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.
Within these four walls
Every day, the RMTGB’s welfare team travel the UK to help young people achieve their potential. Tabby Kinder goes on the road with Julia Young to visit the Stiles family and discovers how the charity is changing lives
Working for a charity that supports more than two thousand children and young people in their education and extra-curricular life can be a rewarding experience, but for the small group of people who make up the Welfare Adviser team at the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB), it’s a job that comes with responsibility.
Julia, Sam, Claire, David and Kate spend each day travelling the length and breadth of the country, visiting applicants to, and beneficiaries of, the RMTGB. They assess the support needed by new applicants and maintain ongoing contact with the many families already receiving the charity’s assistance.
This close-knit team of five non-masons plays an integral role in how and when financial grants are awarded by the RMTGB, directing families to state benefits and services, offering guidance about education or careers, and sometimes simply providing a friendly face to talk to or a shoulder to cry on. The team draws upon its collective expertise, which includes counselling, cognitive therapy, bereavement assistance, teaching, social work and disability legislation.
A supportive role
Julia Young has headed up the team as welfare manager for the past twelve years and spends roughly half her time visiting new applicants and the other half providing ongoing support for beneficiary families – some of whom have been receiving help from the trust for up to a decade. ‘The ability to listen with an empathetic ear is key to doing this job,’ she says.
New applications are received almost every day from families who have experienced bereavement, poverty, debt, desertion, divorce or disability, and visits can be emotionally challenging. ‘When the initial application form comes to us it can be difficult to get the whole picture; often families are embarrassed to outline the difficulties they are having, particularly when it involves financial worries or mental health issues. By visiting the family in person we can get a whole picture of what they need, not just a piece of paper outlining facts and figures.’
For Julia, it’s all about finding the balance between sympathy and professionalism, although through the course of her work she has become very close to some cases. ‘I have met families who are at their wits’ end due to the death of one or both parents. It’s the most wonderful thing to see a child develop from being very introverted to continuing their education with our help and eventually leaving sixth form with good A levels, on their way to university. I take great pride in all the children we help. Knowing they go on to achieve and be successful is very rewarding.’
‘When the application form comes to us it can be difficult to get the whole picture; by visiting the family we can see what they need, not just a piece of paper outlining facts and figures.’ Julia Young
The road to success
Les Hutchinson, chief executive of the RMTGB, says that the work of Julia and her team is vital. ‘The speed at which the team can visit families, giving them time and support when they’re at their lowest ebb, is very valuable to our primary purpose, which is to provide support for the children and grandchildren of deceased or distressed Freemasons,’ Les says. ‘Our job is to do what we can to minimise the impact of poverty on the child and make sure that neither their education nor their opportunities are compromised.’
The Stiles family is just one of the many supported by the RMTGB and today Julia has made the two-and-a-half hour drive to Christchurch from her home in Haywards Heath to check in on Pauline Stiles and her three children: Harriet, eighteen, Charles, twenty-one, and Georgia, twenty-three.
‘The RMTGB has changed my children’s lives, their futures and given them opportunities to grow. It has lifted a huge burden, both emotionally and financially.’ Pauline Stiles
When Pauline first approached the RMTGB in 2009 she was facing separation, the collapse of the family business, a son on his way to university, one daughter wishing to further her talent by attending a specialist basketball school, and another with severe disabilities that meant she needed round-the-clock care. Pauline’s mental health was deteriorating and she moved out of the family home with her children, relocating to the south coast.
‘We had a very intense life running a busy family business and looking after Georgia, who has special needs, and then things started to go wrong,’ she says. ‘When we moved out of our old home, Charles had just finished his A levels, and none of us knew what was going to happen. It was a very difficult situation. We had lost absolutely everything.’
The Stiles family has a historical relationship with the Freemasons; Pauline’s husband, brother-in-law and grandfather are all masons, and the Craft has always surrounded family life. ‘Before all our troubles started my husband would raise money for the school for autistic pupils that Georgia was attending in Southampton through his masonic lodge in Basingstoke,’ she says. ‘We were very involved in the fundraising side of it, encouraging the kids to collect twenty-pence pieces in Smarties tubes, and I’d attend the Ladies Day events. I never imagined that one day we would be on the receiving end. We never thought we’d be where we are.’
Financial support from the RMTGB has helped each of the children through a tumultuous and pivotal few years. Georgia returns from her full-time school for sixteen weeks of the year, and a holiday grant has meant that she, her sister and mum have been able to visit a respite camp for young people with disabilities on the Isle of Wight for a few nights each summer.
‘Despite her autism, Georgia loves going out and seeing new people and sights, so even just travelling on the boat was a huge experience for her,’ says Pauline. ‘Being able to take Harriet too meant that she could help me with Georgia, but she was also out there in the garden playing badminton with the other young people, teaching them how to play different games.’ Georgia is now finishing full-time education and has moved into her own accommodation, where she receives twenty-four-hour care assistance through government funding.
Harriet had a hard time in school, repeatedly held back due to severe dyslexia that went undiagnosed throughout most of her school life, putting her passion for playing basketball professionally on hold for a number of years and leaving her with low self-esteem. The RMTGB’s grant has allowed Harriet to complete her college education, and she has played basketball with the England team in games all over Europe. Harriet now plans to return to college in September to qualify as a personal trainer in order to work as a sports coach for people with learning disabilities. ‘I don’t know where I would be without their support. I definitely wouldn’t be at college now,’ says Harriet.
The scholarship grant has helped Charles attend Cardiff Metropolitan University, where he studies sports management. ‘I was working in Australia for a year when all the trouble started,’ he says. ‘I came back to the UK and everything had changed, my mum had moved away from where I had grown up and it was a difficult time for all of us. I wanted to go to university but it wasn’t feasible due to our money problems, and a student loan can only cover so much,’ he says. ‘The grant has made things a lot more simple and comfortable, and now I can enjoy the side of university that everyone else gets involved in instead of constantly worrying about whether I can afford to eat or pay my rent.’
The charitable support has helped lift the burden on Pauline, who worried that her personal problems were negatively affecting the lives of her children: ‘I’ve found the last few years very hard,’ she says, ‘but I would have found it immensely more difficult if I knew I was letting down my children as well, or denying them the opportunity to do what they want to do.’
Now the pressure has been eased, Pauline has been able to develop the confidence to get back into the workplace, volunteering at a charity called Crumbs three days a week – and she has recently been offered a full-time position. ‘The RMTGB has made things possible for the children that would have been totally impossible without their help. It has changed their lives, their futures and given them opportunities to grow. It has lifted a huge burden, both emotionally and financially, and thanks to that my children have grown into wonderful young people.’
The four masonic charities are undergoing a period of realignment to make the services they provide more effective. The changes will enable the charities to offer easily accessible and comprehensive support to Freemasons and their families countrywide.
One aspect of this process is the increasing co-ordination between the work of the Welfare Adviser team of the RMTGB with its counterpart Care Advice team at the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution.
Through this closer co-operation, the central masonic charities will be able to provide complete cradle-to-grave support, offering the same level of professional advice and help whether the applicant is a child, an elderly person, or a sick person. Les Hutchinson, RMTGB chief executive, says that ‘by minimising the differences between the charities, we are making our support as simple and easy as possible to access for those that need our help’.
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.’
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.’
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.’
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.’
In June, one hundred and eighty masons and their families attended the Annual General Meeting and Court of the RMTGB
The event took place in the RMTGB’s two hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary year at the County Assembly Rooms, Lincoln, under the chairmanship of Graham Ives, Provincial Grand Master for Lincolnshire and member of the Council of the RMTGB.
The president and chief executive, along with other members of the Council and staff, delivered presentations to explain the past, present and future work of the charity.
Lincolnshire Freemasons are in the final year of their 2014 Festival Appeal in support of the RMTGB, which is currently assisting more than two thousand children and grandchildren of masonic families.
Conference highlights online fundraising
In July, the central masonic charities held their first Fundraising Conference. The event, which took place in Nottingham, brought together the biannual Provincial Grand Charity Stewards Conference and the Festival Forum for the first time.
The conference, which was co-ordinated by the RMTGB, enabled those involved in masonic charity to share ideas and discuss how to overcome fundraising challenges. The event demonstrated how the central masonic charities spent a combined £36 million to meet the charitable needs of Freemasons and their families, in addition to supporting other non-masonic charities, some of which were also represented at the event.
During the conference it was announced that The Freemasons’ Grand Charity’s Relief Chest Scheme had launched its first-ever online fundraising platform. The new system will enable Provincial and Metropolitan Grand Lodges with Relief Chests to develop online fundraising campaigns and individual appeals for the benefit of the central masonic charities and other Craft appeals.
To access the new fundraising platform, please visit www.grandcharity.org/reliefchest
Stepping stones for disadvantaged children
The Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB) has awarded grants amounting to £100,000 to seven charities that are working to improve the lives of disadvantaged children and young people across England and Wales.
The grants have been made from the RMTGB’s Stepping Stones scheme and will be used to support a range of causes including tackling youth homelessness, helping children affected by domestic violence and assisting young people who are educationally disadvantaged.
A grant of more than £18,000 was awarded to MERU, a charity that designs and manufactures specialised equipment for children and young people with disabilities that are so complex that no available equipment meets their needs. MERU’s fundraiser, Becky Millington, said: ‘Without supporters like the RMTGB, we couldn’t continue helping these unique children.
We at MERU thank you. More importantly, the children thank you and that’s really who it is all about.’
For more details about the grants awarded by the RMTGB’s Stepping Stones scheme, which are only made possible because of the donations made by Freemasons, please visit www.rmtgb.org/steppingstones
‘Without the RMTGB we couldn’t continue helping these children.’ Becky Millington
Continuing Ruspini’s legacy
In March, the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB) celebrated its 225th anniversary at its annual Ruspini Luncheon, an event commemorating the vision and legacy of the trust’s founder, Chevalier Bartholomew Ruspini (pictured above). Today, the RMTGB supports more than 2,000 girls and boys and continues to build on Ruspini’s legacy with grants to help alleviate financial distress, enhancing educational opportunity by providing computers and other necessary items, as well as practical welfare assistance. The setting for the event was the Royal Masonic School for Girls in Hertfordshire.
Lifelites in game-changing project
Games can change the world, as a new project from London South Bank University (LSBU) and children’s charity Lifelites has proved. Enable Gaming challenges students on a BA (Hons) Game Cultures course to develop video games for children in hospices, most of whom are severely disabled. LSBU course director Siobhan Thomas said: ‘Games can make a profound difference to the lives of children with disabilities. Enable Gaming is about showing what can be accomplished if accessibility is at the forefront of a games developer’s mind.’
Lifelites provides fun and educational technology to the 9,000 terminally ill and disabled children who stay, play and learn in all 49 of Britain’s baby and children’s hospices. The charity began as a Millennium Pilot Project of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, but became a charity in its own right in 2006, retaining a strong relationship with Freemasons.