Tuesday, 08 December 2015 00:00

The history of the four masonic charities

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

Published in Freemasonry Cares

Care trainer of the year

Jane Baldwin, Learning and Development Officer at the RMBI, has received the Care Trainer Award at the 2015 Great British Care Awards, with Sandra Robson runner-up in the Putting People First category. In their sixth year, the awards celebrate excellence across the care sector and are designed to pay tribute to those who have demonstrated outstanding excellence within their field of work. ‘I am humbled and proud by my nomination,’ said Jane. 

Published in RMBI

Masonic Charitable Foundation – A new charity for Freemasons, for families, for everyone

The Pro Grand Master, Peter Lowndes has announced that a new charity called the Masonic Charitable Foundation is to be established, bringing together the charitable activities of the four existing central masonic charities.

At Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge on Wednesday, 9 September, the Pro Grand Master said: 

'The Masonic Charitable Foundation will continue to offer the same support and services to those Freemasons and family members who need help, as well as support for the non-masonic charitable causes that the Craft wishes to assist.

The Masonic Charitable Foundation will be one of the largest charities in the country and will rely on the generosity of Freemasonry for its funds.

It is anticipated that the Masonic Charitable Foundation will be registered with the Charity Commission as soon as possible and that it will begin making grants from 1 April 2016. The proposals remain subject to the approval of some existing charity members.

A shadow board of trustees comprising individuals from the existing charities is overseeing the creation of the new charity and the transition into a single organisation. 

Further information about the Masonic Charitable Foundation will be made available over the next few months.

Please visit mcf.org.uk for more information.

You can also find the Foundation on Facebook and Twitter.

Creature comforts

From greyhounds to boa constrictors, a menagerie of creatures is now finding its way into RMBI care homes. Sarah Holmes discovers the therapeutic effects that animals can have on those in need

 Bella the greyhound is proving popular at Cadogan Court in Exeter as she meanders through the crowds at the annual summer fete. With her hazelnut fur and her pink tongue lolling lazily out of the side of her mouth, she’s a big hit with the residents. 

‘She loves it,’ laughs owner Sue Bescinizza. ‘She could stand here for hours being stroked.’

Meanwhile, across the grounds, Elsie and Walter Nicholls watch in delight as Audrey the schnauzer leaps enthusiastically around their bench. The couple have been living in Cadogan Court for nine months, and are ardent dog lovers. ‘I’m so glad they bring the animals into the home,’ says Elsie. ‘It brings back all the memories of our own pets.’

With more than a million older people suffering from loneliness in the UK, visits from animals such as Bella and Audrey are vital in tackling the effects of social isolation. This is particularly true for people in residential care homes, where there often aren’t the facilities – or the manpower – to look after pets.

‘Pets bring a sense of comfort and well-being, so we encourage many different animals into our homes,’ says Debra Keeling, Deputy Director of Care Operations at the RMBI. ‘We want residents to enjoy the benefits animals provide, even if they don’t have their own pets.’ 

Pet favourites

At Cadogan Court, an RMBI care home that looks after older masons and their families, residents like Elsie and Walter get to see Bella every week. Just one of 4,500 dogs registered with the charity Pets As Therapy (PAT), Bella regularly visits hospitals, special-needs schools and care homes around her local area to provide therapeutic comfort and companionship to the residents. Her docile nature makes her the perfect candidate for the charity. 

‘She’s always a welcome guest,’ says Helen Mitchell, Manager at Cadogan Court. ‘The residents’ faces light up when she walks through the door.’ With nearly half of residents aged over 65 relying primarily on their TVs for company, Bella’s visits give them a chance to engage in something a little different. 

‘The best thing about the PAT visits is that everyone can get involved,’ says Helen. ‘If a resident is immobile, we’ll take Bella to their bedside so they can reach out to stroke her.’

For residents who are battling with dementia, Bella has proven to be a particularly calming influence. ‘A lot of our nursing residents had pets before moving in, and they have fond memories attached to dogs. It’s a good way of helping them to remember. Sometimes, I think they remember the animals better than the people.’

‘I’ll always remember when Echo the Eurasian eagle owl tried to take off right here in the living room.’ Norman Wilkins

Creating a sanctuary

But it’s not just domestic animals that visit. The home has established links with animal sanctuaries throughout Devon, so that every year donkeys, ponies and even owls come to see the residents. 

‘I’ll always remember when Echo the Eurasian eagle owl fanned out its wings and tried to take off right here in the living room,’ remembers Norman Wilkins, a resident at Cadogan Court, with delight. ‘It created this incredible draft of air that pushed down on us like a gale. I’ve never felt anything like it before.’

In an effort to broaden the animal activities, Helen also got a local pet shop to showcase its collection of exotic snakes, lizards and tarantulas. ‘It’s not every day you see a three-foot-long lizard running loose in the living room,’ laughs Helen. She brought her own boa constrictor along for the visit. ‘Luckily, she was a lot smaller then, only about four-and-a-half foot,’ she says. ‘She’s double that size now.’ 

Despite some initial apprehension, it wasn’t long before many of the residents let the boa constrictor hang around their necks, and fork through their fingers with its head. ‘They were all asking for photographs to send home to their sons and daughters to prove they’d actually held a snake,’ remembers Helen. ‘The energy and excitement of the day really brought people out of their shells.’ 

Taking the idea one step further, staff at Prince Edward Duke of Kent Court in Essex decided to introduce a live-in dog to the home to bring the community together and give residents a renewed sense of purpose from having to walk and feed her. 

Named Meg, the black labrador was originally owned by a gentleman who refused to move into the home unless she could come with him. ‘Life changed the moment she arrived,’ explains Audrey Brown, Activities Coordinator at the RMBI care home. ‘The whole place felt more homely.’

‘A lot of residents had pets before moving in, and have fond memories attached to dogs. Sometimes, I think they remember the animals better than the people.’ Helen Mitchell

A positive presence

While PAT visits have always been a key form of therapy in the care home, Meg’s constant presence allows her to build up relationships with the residents and become attuned to their particular behaviours. If Meg senses that a resident is feeling down, for example, she’ll seek them out to sit by them or lie on their bed. 

For Kathleen, who lives in Mauchline House, the home’s dementia support house, companionship has proved particularly beneficial. ‘I think simply stroking Meg’s head is very calming for Kathleen, as it gives her something to think about other than herself and her condition,’ says Audrey. ‘Meg is one of the few companions who won’t force herself on you. She won’t insist you get up to take your medication, or expect you to make conversation. 

In dementia, your relationship with others can become difficult, but with Meg it’s a simple bond.’

The home has now been given Butterfly Service Status – a nationally recognised award that identifies care homes that deliver an exceptional standard of support for their residents living with dementia. Meg is another example of the way in which the RMBI provides individualised care for its residents. ‘Care homes are constantly changing, and what works changes with it,’ says Audrey. ‘But for us, Meg has been a seamless fit. It’s like having another member of staff.’

Canine confidence

One in eight older people rely on their animals as a source of companionship, but it seems dog owners are the ones reaping most benefits. Not only do four-legged friends keep people 12 per cent more active than those who don’t own pets, they also raise our self-esteem and make us more conscientious and extroverted, as well as less fearful, according to the American Psychological Association

Bella the greyhound passed away shortly before publication. Cadogan Court would like to thank her owner for all the happiness Bella brought to residents

Published in RMBI

New perspectives on training

A pioneering technique in the way carers are trained has been revealed to journalists during a special session at RMBI care home Prince Michael of Kent Court in Watford

On 18 June, journalists from BBC Breakfast, Reuters and Radio 4 joined care home manager Elizabeth Corbett and her team to take part in the RMBI’s innovative training programme, Experiential Learning. The initiative puts carers in the shoes of their residents, helping them to understand what it might be like to live in a care home.

During the session, journalists were given the opportunity to experience some of the daily challenges faced by some 400,000 older people who live in care homes across the UK. Scenarios included being pushed in a wheelchair while blindfolded, receiving supported feeding to eat a meal, being hoisted from a seated position and wearing a wet incontinence pad. 

An individual approach

The RMBI has practiced ‘person-centred’ care in its homes for a number of years. Adopting a person-centred perspective is a way of providing tailored care and support based on the resident’s point of view – ‘standing in their place’ and appreciating how they might be feeling. This is a very different approach from treating everybody in the same way and makes the care that RMBI provides individual to each resident. 

Louise Bateman, Director of HR at the RMBI, explained how the need for specific training in this area was identified: ‘In 2014 we reviewed our recruitment and induction programmes for new care staff. We wanted to ensure that we were recruiting individuals not solely upon their technical skills or abilities, but on the basis of their values and attitudes to care.’ 

Bateman said that the RMBI realised it was important for its carers to have an empathic approach and to be able to step into the shoes of residents under their care. ‘We talked to recently joined carers as well as managers to develop our thinking. 

From this we redesigned the induction programme to include the Experiential Learning initiative so that we could improve the quality of our service and provide residents with a deeper level of person-centred care,’ she continued.

The initiative has been in place for all new care staff in RMBI care homes since October 2014 – from nurses and activity coordinators through to carers and shift leaders. Plans to expand the training are also well underway, with additional scenarios to be included, such as brushing someone’s teeth. 

Senior Care Trainer Nina Stephens, who led the Experiential Learning session, said: ‘This new way of training carers has already improved the lives of the people in our homes. It allows RMBI care staff to have a greater insight into some of the challenges faced by our residents. We feel that experiential learning should be adopted by the whole care sector, as part of the drive to raise care standards to the highest level.’ 

Published in RMBI
Friday, 05 June 2015 01:00

Almoner support for seniors

Reach out

With 2.9 million older people feeling they have no one to turn to for help and support, Aileen Scoular meets Dame Esther Rantzen DBE and Provincial Grand Almoner Ernie Greenhalgh to find out how Freemasons are making a difference in West Lancashire

 No one wants to feel alone. But for the 11 million people in the UK aged 65 and over, loneliness and isolation are all too familiar. A survey by Age UK has revealed that one in four older people feel that they have no one to go to for help and support. 

Contact the Elderly, another UK charity that aims to lessen the effects of isolation, echoes these views: other than visits from a carer, around 70 per cent of the elderly people who use its service receive visits just once a week or less.

Yet loneliness and isolation can be avoided. 

A chat on the phone, a cup of tea or a shared joke with a neighbour takes just minutes, but the positive effects of human interaction last long after the conversation ends. The reassuring news is that there are organisations out there making that happen, one of which is the Freemasons.

In West Lancashire, Provincial Grand Almoner Ernie Greenhalgh has spent his first two years in the job making positive changes that will allow his lodge almoners and care officers to spend more time on active care and less time on paperwork. And Ernie has found an equally compassionate ally in Dame Esther Rantzen DBE – founder of ChildLine in 1986 and, more recently, The Silver Line, a telephone helpline for older people. 

Invited by the Province of West Lancashire, Dame Esther visited Ecclesholme, a Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) care home in Manchester, at the end of last year to gain a better understanding of the needs of elderly RMBI residents. Both she and Ernie believe that effective pastoral care can transform people’s lives.

‘A core value among Freemasons has always been to help those less fortunate than yourself. We try to instil that in every single member,’ says Ernie. ‘The role of the almoner is a vital part of lodge life – not just to manage financial needs, but to deal with loneliness and isolation as well.’

Facing reality

Isolation is a topic that also comes up in conversation with Dame Esther, and The Silver Line, which launched at the end of 2013, includes a befriending service to help combat loneliness.  

‘The idea came to me when I was standing at a conference about the elderly, discussing an article I’d written about living alone for the first time, aged 71,’ she explains. ‘I got the most extraordinary flashback to the same situation 30 years before, when I had been talking about another problem with a stigma attached – namely, child abuse. Because no one wants to admit to loneliness, do they? Many older people are very proud and they don’t want to be a burden.’

Just 18 months on, The Silver Line is taking up to 1,000 calls a day. The befriending service has a waiting list of 1,000 people, and the charity is training its volunteers (known as Silver Line Friends) at a rate of 100 a week. There’s no doubt in Dame Esther’s mind that her helpline is fulfilling an intrinsic need for many elderly people.

‘Most of our callers tell us they have no one else they can talk to,’ she says sadly. ‘One Christmas, I spoke to a caller and he said it was the first time in years that he had talked to someone on Christmas Day. Many elderly people can go for a couple of weeks without having a proper conversation. It can happen to anyone – there are a lot of intelligent, interesting people who find themselves isolated.’

Isolating the problem

Loneliness is normally caused by loss of some kind – a partner, a job, or someone’s sight, hearing or mobility, for example. Becoming a carer to a loved one can also bring on intense feelings of isolation. It’s a familiar topic for Ernie’s care team in the Province of West Lancashire, where the widows of the brethren are key beneficiaries, particularly in times of sickness and financial hardship. The support is there when it’s needed, and Ernie has a loyal group of almoners with a compassionate ear.

Almoner Danny Parks, 76, and Regional Care Officer George Seddon, 73, have experienced personal loss themselves and can empathise with the feelings of despair that follow. ‘An almoner needs to be caring, considerate, diplomatic and sympathetic – all of that comes into it,’ says Danny. ‘I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people. I lost my wife and there’s nothing worse than the loneliness. It’s a dreadful thing and some people can cope with it, and some can’t.’ 

Danny has great faith in face-to-face contact and he diligently visits the 15 widows in his care on a fortnightly basis. ‘You have to get out of the house and meet people – that’s when you find out what help they really need,’ he explains. ‘Their problems might only be small, but they’re still problems.’

George agrees: ‘There are many people in need but they’re too proud to ask. My mum was 99 when she died so I’ve been able to draw on my own experience. You need to be understanding and able to find solutions where you can. It’s all about gaining people’s confidence and developing trust.’

Almoner Alan Whitehouse, 70, believes talking is crucial: ‘Some of the people we visit have seen no one for weeks. They have probably outlived their friends and peers, which is very sad.’ Alan uses his homemade jams and chutneys as a ‘door-opener’ and makes sure he’s always available on the other end of the phone. All three men praise the changes that Ernie has made to the structure of the West Lancashire Provincial care team. 

Getting out and about

For Ernie, it’s vital that the members and widows of the Province are aware of the support available. ‘It’s not always easy to identify exactly who needs help – particularly when elderly people are reluctant to ask for it,’ he explains. ‘So I’m trying to enable the almoners to spend more time delivering pastoral care, and less time doing admin.’

Believing that there is still much work to be done when it comes to helping older people, some of Ernie’s team are also becoming Silver Line Friends. George was the first to sign up and is currently being trained by the charity. ‘It’s a good transfer of skills and experience, and the training they offer is excellent,’ he says.

Dame Esther hopes that other Freemasons will consider volunteering, too. ‘Being a Silver Line Friend only takes an hour a week,’ she says. ‘You can do it from your own home and we provide all the training. If you enjoy having conversations with other people, do visit our website to apply.’

Thanks to Ernie, George, Alan and Danny, and all the other almoners across West Lancashire Province, the older community is in safe hands. According to George, ‘The role of the almoner is the most rewarding job in Freemasonry.’

The Silver Line is a free, confidential service: 0800 4 70 80 90, www.thesilverline.org.uk 

Published in Features

Apprenticeship recognition

An RMBI care home in Ecclesholme has received an award for its ongoing work to support students in the local community

Each year for the past five years, the RMBI’s Ecclesholme care home in Manchester has enrolled two students from Salford City College onto its 12-month apprenticeship scheme. During this time the students, who are also completing their National Vocational Qualifications in care, work alongside RMBI staff to gain experience in the sector. They are encouraged to take part in the in-house training, which is mandatory for all RMBI staff, and tutors from the college visit the home to carry out assessments. 

The care home was selected for an award by Salford City College in recognition of its continued support and commitment to the apprenticeship programme. Speaking about the scheme, Beverley Niland, Ecclesholme Home Manager, said: ‘We are delighted to have been selected as the winner of this award. We have found the programme very successful and in most cases the students take up permanent employment with us after completion of their course.’

Staff from Ecclesholme received the award at the Apprenticeship Awards Evening hosted by Mark Jenkins of Channel 4’s The Hotel.

In addition to the scheme with Salford City College, the care home also works closely with two local schools to provide work experience for a couple of students on a weekly basis. The students support the home’s activities coordinator, helping to plan and implement engaging and stimulating activities for residents.

Published in RMBI

Easy as pie

From classic steak and kidney to apple and blackberry, a pie is a symbol of British comfort food at its best. As the nation celebrated British Pie Week in March, RMBI care homes embraced the occasion

RMBI residents across the UK took part in a variety of activities to mark British Pie Week, with tasting, baking and recipe-sharing sessions among the events. The RMBI places great importance on providing its residents with food that they grew up with and enjoy – as well as new dishes they have come to love – and its balanced, nutritious menus include classic pie dishes. 

Recipes and Reminiscences, the RMBI cookbook, contains 50 favourite recipes from residents and staff. Many in the book were national staples in their era, including Woolton Pie, named after one of Churchill’s Cabinet. 

A classic wartime dish, it encouraged people to use whatever vegetables were available to them during the rationing period to create family meals. 

Debra Keeling, RMBI Deputy Director of Care Operations, said: ‘We strive to deliver a high quality of life for our residents, and providing enjoyable food and drink is essential to this. Our residents are encouraged to put their menu ideas forward to ensure we cater to their individual tastes. British Pie Week is a great way of bringing residents together through their mutual love of food.’

Published in RMBI

Middlesex 2020 Festival launch

In March, the Province of Middlesex launched the 2020 Festival Appeal for the RMTGB. Alastair Mason, Pro Provincial Grand Master for Middlesex, said, ‘What better cause can there be than to make a difference to a young life that might otherwise have been deprived of opportunities?’ The Province raised more than £4 million in its 2009 Festival for the RMBI. All donations are being received via the Relief Chest.

To support the appeal, visit www.the2020festival.co.uk 

Published in RMTGB
Saturday, 07 March 2015 00:00

Thanks for the memories

A life in stories

Whether it’s memories of D-Day landings or receiving a slice of the Queen’s wedding cake, telling life stories can both reassure care home residents and help personalise the type of support they receive. Imogen Beecroft reports

Tuesday, 6 June 1944 was Doris Taylor’s day off. She was taking a break from the Women’s Royal Naval Service but had been called in to help re-kit survivors who had not reached the shores of France during the D-Day landings. ‘You don’t say no when you’re asked to help,’ she remarks.

Doris recalls being asked to tie a tiddly bow on the side of a cap band by a soldier: ‘I said I wasn’t very good at it, but he said he’d talk me through it. So, with his instruction, I did.’ 

When Doris went to put the soldier’s cap on, she noticed that his hands were red-raw and bleeding. ‘I said he needed to get that seen to, but he told me not to say anything. He’d been waiting to be taken on board the rescue boat, and the only things he could hold on to were wires. He’d been in the sea for hours, waiting, and they’d cut right through his hands. That day has remained with me all my life. I can still see those men. I can still hear them. I’ve never forgotten it.’

This is the story Doris chose to share with her fellow residents at the RMBI care home Prince Edward Duke of Kent Court in Essex on National Tell a Story Day, 27 October 2014. Residents from all the RMBI care homes told stories of key moments in their lives that day, which the RMBI then collated into a book and distributed among care home staff, residents and their families. 

The day was part of a wider RMBI initiative centred on life story work. Debra Keeling, Deputy Director of Care Operations at the RMBI, explains this process: ‘Life story work involves a biographical approach, which gives people the opportunity to talk about their life experiences. It involves recording relevant aspects of a person’s past and present life with the aim of using this life story to benefit them in their present situation.’

Big or small, pivotal or trivial, these memories help bring elderly people out of themselves, bonding with other residents and carers as they share their stories. 

With more than 820,000 people in the UK diagnosed with dementia, the RMBI estimates that 650 of its residents have the condition. Life story work can be particularly beneficial for those with dementia as it promotes individualised care and builds relationships between staff and residents. 

‘The potential benefits of life story work as an intervention for people with dementia and their families have been recognised for some time,’ explains Debra. ‘Medical and social research is continually evolving in the field of dementia, and the adoption of new best practices is a fundamental philosophy of the RMBI. A key objective in dementia care is to reduce the use of anti-psychotic medication, replacing it with activities and environments that both reduce potentially threatening situations and create a reassuring ambience.’

‘A key objective in dementia care is to reduce the use of medication, replacing it with activities and environments that create a reassuring ambience.’ Debra Keeling

New chapters

Becky Timms, Business Administrator at RMBI care home Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court in Mid Glamorgan, has been at the forefront of life story work, and has seen some significant transformations among her residents. ‘One lady in particular used to be part of a drama group for elderly people. Since her husband passed away she hasn’t been able to go to it, but she took a lead role in the storytelling programme and has done lots of different readings. She’s really come into her own and you can see the confidence in her storytelling improve over the weeks.’

For Becky’s team, National Tell a Story Day was the culmination of more than a year’s life story work. They had been running successful fortnightly storytelling sessions, at which a member of staff or visitor read the residents a story. The effect on some of the residents was overwhelming: ‘Our carers were very surprised how well our dementia residents responded to the storytelling and the kind of conversations it stimulated afterwards.’ 

Some of the residents at Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court have such severe dementia that they cannot perform daily life tasks. ‘But then a poem will be spoken and they’ll mouth along to the words because they remember them,’ says Becky. ‘The memory is there because it’s something they learnt so long ago. Hopefully, for those couple of minutes they can just enjoy themselves, and enjoy taking part.’ 

In life story work, residents’ recollections can range from historic occasions to something from their youth. John Wadia, who was an RAF flight engineer, flew US President Franklin D Roosevelt on several occasions. John recalls, ‘He was down to earth and a very nice person.’

One of the most popular stories to come out of this initiative was that of Alan Baker, who set up a Father Christmas call line for charity. Parents would give a donation to charity, and then either Alan or one of his friends would ring their children at an appointed time, pretending to be Father Christmas:

I spoke to Emma and she wanted new dolls. At the other end she said, ‘Would you like to speak to Fiona?’

I said, ‘Yes, if she wants to speak to me.’ So then Fiona came on the phone. 

I said, ‘Where would you like me to leave your presents?’

She said, ‘If you leave me some surprises at the end of my bed that would be lovely.’

I said, ‘Do you clean your teeth twice a day?’

She said, ‘Yes.’

I said, ‘Do you wash your hands after you’ve been to the toilet?’

She said, ‘Yes.’ And then she said, ‘By the way, I’m nineteen and I’m the babysitter.’

Complementary care

Life story work is just one of many initiatives run by the RMBI to help those with dementia. Another is building sensory gardens, and Debra says, ‘We try to recreate spaces where people with dementia are able to experience a high level of wellbeing and independence while still feeling safe. The RMBI has created small domestic-style gardens where people with dementia can enjoy many different sensory experiences, as well as having a quiet place to sit and enjoy the garden.’

The RMBI has opened a number of dementia support units in its homes. Given the success of National Tell a Story Day and the life story work in general, it’s no surprise that the charity is also planning to maintain the initiative. 

Becky’s storytelling sessions will continue, and she hopes to receive funding to print a monthly leaflet with a changing selection of poems and readings. ‘These would be distributed to residents, but also available in reception for visitors to pick up and read to them.’

Audrey Brown, Activities Coordinator at Prince Edward Duke of Kent Court, says, ‘I want to do our own little booklet. Having seen the success of the last one, I think it would be really nice to make a booklet of experiences from our own residents, so they can read each other’s stories.’

Doris is already looking forward to telling more of her stories. ‘I’ve got lots,’ she laughs, ‘but some I couldn’t put into print!’

‘Big or small, pivotal or trivial, these memories help bring elderly people out of themselves, bonding with other residents and carers.’

Storytelling

JULIUS PACHTER, ninety-six, reflected on life as a Jew in Nazi Germany, and told the story of his escape. ‘The only way I could escape was by speaking German, raising my arm and saying “Heil Hitler”.’

BERYL HUME, ninety-three, remembered receiving a slice of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s wedding cake as a thanks to her husband who was a Guard of Honour at the ceremony. ‘I have not had a taste and would have never dreamed of it! I have kept the cake safe for all these years; it is very special to me.’

MARGARET HASELL GOULDBOURN, ninety-six, shared her experiences as a volunteer for the Merchant Navy, writing letters to the loved ones of merchant seamen. ‘I think the voluntary work during the war kept the country going and kept everyone’s morale up. Everyone felt they wanted to do their duty, me included.’

Published in RMBI
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