As smaller charities struggle in the current economic climate, Tabby Kinder finds out how Freemasons on a local and national level are keeping community projects in business
In 2012, donations to charity in the UK fell by twenty per cent, with £1.7bn less being given by British people between 2011 and 2012.
A report by the Charities Aid Foundation and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations suggests that small and medium sized charities are suffering most as voluntary donations – rather than National Lottery or state funding – tend to make up a larger proportion of their total income. The report, which surveyed 3,000 people, says that charities in Britain now face a ‘deeply worrying’ financial situation.
The Freemasons recognise the importance of supporting smaller charities. These charities may be small, but their projects and services can provide lifelines for people – meeting very specific needs that fulfil priorities often overlooked by the public sector and larger charities.
Since 1981 The Freemasons’ Grand Charity has donated more than £50 million to national charities, with grants going towards funding medical research, helping vulnerable people and supporting youth opportunities. It now sets aside £100,000 every year for small donations of between £500 and £5,000 to under-funded causes around the country, which often prove vital to their continued operation.
The charity’s allocation for providing minor grants to small charities doubled from £50,000 to £100,000 in 2010 following a marked increase in the number of applications the charity was receiving from smaller organisations. ‘It was clear that the increase in applications was a result of the economic climate, with smaller charities finding themselves worse off,’ says Laura Chapman, Chief Executive of the Grand Charity, pleased by the decision to increase the grant budget. ‘It meant we could reach out to more smaller charities, making a bigger impact during what has clearly been a difficult year.’
Helping small and community-focused causes is not just the domain of the Grand Charity. Local Provinces and lodges donated a huge amount to charity in 2012, around £5 million of which was reported by local newspapers. ‘Freemasons are community-minded and this is demonstrated by the local lodges that frequently donate to smaller charities,’ says Laura.
Neil Potter, Provincial Information Officer at the Provincial Grand Lodge of Nottinghamshire, believes that contributing to small causes is not only hugely beneficial to the community, but is also a way for Freemasons to show what they stand for.
‘Charitable giving is a great opportunity to break down the barriers that seem to have been put up over the years regarding the public and masonic relationship, and to let everyone know exactly what we do,’ says Neil. ‘Our main concern is helping people who are less fortunate than us – and it all comes from the members’ pockets. We make voluntary contributions, hold fundraising events and enjoy doing it.’
Freemasonry Today spoke to four charities that have received invaluable financial support from Freemasons in 2012.
‘The grant we received from the Freemasons is being used in the rehabilitation through sports training programmes’ Edwin Thomas
The British Ex-Services Wheelchair Sports Association
Funded by the Grand Charity
The British Ex-Services Wheelchair Sports Association (BEWSA) enables injured ex-service personnel to take part in sports, building friendship and camaraderie. BEWSA describes itself as ‘not an organisation for the disabled, but of the disabled’.
‘The Grand Charity has long supported charities that provide help and assistance to ex-members of the Armed Services,’ says the Grand Charity’s Laura Chapman. ‘It is a popular cause within Freemasonry. Through our minor grant funding we aim to support small charities that fulfil needs not easily accessible elsewhere, just like BEWSA.’
In May last year, the Grand Charity donated £1,500 to the charity, enabling nationwide support to continue for active disabled veterans. ‘The grant we received from the Freemasons is being used in the rehabilitation through sports training programmes,’ says Edwin Thomas, BEWSA chairman.
One weekend a month, the charity books the sport facilities at the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering RAF centre in Cosford, West Midlands, and ex-service wheelchair users are invited to join in wheelchair sporting events.
‘If they are comfortable in their chosen sport and wish to take training to the next level, then BEWSA is there to provide the encouragement, the training and the sports equipment required to participate,’ says Thomas.
Funded by the Grand Charity
‘JustDifferent is a perfect example of a small organisation carrying out big work,’ says Laura. Toby Hewson, who has cerebral palsy, founded the charity to change social attitudes towards disability. It runs workshops in schools that are delivered by disabled young adults employed by the charity.
‘Today’s young people are tomorrow’s employers, policymakers and educators. JustDifferent believes that changing attitudes in the young is the best way to achieve long-term social change,’ says Laura.
‘Harassment, bullying and discrimination are all sadly part of our society,’ says Karen McLachlan, fundraiser at JustDifferent. ‘The workshops give young people the capacity to challenge discrimination. Our work encourages and educates young people to be understanding and tolerant.’
JustDifferent has received acclaim for its techniques and schoolchildren engage with the workshop presenters with open-minded enthusiasm. Katie, a Year Six pupil, told the workshop presenter: ‘At first I felt sorry for you, but by the end of the workshop I felt more confident to talk to people like you. It changed my attitude towards disabled people.’
A grant of £5,000 made to the charity in May has helped the workshop reach 1,388 children.
‘To teach young people that disabled people can achieve, participate and lead is the ultimate goal of JustDifferent – and this is something the Grand Charity is very happy to support,’ says Laura.
Great North Air Ambulance Service
Funded by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Durham
Durham Freemasons have provided regular funding for the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) over the years. While GNAAS has become a leading healthcare charity, its funding relies entirely on voluntary donations. ‘We receive no lottery or government funding, but we’re proud to say that when we receive donations, one hundred per cent goes towards providing the life-saving service,’ says Mandy Drake, deputy director of public liaison at the charity.
Michael Graham, Provincial Information Officer at Durham, believes support for the charity comes from a personal feeling within the Province: ‘With many lodges in rural areas, a lot of our members have first-hand experience of, or have witnessed, the amazing job that air ambulances do,’ he says. ‘Our members are always very keen to support GNAAS.’
Michael estimates that the Durham Province has donated more than £25,000 to GNAAS. ‘We purchased two rapid response vehicles at around £12,000 each, and the Mark Degree bought another, so there are three units that are totally funded by the Freemasons,’ he says proudly.
Funding air ambulance charities is a very popular cause with Freemasons, demonstrated by the Grand Charity’s air ambulance grant programme, which is strongly supported throughout the Provinces.
The Lenton Centre
Funded by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Nottinghamshire
Around twenty per cent of the charities supported by the Nottinghamshire Province in 2012 had lost council funding. This was true of The Lenton Centre, a swimming pool and community leisure facility that Nottingham City Council decided to close down due to budget cuts, despite strong local opposition.
Following a campaign, The Lenton Community Association took over the centre, with funding from private donors and charitable organisations. The centre is run as a social enterprise and last year received £20,000 from the Provincial Grand Lodge of Nottinghamshire to fund a multi-use children’s area.
‘It’s a charity that we consider is doing a lot to help local people,’ says Neil Potter, Provincial Information Officer in the Province. ‘With local authorities having such restraints on their budgets, they find it increasingly difficult to support local charities, so our involvement in the community is becoming more important each month.’
Nicci Robinson, project manager of the children and young people’s team based at the centre, says the donation will help create a games area that can be used for sports such as football and cricket. ‘It’s a substantial chunk of what we need. The money has helped get a long-held dream off the ground.
It has kept us going through a very difficult time, while also aiding development and keeping our other activities for young people going.’
‘With local authorities having restraints on their budgets, our involvement in the community is more important’ Neil Potter