Almost £230,000 has been distributed to good causes in 14 years from a trust fund administered by Hindpool lodge no. 1225 in the Province of West Lancashire

The news was publicly announced at its 150th anniversary and installation meeting, with the final total standing at £229,328. Fund chairman Keran Stalker explained: 'George Wood was initiated into Hindpool Lodge in 1929 and served as Worshipful Master in 1940. On his death in 1956 his daughter Dorothy Bird Wood, a well-known local school teacher, inherited his estate. She died in 2004 and the entire estate was bequeathed to the lodge so that a charitable trust could be established in the name of her father.'

Since then the George Wood Memorial Benevolent Fund has quietly made generous donations to various organisations of whom the majority are locally based. Amongst the beneficiaries have been youth, community and sporting groups including scouts, guides and air and sea cadets. An average of £16,500 has been distributed annually without fanfare or publicity.

In attendance at the installation was West Lancashire's Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison who commented: 'It is wonderful to see the legacy being put to such excellent use in supporting local good causes. The trustees are to be congratulated on the manner in which they have managed the fund.'

To mark the 150th celebration, a further six donations of £1,000 were made to groups within the Hindpool area of the town. The ward of Hindpool is nowadays recognised as one of the most deprived in England. The groups receiving a donation were Furness Homeless Support Group, The Salvation Army, Hindpool Tigers junior rugby league team, Furness Gymnastics Club, Brisbane Park School and St James Church of England School.

Newly installed Master of Hindpool Lodge Paul Musgrave added: 'As part of my role I will be involved with the day to day running of the fund. I am sure that I will find that very rewarding. We act very much under the radar but having passed the £200,000 mark in our donations, we felt now is the time to let the public know about this generous bequest which has helped so many. No doubt George and Dorothy would be pleased to see what has been achieved through their wonderful legacy.'

Hindpool Lodge was the second to be formed in Barrow-in-Furness. It is one of the oldest institutions in the borough. As late as 1843 Barrow boasted only 32 dwellings and two public houses. The discovery of high grade iron ore, and the industries which arose from that, saw the town boom and by 1881 it had grown to a population of 50,000. It became a borough in 1867, one year before Hindpool Lodge was consecrated, and was dubbed 'the little Chicago' because of its rapid expansion.

The friends and colleagues of Tom Jackson gathered at Chorley Masonic Hall, in the Province of West Lancashire, for a meeting of St George’s Lodge of Chorley No. 7161 to celebrate Tom's 50 years in the Craft

Tom has been a very well-known figure in Masonic circles nationally for many years, not least because of his current status as Grand Master of the Order of the Allied Masonic Degrees.

Indeed, in this Masonic Order, Tom has a ‘Council’ (the equivalent of a Craft lodge) named after him. It was a tribute to the regard in which Tom is held, that saw so many leaders of other Masonic Orders join him at his celebration.

As expected, the turnout was high with 105 lodge members and guests. The lodge was opened by Worshipful Master Paul Greenway who welcomed Tony Harrison, Provincial Grand Master of West Lancashire, into the lodge. On this occasion, Tony retained the gavel of the lodge to lead the celebrations.

Tom was initiated into St George’s Lodge of Chorley 50 years ago, being installed as Master in 1982. Since then he has found his way into Royal Arch, Mark Masons and many more Masonic Orders.

In UGLE, he was given Grand Rank of Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies from 2000-2012 and appointed Past Senior Grand Deacon in 2012.

In summarising Tom’s achievements and service, Tony Harrison said: 'Tom is a fine example to the members of this lodge and indeed to us all. Now, having served as a Freemason for a period of 50 years, may I offer you my heartiest congratulations on this marvellous achievement and great milestone in your life.

'As the head of this great Province of West Lancashire, I have issued a certificate to commemorate this special day.'

The certificate of appreciation was then read and shortly afterwards, the celebrant and his many friends enjoyed a meal and the opportunity to reflect on 50 eventful years.

A £5,000 donation by West Lancashire Freemasons to the charity Lifelites has allowed them to provide a package of interactive technology for patients at local children’s hospice Claire House in Liverpool

The grant to Lifelites was made during a national fund-raising event that saw the charity’s Chief Executive Simone Enefer-Doy call at Blackpool as part of a national tour.

Simone was joined on a recent visit to the hospice by Assistant Provincial Grand Master Derek Parkinson, Royal Arch Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals’ Sam Robinson and local Liverpool Group Chairman Mark Matthews, who all had the opportunity to see the difference the technology is making in enhancing the lives of the children who are cared for at Claire House.

One of the technology packages they saw being used was the ‘Magic Carpet’, which is a fantastic sensory learning tool with the capacity to engage people of all ages and abilities. The system projects interactive games and images on to the floor that users can play with and control simply by moving on or over the projected image. 

After watching baby Phoenix interacting with the ‘Magic Carpet’, Derek Parkinson remarked: 'It’s very humbling to see the dedication of the staff here at the hospice and we can’t sufficiently express our gratitude for the incredible work that they do.'

'Giving aid and support to charities within the local and wider community is central to Freemasonry. It’s marvellous to see at first hand what the money we have donated is achieving and we thank both LifeLites and Claire House for this opportunity.'

‘Suicide is the major cause of death in all people under 35 years of age’. That alarming statistic is one that will probably come as a major shock to many people. It certainly was to the group of West Lancashire Freemasons who were visiting the Warrington headquarters of the charity Papyrus, who have received a grant from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) of £65,342

The MCF has made the grant on behalf of the Province of West Lancashire, but on this occasion the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison was accompanied by his colleague from the neighbouring Province of Cheshire, Stephen Blank.

Papyrus, which was formed in 1997 in Lancashire, has three simple aims: provide confidential help and advice to young people and anyone worried about a young person; help others to prevent young suicide by working with and training professionals; and campaign and influence national policy. They summarise this as: Support, Equip and Influence.

The visitors were welcomed by CEO Ged Flynn, who explained the work that the charity does and also outlined the problems that are being faced nationally, as they try to de-stigmatise suicide and raise awareness of this tragic loss of young people. Ged stressed that the charity has values that it strongly promotes.

He said: 'We believe that many young suicides are preventable, and that no young person should suffer alone with thoughts or feelings of hopelessness. We believe that everyone can play a role in preventing young suicide.'

Stephen Habgood, who is the Chairman of Papyrus, then very movingly related his own story of the loss of his only child, Christopher 26, to suicide in 2009. Sarah Fitchett, a trustee of the charity, also shared her own tragic experience in speaking of the death of her 14-year-old son, Ben by suicide in 2013.

Their openness in speaking so frankly about their emotional experiences was a very moving revelation to the visitors but also cause for admiration, as they explained how they are working to try and prevent others having to experience the same trauma.

The £65,000 grant will enable the charity to engage another advisor to work on their HOPELineUK helpline (0800 068 4141), which is there to provide confidential support and advice to young people struggling with thoughts of suicide, and anyone worried about a young person.

The Lancaster and Morecambe Deaf Children’s Society have received much needed support, in the form of £886, from the Lancaster and District Masonic Group and the Morecambe Masonic Fellowship in West Lancashire

The chair of the charity, Helen Whitehouse, remarked that they had been overwhelmed by the generosity shown by the Freemasons. She said: 'We do struggle to keep funds coming in and only plan according to our means, these donations will help us book two very significant events.

'The first is a day of outdoor activities at Bendrigg Lodge, Kendal. These types of activities help to build confidence and self-esteem, whilst developing communication skills and support friendships between the children and parents within the group. The second activity is for ‘Music and the Deaf’, a performing group, to come and lead the children in a Christmas-themed workshop later in the year.'

On being presented with two cheques, one for £700 from Jim Wilson, representing the Lancaster and District Masonic Group, and another for £186 from Tom Hunter, representing Morecambe Masonic Fellowship, Helen expressed a huge thank you to everyone and later commented that the support of local Freemasons has been invaluable and has made a huge impact.

Riding Proud

Blood bike volunteers deliver vital medical supplies, whatever the weather, whatever time of day. Steven Short discovers how Freemasonry is helping

Blood bikes, often referred to as the fourth emergency service, act as an out-of-hours courier service for the NHS, delivering not just blood and plasma, but a variety of medical samples and equipment throughout the day and night. And they’re operated entirely by volunteers.

‘The most urgent thing I’ve ever delivered was very early on a Sunday morning,’ recalls blood bike volunteer John Watts, Assistant Provincial Grand Master for the Province of Durham. ‘I got a call to go to a children’s ward at one of the hospitals we work with, and as I walked in a doctor came running up to me and put a small vial of liquid in my hand. “Please take this as fast as you can; a child’s life depends on it,” he told me.’

After delivering the vial, John discovered that it contained a sample from a very young baby with suspected meningitis. Until the sample had been tested, life-saving treatment could not be started. ‘It felt amazing to know that what I’m doing is helping save lives,’ he says. 

Strange as it may seem, the Greek authorities are partly responsible for John becoming a volunteer. ‘I’d heard that Greece was about to bring in a law that meant you couldn’t even hire a moped there without a bike licence,’ he recalls. ‘I’d been going on holiday to Greece for years, always hiring a bike while I was there, so I did my motorbike training and really caught the bug.’ 

When the retired policeman saw a feature in The Gazette (Durham’s masonic magazine) about a Freemason who was volunteering for a blood bike charity, he decided to investigate. ‘I’ve always been a keen volunteer, and I thought getting involved with blood bikes would be the perfect way to enjoy my new-found passion of riding motorbikes while doing something positive and useful.’ 

Digging a little deeper, John learned about the work of Northumbria Blood Bikes and got involved. He has now been riding for them for more than two years and recently earned his silver badge, which volunteers receive after working 50 shifts. 

‘It’s just so rewarding for our work to be appreciated’

INCREASED DEMAND

Pointing to the increased demand for blood bikes over recent years, Graham Moor, fundraising officer for Northumbria Blood Bikes and a member of Hammurabi Lodge, No. 9606, says there is a need to raise awareness as well as money. ‘All our groups need new volunteers so we can keep going. When we first started in my area, we might only get a couple of calls per night. Now, sometimes as soon as one call has been answered, another will come in. We might get 20 or 30 calls during a shift.’

Blood bikes primarily operate between 7pm and 7am on weekdays, and 24 hours on weekends and on bank and national holidays. ‘The NHS doesn’t have infinite resources, and we can help out logistically with no cost to it. We’re like taxis, but we don’t charge,’ John says. 

Volunteers typically do two shifts a month, either collecting and delivering goods or working as controllers to coordinate bikes. Cars are used if conditions are unsafe for bikes, or in winter when the temperature on the back of a bike with wind chill drops below 3°C, at which point blood can crystallise and can't be used. Riders can also be asked to deliver printed medical records as well as breast milk for premature babies or babies whose mothers have died in childbirth.

John once delivered a family photograph that a young man with autism had left behind in hospital so that it would be in its usual place when he woke up. ‘I was told he would have been extremely distressed to wake up and find it missing.’

There are more than 30 blood bike groups around the country currently providing this much-needed courier service. As well as delivering blood to and from hospitals, some groups supply air ambulances with their daily supplies of blood and platelets – blood typically has a five-day shelf life – allowing on-board doctors to do blood transfusions wherever they may be needed. 

‘Motorbikes get stuck in traffic much less than four-wheeled vehicles, meaning they’re faster and more efficient at getting to their destination,’ explains another volunteer, Neville Owens of Wrexhamian Lodge, No. 6715, and a member of the North Wales Chapter of the Widows Sons Masonic Bikers Association. ‘Bikes can better manoeuvre through traffic, we can avoid traffic jams, and because we’re liveried, people tend to get out of our way.’ Bikes are also cheaper to run, which is important, as funding comes entirely from donations. 

Neville volunteers as a controller, coordinating deliveries and pickups. ‘It’s high-concentration work. You have to calculate how long each journey should take and keep tabs on where all your riders are at any one time,’ he says.

‘We’re like taxis, but we don’t charge’

FREEING UP FUNDS

‘Like any emergency service, when we’re busy, we’re really busy,’ adds Colin Farrington of Wayford Lodge, No. 8490, who volunteers as a controller at SERV Norfolk. ‘Sometimes it can be 4:30am before you get a break.’ 

Last year, Colin’s group saved Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital enough from its transport budget that the hospital was able to replace some of its ageing freezers. 

‘They were always breaking down, but there was no budget for new ones,’ Colin says. ‘We saved them so much money on transport that they had free funds. It’s great to be able to actually see where your time and volunteering is going.’ 

While nothing would keep him off his bike, John says that shifts can sometimes be tough. ‘The weather can be challenging. No matter what protective clothing you’re wearing, when you’re doing 70mph in the pouring rain, the water will get in. It’ll start going down the back of your neck, then down your back…’ 

For John, the biggest reward comes when he’s sitting at a hospital waiting for a call. Someone will approach him and say that they or a relative needed a transfusion and a blood bike delivered the blood that saved their life. ‘They’ll shake my hand and say thank you. I’ll just well up – it’s just so rewarding for our work to be appreciated.’

Changing up a gear

Freemasons around the UK have donated funds, bikes and cars to blood bike groups. ‘With their livery and Freemasonry branding, the bikes are a great way to take masonic values into the community. When people see the masonic livery, they can see that we are doing good community work,’ says Graham Moor from Northumbria Blood Bikes.

Among the donated vehicles are two BMW police spec bikes from Cumbria Freemasons and two from West Lancashire Freemasons, which will help North West Blood Bikes Lancashire and Lakes to answer more calls. ‘We have completed 50,350 runs since we started in 2012,’ says trustee and founder Scott Miller, from Bank Terrace with King Oswald Lodge, No. 462, whose blood bike group has 365 volunteers – a mix of riders, controllers and fundraisers.

Local masons supported SERV Norfolk with the purchase of three motorbikes. ‘I was invited to various meetings to give talks about blood bikes and was invited to Norwich to pick up a cheque for £250,’ says controller Colin Farrington. While there, he was asked how much a bike would cost by the Provincial Charity Steward, who said they would organise a Christmas raffle to try to buy one. 

‘The Great Yarmouth lodges got together and by early December raised the £15,000 for the bike on their own,’ Colin says. ‘Then, at the end of January I was told Norfolk had raised enough money to buy another two fully equipped Yamaha FJRs. I was flabbergasted.’

A plaque has been unveiled at Warrington Hospital thanking Cheshire masons for donating nearly 6,000 teddies over the past 14 years to the children’s A&E department as part of its Teddies for Loving Care appeal

Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Mel Pickup said: ‘The teddies are a valuable tool to the staff, bringing comfort to children in distress.’ 

Stephen Blank, PGM for Cheshire, and Kevin Poynton, AGM for West Lancashire, represented their respective Provinces at the event.

Earlier this year West Lancashire Freemasons donated £20,000 to St Mary’s Hospice to support its ‘Make Do and Mend’ initiative and in August 2018 they readily accepted an invitation to visit the workshop and see the progress that has been made

‘A huge success that has more than met our expectations’, were the words of Lynsey Lawson, who is the team leader for family and bereavement support at St Mary’s Hospice in Furness, when she was asked for her views on the ‘Make Do and Mend’ initiative.

The scheme was able to be implemented due to a grant of £20,000 from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), which enabled an unused corner of the premises to be developed into a suitable work space.

The aim of the scheme is to provide a chance for bereaved men and women to come together to share their experiences and, ultimately, to help each other through their loss. The initial idea for the scheme arose from discussions on how best to connect with those bereaved people who found it uncomfortable to access the already available support and counselling. Experience shows that this relates mainly, but not exclusively, to men.

Head of Clinical Services Jo Blake explained: ‘It was thought that providing an opportunity for them to get together with people in the same position and to work together in upcycling donated furniture may be a possible way forward. A blueprint for the program was drawn up and an application was submitted to the Masonic Charitable Foundation for the funds needed to get the scheme up and running. We are very grateful that our bid was successful.’

West Lancashire Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Grainger, along with Furness and South Lakeland Group Chairman Peter Schofield and local charity steward Richard Wilcock, recently had the pleasure of visiting the workshop and meeting some of the users.

After speaking with members of the hospice team, as well as some of those benefitting from the scheme, David commented: ‘It is superb to see our charitable funds being put to such marvellous use. It is often said, when accepting donations from lodges for the MCF that we thank the lodge on behalf of the recipients who they will never know or see.

'To hear first-hand of the difference the scheme is already making to the lives of others in helping them through the grieving process is really quite touching. It brings home the true ethos of charitable giving which is at the heart of our wonderful fraternity.’

One of those who has engaged with the program is George Last whose wife Linda passed away at the hospice Christmas time 2017. George was happy to talk about the benefits of ‘Make Do and Mend.’ George observed: ‘I come down once a week and have found it really beneficial. The company and the overall community feel of the workshop have helped me to come out of myself. I look forward to getting out of the house to come along and work on the cabinet I am recycling. 

'It is self-supporting as we are all in the same boat. One of the other users has become a firm friend and we go for a coffee and a chat together after each session. I now have the confidence to go along with my daughter to the coffee evening which the hospice host on a Thursday evening. It has made a real difference to my life.’

The workshops are run on informal lines with a bereavement counsellor always on hand, but not obtrusively so. Such is the demand that the present sessions and the next series of sessions are fully booked.

But it is not only men who benefit. Olivia Armistead found it difficult to cope with the loss of all four of her grandparents in a short space of time. Olivia attends the workshop and took pride in showing Peter Schofield the kitchen cabinet she was working on as she told him how much the scheme had helped her.

Enough is Enough

With the misconceptions surrounding the nature of Freemasonry commonplace, one particular news story in 2018 proved the catalyst for a nationwide campaign that would confront these beliefs head on, as Dean Simmons discovers

The doors to Freemasons’ Hall in London may be open to the public, but this hasn’t stopped rumours, myths and conspiracy theories from grabbing the headlines over the decades. However, it was a news story in The Guardian at the beginning of 2018, which was subsequently covered by other national newspapers, accusing the Freemasons of blocking policing reforms, that proved to be a turning point for the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).

Dr David Staples, Chief Executive Officer of UGLE, rejected the claims as laughable in a letter to the newspapers. With the accusations following a well-trodden path of inaccurate and misleading information about Freemasonry, he called for an end to the discrimination against its members, citing the 2001 and 2007 European Court of Human Rights rulings that Freemasonry was not a secret or unlawful organisation.

Reflecting on the decision to respond, David says, ‘It’s something that has been building up over the past 20 years, as we haven’t argued our case or countered the increasingly ridiculous claims of our critics. I think the trouble, as we’ve seen in the past, is that if we don’t answer those critics, the vacuum is then filled by further ludicrous accusations.’

More was to come. In February 2018, The Guardian alleged that two masonic lodges were operating secretly at Westminster. ‘This was on the front page of an award-winning national newspaper and it was complete nonsense,’ David says. ‘Every aspect of that story was deliberately designed to give a false impression of Freemasonry and its influence.’ David again wrote to the newspaper, drawing attention to several inaccuracies, including the fact that the lodges did not operate in Westminster and that their existence is not secret – all of which could have been verified by a quick search on Wikipedia. While the letter led to corrections being made, there was clearly an appetite for these types of stories, and therefore a pressing need for Freemasonry to debunk the myths. 

ON THE OFFENSIVE

‘In light of a new approach towards how we manage the media and how we represent ourselves and our members, we needed to go on the offensive – it was a good one to put the gloves on for,’ says David.

Contesting accusations is one thing, putting a stop to them in the first place is another. It was to this end that UGLE responded with a letter from David, titled ‘Enough is Enough’, which ran as a full-page advert in both The Times and Daily Telegraph newspapers. The letter called for an end to the ongoing gross misrepresentation of its 200,000-plus members.

‘We need to open up and talk about what we do; we needn’t be afraid of being both proud of who we are and our membership,’ David says. ‘We are the only organisation that faces repeated calls to publish our membership lists. We are the only organisation linked to a whole host of rumours and conspiracy theories, despite there being no substantial evidence to any of it. It’s important to not allow these myths to perpetuate in the public eye, and take on the critics with the facts.’

In the spirit of transparency, David embarked on a series of interviews with the press. Whether it was laying to rest myths, highlighting community work and charity fundraising or outlining what it means to be a Freemason, no stone was left unturned. ‘I did 24 interviews in one day,’ he recalls. ‘But if you’re portraying yourselves as an open organisation, you need to make yourself available in order to demonstrate that openness.’

With Freemasonry thrust into the spotlight, David believes the ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign provides a strong communication platform going forward. ‘We need to be out there, as we have been for the last few months, taking journalists around our masonic centres, introducing journalists to Freemasons and letting them make their own minds up, according to what they see and what they find.

‘The Open Days being held in our Provinces are also important, as they allow us to engage not just with potential members, but also with our critics,’ continues David. ‘We shouldn’t shy away from that – we won’t convince everybody and we certainly won’t change everybody’s mind, but we want to give a true impression of who we are and what we do, and allow people to make up their own minds. Ultimately, we need to be in the public space for the things we should be known for.’

Opening up, inviting in

Freemasons’ Hall in London may have initially taken centre stage, but Provinces up and down the country have now embraced the campaign. Open evenings and interactive Q&A events have been taking place in masonic halls, inviting members of the public to find out more about Freemasonry and ask any questions.

Demonstrating the effectiveness of the campaign, there has been a rise in membership enquiries as people seek to find out more. Philip Bullock, Wiltshire Provincial Grand Master, says, ‘It’s had an effect in raising our profile, which has had a positive effect on the number of enquiries made to our Provincial office and website. Our Sarsen Club for younger members is also proving extremely popular and is growing in terms of membership and activities.’

‘Enough is Enough’ has been an opportunity to further highlight the ongoing efforts of many Provinces. ‘For the past four years we’ve taken a very proactive approach in making ourselves more visible,’ says Philip. ‘At the end of last year, we acquired a new display trailer that will be out and about appearing at county fairs, shows and marketplaces. This will allow us to expand our visible presence in the community.’

Further north, in West Lancashire, the Province has been busy giving the media guided tours of its masonic halls. ‘The reaction across the Province has been positive,’ says Tony Harrison, West Lancashire Provincial Grand Master, ‘and most agree that it’s about time we answered back.’

Cheshire Provincial Grand Master Stephen Blank, who also faced the cameras in an interview with the BBC, echoes those sentiments: ‘The reaction from my members has been overwhelmingly positive,’ he says. ‘We’ve always been proactive with our open evenings at masonic halls. We’ll continue to publicise these across the county, alongside our charitable and community activities. I think it’s very important that we continue to react swiftly and positively to any future attacks on Freemasonry.’

Published in UGLE

A place for missing men

With bereaved men often finding it difficult to seek emotional support, hands-on initiatives like DIY workshops are providing sanctuaries where they can open up. Steven Short finds out how the MCF is helping in the hospice care sector

When a partner or family member dies, those looking after them not only have to say goodbye to the person they’ve lost, but also to their own identity as a caregiver. Many people have made great sacrifices to look after a loved one, often over months or years, and as this responsibility ends it can bring a sense of ‘Who am I now?’ as well as questions about the future. 

At the same time, the bereaved can often feel cut adrift from those around them – and the support they experienced leading up to the death – at a time when they perhaps need it most, facing the practicalities of sorting out funeral and financial arrangements.

Hospices across the UK have, for many years, been accompanying people on this difficult journey. And the masonic community has long supported the incredible work they do – more than £12 million has been donated towards the operating costs of hospices throughout the country. Over time, it has become apparent that women are much more likely than men to seek out care and support, and that there is a need for programmes tailored to men who are bereaved, caregivers or coming to terms with their own illness. In response, a number of unique initiatives – such as ‘man sheds’ ­– have been developed to help these ‘missing men’.

A NEW WAY OF FUNDING

Historically, the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF)’s support for hospices has been via small grants across all Provinces. However, the MCF has determined that funds should be directed to where they’re needed most, helping to plug gaps in service provision and make the biggest impact. Working with Hospice UK, some of this year’s MCF grants will focus on bereavement support services.

‘We are constantly looking to improve our grant-making,’ says Katrina Kerr, head of charity grants at the MCF. ‘Our hospice grants in recent years undoubtedly made a tremendous difference in the palliative care sector, but over time it became apparent that we could direct the funds so generously donated to us by the masonic community in a more effective, strategic way.’

Due to the spike in births after the end of the Second World War, a generation of baby boomers is entering its seventies, meaning that now is a good time for Hospice UK and the MCF to be thinking about palliative care and bereavement support.

Karl Benn, head of grants at Hospice UK, agrees. ‘In the past year, hospices have supported around 46,000 people – adults and children – in coping with the death of a loved one,’ Benn says. ‘So there is clearly a need for bereavement care. We also talked to our members, who agreed that this was an area we should be focussing on.’ 

Benn and his team have worked with the MCF to develop and oversee the application process as well as the awarding of the first £150,000 allocated for grants through the new programme. ‘It was heavily oversubscribed,’ he notes. ‘We received applications for £1.5 million, so making our final allocations was really difficult.’

Grants were ultimately awarded to innovative bereavement support projects at hospices in seven Provinces, namely Staffordshire, East Kent, Sussex, Warwickshire, Essex, South Wales and West Lancashire, and in London. These focussed grants were in addition to £450,000 awarded in small grants last year to support 245 hospices under the former programme. Later this year, a further £300,000 will be available to fund the bereavement and support programme, with an additional £300,000 awarded in the form of small general grants as the new programme is introduced gradually over the coming years.

‘Terminally ill and bereaved men are very often reluctant to access traditional support’ Kathy Birch, Princess Alice Hospice

REACHING OUT TO MEN

Among the initiatives are several focussed on supporting men through the bereavement process. These will be hands-on, practical initiatives, where men can, in Benn’s words, ‘do some DIY, or work on renovating furniture – something they can get involved in rather than sitting around a table talking about feelings, which isn’t right for everybody.’ 

Martlets Hospice in Hove, for example, will run a men’s allotment project, while St Mary’s Hospice in Ulverston will introduce a ‘Make Do and Mend’ initiative. At the Princess Alice Hospice in Esher, Surrey, a Man Shed project is underway. The Man Shed, which will also be trialled at other hospices, offers the opportunity to engage in practical activities and learn skills while receiving ‘shoulder to shoulder’ support. 

‘We had noticed at the hospice that the number of bereaved women who were coming forward to us for care and support outnumbered men by three to one, and so we sought to identify a new way to address this unmet need that was right on our doorstep,’ says Kathy Birch, day service programme lead at Princess Alice. ‘We wanted to reach out to the missing men within our communities, including bereaved husbands who have lost their sense of purpose, men who are caring for their partner and need someone to talk to, and men coming to terms with their own terminal illness.

‘Terminally ill and bereaved men are very often reluctant to access the traditional family-support offering, such as formal counselling or listening. Our data on those who seek care and support within a “traditional setting” certainly backed that up,’ Birch continues. 

Kerr from the MCF agrees. ‘Men can find it more difficult to build social connections than women. It’s an unfortunate reality that men are less likely to share concerns about health and personal worries.’

The knowledge that men can find it hard to open up, especially in a formal face-to-face setting, inspired the team at Princess Alice to create the Man Shed programme. Birch says, ‘Our missing men can come together and put their skills and energy to use with a high degree of autonomy while talking to others who may be in the same situation and getting the support they need to face the future.’

A SPOT FOR SHEDDERS

The Man Shed idea originated in Australia, and Princess Alice is one of only a few hospice-based Man Sheds in the UK. As the name indicates, the shed at Princess Alice is a building consisting of a DIY workshop and a communal lounge. It was officially opened in June 2016, and within a month the hospice had 13 ‘shedders’ (patients, carers and bereaved relatives) involved in the project. By January of this year, that figure had risen to 112. Of those, 85.7 per cent are men, reflecting the need for spaces where they are able to cope in their own way. 

At the Man Shed, shedders produce everything from bird boxes and chopping boards to bespoke memory boxes, which are then sold to raise yet more invaluable funds for the hospice. Shedders and project leaders also have come up with innovative ideas to help patients of the hospice, including a special raised cupholder that allows people who use a wheelchair to take a drink without having to bend over. They have also made a mobile trolley for the hospice library and benches for the garden. 

‘I have cancer and I am a regular at the Day Hospice’s weekly social group,’ says one shedder. ‘I’ve recently started to visit the Man Shed and have made some smashing friends. When you walk in it feels like the sun has come out and the heaviness is lifted from your shoulders. Talking to people who know what you are going through really helps.’ 

Two teenage boys recently attended the Man Shed when their father was terminally ill, as he wanted them to learn vital skills while he could still be there. ‘Freemasons are fortunate to have a network of brethren around them for support during difficult times,’ Kerr says, ‘but not everyone is so lucky. Our grants will help to improve provisions for members of wider society.’

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