The history of the four masonic charities

Tuesday, 08 December 2015

A history of giving

We trace the origins of the four masonic charities that have come together to form the new Masonic Charitable Foundation

The four masonic charities have been integral to the Craft, providing crucial support to Freemasons, their families and the wider community. However, the existence of four separate organisations – each with its own distinct processes for providing support – hindered the development of a truly joined-up and consistent approach. After much consideration it has therefore been decided to launch a major new charity, the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF). From 1 April 2016, the Foundation will take over the work of the central masonic charities, providing a wide range of grants to Freemasons and their families who have a financial, health or care need. The Foundation will also award grants to other charities, medical research studies and disaster relief appeals. 

The Foundation will ensure that the masonic charitable support network, which has provided assistance for centuries, remains fit for purpose and able to adapt to the needs of new generations. As we look to the future, it is worth remembering how the current four charities have evolved and how, under the banner of the MCF, cradle-to-grave support will remain in place for Freemasons and their dependants.

The Freemasons’ Grand Charity

Soon after the Grand Master’s installation in 1967, he commissioned a review of the masonic charities. It recommended that a new central charity be established to contribute to society as a whole, befitting the importance and scale of English Freemasonry. In 1980, the Grand Charity was established. It also assumed responsibility for UGLE’s Board of Benevolence, whose origins were found in the first Committee of Charity of Grand Lodge, formed in 1725. 

With grants totalling more than £120 million, the Grand Charity has improved the lives of thousands of masons and their dependants, and has made extensive contributions to wider society, funding the causes that are important to members of the Craft. It has enabled Provinces to demonstrate their commitment to local communities through matched giving schemes, grants to The Scout Association and millions in hospice and Air Ambulance giving. Its multimillion-pound research funding has aided numerous medical breakthroughs. 

The Grand Charity has brought far-reaching benefits to masonic fundraising by establishing the Relief Chest Scheme to promote efficient and tax-effective giving. The Craft has saved thousands of pounds in administration costs and donations have been significantly increased through Gift Aid. The scheme has also enabled members to come together following worldwide disasters, funding recovery projects in devastated areas on behalf of Freemasonry as a whole. Indeed, £1 million was raised following the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Through the Grand Charity’s giving, thousands have felt the positive impact of masonic charity and over the past 35 years in particular, Freemasonry has increasingly been seen publicly as a philanthropic leader, supporting many great causes.

Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys

From its origins as a school for girls, the RMTGB has worked for over 227 years to relieve poverty and advance the education of thousands of children from masonic families across the UK, as well as tens of thousands of children from wider society. The Trust has spent over £130 million on charitable support over the past 15 years alone.

In 1788, Chevalier Bartholomew Ruspini established the Royal Cumberland Freemasons’ School for Female Objects, supporting 15 daughters of distressed or deceased Freemasons. A provision for boys was introduced soon after, and over the next 200 years the institutions’ schools expanded and relocated. Eventually, the boys’ school closed, the girls’ school became independent, and the trustees focused on supporting children at schools near their own homes. 

In 1982, the boys’ and girls’ institutions came together to form the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, later the RMTGB. 

Over time, the Trust moved from fixed financial grants to packages of support tailored to each family’s circumstances. Innovative schemes were also introduced for youngsters with specific talents and needs. 

The Trust’s support also extends beyond the masonic community. In 1988, £100,000 was awarded to Great Ormond Street Hospital, with major grants given ever since. Since the launch of the Stepping Stones non-masonic grant-making scheme in 2010, almost £1 million has been awarded to charities that aim to reduce the impact of poverty on education. The Trust also provides premises and support services for Lifelites, which equips children’s hospices across the British Isles with fun, assistive technology. Established as the Trust’s Millennium Project, Lifelites became an independent charity in 2006.

Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution

The RMBI cares for older Freemasons and their families, as well as people in the community. The history of the charity dates back to 1842 when UGLE inaugurated the Royal Masonic Benevolent Annuity Fund for men, followed by the Female Annuity Fund in 1849. The first home was opened the following year and the RMBI was officially established. In the early 1960s, provision was extended to non-annuitants and between 1960 and 1986, a further 13 homes were set up. The RMBI now provides a home for more than 1,000 people across England and Wales, while supporting many more.

At the heart of the RMBI is the commitment to deliver services that uphold an individual’s dignity. Its Experiential Learning training programme requires all new carers to complete a series of practical scenarios in order to better understand residents and has even received national news coverage for its unique approach. The RMBI is also recognised for its excellence in specialist dementia care services, which are increasingly in demand. Nine RMBI homes have been awarded Butterfly Service status, a national quality-of-life ‘kitemark’, by Dementia Care Matters

None of this could be achieved without a dedicated team, and an RMBI staff member recently received the Care Trainer Award at the 2015 Great British Care Awards in recognition of such commitment. The support and time given by each home’s Association of Friends is also a unique part of the RMBI. The associations – volunteer groups of local masons that work to complement resident services – are independently registered charities and their efforts over the years have ranged from fundraising for home minibuses and resident day trips, to sensory gardens and home entertainment.

Masonic Samaritan Fund

The Royal Masonic Hospital and its predecessor, the Freemasons’ Hospital and Nursing Home, had a Samaritan Fund to support masons and their families who could not afford the cost of private medical treatment. In 1990 the MSF was established to take on the role of this fund, and in its early years benefited from many very generous donations, including a grant from the Grand Charity, and the highly successful Cornwallis and London Festival appeals.

Thanks to the support of Freemasons and their families, the MSF has been able to expand the assistance it provides to cater for the evolving health and care needs of its beneficiaries. In addition to funding medical treatment or surgery, grants are available to support respite breaks for carers, to restore dental function, to aid mobility and to provide access to trained counsellors.

Since 2010 the MSF has provided grants to major medical research projects. Notable successes have included enhancing the diagnosis of prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s as well as support for those suffering from macular degeneration.  

Each year the MSF helps more masonic families fund the health and care support they need to live healthy and independent lives. Since 1990 more than 12,000 Freemasons and their family members have been helped at a total cost of over £67 million.

Funded entirely through the generous donations of the masonic community, the Masonic Charitable Foundation will seek to continue the excellent work of the central masonic charities and be able to respond more effectively to the changing needs of masonic families and other charitable organisations. For more information, go to www.mcf.org.uk

Timeline

Charting the history of the four masonic charities

1725   The premier Grand Lodge sets up the Committee of Charity

1788  The Royal Cumberland Freemasons’ School for Female Objects, named after the Duchess of Cumberland, is founded by Chevalier Bartholomew Ruspini

1789  The first anniversary of the Royal Cumberland Freemasons’ School is celebrated with a church service and dinner. Collections are taken, making this the first fundraising ‘festival’ for a masonic charity

1798  Inspired by Ruspini’s achievements, William Burwood and the United Mariners Lodge establish a fund to support the sons of Freemasons

1814  Soon after the union of the Grand Lodges, the Committee of Charity joins with other committees relieving hardship among masons to become the Board of Benevolence

1850  The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) is established, and the first RMBI home opens in East Croydon 

1904  ‘Out-relief’ is introduced so that those not admitted to the masonic schools can receive grants to support their education elsewhere

1914  It is decided that the daughters of serving Freemasons who die or are incapacitated during WWI should receive a grant of £25 per year

1920  The Freemasons’ Hospital and Nursing Home opens

1933  The Royal Masonic Hospital opens at Ravenscourt Park

1934  The girls’ school moves to Rickmansworth Park. The school is officially opened by HM Queen Mary with 5,000 ladies and brethren in attendance

1966  Devonshire Court opens in Oadby, Leicestershire 

1967  Scarbrough Court opens in Cramlington, Northumberland

1968  Prince George Duke of Kent Court opens in Chislehurst, Kent

1971  Connaught Court opens in Fulford, York 

1973  The Bagnall Report recommends that the boys’ school is closed and that the girls’ school becomes independent 

1973  Lord Harris Court opens in Sindlesham, Berkshire, and Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court opens in Porthcawl, Mid Glamorgan

1977  Ecclesholme opens in Eccles, Manchester, and  The Tithebarn opens in Great Crosby, Liverpool

1979  Queen Elizabeth Court opens in Llandudno, Conwy

1980  The Grand Charity is established

1980  James Terry Court opens in Croydon, Surrey 

1981  Cornwallis Court opens in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

1982  The masonic institutions for girls and boys merge their activities to form the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys 

1983  Zetland Court opens in Bournemouth, Dorset 

1984  Grand Charity hospice support begins

1986  The Grand Charity establishes the Relief Chest Scheme

1986  Cadogan Court opens in Exeter, South Devon 

1990  The Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF) is established, assisted by a £1.2 million grant from the Grand Charity  

1992  275th anniversary of Grand Lodge 

1992  The Grand Charity awards more than £2 million to charities that care for people with learning difficulties

1994  UGLE recommends that all masonic organisations adopt the Relief Chest Scheme

1994  Prince Michael of Kent Court opens in Watford, Hertfordshire

1994  The Cornwallis Appeal raises £3.2 million for the MSF

1995  Shannon Court opens in Hindhead, Surrey 

1996  Barford Court opens in Hove, East Sussex

1997  Total annual expenditure for Masonic Relief Grants exceeds £2 million for the first time

1998  Prince Edward Duke of Kent Court opens in Braintree, Essex

1999  To commemorate the millennium, the Grand Charity donates more than £2 million to good causes

1999  Lifelites is established by the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys as a Millennium Project to provide assistive and educational technology packages for children’s hospices across the British Isles

1999  The London Festival Appeal for the MSF raises £10.6 million

2000  Following the abolition of Local Authority student grants, the Trust establishes an undergraduate aid scheme to support disadvantaged young people at university. Almost 500 students are assisted during the first year of the scheme, rising to almost 1,000 by 2003

2001  The TalentAid scheme is introduced by the Trust to support young people with an exceptional talent in music, sport or the arts, with 75 supported in the first year

2003  The Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys becomes the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB)

2004  The Grand Charity donates £1 million for research into testicular and prostate cancers

2005  More than £1 million is donated by Freemasons and the Grand Charity to help with recovery efforts following the Asian tsunami

2006  Lifelites becomes a registered charity

2007  Special funding for Air Ambulances begins

2008  All four central masonic charities move into shared office space in Freemasons’ Hall, London

2008  The Grand Charity donates £500,000 to The Scout Association, enabling more than 23,000 young people to join, and £1 million to Ovarian Cancer Action

2008  Scarbrough Court reopens in Cramlington,  Northumberland (rebuilt on its original site)

2008  The MSF makes its first grant in support of medical research, and respite care grants are introduced

2010  Stepping Stones, the RMTGB’s non-masonic grant-making scheme, is introduced to support disadvantaged youngsters 

2010  MSF dental care grants are introduced

2013  James Terry Court reopens in Croydon, Surrey (rebuilt on its original site)

2013  The MSF Counselling Careline service launches

2015  Following a 30-year partnership, the Grand Charity’s grants to the British Red Cross now exceed £2 million

2015  The MSF marks its 25th anniversary by awarding over £1 million for medical research 

2016  The four masonic charities join together to form the Masonic Charitable Foundation

Letters to the Editor - No. Spring 2016

Sir,

I was surprised and delighted to see a photo in the winter 2015 edition of Freemasonry Today of a group of nurses at the Royal Masonic Hospital taken in 1958. The group includes my wife on the right at the end of the patient’s bed. I can still name several of the other nurses.

At the time, I was an undergraduate at Cambridge and I frequently travelled to see her at the hospital nurses’ home at Ravenscourt Park. I am pleased to say that we are still happily married after 53 years.

Tony Kallend, Isaac Newton University Lodge, No. 859, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

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