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Insight team members Peter Martin and Ken Day spent a day visiting the offices of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys meeting the staff running the charity supported by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Freemasons through their 2016 Festival.
Chief Executive, Les Hutchinson (pictured left), has worked at the Trust for 25 years, having joined as a management trainee in 1988. He explains how and why the Trust supports around 2,000 children and young people each year.
What does the Trust do?
The Trust helps children and grandchildren from masonic families to overcome the barriers of poverty and complete the education they need to succeed in life. We also support young people with exceptional talents and those who need financial assistance in order to embrace life-changing opportunities. Finally, we award grants to national and local children’s charities and support the work of Lifelites at children’s hospices.
Who do you support and why?
All of the children and young people we support from our main funds come from masonic families and have experienced a distress, such as the death, desertion or disability of a parent, which has led to financial hardship. We provide support to help ensure that the family’s financial circumstances do not have a negative impact on the child’s education or well-being. At the present time, we are supporting over 65 children in Hampshire and Isle of Wight in this way.
How are your financial grants used?
Around 85% of the children we support live at home and attend their local state school so our financial grants help their families to meet the normal costs associated with childhood. In most cases grants take the form of regular maintenance payments, but we can also award specific grants for computers, school trips, course fees or to help with the cost of extra-curricular activities.
How do you get to know who needs help?
We rely on lodge Almoners and other freemasons to let us know about children who might benefit from our support. Along with the other central Masonic Charities, we are working hard to make sure that as many freemasons as possible know about the support we provide. A major part of my role is speaking at Lodge meetings and other events to increase the knowledge about the Trust within Freemasonry and inform the Brethren and their families about our work.
How does someone apply for support from the Trust?
Families can make initial enquiries about support by contacting us directly via phone, email or post, or by speaking to the lodge Almoner. To begin the formal application process, a lodge representative – often the Almoner himself - will visit the family at home to complete a short form which summarises their circumstances and provides us with an overview of their finances.
Who decides the merit or otherwise of each case?
All applications for support follow the same process and are judged consistently against agreed criteria which mean that our grants department are able to determine which children we should be supporting. Nevertheless, all cases are considered by our Petitions Committee – comprising senior Freemasons with a wide variety of relevant backgrounds from across the provinces – who then decide whether or not to accept the
recommendations and formally approve support.
How many applications do you accept?
Last year saw the highest number of new applications approved since the Trust became active in 1986, a total of over 400. In many of these cases, the distress can be traced back to the effects of the recent recession such as redundancy, bankruptcy or business failure. Because of our clear eligibility criteria we can determine fairly quickly whether or not a case is likely to be accepted so that only those likely to be approved will reach the Petitions Committee for final approval.
For how long do you provide support?
Once we agree to support a child, our commitment remains until we determine that the family is no longer in financial distress or until the child completes their full-time education. This means that we could support the same child from pre-school to university, a period of twenty years or more in some cases. When you consider that many of the families we help have more than one child, you can see how the cost of providing our support quickly mounts up.
What checks and balances are carried out on beneficiaries during their support period and who does it?
Each year, every case is reviewed by our grants department to determine whether we should continue to provide support and, if so, whether the existing level of support provided is still appropriate for the family. All of our families are appointed a Case Almoner, a local freemason who visits the family from time-to-time to keep us informed of any developments that might change our levels of support. If we are particularly concerned about a family then we can instruct one of our welfare team to visit them and provide an updated report which might recommend changes to the support provided.
What is TalentAid, who does it support and for how long?
TalentAid supports young people who are exceptionally gifted in music, sport or the performing arts, but only if their masonic family is unable to support their career ambitions in these fields. I have heard some people say that TalentAid exists to fund hobbies, but this is not the case. Candidates must intend to pursue their talent as a career and must demonstrate a genuine ability to become a professional. Some of the young people we support are potential Olympians and others have already become professional singers and dancers. Much like our main support, TalentAid is designed to help young people from families facing financial hardship to complete their training and secure employment.
Once a potential beneficiary is identified, what happens
next? What is different about the Choral Bursary
Once we have reviewed the initial information from the lodge representative we can then begin to determine whether the child is eligible for support. If they are, then one of our Welfare Advisers will visit the family home to develop a more comprehensive report about the family’s circumstances and income. They then work with our office-based grants team to make recommendations about the type and level of support we should provide.
The Choral Bursary scheme provides talented children from low-income families with the opportunity to join a cathedral choir or choral foundation and attend the associated school. It is different from our main support in two ways: firstly, there does not have to be a masonic connection to qualify and, secondly, the candidates are nominated by the cathedral to be a recipient of our bursary. We support around 30 children in this way at any one time, including a chorister at Portsmouth Cathedral.
Insight • Issue 5 8

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