Open sesame

We live in a technology-driven society that takes instant access and interaction with the rest of the world for granted. Tabby Kinder finds out how the RMBI is helping the older generation cross the digital divide

Late one morning in a sleepy cul-de-sac in Chislehurst, the residents of the RMBI Prince George Duke of Kent Court care home relax in armchairs and sip from mugs of tea. It seems a typical state of affairs that you might find in any UK care home – until you see that the residents are also selecting their favourite songs from a touch-screen computer. 

The new Dementia Life computer provides interactive games and entertainment, with photos, TV shows, music and film clips from the 1930s onwards. The touch-screen device is just one of a collection of digital machines installed in all RMBI care homes this year to help get elderly residents interacting with new technologies. 

Research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that the number of people over the age of sixty-five using the internet is on the up. And with more older people getting used to new technologies, the RMBI is welcoming the opportunity to make sure its care home residents are seeing both the social and mental benefits of using computers.

‘Some of the residents are scared of the computer at first because they’ve never used one before,’ says Sue Goodrich, Activity Coordinator at the Prince George care home. ‘It’s a generational thing. But when I show them how to play their favourite song or look up photos of the place they grew up in, suddenly they’re fascinated.’

A paper presented at the International Conference for Universal Design claimed that using a computer can help older people live a fuller life, as it allows them to engage, communicate and create. Scientific journal Plos One suggests that using a computer, smartphone or tablet and regularly using the internet can even decrease the risk of cognitive impairments such as dementia.

While technology has revolutionised communication, entertainment and shopping, until recently it has remained almost exclusively the preserve of the young. In the UK, while ninety-nine per cent of adults aged sixteen to twenty-four have used the internet, according to the ONS, just thirty-three per cent of people over seventy-five have ever spent time online. 

But computer use by the older generation is growing and the benefits of online access for older people are being recognised as a necessity, rather than a luxury. 

The RMBI offers computer facilities and informal support with IT tasks at all of its care homes in England and Wales, often accompanied by scanners, projection screens, games consoles, and enlarged keyboards and computer mice for improved accessibility. In addition, a few homes are now leading the way with the launch of regular IT training sessions and internet cafes.

Every week, Diane Vowles, a volunteer from Age UK, gathers up a folder of printouts and heads to the Chislehurst care home where she holds workshops to demonstrate the use of personal computers (PCs) using the Dementia Life machine and a shared PC in the home’s dedicated computer room. ‘The residents who are interested surf the net with me and enjoy researching and investigating various subjects. We chat about our personal histories and experiences while searching for images and information on the web.’ 

‘Some residents can be a bit resistant to new technology but others are relishing it. The ones who get into it are amazed by what they can do.’ Diane Vowles

Vowles’s workshops are part of a national campaign by Age UK to promote digital inclusion among elderly people. ‘Some residents can be a bit resistant to new technology but others are relishing it,’ Vowles says. ‘The ones who get into it are amazed by what they can do.’

One such resident is David Giles, a ninety-one-year-old former lodge Secretary of St Mary’s, Gillingham Green Lodge, No. 6499, and Rainham Lodge, No. 3079, at which he is now an honorary member. ‘When I first met David he was one of the only residents here to have his own computer,’ says Vowles. ‘It was filled with a lifetime of documents – minutes from lodge meetings, agendas, letters, banking – plus he had begun putting together his father’s memoirs.’ Vowles and David now sit down together twice a week at David’s computer and type up pages of memories from his father’s life spent in the steam, seaplane and tractor industries. 

‘Hopefully it will make an interesting book for the enthusiasts,’ David says. Although using the computer is a challenge in his advanced years, David puts his ease around the technology down to his daughter and his career spent working as an engineer in the aircraft industry. ‘I started using computers in the 1970s and then I started to get better at using them when my daughter Mary was doing an Open University degree.’

At Prince George, other residents are beginning to follow David’s lead and some have brought their own computers to use in their rooms. ‘One resident wanted to be able to look online to see if she had won on the Premium Bonds and to see where the larger winners lived,’ says Vowles. ‘Another wanted to see images of his previously owned, now vintage, cars and motorcycles. We even checked if an old Birmingham Small Arms Company motorbike was still in circulation – it was!’ 

Google Earth and Skype software, which allows residents to communicate with relatives around the world, are also proving popular. ‘One resident was able to look up the new home of her daughter in Perth, Australia – the swimming pool was a big surprise,’ laughs Vowles. ‘One former resident used his PC extensively to keep in contact with his wide circle of friends via email and Skype. He had led a very interesting life and I learned a great deal from him, all about his career in everything from wartime flight navigation to optical lenses.’

Susan Barnes, eighty, has been a resident of RMBI Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court in Mid Glamorgan for ten months and uses the library computer for sending emails, writing letters and research. ‘When I first arrived here I was quite lonely and missed my bungalow,’ she says. ‘The computer provided a welcome distraction and allowed me to keep in touch with friends and family. I now have my own laptop and internet in my room. I’m delighted to have learned a new skill and all the staff are great if I have a problem doing something on the laptop.’ 

‘It’s essential that older people are supported to learn and access the internet if they want to,’ says Charles Knowles, who has been a resident at James Terry Court in Croydon for almost two years. Charles uses a digital camera to send photos of him and his friends during outings to his family, uses the internet to read and listen to the news, and will soon be installing a webcam so he can see his grandchildren. ‘The internet can take you back down memory lane as well as let you see new places and meet new people. It can also make managing day-to-day tasks much easier.’

‘When I show [residents] how to play their favourite song or look up photos of the place they grew up in, suddenly they’re fascinated.’ Sue Goodrich

A new computer cafe, currently in planning stage at the home, will encourage more residents to get online. ‘We are very lucky here at James Terry Court to have access to computers and the internet whenever we like and to have helpful staff around every day who can help with computing tasks,’ adds Charles.

‘It’s all about independence,’ says Rosie Bower, Marketing Manager for the RMBI. ‘We’re committed to offering person-centred care across all of our care homes, allowing our residents to remain in control of their own lives, long after they have moved into one of our homes. Internet and computer access is integral to maintaining a person’s independence in the modern world. The more external interaction our residents have, the more able they are to keep making their own choices.’

Published in RMBI

The Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, has opened the RMBI’s fully refurbished, state-of-the-art care home at James Terry Court in Croydon

Also at the ceremony were the Mayor, Cllr Yvette Hopley, residents of the home, and guests and volunteers from the masonic community.

The Duke toured the home, joined by Surrey Provincial Grand Master Eric Stuart-Bamford and Deputy PGM Derek Barr. Also present were RMBI President James Newman, former President Willie Shackell, who presided during the rebuild, and Chief Executive David Innes. 

Following the £10 million refurbishment, James Terry Court can now house 76 residents and has 13 apartments for independent living. Surrey masons have generously supported the redevelopment: Springfield Lodge, No. 6052, donated £75,000; a local ‘Buy a Brick’ campaign raised more than £25,000; and The Grand Stewards’ Lodge donated £20,000. The Association of Friends of James Terry Court also provides substantial support each year. 

Published in RMBI

Fun and games at Cadogan Court

Elderly masons and their dependants residing at RMBI care home Cadogan Court in Exeter were joined by Exeter University staff for a 1950s themed fun day. Every year, the university looks for local community projects that may benefit from support, and university staff then volunteer their time for a Community Challenge day.  

Exeter University has teamed up with Cadogan Court in the past to help with gardening and DIY tasks, so the home was delighted to be the focus for its Community Challenge.

The 1950s theme was ‘games from years gone by’, and included activities such as Hoopla, Hook-a-Duck and Roll-a-Penny. The day was filled with classic 1950s songs and memorabilia. Local mason John Hooper from Lodge of Semper Fidelis, No. 529, Worcester, brought in his 1951 Ford Pilot, while residents, relatives and staff dressed up in their best 1950s garb to compete for the ‘best dressed’ prize.

Published in RMBI

Care home celebrates two special birthdays

In September, an RMBI care home in Mid Glamorgan celebrated its fortieth anniversary and the one-hundredth birthday of resident Lina Joshua.

To mark the anniversary, Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court care home and its Association of Friends planned a weekend of parties and activities. Lina’s birthday in September means she has joined a growing number of centenarians in RMBI care homes. 

Mayor of Porthcawl, Cllr Michael Clarke, spent the day at the home and read Lina’s birthday cards to her, and the Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court choir entertained residents and guests. Later, residents enjoyed an afternoon tea dance with music from the Jeff Guppy Band. Residents and staff took turns around the dance floor and the home’s choirmaster brought everyone together for a singalong.

A joyful occasion

In the evening, a gala dinner was held in honour of the anniversary, attended by the new Provincial Grand Master of South Wales, Gareth Jones. RMBI Chief Executive David Innes and his wife Annemarie; Deputy President Chris Caine; and trustee Dr John Reuther and his wife Maggie also attended. The dinner raised more than £1,000 and the RMBI is grateful to all those who supported the event. Phil Dando and his band provided the entertainment for the evening.

Father Dowland Owen held a special church service the following day. Residents and many of the home’s supporters enjoyed a lunch followed by a performance by the Garw Valley Male Voice Choir, organised by the Association of Friends of Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court. 

The care home was purpose-built in 1973 and refurbished in 2000. 

Set in landscaped grounds, it caters for seventy-two residents, providing residential, nursing and dementia care. 

Published in RMBI

Recipes and Reminiscences

The RMBI is delighted to announce a special promotion of its unique recipe book, Recipes and Reminiscences.

In time for the festive season, the RMBI has published a limited-edition Christmas recipe card to complement its Recipes and Reminiscences cookbook launched earlier this year. In addition, an online payment facility has been introduced, enabling customers to purchase the book quickly and easily via the website. 

Created from recipes contributed by residents, staff and their families at RMBI care homes, Recipes and Reminiscences explores how food is linked to memory and can bring people together through shared history and experiences. Spanning the 1940s to the present day, it provides a fascinating insight into the way food has changed in Britain over the decades. Published in hardback with a foreword by Mary Berry, food writer and co-presenter of the BBC’s The Great British Bake Off, the book features fifty much-loved recipes alongside beautiful illustrations and nostalgic photographs.

All proceeds from the book will go to the RMBI care homes’ Amenity Funds, to pay for activities and events for RMBI residents.

Christmas offer

Recipes and Reminiscences costs £12.50, which includes postage and packaging and a limited-edition Christmas recipe card. Buy online at www.rmbi.org.uk, call 020 7596 2400 and pay with debit or credit card, visit your nearest RMBI care home, or send a cheque (made payable to RMBI) with a completed order form to: Recipes & Reminiscences, RMBI, 60 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5AZ

Published in RMBI

In the space of one week the Provincial Grand Almoner has staged two key events in the Province of West Lancashire

The first was the annual care dinner in Leyland where the guest speaker Col Sylvia Quayle OBE spoke about the work of SAFFA. The second was a presentation made at Poulton le Sands Lodge No. 1051 by James France of The Freemasons' Grand Charity, which clearly demonstrated to the almoners and brethren present the far-reaching and important work undertaken by the central masonic charities, and the Grand Charity in particular.

The Freemasons' Grand Charity is, of course, one of the four central charities which also includes the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution and the Masonic Samaritan Fund.

However, the Grand Charity is specifically a grant-making organisation which was created to be a focus for non-masonic grants. It also helps Freemasons and their families who are in a difficult financial situation, and other masonic charities in times of need. In the 30 years of its existence the Grand Charity has made grants totalling well over £117,000,000.

During 2013 alone almost 2,000 people were assisted by the Grand Charity with approved Masonic Relief Grants totalling £3,700,000.

James detailed two cases where help had been given and which showed the absolutely crucial role played by almoners in visiting brethren and dependants or widows, and gently establishing their circumstances to assess need.

In making non-masonic grants the charity seeks to make a significant difference to people in real need by supporting issues that Freemasons and their families are concerned about. They do this by supporting projects that achieve a long-term impact in the community.

During 2012, £2,500,000 million was donated to charities across England and Wales. One of the specific criteria for the making of a grant is that the application is from a nationwide charity. Charities that serve only a local area are not eligible for support from the Freemasons' Grand Charity and are advised to seek funding from local or Provincial sources, thus emphasising the importance of continuing to support to the full the West Lancashire Freemasons' Charity.

The kind of support given by the Freemasons' Grand Charity to non-masonic causes includes: medical research, including treatment for Multiple Sclerosis and Cancer Research; help and support for vulnerable people; funding to provide youth opportunities; and hospices.

Each year grants are available to all hospice services in England and Wales that receive less than 60% of their income from the NHS.

Air Ambulances: last year marked over £1,000,000 in total donations for Air Ambulance services given by the Freemasons' Grand Charity.

Emergency grants for disaster relief: the Grand Charity also seeks to respond when disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and flooding occur throughout the world.

However, whilst there is no doubt that support for non-masonic causes is extremely important, the 'bread and butter' of the grant-giving arm of the Grand Charity is that of Masonic Relief Grants.

From the perspective of Freemasons in West Lancashire such Masonic grants over the last 12 months have totalled 166 amounting to £347,910. Expanded over the last full five years this figure increases to 1145 grants and a total amount of £2,324,793!

 

Spa Lodge No. 7609 entered the world of fashion on Saturday 19th October when it organised a fashion show in conjunction with Beales department stores

Two one-hour shows were performed with a local Stray FM radio DJ giving the commentary on each of the 35 outfits modelled. Six models were drawn from the brethren’s wives, partners and friends, with one brother being persuaded to ‘strut his stuff’.

The change of clothes was a logistical problem with hair being reset between each, except for the brother who was sporting a zero style!

The shows were held at the Harrogate Masonic Hall in the main temple which added to the occasion in providing a backdrop which few of the audience had seen before.

Beales offered light refreshments, a discount voucher and personal shopping appointments in store after the event.

The lodge is pleased to report a profit of £700 which will be donated to the 2017 Festival in support of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution.

Quarterly Communication
11 September 2013
An address by VW Bro Chris Caine, PGSwdB, Deputy President of the RMBI

VW Bro Caine commenced by thanking the MW Pro Grand Master for the opportunity to provide a relatively short, but comprehensive presentation on the important, topical and at times emotive subject, ‘Understanding Dementia’.

He went on to say that during the next eighteen minutes he would provide a detailed explanation of dementia and its two most common forms: Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, then moving on to explain, from a personal perspective, how the RMBI, one of the four central masonic charities based in Freemasons’ Hall, and of which he is privileged to be Deputy President, is providing high quality care for RMBI residents with dementia.

In so doing, he would explain the importance of colours, fabrics, pictures and photographs as well as providing examples of signs, a memory box and a detailed explanation of how to address people living with a dementia, the use of precise narrative and the care needed when considering the use of mirrors.

VW Bro Caine explained that dementia is a word used to describe a group of symptoms including memory loss, confusion, mood changes, and difficulty with day-to-day tasks. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease which affects around 62 per cent of those who suffer from dementia. With Alzheimer’s disease, two abnormal proteins build up in the brain forming plaques or tangles usually first seen in the part of the brain responsible for making new memories. The second most common form of dementia is vascular dementia which affects around 20 per cent of those with a dementia. Vascular dementia reduces the blood flow to the brain often damaging those parts of the brain important to attention, memory and language.

Although the above could sound terribly frightening, VW Bro Caine assured all present that from the perspective of the RMBI the prospect of living with dementia needn’t be frightening as by the careful training of staff and use of fixtures, fittings, furnishings, colours and other specifics, life can be quite comfortable. All 17 RMBI homes throughout England and Wales are registered for dementia care with 12 having specialist Dementia Support Units.

He explained exactly the purpose of a Dementia Support Unit. Some RMBI residents who live in a Dementia Support Unit are so confused by their dementia that were they not to be cared for in a keypad controlled environment, they could well enter areas where there is a greater danger of harming themselves or others. The units have been especially developed to provide comfortable and intimate living environment for a small group of people who are generally at the same stage of their illness.

However, it’s not necessary for everyone with a dementia to live in a Dementia Support Unit. VW Bro Caine explained about the RMBI home in South Wales, Porthcawl, which was built in 1973; when it was built the average age of new admissions was 64 and every perspective resident had to provide a Certificate of Ambulance, signed by their GP to prove that they could walk unaided to and from the dining room three times each day.

In that relatively short time – only 40 years – the average age of new admissions to RMBI homes is now approaching 90. With two out of three people within that age group living with some form of memory loss leading to dementia it’s essential that the RMBI reflects the need of Craft. 

As previously advised, he suggested that the careful use of colours, signs and pictures can greatly assist normal life and a fine example is the Davies Wing at Shannon Court, Hindhead in Surrey. VW Bro Caine explained that in 30 years’ time he would be 90 and if he’d developed a dementia could move into an RMBI home and would quite like it to be Shannon Court where he might live on the Davies Wing.

On the Davies Wing there is a single-colour carpet with the warp all in one direction. If the carpet were to be joined and the warp to be at right angles to that which is normal, residents with a dementia may perceive the join to be a step and become confused by it. VW Bro Caine mentioned another care home provider that had a beautiful new floral display carpet in their main lounge. Sadly, some residents were attempting to pick the flowers seen on the carpet and therefore would not go near the beautiful lily pond in the centre of the room.

Looking ahead 30 years, on the Davies Wing there are hand rails down the corridor to assist with ambulance because many residents are already very frail when they move to an RMBI home. The hand rail would be extended over a utility door such as a laundry or a sluice room, to ensure that it couldn’t be confused with a resident’s room. VW Bro Caine then went on to provide examples of what had been done in relation to recognising particular rooms and showed an example of the sign for a bathroom suite. 

In pre-refurbished RMBI Homes a bathroom may have had a sapele door with B1 or B2 on it which is not meaningful to somebody living with a dementia, but the sign he displayed, clearly showing the narrative ‘bathroom’ and a coloured picture of a bath full of water is much easier to understand. He asked all present to note the particular shade of blue behind the black narrative, which is cyan and it’s one of a small group of primary colours – magenta, cyan and yellow – which following extensive research at Sheffield University has been proven to be most easily recognised by those even with acute dementia. See above.

In RMBI homes there is often a large dining room with smaller dining rooms for use by smaller groups of residents. Previous to refurbishment the dining room might say D1 or D2, which is not meaningful to somebody living with a dementia, but the sign he displayed quite clearly showed a plate of food, a knife and fork and the clear narrative ‘dining room’ which would ensure that there would be no misunderstanding that that is indeed the dining room. Also see above.

VW Bro Caine explained that he had spoken to Professor Clive Ballard concerning life expectancy following diagnosis of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease and that he also spoke of the importance of the careful use of signs and memory boxes.

He went on to suggest that were he to be living on the Davies Wing and was making his way down the single-coloured carpet, holding onto the hand rail over the sluice room door he would come to his front door. At the moment he lived at 15 Roseacre Close in Emerson Park near Hornchurch and his house has a white front door with number 15 on it. If he were to remember that when he moved into the Davies Wing in Shannon Court he could have a white front door with the number 15 on it to assist him. To further assist, and many residents have these, he would have a memory box outside his room.

Prior to showing his own example of a memory box, VW Bro Caine asked that viewers consider what they might have in their own memory box. It should contain intrinsically personal items to help one remember that one is approaching one’s own room and that when walking along the Davies Wing he would come to his white front door and at eye level would be the memory box displayed, a twelve by twelve glassless casement frame with intrinsically personal items belonging to Chris Caine – above.

He explained in detail, the number plate was purchased by him in 1995 from the DVLA and has never belonged to anyone else before Chris Caine. Significantly, again, the colour yellow with black numeral and letters on there. Above that was a photograph of a couple of his cars and being privileged to be a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards in the City of London, there was a depiction of the two jokers from the Livery. In the top corner was a picture of his late wife, Joy, who sadly died 16 years ago. He hoped that he would never ever forget her and the picture showed Chris and Joy at their first Ladies night when he was President. Next to that was the double-headed eagle of the compliment slip of the St John Group of the Rose Croix Chapters in London where he’s privileged to be Group Recorder to the Inspector General, Very Illustrious Brother Graham Redman.

VW Bro Caine explained that these were intrinsically personal items to Chris Caine, which would assist him when he walked along the Davies Wing corridor and came to his white front door his memory box would be at eye level so there could be no confusion that he had reached his own room. Having entered his room there may well be the end of a wardrobe or a white board with other intrinsically personal photographs displayed, possibly of his son and daughter, his favourite nephew with their respective wives and husband, maybe even children with their boyfriends or girlfriends, and if they did come to visit him he hoped there would be a label with their name on because at that stage, when he’d be 90, he might not remember who they are or the names of their boyfriends or girlfriends.

VW Bro Caine also explained about age perception in many forms of dementia. Although a person may be in the 80s or 90s they may believe themselves to be in their mid-20s, say 26. He went on to say that three years ago he was faced with a very embarrassing situation when he was being shown through the newly refurbished wing at Devonshire Court in Oadby in Leicester. There the manager took him into one of the small lounges, which had been refurbished, and there was an elderly lady in her late 80s or 90s watching television. There was a 1940s style mantelpiece with a ticking clock, and she was very happy in her lounge. As he approached her she looked up at him and said “are you my dad?” 

VW Bro Caine explained that he had been embarrassed and had not known what to say, but since then, having been trained, as have all staff in RMBI homes - not just nurses and care assistants, but laundry staff, domestic cleaners, gardeners and maintenance staff – and indeed, many head office staff including our Chief Executive, myself, James Newman the President, and other Trustees have been trained in this way. He now knew how to answer the lady so as not cause any offence or further confusion. Importantly he would kneel down to be at her level and avoid any sense of condescension and hold her hand. He explained that tactility is terribly important with dementia and that some RMBI residents’ enjoy an appropriate cuddle from our staff. He should maintain eye contact with the lady and show a smiling face; although the smile may not get an obvious response, he would be signalling an attitude of friendliness towards her. Then he should say a precise form of words such as “that’s very kind of you to think of me like that, but I am just visiting today.” He would then let go of her hand, rise and move off.

By that very carefully worded statement, importantly, he hadn’t told her a lie because there will always be moments of lucidity with dementia, and it’s important not to lose the trust of somebody living with a dementia; he hadn’t been condescending because he knelt to be at her level.

VW Bro Caine explained that it may have only been a few moments to make that statement, but that lady’s attention span can be as short as a couple of minutes and were he to have gone back to the lounge, five or ten minutes later, she might have asked again “are you my dad?” He advised that he had been in a situation with someone with dementia in his car on a car journey and within an hour, she had asked thirty times “where are we going?” and that every time he answered the question it was important that he did so with a freshness as if it were the first time he’d heard the question.

As Chris Caine had explained earlier, some dementia affects part of the brain which creates new memories and she wouldn’t remember that she had just asked him the question. He suggested that it may well be that those to whom he was speaking had had dealings with people with dementia and been asked “when am I going home?” and that instead of saying, “you are at home mum, you now live here,” one should say “can we talk about that when we’ve been out for a walk?” Or “can we chat about that when we’ve had a cup of tea?” Although prevaricating, the response would not cause any concern or alarm.

VW Bro Caine suggested that he thought it important to understand about the use of mirrors with certain forms of dementia. At the RMBI home at Stisted Hall in Essex, the Dementia Support Unit is on the ground and first floor and many residents have their own bedrooms and assisted bathroom on the first floor. They gain access to the first floor via a lift, so the carer would assist the resident into the lift and travel to the first floor. While they are in the lift they wouldn’t see a mirror because reflected to them would be an old person who is staring at them when they perceive themselves to be in their mid-20s and that can cause fear.

Assistance can also be provided in one’s home environment with the careful use of photographs and a considered choice of words can be of assistance. VW Bro Caine explained that he had given a presentation to a Lodge at Chingford in Essex some time ago and after the meeting and before the festive board the junior warden had come to him and said: “my mum has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for some time now. She visits us regularly, she used to be fine, but more recently she has become frustrated and aggressive and much to the embarrassment of my two young children she has become incontinent - her frustration has manifested itself in wetting the sofa.”

After he had heard a lot more about mum’s home environment and her background VW Bro Caine suggested that the next time he visited mum he should take copies of pictures of the Ford Consul with members of the family, the family home and garden as it was in the 50’s and place the copy pictures in frames. Some weeks later when he saw the Brother again, he suggested that he had heeded his advice and when mum visited she still sat in the same place on the sofa, but within her home environment, she had familiar pictures which made her very happy, and importantly she was no longer incontinent or frustrated.

VW Bro Caine explained that a close friend of his, Shane, whose mother is currently living in a home on the south coast of England and has a particularly challenging form of dementia, not yet diagnosed but believed to involve vascular dementia and possibly dementia with Lewy bodies because she was disillusioned. When Shane was visiting her recently he went into the lounge and said “hello mum,” and his mum said “oh, your father was in earlier.” Sadly, Shane’s dad has been dead for more than ten years, but because Shane understands how to deal with dementia he didn’t tell mum, “mum, dad has been dead ten years,” because that would have re-introduced all the unhappiness of having lost her husband and loved one from so many years. Instead, Shane simply said “Oh, I haven’t seen dad today.” He hadn’t told a lie and hadn’t caused any further confusion.

In all forms of dementia early assessment is essential as with the use of non-anti-psychotic drugs, in some cases, short-term memory loss can be reversed and the person living with dementia can continue to live with their dementia on a plateau and then have a slow deterioration rather than declining steadily and slipping away. Normally, an assessment can be arranged through one’s own GP, but if that’s difficult it’s important to remember that the very successful Freemasonry Cares helpline can channel the call to where it needs to be, possibly to one of the extended team of Care Advice Visitors from the Central Charities who could visit at home and give guidance and advice.

VW Bro Caine said that he was pleased to advise of future RMBI plans. Not only will training be extended to families and the wider Masonic groups in relation to dementia, but the RMBI is looking into day care throughout the wider Masonic community. When summing up, VW Bro Caine suggested that in the relatively short time he hoped that a true meaning of dementia had been gained, especially the two most common forms, Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, and by the examples shown he hoped that an understanding had been gained of how to deal with somebody with a dementia and how even in their own home or one’s own home a balanced environment could be achieved with the careful use of photographs.

VW Bro Caine completed his presentation by thanking the MW Pro Grand Master and Brethren for their polite attention.

Published in Speeches

Within these four walls

Every day, the RMTGB’s welfare team travel the UK to help young people achieve their potential. Tabby Kinder goes on the road with Julia Young to visit the Stiles family and discovers how the charity is changing lives

Working for a charity that supports more than two thousand children and young people in their education and extra-curricular life can be a rewarding experience, but for the small group of people who make up the Welfare Adviser team at the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB), it’s a job that comes with responsibility.

Julia, Sam, Claire, David and Kate spend each day travelling the length and breadth of the country, visiting applicants to, and beneficiaries of, the RMTGB. They assess the support needed by new applicants and maintain ongoing contact with the many families already receiving the charity’s assistance.

This close-knit team of five non-masons plays an integral role in how and when financial grants are awarded by the RMTGB, directing families to state benefits and services, offering guidance about education or careers, and sometimes simply providing a friendly face to talk to or a shoulder to cry on. The team draws upon its collective expertise, which includes counselling, cognitive therapy, bereavement assistance, teaching, social work and disability legislation.

A supportive role

Julia Young has headed up the team as welfare manager for the past twelve years and spends roughly half her time visiting new applicants and the other half providing ongoing support for beneficiary families – some of whom have been receiving help from the trust for up to a decade. ‘The ability to listen with an empathetic ear is key to doing this job,’ she says.

New applications are received almost every day from families who have experienced bereavement, poverty, debt, desertion, divorce or disability, and visits can be emotionally challenging. ‘When the initial application form comes to us it can be difficult to get the whole picture; often families are embarrassed to outline the difficulties they are having, particularly when it involves financial worries or mental health issues. By visiting the family in person we can get a whole picture of what they need, not just a piece of paper outlining facts and figures.’

For Julia, it’s all about finding the balance between sympathy and professionalism, although through the course of her work she has become very close to some cases. ‘I have met families who are at their wits’ end due to the death of one or both parents. It’s the most wonderful thing to see a child develop from being very introverted to continuing their education with our help and eventually leaving sixth form with good A levels, on their way to university. I take great pride in all the children we help. Knowing they go on to achieve and be successful is very rewarding.’

‘When the application form comes to us it can be difficult to get the whole picture; by visiting the family we can see what they need, not just a piece of paper outlining facts and figures.’ Julia Young

The road to success

Les Hutchinson, chief executive of the RMTGB, says that the work of Julia and her team is vital. ‘The speed at which the team can visit families, giving them time and support when they’re at their lowest ebb, is very valuable to our primary purpose, which is to provide support for the children and grandchildren of deceased or distressed Freemasons,’ Les says. ‘Our job is to do what we can to minimise the impact of poverty on the child and make sure that neither their education nor their opportunities are compromised.’

The Stiles family is just one of the many supported by the RMTGB and today Julia has made the two-and-a-half hour drive to Christchurch from her home in Haywards Heath to check in on Pauline Stiles and her three children: Harriet, eighteen, Charles, twenty-one, and Georgia, twenty-three.

‘The RMTGB has changed my children’s lives, their futures and given them opportunities to grow. It has lifted a huge burden, both emotionally and financially.’ Pauline Stiles

When Pauline first approached the RMTGB in 2009 she was facing separation, the collapse of the family business, a son on his way to university, one daughter wishing to further her talent by attending a specialist basketball school, and another with severe disabilities that meant she needed round-the-clock care. Pauline’s mental health was deteriorating and she moved out of the family home with her children, relocating to the south coast.

‘We had a very intense life running a busy family business and looking after Georgia, who has special needs, and then things started to go wrong,’ she says. ‘When we moved out of our old home, Charles had just finished his A levels, and none of us knew what was going to happen. It was a very difficult situation. We had lost absolutely everything.’

The Stiles family has a historical relationship with the Freemasons; Pauline’s husband, brother-in-law and grandfather are all masons, and the Craft has always surrounded family life. ‘Before all our troubles started my husband would raise money for the school for autistic pupils that Georgia was attending in Southampton through his masonic lodge in Basingstoke,’ she says. ‘We were very involved in the fundraising side of it, encouraging the kids to collect twenty-pence pieces in Smarties tubes, and I’d attend the Ladies Day events. I never imagined that one day we would be on the receiving end. We never thought we’d be where we are.’

Financial support from the RMTGB has helped each of the children through a tumultuous and pivotal few years. Georgia returns from her full-time school for sixteen weeks of the year, and a holiday grant has meant that she, her sister and mum have been able to visit a respite camp for young people with disabilities on the Isle of Wight for a few nights each summer.

‘Despite her autism, Georgia loves going out and seeing new people and sights, so even just travelling on the boat was a huge experience for her,’ says Pauline. ‘Being able to take Harriet too meant that she could help me with Georgia, but she was also out there in the garden playing badminton with the other young people, teaching them how to play different games.’ Georgia is now finishing full-time education and has moved into her own accommodation, where she receives twenty-four-hour care assistance through government funding.

New futures

Harriet had a hard time in school, repeatedly held back due to severe dyslexia that went undiagnosed throughout most of her school life, putting her passion for playing basketball professionally on hold for a number of years and leaving her with low self-esteem. The RMTGB’s grant has allowed Harriet to complete her college education, and she has played basketball with the England team in games all over Europe. Harriet now plans to return to college in September to qualify as a personal trainer in order to work as a sports coach for people with learning disabilities. ‘I don’t know where I would be without their support. I definitely wouldn’t be at college now,’ says Harriet.

The scholarship grant has helped Charles attend Cardiff Metropolitan University, where he studies sports management. ‘I was working in Australia for a year when all the trouble started,’ he says. ‘I came back to the UK and everything had changed, my mum had moved away from where I had grown up and it was a difficult time for all of us. I wanted to go to university but it wasn’t feasible due to our money problems, and a student loan can only cover so much,’ he says. ‘The grant has made things a lot more simple and comfortable, and now I can enjoy the side of university that everyone else gets involved in instead of constantly worrying about whether I can afford to eat or pay my rent.’

The charitable support has helped lift the burden on Pauline, who worried that her personal problems were negatively affecting the lives of her children: ‘I’ve found the last few years very hard,’ she says, ‘but I would have found it immensely more difficult if I knew I was letting down my children as well, or denying them the opportunity to do what they want to do.’

Now the pressure has been eased, Pauline has been able to develop the confidence to get back into the workplace, volunteering at a charity called Crumbs three days a week – and she has recently been offered a full-time position. ‘The RMTGB has made things possible for the children that would have been totally impossible without their help. It has changed their lives, their futures and given them opportunities to grow. It has lifted a huge burden, both emotionally and financially, and thanks to that my children have grown into wonderful young people.’

Wider support

The four masonic charities are undergoing a period of realignment to make the services they provide more effective. The changes will enable the charities to offer easily accessible and comprehensive support to Freemasons and their families countrywide.

One aspect of this process is the increasing co-ordination between the work of the Welfare Adviser team of the RMTGB with its counterpart Care Advice team at the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution.

Through this closer co-operation, the central masonic charities will be able to provide complete cradle-to-grave support, offering the same level of professional advice and help whether the applicant is a child, an elderly person, or a sick person. Les Hutchinson, RMTGB chief executive, says that ‘by minimising the differences between the charities, we are making our support as simple and easy as possible to access for those that need our help’.

Published in RMTGB

Help when it's needed

While harder to quantify than fundraising, pastoral care is an integral part of Freemasonry. Caitlin Davies finds out about the compassionate support that masons are giving to fellow members and their families around the UK

'The phrase “pastoral support” gets used a lot,' says Mark Smith, Provincial Grand Almoner for Gloucestershire, ‘because it’s our duty. There’s a perception that Freemasonry is an inward-looking organisation – it’s not, it’s outward looking and founded on the principles of charity and benevolence. There’s the ritualistic aspect and the social side, but at its core it’s about helping those less fortunate than ourselves.’

Mark co-ordinates eighty Freemasons in Gloucestershire who ‘keep a caring eye’ on lodge widows, assist the elderly through times of illness, and look out for bereaved children and grandchildren. ‘What they need is someone to talk to, care and guidance,’ he says. ‘I might not have all the answers, but I know people who do.’

Central to pastoral care is the masonic network; if someone dies then ‘others will know the family’s circumstances, approach us and we ask if help is needed’. And do people say yes? ‘Undoubtedly they do. Just to have someone to chat to can be a great sense of relief, because there can be a huge amount of anxiety,’ says Mark.

A common source of anxiety is state benefits. The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution has a specialist advice team, providing free guidance on benefits and issues like care homes. ‘But older people can be confused and frightened about the system,’ explains Mark. ‘My experience is that it’s increasingly difficult to actually speak to somebody about benefits – you make calls, you get put on hold, you get told to speak to someone else and so on.’

Mark points to pension credit as a good example. ‘I have experience with my own father, I’m tenacious and I will get there in the end but I can see why someone older feels it’s not worth it and doesn’t bother to claim. People don’t know what they’re entitled to, and some have limited income.’

Yet unlike fundraising – for both masonic and non-masonic charities – it’s harder to measure the pastoral support that goes on. In Gloucestershire, the Provincial Grand Master set a fundraising target of £1 million in five years. In February this year the Province reached £1.6 million and recently gave £14,000 to seven local charities. Grants are measured, statistics are produced, but there is no means of quantifying community support and so the wider membership has little idea of the work that goes on.

Added to the lack of data is the sensitive nature of pastoral care. ‘Most people are too proud to let anyone know about the support they’ve received,’ explains Mark. ‘And the confidentiality of the job means their stories are often not told, especially if it’s financial help. They are too embarrassed to put their hand up and say, “I’ve received support.” There are misconceptions about Freemasonry and misconceptions within Freemasonry, so it’s sometimes difficult to share the positive stories.’

Support network

But Teresa Mills Davenport, from Newcastle upon Tyne, is happy to bear testament to how the masons helped her during a time of grief. One Saturday morning in the summer of 2010, her husband Rob set off on a bike ride. Teresa went about her normal business, taking care of her twenty-seven-year-old son Michael, who has severe learning disabilities, autism and epilepsy, and eleven-year-old Bobby.

An hour and a half later, there was a knock on the door. She opened it to find two policemen. When one said, ‘Teresa?’ she instantly knew what had happened. Rob, her husband of nearly twenty-one years, had been killed on his bike. Over the coming days she was full of despair, afraid of the future and how she would take care of her sons. But, she says, ‘I’m a strong believer and every night I talked to Jesus.’ She also discovered another kind of help in the form of the Widows Sons, an International Masonic Motorcycle Association founded in 1998 that Rob had recently joined. ‘The day Rob joined I said, “What’s that all about then?” He said it gives help to widows and orphans of Master masons and I said, “OK then.” It’s ironic, isn’t it.’ Teresa contacted Terry Fisk, a close friend of Rob’s and a brother in his lodge, as well as two other masons, Martin Coyle and Tom Parker. ‘I turned to Rob’s brothers and they couldn’t do enough to help me. They gave me emotional and financial support. I had to claim benefits and it was all new to me. They even took us to inquests.’

A couple of months later, Teresa had an idea. She would create a road-safety awareness group for motorcyclists: Dying to Ride. Martin advised her to contact Carl Davenport, the founder of Widows Sons in America. ‘I emailed him and I thought, “Well, he’ll help – he’s a mason and I’m a widow asking for help.”’ Carl replied that he would do everything he could to promote the group. The two kept in touch and then Teresa went to visit. ‘It was like a fairytale,’ she says, and in March 2011 they got married.

Dying to Ride now has three thousand, one hundred and seventy-eight members. ‘I don’t want to see others go through this, to get that unexpected knock on the door…’ Teresa explains, her voice breaking as she struggles to compose herself. ‘What I’m doing comes from a personal point of view.’

Nothing secret

The Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB) is helping the family too, contributing money for Bobby’s school uniform and a new laptop, and paying for private respite for Michael. A financial grant also came from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, to help with the family’s living costs before Teresa remarried. ‘The Freemasons have been brilliant. People say they are a secret society. I say there is nothing secret about them at all. I always defend masons because people haven’t got a clue – I’d be lost without them. The best thing Rob ever did was to become a mason, and then a Widows Son.’

For Mark, providing help where it’s needed is all about supporting others while achieving your potential. An electrician with his own business and a young family, his role as Provincial Grand Almoner is voluntary. Mark’s motivation is the fact that he is helping people who often don’t know where to go for support. ‘We make a real difference. If Freemasonry wasn’t there, they would have nowhere else to turn,’ he says, adding, ‘Freemasonry enables people to be the best they can. It has given me the opportunity to do this job and develop my skills.’

Extra bond

Malcolm Roy Elvy, Worshipful Master of the Elizabethan Lodge, No. 7262, Hampshire and Isle of Wight, has experienced the Freemasons’ community spirit. His desire to become a mason came out of curiosity: ‘I wanted to know if there was something there for me, an extra bond.’

Malcolm was born with syndactyly, meaning the digits on his hands and feet were fused. When he was four years old his legs were amputated, and after skin grafts and surgery his hands were partially separated to give him some ability to grip. Until he was twelve he spent most of his time in Great Ormond Street Hospital, where he joined the Scouts and went abseiling, hiking and sailing.

At twenty-one Malcolm started a transport company, although becoming an HGV driver wasn’t easy. So, Malcolm’s a determined man? ‘I’ve had no option. There was a lot of discrimination towards disabled people.’

After Malcolm joined the lodge, supported by Freemason Max Preece, he says he found a new bond of friendship: ‘I don’t belong to any religious organisation and it gave me that bit extra – I suppose you would call it spiritual depth, a bond that crosses all boundaries. I’ve been given support in all manner of ways. I got a lot of help at home, people visiting, and regular phone calls. When you’re ill you have to struggle on and the Freemasons were always there.’

Published in Freemasonry Cares
Page 7 of 12

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