride and confidence.
More than £1m for West Wales
The Province of West Wales has raised £1,079,614 in its Festival for the Grand Charity, which was announced at an event in Llanelli attended by Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes. Among other guests were President of the Grand Charity Richard Hone, Chief Executive Laura Chapman and Provincial Grand Master Stephen Hookey, who said: ‘The appeal was launched in May 2009 at a time when the global recession had taken hold and austerity was to become a watchword for several years to come. Thanks to your generosity in these difficult times, the figure for which we aimed has been surpassed significantly.’
West Wales supports special school gym
Portfield School in Haverfordwest has around 140 pupils aged between three and 19 years old with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties, autistic spectrum disorder, and other sensory and physical difficulties.
When the students asked The Friends of Portfield School to raise £7,500 for outdoor gym equipment, Roy Barker, treasurer of the school charity, wrote to Dr Bryn Barton, Charity Steward of Strumble Lodge, No. 4351, in Fishguard, to ask for his help. As a result, Strumble Lodge donated £500 towards the appeal and £4,000 was added by the Grand Charity of West Wales.
Lodge raises £10,000 for West Wales festival
A team of West Wales Provincial Officers took over Aeron Lodge, No. 7208, which meets at Aberaeron, with Provincial Grand Master Eric Mock leading and raising Nigel Jones in a ‘Cash for Ritual’ deal. But it was value for money – the lodge handed over £10,000 for the 2015 Festival on behalf of The Freemasons’ Grand Charity.