Festival President’s toast to the RMTGB and the Masonic Charitable Foundation
Assistant Grand Master, Deputy Lieutenants of Hampshire, Deputy Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight, Mayor and Mayoress of Bournemouth, Leader of the New Forest Council, Ladies, Gentlemen and Brethren.
- I know that we are all looking forward to learning the amount raised during our Festival Appeal which has been running for the past 6 years. Of course, one or two here do know the amount; but I made it clear a year ago that I did not want to know the amount until it was revealed at this special event. So we all have to wait a little longer, and as we wait, it is perhaps appropriate for us to reflect on those 6 years which commenced on 7th July 2010 when I was invested as Provincial Grand Master.
- On the day of my Investiture, I launched this Appeal for the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (to which I will refer as the Trust). My predecessor R W Bro Brian Bellinger had helpfully laid solid foundations and so on 7th July 2010 we started to build.
- We began with a brochure detailing the charitable work of the Trust which was circulated to all members of the Province by post to their homes. We used the strapline “Help Make a Child Smile” which epitomises the work of the Trust. Brethren were encouraged to make regular donations by way of Gift Aid so that their giving could be maximised by tax recovery. It is worth reminding ourselves this evening that all monies raised have been donated by Freemasons and their families from their own pockets. We do not raise funds from outside the Craft.
- So, does that mean that all Freemasons have deep pockets? It most certainly does not. The reality is that we have a significant number of elderly members who are on fixed incomes. At the other end of the scale, we have University Scheme Lodges initiating students. Our members come from all walks of life. The question inevitably arises, how can Freemasons raise and donate so much money from their own resources. The answer is quite simple. Freemasons care. Caring is the basis of all that we do. Our ritual takes us on a journey which encourages us to think of others particularly those less fortunate and to provide help and assistance where we can. The Trust is concerned with assisting children who are in need and Freemasons instinctively want to help and support.
- Each brother, whatever his personal situation, will do what he can. A small amount each week soon accumulates into a meaningful sum – and as we have over 9000 brethren in this Province, that is a lot of meaningful sums! We decided not to set a target for the Appeal preferring to give an indication of what we hoped Lodges might be able to achieve during the 6-year period. We set Lodge honorifics so that Lodges could monitor their progress against our expectations – Bronze was the first step towards Silver, Gold, and Platinum awards. All achievements were recognised by the presentation of Certificates – and those Lodges which achieved Platinum were presented with a Festival Gavel at our annual Provincial Meeting.
- It is very pleasing that the majority of our Lodges exceeded our expectations and I have no doubt that the Festival total to be announced this evening will be a credit to this Province. Whatever the amount I wish to thank all those brethren who have contributed – encouraged by the team which we assembled at the outset and who have worked tirelessly for the last 6 years to ensure the success of the Appeal.
- The Appeals Director, Geoff Tuck who also shoulders the responsibility of being one of my Area Assistant Provincial Grand Masters and who was also a Trustee of the Grand Charity throughout the six year period, has lead from the front. He has been an inspiration to all involved. He has been assisted by Barrie Hewitt, our Provincial Charity Steward, who has visited numerous Lodges giving presentations on the work of the Trust and who has provided encouragement and guidance to the 252 Lodge Charity Stewards across the Province whilst also continuing to discharge his other responsibilities as Provincial Charity Steward. Ron Griffiths, the Festival Secretary, who has worked behind the scenes for the entire 6 year period to ensure the smooth running of the administration. The Area teams, the Chairmen, Secretary, and members of the Area Festival Committees, the Lodge Charity Stewards, and of course the brethren producing their meaningful sums!
- We have been supported throughout by the enthusiasm of the Trust inspired by its President Mike Woodcock and Chief Executive Les Hutchinson, who are both here this evening with their ladies, and who have given many speeches and presentations across the Province, supplemented by our own team. The more the brethren learned of the work of the Trust, the more they learned of the heart breaking distress suffered by so many families and of the positive impact of the support available from the Trust, the more they responded as one would expect of Freemasons. They took to their hearts the words – “A man never stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.”
- So moving on to the Trust, how does it make a child smile. As I mention in the Introduction to the Menu booklet, the Trust traces its history back to 1788 when a school was founded for the daughters of distressed Masons. The school was referred to at the time as “The Royal Cumberland Freemasons’ School for Female Objects”. These were the days before political correctness! A similar provision for boys was established in 1798 – I do not have a record of how the boys were referred to; and that is probably for the best!
- Times changed as inevitably they do. Attitudes changed. And Freemasonry and its approach to charity also changed. It was realised that sending a poor child away to school was not always the best solution, and so the trustees of the schools began to give what they termed ‘Out Relief’ as well; this took the form of financial assistance to be used to support the child at the family home. Eventually this lead to the establishment of the two charities referred to in the Menu booklet which eventually came together as the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys.
- The Trust continued with its work providing for children in need, and also supporting children outside the Masonic family as referred to in the Menu booklet. The Trust’s millennium project was the founding of Lifelites which has been enormously successful, and which now functions as an independent charity. Lifelites provides opportunities for life-limited and disabled children at every baby and children’s hospice in the British Isles. This was a tremendous achievement of which all Freemasons can be proud and I am delighted that the chief executive of Lifelites is with us this evening.
- It didn’t end there! In April this year, the Trust was morphed (if I can use that word loosely) into the Masonic Charitable Foundation which also took responsibility for the other three great Masonic Charities including the Grand Charity. The decision of the Trust to become part of the Masonic Charitable Foundation was taken in this Province last year and so it’s fair to say that our Province, during our Festival period, played a significant part in the Trust’s destiny.
- The establishment of the Masonic Charitable Foundation is the next stage in the evolution of Masonic Charity which began over 200 years ago – and is an example of how Freemasonry has adapted and changed over the years to keep pace with changes in the wider community. All funds under one roof will enable the Charity to respond to different and changing needs as required. Over the past twelve months the Masonic Charitable Foundation and those for which it is responsible have awarded in excess of 4.8 million pounds to the wider non-Masonic Community. £4.8 in one year.
- The Trust now exists as a ring-fenced entity within the MCF and so all the monies raised during the Festival will be disbursed by the MCF in accordance with the objects of the Trust.
- The work of the Trust and the Masonic Charitable Foundation and its predecessors has enhanced the reputation of Freemasonry and Freemasons over the ages – it is an essential part of Freemasonry and all that we do and is providing enormous charitable support within the Craft and for the wide community. Long may that continue.
- I ask you all to rise and join with me in a toast the RMTGB and the MCF.
R.Bro. Mike Wilks – 22 October 2016
Festival President’s Response to his Toast proposed by the Assistant Grand Master
- Thank you AGM for your kind words. It is very much my privilege to steward this wonderful Province and on behalf of the Province I thank you for joining us today to celebrate this remarkable achievement by our brethren.
- May I also thank the Deputy Lieutenants, the Mayor and Mayoress of Bournemouth, the leader of the New Forest District Council, and our other guests and their consorts and partners for joining us on this very special occasion.
- I cannot let the occasion go by without mentioning my brother Provincial Grand Masters from neighbouring Provinces, including the Isle of Man (with which Province I share a particular passion) and the Deputy Provincial Grand Master of North Wales which will be hosting the 2017 Festival for the Trust.
- The occasion is one of celebration following the Festival Period of 6 years. Brethren across our Province have worked hard throughout that period and I have mentioned them and thanked them during my toast to the Trust when I also mentioned that caring for those less fortunate has underpinned our Festival giving.
- However, Freemasonry is very much part of the community and there are many charitable causes in the community which need support. And so throughout the Festival period our Lodges have continued to support these local charitable causes. We have 6 Areas within the Province each of which hosts one or more Charity Cheque Presentation evenings on an annual basis. These are great occasions, supported by the local civic dignitaries, when representatives of the charities attend to receive donations, and to speak about their particular charity – often a very humbling experience for those present. Some of these charities were born of a tragedy, started by those suffering immense grief with a view to minimising the suffering of others similarly affected. Typically we have been disbursing £20,000 at each of these evenings – a total of over £200,000 annually to well deserving local charities.
- I have to say that I am enormously proud of our brethren who have delivered such an astounding result for the Festival Appeal; and yet have continued to support local charities to such a level throughout the six year period.
- During 2017 we will theme these presentations events to the Tercentenary of Grand Lodge and our brethren will concentrate their giving to local charities across the Province.
- AGM, we are so pleased that you have joined us this evening and to show our appreciation, and as a memento of the occasion, I have a small gift for you. It is perhaps a little unusual – it’s a book! The book is not about our Province, though the Province features. We are proud of our association with the armed forces and have a number of service Lodges – the Royal Navy including the Royal Marines, the Army, the Royal Air Force. I ought to make it clear for the benefit of our service brethren, that I have named these services in no particular order! The book is entitled The Great War 1914 -1918 – Victoria Cross Freemasons. It tells the story of the part played by Freemasons in the Great War, the great sacrifices made, the heroism which lead to the awarding of the Victoria Cross to 1,367 men, 107 of whom were Freemasons. Twelve of these brethren were members of this Province, greater in number than any other Province. Their details are faithfully recorded in the book which is a permanent reminder of the part played by members of the Craft and this Province in the service of our country.
- I also have a baton, the Festival baton, which I will shortly pass on to VWBro Allan Powell who has joined us from North Wales and who is Deputy President of the 2017 Festival for the RMTGB. The baton comes with with our very best wishes for the success of next year’s Festival.
- May I thank all those who have worked so hard to make this evening a memorable occasion. The team lead by David Hannan, whose names are recorded for posterity in the Menu booklet. The entertainers Jasmine Elcock, the Royal Marine Association Concert Band and Drummers, the Southern Union Chorus, the Bossard Quartet, and Max Disco. Christopher Milnes for the audio visual and Cheryl Garner and her team at the Bournemouth International Centre.
- When the AGM, Mike Woodcock and I leave the stage to rapturous applause (!) we will be further entertained by the RMACB who will play celebratory music which we can sing along to – some words are in the Menu booklet and the AGM and guests on my table will then retire. We will be back! I understand that some of you have to catch coaches and some have ferries but I hope that most of you will be able to remain and enjoy the party. I know that the AGM is keen to meet as many of you as possible – don’t be shy! I do hope that you have all had a memorable evening and I look forward to seeing you at the party.
- Finally, I thank you AGM for proposing my toast; and I thank you all for the reception which you gave to it, and for attending this evening to make the event so special.
R.Bro. Mike Wilks – 22nd October 2016