Freemasons in the beautiful Georgian town of Blandford Forum in Dorset have been celebrating the Tercentenary in a unique way
Local Freemasons have been closely collaborating with the local museum, publicly celebrating the role of Freemasons in their community over the past 250 years.
The Provincial Grand Master for Dorset, Richard Merritt, encouraged Dorset Freemasons to celebrate 300 years of Freemasonry in England by engaging with their local communities. Blandford Freemasons leapt to the task with enthusiasm.
At an initial meeting with the Blandford Town Museum it became clear to all present that local Freemasons had a wealth of information about centuries of Blandford residents. The Museum soon realised that while there was a long list of well-known men of Blandford whose deeds were known, their membership of Freemasonry was not.
In a terrific exercise in collaboration between Blandford Freemasons and the museum, they identified 917 Freemasons with a Blandford connection from 1771 to date. These included farmers, shopkeepers, doctors, school teachers, Mayors and servicemen, the respected tradesmen of their town and ancestors of today’s Blandford residents.
This meticulous research was put on display at an open day at Blandford Masonic Hall to coincide with the town’s Georgian Fayre. During the Fayre, the town was closed to traffic, but the streets were full of visitors, hundreds of whom visited the Masonic Hall. The hall was decked with displays with a modern twist; looped audio visual displays sharing the space with posters, information boards, historic artefacts and other displays sharing a wealth of information
All the visitors gained an understanding of how closely the history of the town and the history of Blandford Freemasonry have been linked for 250 years. Visitors saw their ancestors stretching back beyond living memory and their connection with the town across the centuries.
Dorset’s Blackmore Vale Lodge, No. 3625, donated £500 to Sturminster Newton High School to pay for airport transfers when its choir and band recently went on tour in New York
The students performed in the Empire State Building and on the deck of an aircraft carrier, as well as visiting many landmarks in the city.
Dorset career guidance
For the past two years, Dorset masons have been mentoring students at the Oak Academy LeAF Campus in Bournemouth. Over 12 sessions, they have provided assistance, guidance and support to sixth-form students, helping them to establish a pathway to achieve their goals.
One student stated, ‘For me it’s been a huge support mechanism. I had decided to follow a career path without looking at the bigger picture but the mentors explore every possibility with you.’
Gill Blanshard, executive principal, added, ‘I would like to thank the Dorset Freemasons for the invaluable support that has been given. Having the time to discuss and plan the next step is extremely important, and the mentors have brought a wealth of experience and knowledge to help guide and assist our students in the next phase of their lives.’
The Province of Dorset continues to support the school in many ways, demonstrating the vital role that Freemasons can play in their community.
Health equipment in the community
The Province of Dorset has completed its programme of installing automated external defibrillators (AEDs) on the outside of masonic buildings across the county, as part of a series of presentations to the local community to commemorate Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Units have been fitted to 17 masonic halls and are available to any member of the public in an emergency. The funding came from Dorset Masonic Care (DMC) and The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, providing £32,500 and £5,000 respectively.
The units are located in locked, vandal-proof metal cabinets, which can be opened by calling 999 to obtain the access code. The control centre is then able to record when and where a unit has been used.
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.
Somerset and Dorset Freemasons have each presented the local Air Ambulance with a grant of £4,000 from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, part of the total of over £1 million donated by the charity since 2007, providing funding to every Air Ambulance in England and Wales.
On average, an emergency Air Ambulance takes off every 10 minutes in the UK, reaching people as quickly as possible to help save lives. Air Ambulances operate almost entirely from donations from charities such as The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, as well as from the general public.
Justin Martin, speaking on behalf of both Provinces, said: ‘Air Ambulances across the country play such a vital role in taking the hospital to the patient, saving precious time and consequently saving lives. We are proud to provide this further support.’
The Weymouth-based MV Freedom is a specially adapted boat with full wheelchair access which regularly provides trips to sea for those less able or with learning difficulties, in a safe, enjoyable and comfortable environment. Friends of MV Freedom – a registered charity run on an entirely voluntary basis by its dedicated committee, skipper, crew and supporters – was delighted to receive a donation towards the running and upkeep of their boat. The Master and Charity Steward of the Dorchester-based Lodge of Faith and Unanimity, accompanied by their wives, visited Weymouth Quay earlier this week to present the cheque.
Pictured above is the Master of the Lodge, Terry Bromberg (2nd Right) and the Lodge’s Charity Steward, Roger Bassnett (far right). A cheque for £2,405 was given to Jennie Jackson, chairman of Friends of MV Freedom and her dedicated team of Trustees and volunteers. The money has been raised by members of the Lodge over the past 9 months through donations from the members, raffles, social events, and the profits from a successful ladies' night held at Weymouth Golf Club during Terry’s year in the chair.
A few months ago the Freemasons of Dorset determined to install automated external defibrillator (AED) machines outside or near to all of the places where they meet as part of their Freemasonry in the Community initiative, and as a tribute to the Her Majesty the Queen in her Diamond Jubilee year. There are 17 such masonic meeting places throughout Dorset.
It was intended that this life-saving equipment would be readily available for members of the public to use in cases of emergency, as well as for their own members. The equipment is conveniently located at points accessible to the public in a highly visible green cabinet, with notices high up on a nearby wall, and with a bright green light displayed during the hours of darkness. Emergency access is obtained by calling the ambulance service using the emergency 999 number and receiving the access code to the equipment. The AED is then easily portable and can be used by untrained people under instruction from ambulance control over the telephone or, if necessary, by automated instruction from the machine itself.
One such device is located outside the Heritage Suite in Bell Street, Shaftesbury, and one morning recently a lady collapsed with a suspected cardiac arrest in the nearby county library. As the emergency call was made, ambulance control advised where the equipment was located and provided the caller with its release code. A member of staff was dispatched to collect the device, which was then speedily released from its storage box, transported to the scene of the emergency and unpacked ready for use.
The rapid arrival of the emergency services and their successful resuscitation of the patient meant that the AED was not required to administer a shock on this occasion, and the equipment was returned unused to await the next emergency. A man who viewed the whole incident was glowing in his praise for the availability of the equipment, saying: 'This is going to save a life one of these days, what a good job someone thinks about these things.'
On hearing about the incident the Provincial Grand Master for Dorset, Richard Merritt, said 'This is an example of how our Province-wide initiative was intended to work and it is gratifying to learn that the Shaftesbury machine, installed less than 6 weeks ago, has already been seen to be available as a most valuable and timely service to the community at large.'
Every Province looks for ways to raise money for their festivals. Dorset has decided to do it from a great height, by challenging their brethren to take a 10,000 feet tandem skydive. Little did they know that the first volunteer to take up the challenge would be Mrs Mary Rousell, wife of W Bro John Rousell of Brownsea Island Lodge No. 9689, to celebrate her 70th birthday. A mother of two grown up children and with three grandchildren, Mary has always been an active fund-raiser for Action for Children, and is currently chairman of Friends for Guiding Brownsea Island. Her husband John said, 'as soon as she heard about it she signed up'.
W Bro Ray White, of Portland Lodge No. 1037, who is organising the event did his first jump this year, was so enthusiastic about it he decided that if he could challenge all the lodges in Dorset to send a volunteer to represent their lodge, it would make a great day out as well as raise funds for Dorset’s RMBI 2014 Festival. Jumpers must pay a deposit of £50, and then raise sponsorship to a minimum of £325.
Set for May 2013 at Old Sarum Airfield, Salisbury, Ray is hoping he can attract not only Dorset masons, but also brethren or their families from neighbouring Provinces. He said that there is no upper age limit, and the oldest person to jump at Salisbury was 93.
Dorset's bighearted lifesaving initiative
On Wednesday 18th July, the official unveiling of the first of the planned 17 automated external defibrillators (AED’s) to be provided outside each of the 17 masonic meeting halls throughout Dorset over the next two months, took place at the Masonic Hall in Howard’s Lane, Wareham.
With a valued contribution from the Grand Charity, and substantially through the auspices of the Province of Dorset’s own charity Dorset Masonic Care, and in conjunction with Arrhythmia Alliance, Dorset has now financed the purchase and installation of these publicly available and easily accessible life-saving pieces of equipment in commemoration of Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and as part of their Freemasonry in the Community initiative.
Pictured here with the Mayor of Wareham, Councillor Keith Green, at the official unveiling of the AED outside the Wareham Masonic Hall, the Provincial Grand Master for Dorset, RW Bro Richard Merritt, said 'We are very conscious of the fact that we are providing a facility for our local communities which, in a bizarre way, we would hope would never need to be used'.
'They can and do, however, save lives, and should the need ever arise it is our profound hope that this equipment will do just that'. After the official unveiling, speaking on behalf of the people of Wareham, the Mayor said 'We are indebted to the Freemasons of Dorset for providing this equipment and I have great pleasure in declaring this facility open and readily available to the people of Wareham'.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) strikes without warning, killing 100,000 people in the UK every year – that’s 250 people a day. In the UK, less than 5% of victims survive SCA out of hospital and it kills more people than lung cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined. SCA can happen to anyone, regardless of age or fitness. SCA could happen in a shopping centre, on a football field, whilst out walking the dog; it can strike anyone, anytime, anywhere. Combined with CPR, defibrillation is the only effective treatment.
The 40 or so guests at the launch held in the masonic meeting room - which included the Lady Mayoress, Mrs Vera Green, the Town Clerk, Mr Rod Curtis, a number of Council dignitaries, Dorset Masonic Care executive members and local Freemasons and their wives - heard a very informative talk accompanied with video presentations from Peter Wray-Cook, Clinical Support Officer with the NHS, SW Ambulance Service. He stressed the need for the public to 'have a go' in the event that someone needs urgent, first intervention before the emergency service arrived on the scene.
'Every minute is vital and the use of this equipment, which gives clear verbal instructions through its built-in, fully automated monitoring system, actually talks the user through the vital CPR [chest compressions] and advises when and if and how to apply a shock to the patient’s heart, providing the emergency services with a huge advantage and far greater chance of saving a life when we arrive on the scene'.
This installation, now fully operational, requires a 999 call to be made to access the equipment. It is to be rapidly followed by similar installations at the masonic halls in Beaminster, Blandford, Branksome, Bridport, Dorchester, Gillingham, Kinson, Lyme Regis, Poole, Portland, Shaftesbury, Sherborne, Sturminster Newton, Swanage, Weymouth and Wimborne.
Speaking on behalf of Arrhythmia Alliance, Trudie Lobban said, 'This is the largest single donation of this life-saving equipment by any organisation in the UK'.
'The extremely generous donation to A-A made by the Freemasons of Dorset will ensure life-saving equipment is available in the Dorset area'.
'In the event of an SCA the first few minutes are vital – for every minute without defibrillation, chances of survival decrease by 10%. With all the best intentions, it is often impossible for emergency services to reach a patient within the required timeframe (due to location, distance and/or traffic congestion). It is paramount that emergency life-saving equipment is made available and accessible for public use until emergency services arrive on scene'.
Bournemouth mayor Cllr Phil Stanley-Watts said: ‘We are truly indebted to the Freemasons of Dorset for this magnificent gift to the local community.’