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

Care homes open their doors

A new initiative is aiming to connect care homes with their local communities, challenge misconceptions and tackle the social isolation felt by many old and vulnerable people.

RRMBI care homes participated in the first National Care Home Open Day. Organised by a group of leading care home providers and associations, it was officially supported by the Alzheimer’s Society, National Care Forum, the Department of Health, the Care Quality Commission, the Social Care Institute for Excellence and the National Association for Providers of Activities for Older People (NAPA).

RMBI care homes across England and Wales invited their local communities, residents’ friends and families, volunteers and special guests to join them for a range of activities and events. With participation from school children, community groups and other friends and supporters, RMBI homes hosted tea parties, coffee mornings, workshops and games.

Activities for all

Many RMBI homes also promoted Recipes and Reminiscences, the RMBI cookbook, by offering freshly made tasters of recipes featured in the book, such as Jubilee biscuits and fruit cake.

Connaught Court in York held a coffee morning for elderly members of the community, with entertainment from St Oswald’s Primary School. Shannon Court in Surrey offered woodland walks and talks, while residents and visitors at Prince Edward Duke of Kent Court in Essex enjoyed a cream tea in the garden. James Terry Court in Croydon celebrated Ascot with cakes and table-top horse racing.

Local MP Madeleine Moon visited Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court in Mid Glamorgan, where an art class was followed by entertainment from Welsh singer Heather Jones. Residents at Ecclesholme in Manchester and Devonshire Court in Leicester welcomed visitors who joined them for ice creams in the garden and activities such as music and poetry workshops.

Edna Petzen, assistant director of marketing, quality and compliance at RMBI, said, ‘National Care Home Open Day is a great way for residents of RMBI care homes to connect with their local communities. It’s also an opportunity to show that our homes are welcoming environments with excellent staff who ensure real quality of life for those in our care.’

Published in RMBI

Duke opens rebuilt croydon care home

HRH The Duke of Kent, Grand President of the RMBI, has opened the charity’s state-of-the-art new care home at James Terry Court, Croydon

Following more than three years of rebuilding and overcoming a variety of unique challenges, the major redevelopment of the site has resulted in a stunning home fit for the twenty-first century and beyond. It combines the attractive traditional features of the original house with first-class contemporary design and all the facilities, equipment and carefully planned spaces of a modern, purpose-built property.

The new home now boasts seventy-six spacious bed-sitting rooms with fully equipped en suite wet rooms, light and airy communal spaces – including a library, dedicated activities room, communal dining rooms and lounges – and a unique rooftop garden, accessible for all residents.

Pat Burchell, a seventy-three-year-old resident of James Terry Court, said: ‘We couldn’t imagine the new home at the beginning and it was noisy and disruptive at times, but we knew it was necessary and it has definitely been worth it – my new room with views of the street, houses and people below is perfect for me.’

Published in RMBI

The long march to Llandudno

Lest it be thought that senior masons everywhere are content to sit back and let the youngsters bear the brunt of the fund raising stunts, here is an account of the marathon trek from Shrewsbury to Llandudno in the words of Shropshire’s Deputy Provincial Grand Master Roger Pemberton, who walked the 120 or more miles in just five days

Each year on the first Saturday in June, the Friends of RMBI care home Queen Elizabeth Court at Llandudno host a summer fete to raise money for the benefit of the residents. Every seventh year, the Province of Shropshire gives North Wales a well deserved sabbatical by taking on the responsibility of arranging the day. 2013 was just such a sabbatical year and Shropshire had been well prepared.

The Shropshire Steering Committee headed by Simon Aucott, the Provincial Grand Charity Steward, employed a number of initiatives to raise money within the Province. There were competitions, raffles, donations and ticket sales... and then some bright spark suggested a sponsored walk from Shrewsbury to Llandudno.

As the crow flies it’s not that far, but via the Severn Way, Offa’s Dyke Path and the North Wales Coastal Path it turned out to be just short of one hundred and twenty miles of up, down and up again.

The walk was advertised as a five-day stroll with the Deputy Provincial Grand Master. That turned out to be something of a misstatement – it was more like a five-day yomp through rain and mist, up mountain and down dale. Seven men and three dogs left Freemasons’ Hall in Shrewsbury on the Bank Holiday Monday to walk the twenty two miles to Four Crosses, near Welshpool. There, in the pouring rain, we bid goodbye to the Provincial Grand Master who had walked the first day with us.

Day Two saw us hit the Offa’s Dyke Trail, through the hills above Oswestry to finish in a very damp Ceiriog Valley. On the third day we were fortunate to have sunshine for the first half of our walk through the beautiful Vale of Llangollen, finishing in Ruthin. The penultimate day was spent climbing the mist-shrouded Moels (Bare Hills) of the Clwydian Range and finishing at Rhuddlan.

Our final twenty miles from Rhuddlan to Queen Elizabeth Court were completed at a sprightly pace along the North Wales coastal path from Rhyl. For the last leg, with most of us on our last legs, we were joined by blind W Bro Clive Jones who walked the entire distance. W Bro John Yarwood, who started at the same time as the main party, completed the walk in just four days!

Now that very nearly all of the pledged money is in, it looks as though our walk has raised just under £6,500 towards the magnificent total of £50,000 presented to the Chairman of the Friends of Queen Elizabeth Court at a celebratory dinner at St George’s Hotel on the evening of the fete. A sizeable proportion of this was raised by Melvin Gough, a retired surveyor who, after 120 or so miles, surveyed Llandudno with relief and announced his retirement from charity hill walking!

Walkers were: Kim March, Roger Pemberton with Callie the Springer Spaniel, Mike Pemberton, Myles Pemberton with Ben the Springer Spaniel, Melvin Gough, John Yarwood and terrier. On the first day, Peter Taylor was among the group of ‘support walkers’ and on the last day, Clive Jones.

Would we do it again? Yes of course we would!

Published in RMBI

The Provincial Grand Master for Shropshire, Peter Allan Taylor, was pleased to hand over a cheque for £50,000 to the RMBI care home at Llandudno on the first day of June. This magnificent sum was the result of a year’s fund raising as well as a Fete earlier that day, and more money is confidently expected to be added to the total in the next few weeks.

The sun shone on Shropshire’s Masons, who co-operate with North Wales to support Queen Elizabeth Court. Residents of the home were able to enjoy the visit of hundreds of people to the Fete, held in their grounds, and listen to music from the Shrewsbury Brass Band. These musicians had earlier entertained people in Llandudno town centre, and the leaflets they distributed boosted the attendance still further.

Several of those present had special cause to stroll slowly among the varied stalls. A group including Roger Pemberton, Deputy Provincial Grand Master, had hiked the 106 miles from Shrewsbury to Llandudno. These intrepid walkers encountered rain (and many stiles) on their five-day journey, and contributed over £5,000 to the eventual total raised. Their progress was closely followed on Twitter (@ShropshireMason), where Roger lamented that after more than 100 miles he found he had actually put on a little weight! Organiser Kim March, Master of Salopian Lodge of Charity No. 117, finished with a smile but also with ‘blisters on blisters’.

The Provincial Grand Master was among those who walked the first leg of 17 miles in support of the main party. One mason ‘yomped’ the journey alone, and the amateur walkers who followed him were heartened to see the occasional square and compasses traced in the mud ahead of them. Two cyclists also made the trip from Shropshire to celebrate the day. The undoubted star, however, was Clive Jones, blind WM of St Mary’s Lodge No. 8373 who hiked the last leg from Rhyl to Llandudno.

The day ended with a gala dinner at Llandudno’s St George’s Hotel where a good meal was enjoyed and Shropshire’s Masons and their ladies saw Peter Taylor make a presentation which not only smashes previous records, but will undoubtedly assist the work of the RMBI in providing excellent care, including a top quality dementia unit, for the 67 residents at Queen Elizabeth Court for some time to come.

The cooking connection

From prawn cocktail to chicken tikka masala, the Recipes and Reminiscences cookbook provides an insight into UK diets over the past five decades. Anneke Hak finds that it is also connecting older citizens with people in their present

For many people living with dementia, short-term memory loss is a distressing challenge that they face on a daily basis. Imagine finding it difficult to remember what you ate for lunch, let alone what you did yesterday.

But what if you asked the same people what they liked to eat twenty or thirty years ago? The reaction might be very different. The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) has produced a cookbook called Recipes and Reminiscences, which takes a trip down memory lane to see how the food we eat has changed over the years, using recipe contributions from RMBI care home residents.

Going back in time

There are nearly eight hundred thousand people living with dementia in the UK; by the age of eighty, one in five is affected, and one in three people will have the condition by the time they die. ‘Dementia’ isn’t a definitive term, it’s a word coined to describe a collection of symptoms that affect the victim’s memory and thinking skills severely enough to reduce their ability to perform everyday activities. There isn’t currently a cure for dementia, so an effective way to connect with someone with the condition is to meet them halfway, through reminiscence work. If they are struggling with their short-term memory, many carers find it beneficial to take them back to a time that is easier to recall.

‘It’s a way of valuing what people have done and their own life history and story,’ explains Julie Heathcote, author of Memories Are Made of This. ‘You’re never going to make them better, but you can impact upon their mood and well-being. Talking about their memories boosts their self esteem and makes them feel they can contribute.’

‘It’s about building bridges to find out where there are similarities, to rediscover the importance of relationships and learn more about people,’ agrees Edna Petzen, assistant director in marketing and quality at the RMBI. ‘We find that as people age, we see them when they are frail, whether they have dementia or other complex needs. They’ve obviously lived a life before they move into our homes and we want to understand that in a way that helps us connect with them.’

The RMBI has been caring for older Freemasons and their dependants for more than one hundred and sixty years. It operates seventeen residential care homes across England and Wales and has used reminiscence activities for a number of years.

‘Reminiscence shows what people can do rather than highlighting what they can’t’ – Edna Petzen

Positive connections

From memory quilts to wedding walls, on which residents hang pictures from their wedding day to encourage conversation, activities coordinators organise reminiscence-based projects on a regular basis. ‘There are so many different ways that we use reminiscence to help people connect with positive experiences in their past and promote positive feelings in the present,’ says Edna. ‘It’s a way of connecting with people that shows what they can do rather than highlighting what they can’t.’

When Julie helped train RMBI staff in reminiscence work, one of the suggestions coming out of the sessions was to reminisce about recipes with elderly residents. ‘Most people took to it really well,’ says Edna, ‘and we were inundated with classic recipes, some from war years and others from the modern day.’ It was at this point that the RMBI decided to pull together a cookbook structured around the decades most likely to have had an effect on the people in its homes. ‘We broke it down into decades and focused on the different types of food and dishes available,’ explains Edna. ‘They’re based on the ingredients that were accessible at the time and really explain the history of the way we eat in the UK and the big influences that have come about in our whole dining experience.’

Recipes and Reminiscences features some unusual recipes – by today’s standards at least – such as spam fritters, as well as the shopping habits of the families that cooked them and more modern-day phenomena like processed meals.

‘If you go around to see someone, they will offer you a cup of coffee or tea and probably something to eat. Food aids social interaction and is something that a lot of people can remember,’ explains Julie. ‘It’s also a subject area that isn’t troubling. Talking about husbands and wives might be an upsetting subject, whereas talking about food is an enjoyable subject for everyone.’

With the success of TV programmes such as MasterChef and The Great British Bake Off, home cooking has never been so popular. So, who better to give a foreword to Recipes and Reminiscences than Mary Berry, one of the most iconic ladies in the kitchen. ‘We thought that Mary Berry would be fantastic,’ enthuses Edna. ‘As an older woman she has an understanding for what we do as an organisation, and as a food writer herself, I think the subject area really resonated with her.’

Promoting the cookbook might be a little hard for some of its contributors – the eldest, Phyllis, who supplied a recipe for Jubilee biscuits, became a centenarian in March – but RMBI homes will host events based on each of the book’s decades to celebrate its release. Talk about having your cake, eating it, then writing the recipe down.

Recipes and Reminiscences is available to buy at All proceeds go directly towards funding activities for residents in RMBI homes.

‘Talking about food is an enjoyable subject for everyone’ – Julie Heathcote

A taste of the decades

With dishes that span fifty years, there should be something to suit all palates. Here and over the page, we share two recipes...

Coronation chicken – 1950s

The original recipe was devised by Rosemary Hume for Elizabeth II’s coronation banquet.

Ingredients (Serves six)

1 chicken, about 1.5kg (3lb); 1 cinnamon stick; 5 black peppercorns; pinch of saffron; 1 tsp salt; 1 bay leaf; 4cm (1½ in) piece of fresh ginger, peeled; 5 tbsp good-quality mango chutney; 50g (2oz) dried apricots, finely chopped; 2 tbsp good-quality curry powder; 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce; 200ml (7fl oz) good-quality mayonnaise; 200ml (7fl oz) Greek yoghurt; small bunch fresh coriander, chopped; 50g (2oz) flaked almonds, toasted; salt and pepper; green salad and basmati rice, to serve.


Put the chicken, breast-side up, in a large pan with the cinnamon, peppercorns, saffron, salt, bay leaf and half the ginger. Add cold water until only the top of the breast is exposed. Cover, bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat so only an occasional bubble rises to the surface. Cook for about 1½ hours. Take out of the pan and set aside to cool, then remove the meat in bite-sized pieces while lukewarm. Finely chop the rest of the ginger. Put the mango chutney and apricots into a large bowl. Toast the curry powder in a dry frying pan until fragrant, then add the chopped ginger and stir both into the bowl, followed by the Worcestershire sauce, mayonnaise and yoghurt. Season. Once the chicken is cold, fold it through the dressing and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before folding in the coriander. Sprinkle with almonds and serve with a green salad and basmati rice.

Prawn cocktail – 1960s

One of the most popular hors d’œuvres in Great Britain from the 1960s through to the 1980s.

Ingredients (Serves four)

300g (10½oz) peeled cooked prawns; 4 tbsp mayonnaise; 1 tbsp creamed horseradish sauce; 1 tbsp tomato ketchup; shredded romaine or iceberg lettuce; 1 lime, quartered; 4 large, cooked prawns, shelled with tail on; small slices of buttered brown bread, to serve.


Put the mayonnaise, horseradish and tomato ketchup into a bowl and mix well. Stir in the prawns, ensuring they are all coated in the sauce. Divide the shredded lettuce between 4 large wine glasses and top with the prawns and sauce. Decorate with a wedge of lime and a large prawn on the edge of the glass and serve with the buttered bread.



Published in RMBI

Website brings friends together

The Friends of the RMBI has launched a new website for the 2013 Annual Charity Ball. The website supported ticket sales for the annual event, as well as bringing together all information relating to the Friends of the RMBI in one place.

The Friends of the RMBI is a small group of masons who raise money for the Good Neighbour Fund. Through their efforts and the generosity of the fraternity, these masons have raised more than £500,000 to date. The Good Neighbour Fund is used primarily to provide holidays for recipients of a relief grant from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity. RMBI organises four holidays each year in Bournemouth, Eastbourne, Westcliffe-on-Sea and Llandudno.

The culmination of each year’s fundraising activity is the Friends’ Annual Charity Ball. This year the ball was held on Saturday 8 June at The Grange City Hotel, London with a champagne reception and dinner plus entertainment, music and dancing.

For more information please visit

Published in RMBI

Exploring care home quality

RMBI care homes exceed the national standard in high-quality care and satisfaction of residents.

The RMBI has published the results of its 2012 Customer Satisfaction Survey, which polls residents of RMBI’s seventeen care homes in England and Wales as well as their next of kin.

Carried out in October by Ipsos MORI for RMBI, top-line results show that ninety-seven per cent of residents are satisfied or very satisfied with the care they receive and ninety-three per cent of relatives would recommend the home.

In July 2012, a White Paper from the Department of Health highlighted the need for a system to ensure that people are provided with clear information about care services and that their views are heard. In response, several care home providers, the National Care Forum and Ipsos MORI have launched Your Care Rating, the first independent national survey of care home residents.

In addition, the care sector’s regulating body in England, the Care Quality Commission, has supported a survey of care home residents, resulting in the recent launch of interactive care home profiles on the NHS Choices website.

Anticipating this development, the RMBI has been conducting its own annual satisfaction surveys for the last six years. Its latest surveys were also designed to provide comparable data with Your Care Rating for ease of reference with the initiative. RMBI satisfaction surveys form a key part of its commitment to ensuring the charity’s care homes are delivering a quality of service that meets the needs and expectations of those they care for.

Topics covered in RMBI’s 2012 Customer Satisfaction Survey include living at the home, staff, activities, help and support, and communication and complaints. Encouragingly, ninety-eight per cent of residents agreed or agreed strongly with the statements that: their home is clean and tidy as well as safe and secure, that they have enough of their own things around them, and that their privacy is respected. Moreover, ninety-eight per cent of residents agreed that the care home staff treated them with kindness, dignity and respect.

RMBI and Ipsos MORI are grateful to all residents and relatives who took part.

For more information on the results of the 2012 Customer Satisfaction Survey, visit

Published in RMBI
Thursday, 06 June 2013 01:00

Showing that Freemasonry Cares

Helping Freemasons and their dependants to access the financial, healthcare and family support available to them from the masonic charities, Freemasonry Cares was the subject of a joint forum meeting. It was presented by the Province of East Lancashire to almoners, charity stewards and invited guests, including the Grand Charity’s chief executive Laura Chapman, RMBI chairman James Newman and Ecclesholme RMBI home manager and warden Bev Niland.

Laura spoke of the financial and other help available to Freemasons and their dependants, while James presented the structure of the RMBI, including Festival funding, and offered assistance regarding accommodation in the homes should it be required. The event was supported by Provincial Grand Master Sir David Trippier.

Published in Freemasonry Cares

The challenge was not simply to go the extra mile for the 2014 RMBI Festival, but to go an extra 3 miles, vertically, and then jump out of a perfectly serviceable aeroplane! No less than 38 intrepid volunteer brethren, plus a surprising number of wives, partners and sons and daughters rose (literally) to the challenge.

After assembling for an 8:00am safety briefing at the Old Sarum Airfield on Saturday 4th May, the first team were kitted out with smart blue overalls and skydiving kit and told to stand by ready for a five minute notice of the impending take off. Friday 3rd had been a glorious sunny day with high white fluffy clouds and the forecast for Saturday had looked similarly promising. A cursory look at the local weather forecast for Dorset at 6:00am before leaving home on Saturday morning (when to the eye it looked to be less than promising) suggested that early morning gloom and occasional showers should diminish by 6:30am and be followed by sunshine and predominantly blue skies. Seems however that this didn’t apply to Old Sarum in Wiltshire, as I arrived at 9 o’clock with the windscreen wipers in full swing!

Would the jump be on? No one was really sure. Safety demands that the Dive Marshalls have an uninterrupted view of the landing area from 15,000 ft and with huge black clouds at 1,000 ft, frequent heavy downfalls and no signs of blue on the horizon, things were not looking too promising by 10 am news came over the Tannoy for the first group to stand down and remove their ‘chute harnesses but to be on 5 minute standby for any sign of a break in the cloud. If any of our team were nervous to start with, the delays certainly weren’t helping!

Then, just 30 minutes later, we saw a small break in the clouds, a tiny glimpse of blue, and the 5 minute warning was signalled to get the kit on and assemble ready to board the aircraft. The first group climbed aboard the Cessna 208 Turbo Prop Caravan aircraft which then taxied down to the beginning of the runway. The anticipation amongst the spectators reached fever pitch as the aircraft revved up and prepared for take-off... only to shut down again 30 seconds later as the wind direction suddenly changed and the patch of blue disappeared behind yet another rain cloud.

15 more anxious minutes passed with the skydivers, having vacated the plane, standing alongside staring up into the gloomy sky as a heavy cloudburst passed over and suddenly, they were all scrambling aboard again and the plane hurtled down the runway then climbing rapidly into the clouds. 25 minutes later, we could hear the plane but it was completely obscured as anxious eyes scoured the one patch of blue for the first glance of the first of our intrepid team.

A cry of 'There they are!' was heard from the crowd, and armed with the longest telephoto lens I have, I picked out a couple of tiny dark 1mm size pinpricks of an image in a sea of white hazy nothingness! Safety regulations demanded that no one was allowed near the landing site – just taking a worthwhile photograph was going to be a challenge in itself! After free-falling the first 10,000 ft, reaching 120mph in the gloomy sky, at 5,000 ft the parachutes opened and the gentle descent to terra firma began.

One anxious mum asked, 'Are all the parachutes open yet?', 'Can you see a green and black one yet?'

'Yes, I replied, it was the second-to-last one to leave the plane'. 'OK,' she said, 'I’ll look up now!'

So after 2½ hours of waiting for a weather slot, then a further 25 minutes of climbing to altitude the incredible adventure was all over in the less than 5 minutes it took to reach the ground. Judging by the beams of delight as our teams left the coach which had transported them back from the landing site, everyone enjoyed the exhilarating experience with hugs and kisses all round from the anxious and waiting supporters.

Quotes from the team included:

'It is some experience... without doubt the most thrilling thing I have done in a very long list of thrilling things!'

'The buzz you get as you exit the plane, the adrenalin rush of free-fall is amazing, once the canopy opens any nerves melt away, and the excitement of the view of Stone Henge from 5,000 ft, the ground plan of Old Sarum, and then the airfield where you know all your family and supporters are staring up wondering which chute is yours, then you get to wave at the crowds below, it is such exciting experience!'

'Then it’s all over, and all you want to do is to go straight back up again', 'But there always another year!'

All together a fantastic day and huge congratulations are due to the 38 jumpers representing 26 lodges who between them look to have raised in excess of £10,000 for the RMBI Festival and to Ray White for organising the event.

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