UGLE’s Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, was at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford to open the Stokes Centre for Urology on 5 March 2019

This new NHS centre of excellence was jointly funded by The Prostate Project and Royal Surrey County Hospital following 10 years of fundraising.  

Colin Stokes launched the Prostate Project in 1998 to raise £250,000 for a scanner, but went on to raise over £8 million. In recognition of the charity’s vital role, the centre has been named after its founder.

While the building has patient access at its core, The Duke of Kent also saw how it is the culmination of the most significant investments in urological services in the UK for over a decade. It is the largest centre for brachytherapy in Europe and third in the world.

The Prostate Project raised £2.85 million of the £5.9 million needed to build the new centre. In the foyer of the centre there is a plaque listing the Prostate Project’s Hall of Fame, recognising all donors who have contributed £3,000 or more and buy-a-brick donors are recognised in reception.

The Hall of Fame is testimony to the efforts of:

  • The Provincial Grand Lodge and Chapter of Surrey who achieved a Platinum Award;
  • Astolat Lodge No. 5848, who meet in Guildford, Surrey, qualified for a Silver Award; 
  • Castle Keep Lodge No. 6446, who meet in Godalming, Surrey, qualified for a Bronze Award; and
  • Surrey Provincial Lodge of Mark Master Masons, who qualified for a Bronze Award.

During the visit, The Duke of Kent met several Surrey Freemasons who supported the Prostate Project by contributing over £70,000.  

Those present included Surrey’s Deputy Provincial Grand Master Richard Wileman, who was supported by Surrey Freemason Vic Simmons, who is also an Ambassador and Trustee of The Prostate Project, and Peter Wood, the Master and Charity Steward of Astolat Lodge.

Dorset's Vespasian Lodge No. 8099 held a 'race night' at Branksome Masonic Hall, attended by a number of members, family and friends where they were able to support local, worthy charitable causes, including The Crumbs Project and Macmillan Caring Locally with a £275 donation to each

Macmillan Caring Locally is a small local charity which supports the Macmillan Unit at Christchurch Hospital. The Macmillan Unit is a specialist palliative care ward built in 1974 and was the first of its kind in the country. Although the charity has the Macmillan name, it is in fact an independent charity with no connection to the national organisation Macmillan Cancer Support.

In partnership with the NHS, the charity supports 16 in-patient beds at the Macmillan Unit Christchurch, a 15-person Day Centre, 12 Specialist Palliative Care Sisters who look after up to 450 patients living at home in their local community, and three Specialist Palliative Care Sisters who support patients at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital.

Every year there are more than 1,600 referrals to the Macmillan Unit. Macmillan Caring Locally also funds the multi-disciplinary teams at the Macmillan Unit which include the Family Support Team, Rehabilitation Team, Complementary Therapy, Welfare benefits advice and Chaplaincy. 

Vespasian Lodge was pleased to support Macmillan with a donation of £275 which was presented by Dorset Freemason Steve Spender to Neal Williams, Trust Secretary, who was accompanied by two members of the dedicated team from the unit at Christchurch Hospital.

The Crumbs Project was founded by the late Anne Gardner, whose daughter Liz at the age of 17 started hearing voices which tormented her for the rest of her adult life. Crumbs sprang from the need for those in long-stay care to have a structured programme of support to encourage their learning and professional development. The Crumbs Project is charity which provides supported vocational training for adults with learning disabilities, mental health issues and stabilised addictions. It specialises in vocational training within the hospitality, catering, housekeeping and administration sectors.

The Crumbs team works closely with trainees supporting them into either paid or voluntary work placements. In order for The Crumbs Project to become a self-sufficient charity, the team also provide a wide range of food services, including; buffets, hot food, cakes, snack pack and wedding catering. Their ultimate aim is to help vulnerable people live a life of independence.

Vespasian Lodge was pleased to support the Crumbs Project with a donation of £275 which was presented by Steve Spender to Leanne Miller, Operations Manager, who was accompanied by other members of her team and some of the Trainees from the training centre. 

Mark Burstow, Communications Officer for Dorset Freemasonry, said: ‘This is an incredible effort by Vespasian, supporting two wonderful, local non-masonic charities. This typifies the kind of support Dorset Freemasons regularly provide to their local communities.’

The Province of Yorkshire North and East Ridings have helped to fund research, which has been published in the British Journal of Cancer, alongside The Masonic Samaritan Fund, Yorkshire Cancer Research, Prostate Cancer UK and the British Columbia Cancer Agency Strategic Priorities Fund

Medical research scientists at the University of York have found a way of distinguishing between fatal prostate cancer and manageable cancer, which could reduce unnecessary surgeries and radiotherapy.

A recent study showed that for every single life saved through surgical intervention more than 25 men were unnecessarily treated with surgery or radiotherapy. Success rates could be hindered by treating all prostate cancers in the same way. A team at the University of York and the University of British Columbia in Canada have designed a test that can pick out life-threatening prostate cancers, with up to 92% accuracy.

Professor Norman Maitland, from the University of York’s Department of Biology and director of Yorkshire Cancer Research, said: ‘Unnecessary prostate treatment has both physical consequences for patients and their families, but is also a substantial financial burden on the NHS, where each operation will cost around £10,000. 

‘Cancers that are contained in the prostate, however, have the potential to be ‘actively monitored’ which is not only cheaper but has far fewer negative side-effects in patients with non-life threatening cancer.’

It is now understood that to find the differing levels of cancer, scientists have to identify genes that have been altered in different cancer types.

Professor Norman Maitland added: ‘In some diseases, such as cancer, genes can be switched to an opposite state, causing major health issues and a threat to life. To put it another way: how do we distinguish the tiger cancer cells from the pussycat cancer cells when there are millions of patterns of chemical alterations going on, many of which will be perfectly healthy?’

Dr Davide Pellacani, who began these studies in York, before moving to the University of British Columbia, said: ‘Using this computer analysis, not only could we see which tissue samples had cancer and which didn’t, but also which cancers were dangerous and which ones less so.’

To take this method out of the laboratory, the team are now investigating a further trial with new cancer samples and hope to involve a commercial partner to allow this to be used for patients being treated in the NHS.

Buckinghamshire Freemasons have donated £1,000 to help a young boy from High Wycombe receive the physiotherapy needed to ensure he will be able to walk

Jenson is three years old and was born prematurely weighing just 2lb 5 oz. As he grew, it became apparent that he was not reaching the usual developmental milestones and his parents received the devastating news that he had cerebral palsy.

His condition meant that he was unable to walk and he suffered from painful tightness in the muscles. Although there is a newly developed operation which can relieve the tightness and potentially allow him to walk unaided available on the NHS, he would need many years of physiotherapy sessions which are not funded to achieve the maximum benefit. His parents immediately set about trying to raise the £30,000 potential cost.

Step forward Tom Davies, a local Freemason who has known Jenson’s mum, Vicky, all her life. Through the sale of used masonic regalia, he was able to make the donation of £1,000 which brings the current total to £19,000 for the physio sessions which will have a fundamental impact on his life.  

Read more about the fundraising for Jenson.

As part of their annual support of Hospices throughout the country, Devonshire Freemasons have donated £988 to Rowcroft Hospice

Devonshire's Deputy Provincial Grand Master Nick Ball presented the certificate denoting the £988 grant, given on behalf of the Province of Devonshire and the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), to Debbi Shotton, Community Fundraising Officer for Rowcroft Hospice.

This year the MCF will give grants totalling £300,000 to 245 hospices in England and Wales including nearly £7,000 to seven hospices in Devon, as part of the £12 million given since 1984. This includes £300,000 which has been distributed between all the hospices that receive less than 65% funding from the NHS. A further £300,000 will be granted to the national charity for hospice care, Hospice UK, in a partnership aimed at developing and extending bereavement support services in hospices.

Devonshire Freemasons have been long-term supporters of Rowcroft Hospice and including individual donations made by many of the 133 lodges that meet throughout the county, combined with the MCF, have donated over £110,000 since 2000.

On receiving the certificate, Debbi Shotton said: ‘We are so grateful for the continued support of the Masonic Charitable Foundation. We care for over 2,000 patients and their loved ones every year across the 300 square miles of South Devon.

'In addition to our Inpatient Unit, our specialist palliative care nurses and Community Teams visit patients in their own homes, providing care and compassion where it is needed the most. It currently costs over £7 million to run Rowcroft’s extensive services and we have to raise over 70% of that ourselves. We rely heavily on the incredible generosity of the local community.’

Rowcroft Hospice have been serving the people of South Devon since 1982, helping to make every day the best day possible for patients with life-limiting illness, demonstrating real humanity in the delivery of end of life care to patients and equally importantly their families, enhancing lives to the end for thousands of people both at home and in the care of the hospice.

Deputy Provincial Grand Master Nick Ball said: ‘It is always a privilege for the Freemasons to be able to support Rowcroft Hospice and the work they do which is so valuable, not only to the patients but also to their families.’ 

A charity that delivers life-saving blood, breast milk and pathology samples to hospitals at night has added a new motorbike to its fleet, thanks to Sheffield Freemasons

Due to a sizeable financial legacy left to Ivanhoe Lodge No. 1779, which is based in the Province of Yorkshire, West Riding, its members agreed to use a portion of the bequest to not only purchase a motorbike for Whiteknights Yorkshire Blood Bikes, but also to pay for its running costs for three years.

The bike – named ‘Ivanhoe’ – was officially handed over to the charity at a ceremony held at Tapton Hall in the city, where Ivanhoe Lodge meets.

Whiteknights Yorkshire Blood Bikes was co-started 10 years ago by biker Vic Siswick after noticing a lack of sample delivery provision at night while he was undergoing cancer treatment. It now has 60 volunteer riders, all advanced motorcyclists, who deliver urgent samples between 7pm and 7am, which are outside normal NHS hours.

One of those to benefit from the charity’s services is Ivanhoe Lodge member John Bulliman, whose life was saved three years ago by the delivery of an emergency unit of blood from his original bone marrow donor in the Midlands, to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, where he was being treated for leukaemia and sepsis.

John Clague, from Ivanhoe Lodge, said: ‘Before deciding on making this donation we invited Whiteknights Yorkshire Blood Bikes chairman Andrew Foster to tell us about the work of the charity.

‘John was present and it was the first time Andrew had ever met a beneficiary of the service they provide. Subsequently, John has now done an interview for the charity to thank them for helping save his life. Following Andrew’s presentation the lodge voted unanimously to purchase ‘Ivanhoe’ and pay for its running costs for three years.

‘Charity is one of the three grand principles Freemasonry was founded on, and, thanks to this legacy, we are able to support the Whiteknights Yorkshire Blood Bikes and the selfless service they provide to the benefit of people across Yorkshire.'

Whiteknights Yorkshire Blood Bikes chairman Andrew Foster said: ‘We are truly grateful to the members of Ivanhoe Lodge for this wonderful donation. It’s a fantastic way to start the New Year.

‘I am also a Freemason, and was personally humbled by the level of support I received from the lodge when I was asked to give a presentation about our work.

‘This new bike takes our fleet of blood bikes to eight and means that we can respond to even more requests to transport samples, and that means hopefully saving more lives of people in Yorkshire. We have a terrific team of volunteer riders and Ivanhoe Lodge’s generosity is a massive boost for us.'

A donation of £4,000 from Lincolnshire Freemasons will help more people survive life-threatening injuries and illnesses because of the work of the Lincs & Notts Air Ambulance and its crew

It costs an average of £2,500 every time the Air Ambulance scrambles for another life-saving mission from its base at RAF Waddington.

Lincolnshire’s Provincial Grand Master David Wheeler said: ‘The Air Ambulance provides a vital service in our largely rural Province, and we are pleased to say that by helping to fund it with our donation we have played a small role in ensuring that there will be people alive tomorrow who might otherwise have passed away. 

‘We see ourselves as part of a community, with a duty to help everyone in it. Support for the Air Ambulance is a positive way to do that at life-changing moments for patients and their families.’

The £4,000 grant came from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), and was part of the latest round of Air Ambulance funding, which totals over £4 million since 2007. This year, 20 services will share in £192,000 from the MCF, which administers funds raised through personal contributions from Freemasons.

The Lincs and Notts donation was handed over by Provincial Charity Steward Peter Tong, who said: ‘The Air Ambulance service in our region has been there to help more than 192,000 people since its inception in 1994.

'It already flies two or three times a day, but the organisation’s ambition is to make itself available to fly to where it’s needed on a 24/7 basis. That could lift the number of missions to five a day, which is a tremendous financial commitment. We wanted to play a small part in helping to make that happen.’

Sally Crawford, the Lincs and Notts Air Ambulance head of Fundraising and Communications, said: ‘Thank you so much for supporting the Lincs & Notts Air Ambulance; £4,000 is an incredible amount of money and we are most grateful. The critical care we provide gives people their very best chance of survival and recovery. We receive no direct Government funding, and are not part of the NHS, so your donation really is essential in helping us to save lives.’

Wales Children's Air Ambulance's are now carrying teddy bears thanks to a wonderful scheme operated by South Wales Freemasons

The Wales Children's Air Ambulance work with NHS teams across Wales to care for children and babies who need urgent medical care, or to be flown home from a children’s centre – saving vulnerable young patients a long journey by road.

In July, South Wales Teddies for Loving Care (TLC) Committee Members Colin Grey and Peter Williams visited the Heliport base of the Wales Children’s Air Ambulance in Cardiff Docks to present an initial batch of 66 bears. The TLC Scheme is supported through the generosity of South Wales Freemasons donations which fund the purchase of teddy bears to supply NHS-related services and help alleviate distressed children.

South Wales TLC currently supplies five Accident & Emergency Departments & Minor Injury Units, as well as Noah’s Ark National Children’s Hospital For Wales, and has donated over 4,500 Teddy Bears to date.

Through charitable donations, Wales Air Ambulance (WAA) introduced a fourth aircraft in 2016, dedicated to inter-hospital transfer work of children. This made WAA the largest air ambulance operation in the UK. The EC135 T2e helicopter operates from the charity’s airbase in Cardiff and covers the whole of Wales.

The transfer helicopter is an important part of their work with children, who often need to travel to specialist paediatric and neonatal centres across the UK. Every single patient is different, and CWAA will take each child to the hospital unit that is needed for the illness or injury.

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 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
Page 1 of 2

ugle logo          SGC logo