Friday, 05 June 2015 01:00

Grand Secretary's column - Summer 2015

From the  Grand Secretary

 As you read the summer edition of  Freemasonry Today, you will see that we have a great deal to be proud of and many successes to celebrate. As well as the numerous examples of charity on home soil, the Grand Charity was, as usual, quick to send donations in emergency aid via the British Red Cross to Vanuatu following the severe tropical cyclone in March, and to Nepal following the devastating earthquake in April.

The Pro Grand Master has stressed the importance of mentoring to retain members, not least to encourage initiates to talk openly about Freemasonry to their family, friends and acquaintances from the very outset of their membership. The Pro Grand Master also called upon lodges to work with their Provincial and District Grand Mentors.

To further support our collaborative approach, the Pro Grand Master’s Annual Briefing Meeting was an outstanding success. Our report on the proceedings presents the highlights and reveals ‘an organisation that is embracing transparency and taking positive steps to ensure its long-term future’.

While the future of Freemasonry involves modernisation, maintaining tradition is also important. Pastoral care has long been a key strand of our organisation, so we find out about the ongoing work of Ernie Greenhalgh and his team of almoners in West Lancashire. We also talk to Dame Esther Rantzen about her Silver Line charity and the importance of offering support and comfort to older people.

Dame Esther is not the only celebrity gracing the pages of this issue, however, with Benedict Cumberbatch visiting Freemasons’ Hall to read at Letters Live. Our feature on the star-studded event demonstrates a membership organisation that is happy to open its doors to the world.

Transparency was one of the motivating factors in forming the Devonshire Masonic Art Group. We interview its members to discover how painting and raising money for good causes is taking the message of Freemasonry to local communities across the region. In our cover story, creativity is also being used as a way to connect with others; we learn how masonic funding is helping disadvantaged young people to take their first steps in the music industry. 

Whether the beneficiaries are old or young, masons or non-masons, there are many stories in this issue of Freemasonry Today that celebrate the support we give. I hope they will make you proud.

Nigel Brown
Grand Secretary

‘While the future of Freemasonry involves modernisation, maintaining tradition is also important, and pastoral care has long been a key strand of our organisation.’

Published in UGLE

Good companions

Thanks to support from the Grand Charity, Dogs for the Disabled was able to launch a groundbreaking scheme that has profoundly changed the lives of children with autism and their families

When Dogs for the Disabled first approached the Grand Charity in 2010, requesting support for a pilot scheme they had devised aimed at assisting children with autism, no one knew for certain if it would work. 

But the project has become so successful it is now a global export, with programmes operating in the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and Australia. Through the PAWS Service, families learn how to train a pet dog to support and help a child with autism, and receive advice on choosing the right dog for their child’s needs. To date, more than 600 UK families have benefited from PAWS, and its 2016 workshops, to be held countrywide, are already filling up fast.

It has been observed that there is a special chemistry between dogs and children with autism. A dog can have an incredibly calming effect when a child becomes angry or anxious, enabling the parent or carer to take control of a situation. While for some there will always be a need for a fully trained assistance dog, a well-trained pet dog can also have a hugely beneficial impact.

Paws and effect

Life was becoming difficult for Karen, mum to 10-year-old Ben, who has profound non-verbal autism: ‘When Ben had his total meltdowns he would hit and bite me, and he has pushed and pulled me into the road. Because of his size and strength, I struggled to keep him safe, and he was endangering me too.’ 

Thanks to PAWS, Karen and Ben have now welcomed a bright, friendly Labrador named Murphy into the family. It’s taking time, but already Murphy is helping Ben and his family immensely by providing assistance on trips outside the home, as well as comfort and reassurance. Ben reaches out to touch Murphy and also tries to say his name; both actions are considered big breakthroughs. 

‘Everything about PAWS is fantastic,’ says Karen. ‘Murphy is gentle with Ben and is naturally interested in him. He often sleeps next to his bedroom door or waits at the foot of the trampoline while Ben has a bounce.’ 

The Freemasons’ Grand Charity provided £25,000 in 2010 and again in 2012 to support the PAWS Service through its initial three-year pilot phase. The scheme was deemed a success and another £25,000 donation from the Grand Charity was awarded in 2014. Peter Gorbing, chief executive of Dogs for the Disabled, said: ‘We are immensely grateful for this ongoing assistance. This latest grant will help us maintain and extend this vital service, making it even more accessible to children and their families.’

Through its grant-making, the Grand Charity seeks to support projects that provide valuable assistance to the people who need it most. In donating towards the PAWS Service, Freemasons have helped many autistic children to communicate better with their families, and to experience a safer, happier life thanks to the comfort and companionship of a pet dog.

Letters to the Editor - No. 31 Autumn 2015

Masonic benevolence


I was very pleased to read the two articles regarding Dogs for the Disabled and the generous donations made to PAWS. I am a socialiser with the puppies for Dogs for the Disabled, and my last two puppies are involved with this scheme. One is now with an autistic child and the other is just being placed with a child.

It is very rewarding training the pups and you do get a little bit upset when they leave you, but the charity keeps you in touch with the progress of the dog. You also get a replacement quite quickly, so the disappointment is short-lived. Once again, thank you so much for your welcome support of Dogs for the Disabled. 

Ray Beckingham, Wraxall Lodge, No. 9011, Nailsea, Somerset

Published in The Grand Charity

Touching a nerve

By identifying a protein that is vital in nerve development, Professor Roger Keynes and his team hope they might help to cure spinal cord paralysis. Imogen Beecroft reports on how Freemasons are supporting this groundbreaking research

A promising gymnast since the age of eight, Josh trained six days a week to fulfil his ultimate goal of competing in the London 2012 Olympic Games. When Josh was 16, a fall ended this dream and left him paralysed from the chest down. 

Of the 20 people a day who sustain a spinal injury in the UK, three are told they will never walk again. There is currently no effective medical treatment for the 50,000 people in the UK and Ireland living with spinal cord paralysis, meaning that people like Josh face a lifetime of round-the-clock care. 

The figures are so high because the nerves connecting the brain and the body are commonly damaged – or even severed – in a spinal cord injury, destroying this vital communication link.

However, after decades of research, a spinal cord injury may no longer result in a life spent in a wheelchair. Two Cambridge academics, Professor Roger Keynes and Dr Geoffrey Cook, have identified a protein that has the potential to aid recovery after injury, possibly even helping nerves to regrow and self-repair. 

Funding boost

In November 2014, The Freemasons’ Grand Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF) donated £42,000 to the International Spinal Research Trust (ISRT), which is supporting the project. Despite being the UK’s leading charity funding research into medical treatment for spinal cord paralysis, the ISRT team operates on just £2 million of donations a year. 

ISRT trust manager James Clark says: ‘Given the size of the charity, this is a really significant donation. The project costs about £90,000, so the MSF and The Freemasons’ Grand Charity are effectively funding about half of it.’ Specifically, the masonic donation has helped to fund one of the ISRT’s PhD studentships. These three-year projects will identify the researchers of tomorrow – those who will go on to play a central part in the development of treatments for spinal injury. 

Professor Keynes speaks highly of the studentship, emphasising that it not only provides his team with a PhD student, Julia Schaeffer, to assist them, but also gives her a great education. ‘It’s absolutely essential that we have a student to work with,’ he says. ‘Julia is learning lots of different techniques, and her input, ideas and skills at the bench are absolutely critical as these are very tricky experiments.’

‘The professors have worked for two decades to identify a protein that performs a vital function in the early stages of development.’

Patterning proteins

Calling these experiments ‘tricky’ might be something of an understatement: the professors have been working for two decades to identify a crucial protein that performs a vital function in the early stages of development. It is an inhibitor, stopping the growth of nerves where necessary and controlling the pattern in which they develop. 

Humans are able to move and feel because they have a patterned system of nerves connecting the spinal cord with muscles and skin. In order to make this connection, nerves must navigate through the vertebrae that surround the spinal cord and it is this specific protein that allows them to do so.

Professor Keynes now hypothesises that the body expresses more of this protein following a spinal cord or brain injury, which could inhibit nerve development and prevent recovery. ‘The protein’s normal function is to steer nerves out of the spinal cord,’ he explains, ‘but we believe that it is also expressed at an injury site, preventing the nerves within the spinal cord from regrowing.’ 

The idea is being tested at the Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair in collaboration with Professor James Fawcett. If it is possible to stop this protein from functioning in such a way after injury, the damaged nerves might be able to regrow. 

It might seem far-fetched, but, as Clark notes, ‘When we started the ISRT in 1980, people thought the things we were working on were a waste of time. They believed that once someone had been paralysed it was impossible to repair their central nervous system. Work over the past 30 years has proved that wrong – you potentially can.’

Progress has only been possible because of donations like the one made by the masonic charities, as the ISRT receives no government funding. Ian Sabin, MSF trustee and research committee member, explains the decision to donate to this particular project: ‘This charity was thought to be well worth supporting. The research will provide another piece of the jigsaw and contribute towards the understanding of nerve-growth-blocking factors and spinal cord regeneration. It will hopefully help to show the way forward in the development of new treatments for spinal cord injury.’

‘We’re convinced by the potential importance of what we’re doing, so charity funding is critical.’ Professor Roger Keynes 

Barriers to research

As a consultant neurosurgeon, Sabin is well aware of the difficulties facing medical researchers in the UK. ‘Medical and scientific research in the UK is handicapped by a relative lack of funding. Doctors are choosing not to go into research posts for all sorts of reasons but the difficulty in obtaining research grants is certainly one of them. The fact that we [the MSF] can provide some funds is very important – it’s a shame that as a country we don’t take scientific research more seriously.’

Professor Keynes echoes Sabin’s point about the importance of research funding. ‘It has taken us a long time to get this far, and it’s not easy to keep funding going if you’re not producing vast amounts of publications. But we’re convinced by the potential importance of what we’re doing, so this sort of charity funding is critical.’

If their ideas are correct, and yield successful results, what will this mean for those suffering from spinal cord injuries? ‘If we are right,’ says Professor Keynes, ‘and this protein is blocking nerve growth in damaged areas, and we could stop this, then regeneration could take place.’ 

Professor Keynes notes that regeneration has always been possible in nerves of the arms and legs. ‘If they are damaged they can regrow, self-repair and wire up reasonably well. The problem is that nerves in the brain and spinal cord don’t do this, so the hope is that if we can identify the brakes on these nerves and what they’re due to, they too could self-repair.’

While perhaps still a long way off, this research could open up a whole world of hope and opportunity for those paralysed after a spinal cord injury. As Professor Keynes says, ‘It’s not impossible, put it that way.’

Letters to the Editor - No. 32 Winter 2015


I read with personal interest your article titled ‘Touching a Nerve’ [in the summer edition of Freemasonry Today] regarding the Masonic Samaritan Fund’s donation to the spinal injury research by Professor Roger Keynes and Dr Geoffrey Cook.

As the result of a motorbike accident, my son is paralysed from the upper chest down with a spinal cord injury. There is no cure other than surviving day to day with available medication and regular visits to the hospital.

I would like to thank Ian Sabin, MSF trustee and research committee member, for his support in the donation to this research. The funding for medical research is lacking in the UK and it is nice to know that Freemasons and Freemasonry really do care.

Don Williams, Lodge of Philosophy, No. 6057, Redcar, Yorkshire, North and East Ridings

Published in Freemasonry Cares

Vanuatu disaster relief 

The Freemasons’ Grand Charity has donated £20,000 in emergency aid via the British Red Cross following the severe tropical cyclone that hit Vanuatu in the South Pacific in March. The donation helped to deliver emergency assistance in the areas of water, sanitation, healthcare and shelter. 

The cyclone caused widespread destruction to one of the world’s least developed countries. Vanuatu’s president, Baldwin Lonsdale, appealed for immediate help, saying the storm had wiped out all development of recent years. Thousands of people were made homeless and left in need of food and water, with infrastructure severely affected as buildings, roads and bridges were destroyed. Communications were seriously impacted, with power, telephone lines and internet affected across much of the country.

Published in The Grand Charity

Kick-off to tackle Middlesbrough youth  unemployment

This year Street League, whose mission is to change lives through football, has been awarded £25,000 by the Grand Charity to deliver three football and employability programmes over one year in Middlesbrough. Street League’s vision is to reduce youth unemployment in the UK through its award-winning 10-week scheme. 

The charity helps young unemployed people aged 16-25 to gain skills, confidence, work experience and qualifications, while supporting them to progress into employment, education or training.

Published in The Grand Charity

Charity focuses on the financial impact of cancer

Breast cancer support charity The Haven has received £30,000 from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity. The donation will help to maintain and expand its welfare, benefits and money advice service, which is currently available at the London Haven centre or via a telephone service. 

This centralised financial assistance from the Grand Charity is in keeping with the support given to the Hereford Haven centre in the past by Freemasons on a local level. Speaking about the donation, Laura Chapman, Chief Executive of the Grand Charity, said: 

‘When people think about cancer, they don’t think about the financial impact it can have. This service will help patients focus on what really matters without the worry of how they will manage their money. We are so glad to be able to support those experiencing breast cancer in such an incredibly practical way.’ 

Herefordshire PGM the Rev David Bowen and Deputy PGM Mike Roff represented Freemasons county-wide at Hereford Haven, where they met centre manager Frankie Devereux. 

Published in The Grand Charity

Looking forward at Manchester Eye Hospital

Manchester Royal Eye Hospital Charity has received a major donation from the Province of East Lancashire, supplemented by a grant from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity. Totalling £125,000, the funds are for the Hospital’s Eye Bicentenary Charity Appeal to improve treatment, research and care at the Children’s Outpatient Clinic.

The donation will contribute to the purchase of a state-of-the-art DNA sequencer, which will help improve diagnosis for inherited eye diseases and provide a vital tool for researchers seeking to better understand the genetic basis of eye disease. The donation will also enable a Children’s Eye Clinic liaison officer to be appointed, to provide support to patients and their families. 

Taking the lead in autism support

Oxfordshire masons gave their support to children with autism when they presented a cheque for £25,000 from the Grand Charity to Dogs for the Disabled. The grant will help to fund the charity’s PAWS Service, which runs workshops across the country teaching families how to train a pet dog to help a child with autism. 

The Provincial Grand Charity Steward for Oxfordshire, Roger Hampshire, said: ‘So many children and their families have already benefited enormously from the PAWS workshops and I hope that this donation will enable the charity to continue its fantastic work.’

Read more about the PAWS Service and the Grand Charity’s support of the programme here.

Helping with sight loss in the uk

Hampshire and Isle of Wight PGM Michael Wilks presented a cheque for £50,000 from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity to the Macular Society to roll out the Daily Living Champions volunteer scheme across the UK. Daily Living Champions demonstrate high- and low-tech equipment that can help people affected by sight loss to complete tasks that others take for granted. 

Age-related macular degeneration affects central vision and is the most common cause of sight loss in the UK. The Macular Society helps anyone affected by central vision loss, and its 15,000 members make it the largest patient group in the sight loss sector.

In November 2013, the Philippines was struck by Typhoon Haiyan, the most severe storm ever to hit land. It caused widespread destruction, killing over 6,000 people and affecting a further 14 million people. Hundreds of schools and health centres were seriously damaged or destroyed leaving thousands of children with no educational provision and thousands more without adequate healthcare.

Published in The Grand Charity
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