Back to life
When illness or financial problems strike, pride can inhibit some masons from asking for support. Tabby Kinder finds out how Freemasonry Cares is ensuring masons and their dependants are helped quickly, simply and in confidence
With a flurry of winter coats and woollen gloves, David Blunt and his wife wrap up against the chilly January day. David positions himself onto a shiny electric scooter – a vehicle that, for him, makes leaving the house possible. The couple are beginning the trip to their nearby hospital in Rugby for a routine check-up.
It’s a journey they have made a couple of times a month since an illness left David with severe disabilities almost five years ago.
For David, acknowledging that he needed support in the form of the scooter was a challenge that took a while to overcome. ‘When I first came out of hospital I just didn’t admit my disabilities,’ he says. ‘I struggled for months before I admitted defeat and asked for some help.’ According to Warwickshire Assistant Provincial Grand Master Trevor Sturt, David’s situation is by no means unique: ‘His case is a classic example and one that was likely to have slipped through the net had Freemasonry Cares not existed.’
Freemasonry Cares is a joint initiative between the four national masonic charities – The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB), the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) and the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF) – to provide charitable support, financial and otherwise, to masons and their families.
While this support has always been available, a need was recognised at the heart of the organisation to make assistance more accessible, both to those who aren’t sure if they are eligible for help, and to those who are embarrassed to even ask for it. So far, it’s proving a huge success in getting people like David vitally important support.
David’s old scooter, gifted to him several years ago by the son of an old friend, urgently needed replacing, and after speaking to his lodge Almoner in the autumn of 2013, he was directed to the Freemasonry Cares hotline. ‘The MSF was then able to pick up his case, assess his needs and grant him the new mobile scooter he’s using today,’ Trevor says.
In the course of just a few months, the MSF then went on to replace David’s bath with an accessible shower unit, and also granted his wife an adjustable chair, easing the problems she has with her own mobility. ‘Accepting help through Freemasonry Cares was a psychological step for me, as well as a financial and physical one,’ says David. ‘My wife’s quality of life has been greatly improved by the support, particularly for her sanity now I am able to get out of the house. The scooter gives me the freedom to go out, get to appointments and meet people almost every day of the week.’
‘People can just call one number... It’s the simple approach that encourages people to understand there’s no harm in asking for help.’ Jess Grant
David’s story highlights the importance of not just communicating the support available to masons but also streamlining how enquiries are handled by the masonic charities. ‘The process is a lot more simple than it used to be,’ says Jess Grant, one of the core team of just three people responsible for planning and administering the initiative. ‘Now, people aren’t put off by wondering what charity is right for them or if they would even qualify, because they can just call one number and have instant access to everything on offer. It’s the simple approach that encourages people to understand there’s no harm in asking for help.’
Jess attributes the success of Freemasonry Cares so far to the confidential nature of the scheme that allows masons, their family members and widows to ask for support anonymously if they so choose – and many do. ‘It’s a voice on the end of the phone rather than a familiar person who they might have known for thirty years,’ says Jess. ‘We wanted to remove any obstacle that might stop someone from making that initial approach.’
For Jess, Freemasonry Cares is definitely working:
‘We get calls from people who have been gearing themselves up for some time to phone, especially in the cases of widows who may feel they’re doing their late husband a disservice by admitting to not being able to cope. But the calls are coming in greater numbers and the charities are supporting more people than ever.’
The enquiry level in David’s Province of Warwickshire is now running at around fifteen calls per month – three times higher than the number of calls made to the charities in the previous year. ‘We’ve had eighty-one enquiries processed in this Province this year, which is a ten-fold increase in assistance given by the charities to our members, already proving that Freemasonry Cares is encouraging the people who need help to ask for it,’ says Trevor.
Paul, a mason in Surrey (whose name has been changed by request), admits straightaway that he would not have asked for support unless he was able to do so privately. ‘When you have cancer it takes over your whole life and everyone you meet just wants to talk about it,’ he says. ‘The lodge is one of the few places I can go where nobody really knows my situation; it’s a relief.’
Easing the strain
Paul first discovered he had metastasized bowel cancer four years ago, adding a huge burden to his family responsibilities of being a single father to his seven-year-old daughter and the sole carer of his elderly mother.
‘It was alright at first, the government provided some basic support and the NHS have been able to manage my cancer,’ he says. ‘It’s good in the most important way, because I’m still alive, but ongoing treatment has really stretched me financially as I’m not able to work and my savings have completely disappeared.’
Just weeks after being encouraged by his lodge Almoner to put in a phone call to Freemasonry Cares, the Grand Charity was able to give Paul a £5,000 lump sum towards his general living costs. ‘I was resistant at first but the application process was simple. Julia Young from the RMTGB welfare team came round and we spoke for over an hour. I had been living on the edge of what I could afford every month, but this grant means I have a buffer so I can worry a little less about my outgoings and a little more about myself and my family.’
The RMTGB was able to provide Paul with a termly payment of £600 to pay for music lessons, clothes, school trips and holidays for his young daughter. ‘I was amazed and so grateful, it was more than I ever expected to receive, and being able to pay for my daughter’s Christmas presents without worrying was such a relief,’ says Paul. ‘Julia provided a friendly face without being someone I would need to see every day and that was important to me – we’re a bit resistant, us blokes! But as soon as I’d made the first contact, the whole thing became a little less daunting.’
‘My advice to someone reading this would be to just pick up the phone,’ says Jess, explaining that there is no such thing as an insignificant grant. ‘Somebody may call us up and need major heart surgery that costs £50,000, whereas someone else may call and say they need a mobility aid to get down the driveway. Both of these things can have a huge impact on someone’s quality of life, and we always strive to provide individual support in a reassuring and confidential manner.’
Surrey rank and file
Bob Jenkinson, Provincial Grand Almoner for Surrey, is a huge advocate of the Freemasonry Cares initiative and wants more people to receive the help they need. ‘We grabbed the opportunity to offer Freemasonry Cares to the brethren in Surrey because we recognised the same problems as The Freemasons’ Grand Charity – that the rank and file mason often doesn’t have a clue what any of the charities are about and even less idea of how to get support from them,’ he says.
Since adopting Freemasonry Cares and promoting it in meetings and literature across the Province, Surrey has seen the number of enquiries made to the charities increase by around twenty per cent on the previous year. ‘We’ve had about fifty enquiries to the Freemasonry Cares hotline this quarter, and I’m personally getting twice as many calls from people asking me to initiate contact for them, so the push has really generated an understanding of what the masonic charities are there to do,’ says Bob. Masons in Surrey have received almost £1 million in grants since the launch of the initiative in the area a year ago – up £160,000 on the previous year.
Making an impact
The RMTGB has given a grant to Helping Hands, which coordinates local volunteers to improve the quality of life for sick children
As part of its Stepping Stones scheme, the RMTGB awarded a £30,000 grant to Helping Hands, a scheme established by the charity WellChild in 2006 to provide practical support to severely sick children and their families. The children supported by the scheme have a range of conditions such as learning difficulties, mobility problems or visual or hearing impairments.
Many family homes are unsuitable or unsafe for children with such conditions. Four-year-old Mustafa was born with a diaphragmatic hernia, a hole in his heart, an underdeveloped lung and epilepsy. He needs twenty-four-hour oxygen therapy to help him breathe and has serious learning disabilities. He is constantly seeking sensory stimulation, but his garden had many trip hazards and it wasn’t safe for him to play outside with his family.
WellChild’s Helping Hands scheme aims to give sick children like Mustafa the opportunity of a better childhood by coordinating teams of local volunteers to carry out small home improvement projects. Mustafa’s garden was transformed in just one day as volunteers from a local business installed a new artificial lawn, a large play mirror, colourful murals, and a specialist swing and support seat. These small improvements will have a dramatic and lasting impact on Mustafa’s childhood and daily life.
The Helping Hands scheme relies on donations and volunteers giving their time. To lend your support, go to www.wellchild.org.uk
Hertfordshire launches appeal
The Province of Hertfordshire has launched its 2019 Festival Appeal for the RMTGB at a series of dedicated events. The five-year appeal will see the Province’s five thousand six hundred Freemasons aim towards a final Festival target of £3 million.
The donations will be used to fund the RMTGB’s core work of supporting around two thousand children and young people from masonic families in financial hardship each year, in addition to grants made through its Stepping Stones scheme. In Hertfordshire alone, more than one hundred and seventy children have been supported during the past five years.
Launching the appeal, Provincial Grand Master Paul Gower said: ‘I hope that the Freemasons of “Happy Hertfordshire” will produce a sum worthy of our Province, and so enable the RMTGB to continue its work of relieving hardship in the families of our less fortunate brethren.’
For more information about the 2019 Festival Appeal, go to www.rmtgb.org
Nice footwork in Derbyshire
Derbyshire masons from Morcar Lodge, No. 8458, which meets at Alfreton, and the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys have helped a young woman achieve her ambition in the dancing world.
Joanne Howarth, granddaughter of widow Mavis Howarth, whose late husband Jerry was a lodge member, was able to complete a three-year residential course at the world-famous Brian Rogers Performers College in London.
Now principal of the JL Dance Academy in Ripley, Joanne puts her success down to the eight years she was supported by Freemasonry.
Regency celebrations honour Ruspini: The Royal Masonic School for Girls held a Regency day in honour of Chevalier Ruspini, the founder of the school and the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB)
The organisations date back to 1788, when Ruspini established a small orphanage school in London, supporting just 15 girls. Today, his legacy continues with a flourishing independent school and a national masonic charity, which last year supported more than 12,000 children and young people.
The 225th anniversary celebrations saw staff and pupils dress up in Regency-style clothing, enjoy an 18th-century lunch menu and take part in period activities. RMTGB staff joined in the festivities.
To find out more about the work of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys visit their website
Maddie’s story: a moving new video highlights the work of the RMTGB
The Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys has produced its first video case study, ‘Maddie’s story’, to highlight its work. Each year the RMTGB supports around two thousand children and young people from masonic families. Each of these children has experienced a life-changing event that has led to financial hardship for their family. This new video features Nottinghamshire Freemason Howard Mace and his wife Alex, who explain the difference that the RMTGB’s support has made to their seven-year-old daughter, Maddie.
In the video, Howard describes being diagnosed with kidney cancer and secondary cancer of the spine, a condition that means that he is unable to work. Alex goes on to explain how the RMTGB has helped by providing a regular maintenance allowance, which enables them to give Maddie the essential items that she needs.
RMTGB Chief Executive Les Hutchinson said, ‘This video has been a great success, really demonstrating the value of our work. I encourage all Freemasons and their families to visit our website and watch it.’
More than one thousand people viewed the video within the first week of its release at www.rmtgb.org/maddie and the RMTGB has plans to produce further videos.
Enthusiasm and commitment in Monmouthshire
In September, Monmouthshire Freemasons celebrated the conclusion of their 2013 Festival Appeal and a magnificent total of £1,219,414 for the RMTGB.
The Provincial Grand Master and Festival President, the Rev Malcolm Lane of the Welsh Province, launched the appeal just over five years ago. Malcolm, who also serves as a trustee of the RMTGB, congratulated his Province for their generosity and hard work. ‘I commend to you all the work of the RMTGB and in doing so I express on behalf of the Province my grateful thanks, bless you for your enthusiasm and commitment.’
After the total sum was revealed by RMTGB Chief Executive Les Hutchinson, the charity’s President Mike Woodcock expressed his heartfelt thanks to the one thousand three hundred members of the Province and their families during a passionate address in which he recalled his own childhood holidays in Monmouthshire.
The brethren of Monmouthshire and their families raised £1,002,013 towards the appeal – a remarkable achievement for a Province of only thirty lodges. Metropolitan Grand Lodge and other Provinces and Districts added a further £200,000.
The Festival event, held at the Celtic Manor Resort, was attended by Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes. More than four hundred guests enjoyed an evening of entertainment including Welsh harpist Sian Williams, the Only Boys Aloud choir (finalists of Britain’s Got Talent), Abertillery Orpheus Male Choir and soloist Robert Knight. Also in attendance was David Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouth.
‘Bless you for your enthusiasm and commitment.’ Rev Malcolm Lane
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!
Two Royal Navy Officers from HMS Kent, including Freemason Kevin Robinson of Drayton Lodge No. 8832, have raised over £1,000 for charity by cycling over 300 miles in just four days
The cycle ride was the brainchild of Kevin’s naval colleague Matt ‘Dugie’ Dugard who planned to ride from Kevin’s hometown of York to Dugie’s hometown of Portsmouth in support of the Royal Masonic Trust for Boys and Girls (RMTGB) and the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC).
The ship’s Medic, Maree O’Rourke, volunteered as the team’s medic and mechanic, keeping both the riders and their equipment in top condition. Dugie’s father also volunteered as a support driver for the event.
Their journey began in York on 1 November, ending at HMS Victory, Portsmouth on 4 November. Along the way the team cycled through 10 counties, averaging 75 miles per day depending on weather conditions and the terrain covered.
- Day 1: York to Peterborough
- Day 2: Peterborough to Dunstable
- Day 3: Dunstable to the Meon Valley
- Day 4: Meon Valley to HMS Victory, Portsmouth
During the ride there were a couple of emergencies such as broken spokes (kindly fixed for free by a local cycle shop in Gainsborough) and burst inner tubes, but both riders made it through, albeit with a few aches and pains.
Upon arrival in Portsmouth, they were met and congratulated by their families and the RMTGB’s fundraising manager, Ray Collings, who offered his thanks on behalf of the Trust.
To prepare for their challenge, Kevin and Dugie both trained on board HMS Kent throughout the ship’s deployment on anti-piracy and terrorism patrols earlier this year, taking advantage of port visits and the ship’s cycling machines and spin bikes whilst at sea.
Following the cycle ride, Kevin said: 'The training only prepared us for the rigours that we encountered on the challenge to a some extent. Unfortunately the use of spin bikes and cycling machines doesn’t prepare you for hill climbs and wet and windy weather.
'We’re relieved and proud to have completed the challenge, knowing that the money raised will go to very worthy and deserving charities including the RMTGB.'
Monmouthshire masons raise over £1.25 million for charity
Over the last five years the Freemasons of Monmouthshire have worked very hard raising funds for the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys. The charity supports underprivileged children from all walks of life who through no fault of their own find themselves in distressed circumstances. Many are orphaned by tragic events and others need support with education and life experience.
On the 27th September at the prestigious Celtic Manor resort a celebration dinner was held to reveal the total raised and to celebrate the end of our fundraising for this Festival. The event was a tremendous success with the Pro Grand Master MW Bro Peter Lowndes, the County MP David Davis and many other dignitaries and brethren from all over Monmouthshire and the surrounding counties.
In addition to the £1,219,414 for the RMTGB, the Provincial Grand Master Rev Malcolm Lane was pleased to present £50,000 to the Lifelites charity, which provides cutting-edge technology packages for children and young people in children's hospices. Together they made a grand total of over £1,260,000.
There are only 30 lodges and just over 1,400 Freemasons within the old county boundaries of Monmouthshire, and no funds were collected from the general public. This therefore is an extremely impressive sum, and thanks should go to all who worked towards this figure and those who supported our many events.
The Freemasons of Monmouthshire now intend to direct their attention towards raising money for local charities. Annually there are donations in excess of £30,000 and the intention is to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.