Bedfordshire casts first line
A new branch of the Masonic Fishing Charity (MFC) has been set up in Bedfordshire with the help of a generous grant of £2,500 from the Province of Bedfordshire.
The charity aims to bring an interactive fishing and countryside experience to people with special needs. The inaugural event was held at Manor Farm Fishing in Lower Caldecote, where a dedicated lake was provided for the day’s supervised hands-on fishing, for children from Keech Hospice Care, Luton.
MFC branch chairman Dick Sturman commented, ‘These events are offered free of any charge to the participants and their carers, and are funded by our sponsors and fundraising events.’
Howzat for a charity fundraiser?
The Province of West Kent organised the ideal opportunity to celebrate raising £3.25 million for the MSF at its Howzat! Festival day. The event featured a charity cricket match as well as arena entertainment and food and drink, and attracted Freemasons, their families and members of the local community to The Warren in Bromley.
Children were entertained by fairground stalls, bungee runs and a climbing wall. For others, there were beer and Pimm’s tents; performances by the Scout and Guide Marching Band; and a duck herder, who held particular interest.
The Province’s donation cheque was proudly displayed at its stand, which stood alongside stalls for the Masonic Fishing Charity and Hi Kent, a local charity for the deaf and hard of hearing. MSF Chief Executive Richard Douglas said, ‘It was a fantastic day and gave me the opportunity to meet the Freemasons of West Kent and thank them personally for their incredibly generous donations to the Masonic Samaritan Fund.’
Angling for a smile
The Cumberland and Westmorland branch of the Masonic Fishing Charity has been working with James Rennie School in Carlisle to give pupils a day in the countryside, with experienced and qualified anglers helping them to try their hand at fly fishing. The Masonic Fishing Charity aims to bring an interactive fishing and countryside experience to people with special needs with its Catching the Smile initiative. The third and final event of the Cumberland and Westmorland fishing charity’s events for 2014 took place at Gilcrux Springs Trout Farm near Aspatria, with 17 young people from James Rennie School and their teachers and carers. Among the guests were Provincial Grand Master Norman Thompson and the High Sheriff of Cumbria, Martyn Hart.
A bird in the hand
The Devon branch of the Masonic Fishing Charity organised a day’s fishing at Blakewell’s Fishery near Barnstaple for six boys who are supported by Little Bridge House Children’s Hospice in south-west Devon.
The youngsters were treated to a birds of prey display by Martin Simkins and Maurice Jones from North Devon Falconry. Funds for the day’s outing were provided by Lodge of Harmony, No. 372, of Budleigh.
When it comes to brightening someone’s day, never underestimate the power of fishing. Miranda Thompson signs up for an afternoon with the Masonic Fishing Charity to find out how young people are finding companionship and catching the smile
Matthew’s smile is radiant as the sunlight glints off the scales of the mirror carp in his hands. It’s reflected in the face of George Brutnall, the Freemason fisherman who’s helped him land perch and roach, and is now pointing out the translucent dragonflies. On one of July’s rare sunny days, this is not your usual fishing expedition. Organised by the Northamptonshire branch of the Masonic Fishing Charity (MTSFC), a team of volunteers together with 20 disabled and disadvantaged children and adults have gathered for a day of coarse fishing.
The proceedings are brought alive by the volunteer fishermen, who smile as their companions spray feed into the water – good for getting the fish to nibble around the bait. They spring into action as the fluorescent floats disappear under the water, the tell-tale sign that they’ve hooked a fish. The group will fish throughout the day, only breaking for lunch, before a special prize-giving in which every participant will be rewarded for their efforts.
Inside the gazebo-cum-kitchen, burgers are already sizzling ahead of the barbecue lunch. Chief executive of the Masonic Fishing Charity Ken Haslar recalls how, under the leadership of Jim Webster, a group of six Middlesex and London Freemasons with a common interest in fishing first came up with the idea 12 years ago. ‘We ran a raffle to raise a bit of money for something where the prize was a day’s fishing. The winner wasn’t a fisherman and he was partially sighted, so he said, “Don’t take me, take some children.” He organised it with a school he was associated with and so we had our very first event at Syon Park in Brentford.’
Ken explains that the original intention was for the day to be a one-off event: ‘But when the school left saying, “When can we come again?” we realised that we’d started something that was worth pursuing.’ Now some 1,400 volunteers are involved in the 60 events that the Masonic Fishing Charity will be holding this year, welcoming around 1,000 children across the country to fly-fishing as well as the coarse fishing events. ‘At the moment we have 25 branches in 25 different provinces,’ Ken says. ‘And we’re always on the lookout for volunteers. People are vital to us and they don’t need to be masons – about 60 per cent of our volunteers are not.’
But what is it about fishing that makes the day work? ‘Teachers find that the children who will run riot in class will happily sit here and hold a rod. I’ve lost count of the number of times that teachers have said to me, “Can we bring them here again?”’ says Ken.
Today, little blonde-haired Izzy – known by her teachers for her non-stop ‘twiddling’ and fidgeting – has stunned them by becoming quietly absorbed in the activity. Further down the bank, Freemason Richard Cullinan sits in companionable silence with William, who will later go on to win ‘Most Patriotic Outfit’ for his England cap and Union Jack wellies. As William sprays a shower of sweetcorn onto the still water, Richard reflects on the experience. ‘It’s incredible how much it’s grown since it started,’ he says. ‘The very first time I attended was at Syon Park, with a little girl who was blind. We caught the largest trout that day.’ Why does he come back? ‘I just like being able to do something for the adults and the children.’
That sense of companionship is the crux of the project, explains Ken. ‘They sit next to their fishermen who will show them as much as they are able to do. We say to them that it’s not for you to prove how good you are, but to show them how good they can be,’ he says, adding that there are also charity days for young offenders. ‘The relationship that’s formed is just as important. For many of these children, it restores a confidence in adults that they maybe don’t get at home.’
The day has certainly captured the imagination of teacher Nikki Clark, who is here with children from the Corby Business Academy. Pointing to a young teen in a pink baseball cap, she says: ‘If you see Jessica with Howard, she’s been a real star today. She’s never been fishing before and yet caught 20 fish this morning. She’s learning new skills, mixing with people she doesn’t know and really improving her communication.’
Nikki’s days out with the Masonic Fishing Charity have inspired her to create an AQA (Awarding Body for A-levels, GCSEs and other exams) award that children can gain if they do a day’s coarse fishing experience – with an award for the slightly trickier fly-fishing also in the pipeline.
‘We have a list of six different outcomes for them to achieve, then it’s accredited by AQA and they receive a separate external certificate. Anyone who is signed up to the AQA unit award can sign up to the unit and then be accredited for it.’
For Ken, the AQA award is the icing on the cake. ‘It’s amazing,’ he says, shaking his head. ‘It means that any special needs child or young adult can achieve something. It never ceases to amaze me.’
BENEFICIAL TO ALL
VIP of the day Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Northants & Hunts Dr Viv Thomas is in charge of presenting the certificates. He believes that the charity benefits Freemasonry just as much as its participants. ‘It takes Freemasonry away from the masonic halls and gets us out in the community. It gives so many people opportunities to get away from another existence. The most important thing is the joy that people have on their faces.’ Ken has coined the phrase ‘Catch the Smile’ to capture the mood of these days spent by the water. ‘We’re catching fish, we’re catching smiles,’ he says. ‘Why do people come back? We are all volunteers and what started as a simple idea of taking a few disabled children fishing has turned into a major organisation that not only catches fish but delivers a whole lot more – that’s the number one reason for everything we do.’
With both Her Majesty The Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics, it has certainly been a memorable summer.
Since the last issue we have successfully released a new core leaflet. The title, What's It All About?, was inspired by our most frequently asked - and probably hardest to answer - question from non-masons. This is another milestone in our strategy for making people understand the relevance of Freemasonry in modern society which, in turn, will help both recruitment and retention. Do please look at the leaflet on our website. I think it is important to note that the leaflet is written in plain English for both the potential candidate as well as for all our families and friends.
It is a great 'myth buster'; showing that our values are based on integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness. Additionally, it talks about friendship, openness, giving, our purpose and how we all grow by our membership. Very different to anything we have done before, the leaflet has some outstanding black and white photography. Indeed, the initial distribution to London, the Provinces and Districts has proved so popular that we have already had to order another print run.
We have another thought-provoking issue of Freemasonry Today for you all, including a fascinating interview with the Pro Grand Master, Peter Lowndes. He talks openly about what he has got out of Freemasonry as well as the responsibility of this key leadership role and his hopes for the Craft. Dr Roman Hovorka goes on the record to discuss the creation of an artificial pancreas - the result of medical research that has been funded by the Freemasons and which could transform the way children with Type 1 diabetes manage this chronic condition. We spend a day on the lake with the Masonic Fishing Charity in Northamptonshire to see how young people are finding new ways of interacting with the world. Finally, ex-soldiers and Freemasons Michael Allen and Sandy Sanders reveal the camaraderie they have found in becoming Chelsea Pensioners.
Letters to the editor - No. 20 Winter 2012
In reading the Grand Secretary’s column and hearing about the new Core Leaflet it occurred to me that Freemasonry is not just a charitable institution – a view held by the mundane world and many brethren alike. We all know that charity is the distinguishing characteristic of a Freemason’s heart and most apply this virtue without vaunting it. It is natural that the Craft should defend itself against the many unfair accusations made against it, but in doing so in public our charitable virtues should not be overstated. The Craft is far more than a charity.
Letters to the editor - No. 21 Spring 2013
Keeping up standards
I read with great interest and agreement the correspondence from Herbert Ewings and Tom Carr in the winter 2012 edition and felt somehow that the two letters were intrinsically linked.
A day's fishing for disadvantaged youngsters at the home of Lord Northampton was attended by the Grand Master, as Michael Imeson reports
A stiff breeze played down the lake from west to east. The Arctic terns revelled in it as they soared with ease over the ruffled water and made their diving bid to catch lunch.
Dozens of fishermen, young and old, eagerly lined the banks, not so much to catch lunch, but simply to try their hand, in almost every case for the first time, at getting a fish on the hook.
One youngster and his caster caught a staggering 56 perch, roach and bream, another 50. But a lot of others didn’t get a bite. Blame the wind, said some. That is fishing, we were told by others.
It was also fishing with a massive difference: it was a Masonic Trout and Salmon Fishing Club day at glorious Castle Ashby, home of the Pro Grand Master, the Marquess of Northampton, the patron, who also sponsored the event.
And it was a day when the club’s aim of bringing fishing and countryside experiences to mentally and physically disabled people was perfectly illustrated to another most welcome guest, the Grand Master, the Duke of Kent. Both the Duke and Lord Northampton happily donned the club’s cap and meandered along the lake bank, speaking to everyone, young and old, Mason and non-Mason.
The MTSFC, which in turn has spawned the Lodge of Opportunity No. 9777, has in just a few short years extended its reach to give more than 2,000 disabled young people (and some older from day centres) an experience they will surely talk about for many years to come.
Fishing days for the disabled began in Hertfordshire and Middlesex. Now they are spreading across more Provinces. Up to the close of their season in October, the club will have organised 23 fishing days in 10 different Provinces from Essex and London to Berkshire and North Wales.
While the Castle Ashby day was mainly course fishing, the club’s roots are in fly fishing for trout. There were trout – a lake was specially stocked with 200 of them for the day, and several fly fishermen and their young charges – but only 199 of them got away!
So, with Castle Ashby literally as the backdrop on a June day, young Danny from St Neots was casting his line like a veteran in the capable hands of Steve Moule from Southgate, north London. Just along the bank was school friend Stephanie who, it has to be admitted, did have a bit of a habit of casting her line over Danny’s. But they stayed friends, and Stephanie and her caster, Gerry O’Driscoll from the Square and Level Lodge in Ealing, landed five perch.
Gerry summed up his day: 'I have worked all my life and you just plod on and you take no notice of some of life’s challenges… doing this for the children makes my day. Sometimes you go home and have a tear in your eye. Just to see their faces at the end of the day makes it very important. There are some people who take the day off work to come to a fishing day like this. We are giving something back.'
Young Michael from St Neots said: “The fish seem to like the red maggots best. Is it true that some fishermen put the maggots in their mouth to warm them up before they put them on the hook?”
Another fisherman casting his line from a wheelchair said he had enjoyed the fishing – “but I like the people who are helping us to do it.”
Club member Gary Ferris of Friendship Lodge No. 8357 in St Albans, Hertfordshire, is a golfer. Now he is also a fishing fan. “This is my 10th or 11th event like this in the last two years. I have never had a bad experience. We go home with a warm feeling because we know the children have enjoyed themselves.”
After lunch the Duke of Kent handed every participant a certificate, passed to him in turn by the Pro Grand Master, sometimes plunging into the excited crowd of participants to reach a smiling, satisfied, wheelchair-bound person. As the “young guests left in their community coaches, the Club president, Gordon Bourne, reminded us: “All our casters and helpers gain hugely from their experiences during these days.
“Many have not had the experience of witnessing first hand the problems that many of our participants face in their everyday lives, and it is a real education to us all when we spend time with them. We have all become much more aware of the great amount of work that goes on in the specialist schools and centres.”
Freemasonry’s charitable giving is well known, but the club represents the other side of our lives – the time given to worthy causes. When you’ve spent a day like that at Castle Ashby, you’d be hard pressed to find a more worthy cause!
The Club, a registered charity, is entirely organised and financed by Freemasons, and help to fund their activities is always needed. It costs around £50 per head for each participant. The club hopes to expand into more Provinces and is looking for new organisers to start the ball rolling to “catch some more smiles”.
And while the Lodge of Opportunity may be rooted in Hertfordshire, meetings will be held wherever in the country there is an interest. The Lodge can be contacted via its secretary, Warren Singer, on 0208 958 7652.
Michael Imeson is the Provincial Information Officer for Hertfordshire