Essex Freemasons have approved a grant of £15,000 to the County’s Cricket Foundation to help fund a programme to develop wheelchair cricket, enabling people with a disability to take an active part in the sport
The money, donated via the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), will enable the Essex Cricket Foundation to help develop the skills of disabled cricketers, particularly children and adapt the cricketing environment for all levels of ability.
The grant will particularly cover the cost of a specialist Wheelchair Cricket Coach who will be employed to run the sessions for the project. Currently, there are between four to 10 players attending regular sessions and the aim is to get a core of 10 to 12 taking part each week and to gets sessions going at further locations in Essex.
Rodney Bass, OBE, Provincial Grand Master for Essex Freemasons, commented: ‘We have seen through the Invictus Games that wheelchair users are capable of anything which is why I am particularly delighted to have been able to make this donation on behalf of our members.
‘It will help those with disabilities to overcome obstacles that have previously prevented them taking part in the sport and I hope that wheelchair users who enjoy cricket will take advantage of this opportunity to learn the more practical skills via the Essex Cricket Foundation.’
Wheelchair cricket is a new format of the game played indoors. The game is designed to be played all year round by participants who require sport wheelchairs. Essex Cricket Foundation is now looking at venues across the County that already have these chairs to encourage as many as possible to take part.
Patrick Ward, Community Engagement Manager for Essex Cricket, added: ‘The basic equipment for wheelchair cricket includes plastic stumps, a compound rubber ball, fielding aids, cones and an adapted bat.
‘The bat is a shorter version of a standard cricket bat and the handles will be such that it will suit both one handed and two handed batsmen. The bat can also be lightweight and will reduce the degree of difficulty for the batsmen to score runs. Now that we have this Grant from Essex Freemasons it will help us expand the sport to wheelchair users and make a huge difference across the County.’
Wheelchair cricket sessions will be held at established sports centres which are fully accessible. The Foundation will seek to work in partnership with centres, when setting up sessions, to keep the costs of hiring the venues down.
The Foundation does not currently charge for sessions to avoid excluding children who might otherwise not be able to afford to take part and while that may change in the future (to cover hall hire costs) this grant will enable the Cricket Foundation to continue to offer free sessions for the foreseeable future to encourage people to try the sport.
Invictus Games Competitor and British Army veteran Ashley Hall fought back after a terrorist bomb took off both his legs and part of his left hand while on duty in Afghanistan, but even he was unprepared by the callous thieves who stole his specially adapted bike – and his route back to mobility and a more normal life
Now thanks to Essex Freemasons, Ashley, aged 28, is back in the saddle four months after thieves broke into the shed at his Colchester home, taking the bike and most importantly, the special components that enabled him to ride it.
After his story was featured in the Colchester Gazette newspaper, Rodney Bass, Provincial Grand Master for Essex, immediately offered to replace the bike; a task that took four months and the skill of experts from across Europe to fulfil.
'Raising the £8,000 to replace the bike and purchase the modifications was the easy bit,' said Rodney, who officially presented Ashley with his new machine at the St Giles Masonic Centre in Colchester on 19th October.
'We had to approach a specialist company in Austria, the only one that could build the bespoke specification needed and even they had to order and adapt a wide range of additional components to complete the job. It was a long wait but worth it to be able to get Ashley back in the saddle.
'I was particularly appalled by the fact that thieves who have probably contributed little to the community, had deprived a brave Army veteran, seriously disabled serving his country, and my members agreed. I am delighted we could help.'
For Ashley, who was serving in the Royal Engineers in 2007 as part of a bomb disposal team at the time of his injury, it is a dream come true. 'I wanted to do all the things that I had enjoyed before the incident,” he said.
'One of these was riding a bike again on just two wheels, a thing that most people take for granted. The thieves stopped that on the day they broke into my shed.'
Not that Ashley is man who is easily deterred. In 2017, he competed in the wheelchair rugby event in Prince Harry’s Invictus Games and today practices martial arts – he is a blue belt in Brazilian Jujitsu. At the time of the robbery he was in Anglesey in North Wales competing for Team Brit, a racing car event.
The Lion and Lamb Chapter No. 192 in London is supporting disabled ex–serviceman Andy Bracey as he attempts to compete on the international stage in wheelchair racing
Andy, who resides in Southend, Essex, was injured in a motorcycle accident during leave from the Army. After several unsuccessful operations on his spine, he was confined to a wheelchair and was told he would never walk again.
After enduring a bitter struggle for several years, he eventually took up wheelchair basketball. It was during here that one of his team members told him about wheelchair racing and led him to be chosen for the Invictus Games in Orlando, America, in 2016. He then went on to win two silver and two bronze medals for Great Britain.
Andy was chosen again for the Invictus Games a year later and went to Toronto, Canada, where he returned with four silver medals.
He is now looking to compete at international level for his country, which means a better class of racing, and he is preparing for trials to be held in Switzerland and Australia. To achieve his goal and compete for gold medals he needs to raise £4,000
As a result, the Lion and Lamb Chapter have donated £100 towards his cause.
‘I was hoping for three golds on the first day,’ deadpans Sean Gaffney, when asked if he was happy with the two golds, one silver and a bronze that he won in the 2016 Invictus Games, the international Paralympic-style event
During a practice run for a tournament while he was serving in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm in 1999, there was ‘a bit of an accident’ when a 1,500lb field gun ended up on top of Sean’s foot, crushing it. Since suffering that life-changing injury, in which he lost the lower part of his left leg, Sean Gaffney has pushed his body to the limits of physical endurance.
He spent three months in hospital undergoing about 26 surgeries before contracting life-threatening septicaemia and having his leg amputated below the knee. Back at the gym within a month of being released from hospital, Sean started entering triathlons and began raising money for charities such as Help for Heroes, which led to him being asked to take part in the Invictus Games.
It’s his charity work that made Sean interested in Freemasonry. ‘Since 2006 I’ve done one or two physically challenging charity events a year,’ he says. ‘So when that side of Freemasonry was explained to me, I thought that was the best thing about it.’
Sean was initiated into the Royal Naval Lodge, No. 2761, in Yeovil in 2013, and feels that Freemasonry fits well into his life. ‘I can go off to a lodge meeting or a charity meal, or say that I’ll help out a fellow brother at the weekend lifting and shifting,’ he says. ‘It’s opened up a network of friends. Being a mason is not just about being a good man today, but having the desire to be a better man tomorrow.’
What does the Tercentenary mean to you?
‘How proud I am to be part of an organisation that for 300 years has sought to bring out the best in people. To be a member of a fraternity that does so much good in the world and asks for so little in return.’
Championing the cause
Freemason Sean Gaffney has competed at the Invictus Games, runs in obstacle courses for fun and is a Petty Officer in the Royal Navy. Emilee Tombs finds out how he hasn’t let a life-changing injury break his stride
‘I was hoping for three golds on the first day,’ deadpans Sean Gaffney, when asked if he was happy with the two golds, one silver and a bronze that he won in this year’s Invictus Games. Watched by thousands all over the world in the international Paralympic-style event held in America, Sean adds, ‘I’m not exactly disappointed in myself, but if I can qualify for next year’s games I’ll put a bit more training in.’
Since suffering a life-changing injury in 1999, in which he lost the lower part of his left leg, Sean has pushed his body to the limits of physical endurance, the mere thought of which would make most of us shudder. Yet the 45-year-old is modest about his achievements and matter-of-fact about his injury.
It happened while he was serving in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, during the then-annual Field Gun competition in the Royal Tournament. The Field Gun was a superior test of strength, agility and endurance in which sailors would race to get a 1,500lb field gun and limber over a series of obstacles. It was during a practice run for the tournament that there was, in Sean’s words, ‘a bit of an accident’, during which the gun ended up on top of his foot, crushing it.
Sean spent three months in hospital undergoing about 26 surgeries before contracting life-threatening septicaemia and having his leg amputated below the knee. ‘Because we’d spent so long trying to save the foot, I knew that there was less and less chance of saving the leg. Doctors were cutting into scar tissue and my body was wearing out, so I knew that with every subsequent operation there was less chance of success.’
When Sean ended up with septicaemia, it was a simple choice: ‘The options were that they either cut my leg off or I’d be dead within two hours. So that was decision made, really.’ This no-nonsense approach was to see Sean fitted with a prosthetic and walking out of hospital without crutches within a month. He even drove himself home.
Where there’s a will...
Sean thinks that his naval training may have had something to do with his attitude. ‘Everything is supposed to run as a well-oiled military machine, but unfortunately it never does. As they say, “no plan survives contact”, which means that you should never rely on plan A because it’s never going to work – you’ve always got to have a few backups.’
Back at the gym within a month, Sean began rebuilding his strength and preparing for his Royal Navy fitness tests, but the real turning point was when his sister Kerry challenged him to a 10km run – after which the pair went ‘a bit daft’ with their challenges. Support from Kerry and his wife Fiona spurred Sean on, and he added swimming, cycling and rowing to his arsenal, started entering more events such as triathlons and began raising money for charities such as Help for Heroes, which led him to being asked to take part in the Invictus Games.
‘The Invictus Games uses the power of sport to help people to recover. It’s getting people off their behinds to show that they’ve still got the will to compete. Hopefully through participating you’ll get the comradeship that comes with it – being part of such an inspirational crowd of people can uplift you and further your recovery,’ says Sean.
‘The options were that they cut my leg off or I’d be dead within two hours.’ Sean Gaffney
It was through his charity work that Sean came to be interested in Freemasonry, after a friend and former naval colleague recommended he get involved. ‘Charity was definitely one of the best things about Freemasonry for me’, he says. ‘Since 2006 I’ve done one or two physically challenging charity events a year, so when that side of Freemasonry was explained to me I thought that was possibly the best thing about it.’
With the charitable focus combined with the camaraderie and a strong emphasis on good moral standards of conduct, Sean thought Freemasonry might be a good fit for him and applied to join. He was initiated into the Royal Naval Lodge, No. 2761, in Yeovil in 2013, quickly moving up to take on the role of Dining Steward, though most of his first couple of years have been about training for the games. ‘Make sure you thank Ed Cole,’ he pleads, citing a fellow mason who took over his duties while he was training, ‘I owe him big time.’
Scott Gibbons, Secretary of the Royal Naval Unit at which Sean is a member, speaks fondly of his colleague and friend. ‘Sean has a quiet, steely determination,’ says Scott with a chuckle. ‘I’m laughing because I don’t know anyone who would describe him as quiet. In fact, Sean is never lost for words. He’s a larger-than-life character, but in his initiation he showed a humble side, which is important in Freemasonry.’
With the fraternity creating a common bond and understanding between members, Scott notes the importance of the support network it offers to masons’ families: ‘I could tell just how much it meant to Sean to be a part of it all.’
Freemasonry fits well into Sean’s life. ‘I can go off to a lodge meeting or a charity meal or say that I’ll help out a fellow brother at the weekend lifting and shifting,’ he says. ‘It’s opened up a network of friends that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I know that five times a year we’ll all get together, have a chat and put the world to rights.’
Sean has already started his training for next year’s Invictus Games, to be held in Toronto in April. But he’s also looking forward to having more time for his masonic duties, and the celebratory dinner being held in his honour by his lodge. ‘Being a mason is not just about being a good man today,’ he says, ‘but having the desire to be a better man tomorrow.’
‘The Invictus Games uses the power of sport to help people to recover.’ Sean Gaffney