Moving the yardstick

A city farm in one of the UK’s most disadvantaged areas is giving young people new confidence. Matt Timms looks at how masonic funding is supporting its vision to transform lives

St Werburghs in Bristol was almost totally overrun with crime in the 1980s after floods forced residents to vacate their homes. Locals recall how the fields became a dumping ground and once-prize allotments grew wild and untamed. Determined to regain some semblance of togetherness, they put a request in to the council for the land. But it wasn’t until sheep were introduced that the community started to properly re-energise.

St Werburghs City Farm has now been improving prospects for people living in the area for 30 years. The two-acre smallholding, one-acre community garden, two-and-a-half-acre conservation site and 13 acres of allotments have become the beating heart of the community. A place that once looked beyond help is thriving and a £38,125 grant awarded by the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) will allow the surrounding communities to grow still further.

Urban retreat

Situated in the Bristol ward of Ashley, alongside four others that are among the 10 per cent most disadvantaged in the UK, St Werburghs City Farm provides practical, outdoor and therapeutic opportunities for permanently excluded and disengaged young people.

‘Each year, we support hundreds of causes, including those that provide employment opportunities for young people who are not in education, employment or training,’ says Katrina Baker, Head of Charity Grants at the MCF. ‘We decided to support St Werburghs City Farm because it engages, equips and empowers young people with the confidence and capacity to transform their lives.’

According to Alex, a 17-year-old participant in the farm’s Work2Learn placement scheme, ‘If anyone is in Bristol and they’re having a tough time, they should come to St Werburghs.’ Alex is just one of an estimated 704 people aged 14-19 – most of whom are struggling in mainstream education – who will benefit from the support the farm provides over the next three years thanks to the MCF grant. ‘The people here are my second family,’ he says. ‘We feel equal.’

Now into his third year on the farm, Alex had considered becoming a chef, a train driver and even joining the army, but a love of the outdoors, together with his experiences at St Werburghs, opened his eyes to the joys of farming. ‘Sometimes you just get the feeling you’ll be good at a job,’ he says. His time at St Werburghs has not only given him vital experience, it’s also boosted his confidence.

The farm’s youth development manager, Anna Morrow, has seen Alex and countless others change for the better as a result of the youth programme. ‘When things fall apart, that one day out a week can make all the difference – enough for them to be able to cope,’ she says.

‘St Werburghs City Farm engages, equips and empowers young people with the confidence and capacity to transform their lives’ Katrina Baker

People power

Max, also 17, believes his time at St Werburghs has helped him in life: ‘Being here has shown me about teamwork. There will be some people you get on with, some you don’t, but that’s life and you have to accept that.’ For Max, interacting with people on the farm has exposed him to a world outside mainstream education and given him opportunities he otherwise might not have had. His mother has noticed a marked improvement in Max’s moods, and firmly believes he has benefited socially from having other adults to talk to.

Morrow recalls a 14-year-old young carer who used his placement to overcome problems at school, mostly to do with aggression. ‘He was doing everything at home: cooking, cleaning, taking the parent role,’ she says. ‘All that was taking its toll.’ Starting at just one morning a week, his experience at St Werburghs made such a difference that he ended up helping out three days a week and eventually went on to gain an apprenticeship in farming.

For young people living on the perimeters of society, schools are limited in how they can address complex personal issues, so having a place like the city farm can be a lifeline. ‘It’s all about relationships,’ says Beth Silvey, a youth worker at the farm. ‘Participants get to do things they’d never get to do anywhere else. And I think that builds trust. It’s a nurturing environment and they are very much part of the team. It’s a group activity that isn’t intense, so they talk to us. It’s like a family here.’

Growing a community

Personal development, self-esteem and support networks aside, an equally important aspect of the farm’s work is improved community cohesion, particularly in an area where so many young people live below the poverty line. More than half of children are living in income-deprived households in three areas within walking distance of the farm.

The thinking behind the project is clear: if you catch anxieties at an early stage then you’re able to address issues before they balloon out of control. ‘It’s really important,’ says Silvey, ‘it can tip the balance at a crucial time. And we wouldn’t be able to do that without the money from the Masonic Charitable Foundation.’

Thanks to the MCF grant and a new building, the farm has been able to extend all its work placements and start a new enterprise project. With the continued support of the MCF and the proud members of the community, St Werburghs City Farm has become an invaluable asset in bettering the situation facing young people in the area.

‘People come here because they’re accepted,’ says Max, who has himself been witness to some extraordinary stories. ‘The people are just nice; no one is bothered by difference.’ And in an area that continues to suffer from poverty, having a place that is very much loved and embraced by the community is crucial.

Published in Masonic Samaritan Fund

Recognised and valued

Whether you’re among those providing vital help or receiving it, caring will touch nearly everyone’s lives. Aileen Scoular finds that Freemasonry has been united in its support of carers for 25 years

Every day some 6,000 people become carers. Today there are around 6.5 million in the UK, and national membership charity Carers UK estimates that by 2037 more than nine million people will be in a caring role. 

This means providing unstinting, unpaid support for a loved one, friend or neighbour who is older, disabled or seriously ill. 

While some carers will have made a decision to provide care, for many the role will have presented itself gradually or unexpectedly, and they may struggle to balance caring with their own needs.

Of particular concern is the fact that the number of older carers is growing rapidly. ‘The Carers UK joint report with Age UK, Caring into Later Life, showed that there are now almost 1.3 million carers aged 65 and over in England and Wales – an increase of 35 per cent in 10 years,’ says Emily Holzhausen, director of policy, advice and information at Carers UK. ‘It was even more alarming to discover that the fastest-growing group of carers are those aged 85 and over.’ Around 87,000 octogenarians now care for a loved one, despite their own fragile health.

Young lives are affected, too. Carers Trust estimates that there are around 300,000 carers aged 16 to 24 in the UK, and some 13,000 of those are providing more than 50 hours of care a week, which makes it very difficult to work or go to college.

Thankfully for today’s carers, there is a network of dedicated caring charities. But the problem is that not everyone who provides care realises they are a carer, so it can be hard for such charities to reach those who most need their support. ‘People often have a picture of who a carer is and they find it hard to identify with that label,’ says Holzhausen. ‘Many carers simply don’t want to ask for help, often because they feel like it is their duty to care for their loved one.’

Help for those who help

Carers UK celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2015 and is working with a network of volunteers and local community-based organisations – including masonic lodges – to help them understand how to reach, connect with and support carers in their community in the best way. However, they need funding to reach more carers with vital advice, information and support, which is why The Freemasons’ Grand Charity’s support of the caring sector is so important.

Over the past 25 years, the Grand Charity has donated more than £1 million to charities that specifically support carers, including a £250,000 donation to Carers UK back in 1990. Baroness Jill Pitkeathley OBE headed up Carers UK at the time and she described it as ‘one of the most significant events which took place on my watch as chief executive… allowing us to expand our branch network, increase our membership and expand our profile with the media. Carers everywhere owe the Grand Charity a debt of gratitude.’

‘Many Freemasons recognise the need for care, and for some it’s a topic that is becoming more relevant to their own lives,’ says Katrina Baker, Head of Non-Masonic Grants at the Grand Charity. ‘It is reported that many carers are already living on the breadline so any welfare cuts take their financial situation to a critical level. The masonic community and our Grants Committee are passionate about supporting the caring sector.’

The Grand Charity has made sizeable donations to caring organisations in recent years. Crossroads Care, a UK-wide network of carers’ centres, received £125,000 over three years, allowing it to develop more branches. Contact a Family also benefited from £125,000 over three years, enabling it to establish a new regional structure in the north of England. Home Farm Trust (Hft), a charity for people with learning disabilities, used a £60,000 donation to fund a Carer Support Service. A conference for The Princess Royal Trust for Carers (now merged with Crossroads Care to form the Carers Trust) was made possible with a £33,000 grant, allowing best practice to be shared across 118 independent care centres. 

‘Unfortunately we receive far more applications for grants than we can support, and the number we receive is rising.’ Katrina Baker

The more you know…

Recently, the Grand Charity once again supported Carers UK with a £100,000 donation to help fund its national advice and information services, giving carers access to free guidance on the practicalities of caring, and information on their entitlements and rights. ‘It is a substantial donation for us, larger than most grants we give,’ explains Baker. ‘Unfortunately we receive far more applications for grants than we can support, and the number we receive is rising.’ 

Baker and her colleagues research the applications thoroughly, and present the Grand Charity Grants Committee with a shortlist from a broad spectrum of charitable sectors. ‘We always aim to be fair when selecting projects to support,’ she says. ‘It is also important to support causes that are of interest and relevance to the masonic community. We want them to be able to connect with the sectors and organisations we’re supporting.’

Not surprisingly, the charities that benefit from the Grand Charity’s donations are very grateful. ‘We hugely appreciate the support that has come from the Grand Charity over the past 25 years, and its current grant to help us develop our network of services,’ says Holzhausen. ‘We’re always keen to work with the masonic community, and we want them to know that our services are always there for them, too.’

Making life better

Margaret Dangoor, 75, regularly visited her mother in a Bath nursing home until her death aged 102, while also looking after her husband Eddie, who has Alzheimer’s, at home in Surrey. She explains how tough caring for loved ones can be

‘Sometimes people are so focused on the person they care for, they forget about their own well-being. Caring is a big role and it can be extremely daunting; many carers also feel very guilty. It’s not all negative, though – there can be a sense of community if you engage with the care environment. I’m a Volunteer Ambassador for Carers UK because I want to spread the word and reach those who might be caring alone. 

‘For me, it’s poignant to see the Grand Charity supporting carers’ charities. My father was a member of Raymond Thrupp Lodge in Middlesex, and Lodge of Honour in Bath when he lived there. When my father was very ill during the last months of his life, the lodge in Bath was very helpful to my mother. She had early Alzheimer’s disease, and a member of the lodge took her to visit my father every day for several weeks. 

‘She had no concept of what a commitment he was making and our family, who were all living at a distance, were extremely grateful.’

The personal impact

Being a carer affects people’s lives in many ways – not all of them predictable – as research from Carers UK reveals

Employment

According to a report by Carers UK, two million people have given up work to care. More than a third of carers have also used up their holiday leave to provide care.

Relationships

Caring can profoundly change the terms of a relationship. Having nursed each other through cancer on separate occasions, BBC Radio 2 DJ Johnnie Walker and his wife Tiggy are now patrons of the Carers UK 50th Anniversary appeal. ‘Caring pushed our relationship to the brink,’ he says. ‘It has left us with a deep understanding of how difficult and challenging caring for someone can be.’

Family

Sometimes, family bonds can break down too. ‘At first, family can be very supportive but as time passes, that support can drop off,’ says Emily Holzhausen of Carers UK. Around 60 per cent of carers worry about the impact their caring role will have on their other relationships.

Physical well-being

Caring has had a negative effect on the health of some 82 per cent of carers, according to Carers UK, and 41 per cent have experienced an injury or their physical health has suffered as a result of caring. Looking ahead, more than three quarters of all carers are concerned about the impact of caring on their own health in the next 12 months.

Isolation

Feeling isolated is common among carers. Many don’t want to ask for help, and others are too exhausted – or cannot afford – to do anything except provide round-the-clock care. Eight in 10 carers say they have experienced loneliness and isolation as a result of their caring role, and over half have lost touch with friends or family.

Financial hardship

Caring is costly and more than a third of all carers do not realise what benefits they are entitled to. Around 48 per cent cannot make ends meet, and 26 per cent have had to borrow money from friends or family to survive.

‘The personal impact’ statistics from Carers UK reports: State of Caring (2015); Alone and Caring (2015); Caring and Isolation in the Workplace (Carers UK and Employers for Carers, 2015)

Published in The Grand Charity

Stronger than any disaster

It has been more than a year since one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded tore across the Philippines. Peter Watts reports on how Freemasons came together to help to rebuild the country’s shattered infrastructure

On Friday, 8 November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines with terrible impact. More than 6,000 people were killed when 195mph winds and storm surges flattened entire cities. ‘People were hopeless, desperate, traumatised,’ explains Cynthia Guerra, programme manager at Plan UK’s Philippines office. ‘Children were begging for food and money, unable to return to school. Houses were destroyed.’

One year later, things are starting to improve. The reconstruction work has included the rebuilding of fourteen classrooms and two health centres that were obliterated or badly damaged in eastern and western Samar, two of the worst hit areas. These rebuilding efforts were made possible by Freemasons, who donated £185,000 after seeing the scale of the devastation. 

‘The International Red Cross and Red Crescent launched an appeal for over £60 million so we knew it was a large disaster,’ says Katrina Baker, Head of Non-Masonic Grants for The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, which considers emergency grants after major natural disasters. ‘It was the scale, affecting 14.1 million people. The extent of the destruction was awful.’

The Grand Charity sent £50,000 to help provide immediate relief in the form of hygiene kits, emergency shelter and medical aid, but many Freemasons wanted to do more. ‘The masonic community called on us to set up a dedicated Relief Chest,’ says Baker, and it was these donations that were used towards the second phase of the recovery operation. ‘Phase two is the transition from immediate assistance offered on the ground to long-term recovery work. The government, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and local partners conduct in-depth assessment of need in the area.’

The typhoon marked the seventh time a dedicated Relief Chest had been created by the Grand Charity, the first coming after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami when the masonic community – individuals and lodges – insisted they wanted to help. With Freemasons contributing £185,000 to help the people of the Philippines, the Grand Charity passed on the money to Plan UK, a charity that specialises in working with children in some of the world’s poorest regions. 

‘We have three or four NGOs that we know are reliable and have worked with in the past,’ explains Baker. ‘We ask them each to submit a project, then the Council decides on the most suitable one. We like it to be something tangible, so people can see where their money has gone, but it also has to be something that is necessary. In this case, it was schools and health centres.’

‘The Grand Charity sent £50,000 to help provide immediate relief in the form of hygiene kits, emergency shelter and medical aid, but many Freemasons wanted to do more.’

In the Philippines, Plan UK consulted with village leaders, but also spoke to women, children, farmers and fishermen to ‘gather their priority needs’. Plan UK’s Guerra takes up the story: ‘Due to the magnitude of the damage, health services were not operational, which caused major problems,’ she says. ‘Education had also been hampered as more than 2,500 schools were damaged.’

Starting over

Known as Yolanda in the Philippines, the typhoon first hit land in eastern Samar. Sixty-six health centres were destroyed and thirty-five damaged in eastern and western Samar. Schools were also devastated, with more than two hundred damaged or destroyed in the two regions. Marie, a student in eastern Samar, gives an idea of what children and teachers faced: ‘Some classrooms were flattened; others had roofing blown out,’ she said. ‘Students were all in one room and standing as there were not enough seats. Our books were unusable.’ 

Plan UK was able to rebuild and stock several health centres and schools, something that will help around 4,720 people. These are permanent buildings with first-class facilities, built to withstand any future disaster. 

‘The health centres have birthing facilities including scales, blood-pressure apparatus, wheelchairs and examining tables with stirrups,’ says Guerra. ‘For schools, we provide blackboards, learning materials, tables, chairs and toilets. All the structures are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.’

Plan UK lets the Grand Charity know how things are progressing by sending regular updates. ‘Plan UK is a great organisation to work with,’ says Baker. ‘They get back to us immediately if we need to hear from the project, and report to us every three months. We can speak to people on the ground ourselves if needed, but we’d rather let them get on with the work.’ Baker notes that Plan UK is so engaged that it is still informing the Grand Charity of projects that were funded in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The message is that masons have contributed to projects that are built to last, ensuring short-term relief with long-term benefits for a hard-pressed community.

‘Children and communities have expressed so much appreciation,’ says Guerra. ‘The project both restores physical structures as well as bringing back dignity.’

Or, as one student put it: ‘We consider this an early graduation gift. Typhoon Yolanda may have been the strongest typhoon we have ever encountered, but together we are stronger than any disaster that may come our way.’

Published in The Grand Charity

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