15,914 Items for the Homeless in Essex

Sunday, 18 April 2021

To raise money for charity and keep their spirits up in lockdown, St Katharine’s Lodge No 5376 held ‘Virtual Tastings’ online for gin, whisky and beer

An Assistant Provincial Grand Master (APGM) of Essex, Lee Taylor, joined the beer tasting event which raised £250, and talked about the Essex 500 Challenges explaining how the Essex Freemasons Community Fund (EFCF) gives a ‘prize’ of £500 to a registered charity or local good cause chosen by the Lodge of the winning team, or individual, for each Challenge.

Listening to the APGM was Neil Beckwith, a Freemason of only five years, who had stood down from progress towards becoming Worshipful Master to spend more time with his father following the sad loss of his mother. Wanting to stay in touch with everyone in the Lodge, Neil volunteered to be the Charity Steward when the position became vacant last November and the talk inspired him to propose the Essex 500 Shoebox Challenge which was launched, with EFCF backing, to collect items for the Homeless.

Ten Lodges took up the Challenge for local charities helping the Homeless and three Order of Women Freemasons Lodges supported third-placed Chafford Lodge, see Brotherly Love (essexfreemasons.org.uk). Neil is appreciative, saying 'I am very grateful and pleased the Lodges were spread across the Province.' There were a number of initiatives which included Brethren donating money to buy items and involvement by family and friends. Gill Beckwith, Neil’s wife, contacted Primark asking for donations, her request reached the CEO in Dublin and unexpectedly one morning a delivery of 22 boxes arrived from Primark. A total of 15,914 suitable items were collected by all the Lodges for:

- HARP, Southend’s Homeless Charity, with 11,662 items from St Katharine’s, Thorpe Bay, Southend on Sea, Universal Friendship and Castle Point Lodges.

- Hope4Havering with 3,162 items from Chafford, Haven, Orsett and Earlham Lodges, and

Hope@Trinity of Clacton and Sanctus in Chelmsford with 1,090 items from Martello Lodge.

St Katharine’s Lodge technically won the Essex 500 Shoebox Challenge with 6,267 items but decided the prize of £500 from the EFCF would be presented on behalf of all the Lodges to the nominated charity, the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI), where Brother Bill Blissett is a volunteer watchkeeper. St Katharine’s match-funded the EFCF prize to give £1,000 towards fitting out the NCI premises relocating on Canvey Island.

The Worshipful Master of runners-up Thorpe Bay Lodge, Paul Bates, summarised saying 'It was an absolutely wonderful challenge which required a lot of co-ordination and pulled the Brethren together again'. Neil also won the Southend Masonic Golf Society Captain’s Cup last June at the Rochford Hundred Golf Club. Playing golf with fellow Freemasons, raising funds to assist the NCI protect and preserve life along the Essex coastline and organising an Essex 500 Shoebox Challenge are all par for the course to the new Charity Steward with a creditable score by everyone involved of 15,914 items for the Homeless in Essex.

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