Celebrating 300 years

Blue  sky thinking

London’s Air Ambulance is able to reach any location in the city within 10 minutes. Aileen Scoular discovers how Metropolitan Freemasons came together to help put a second helicopter in the air

London is a city like no other. Covering some 600 square miles, and with a burgeoning population of 8.6 million – nearly 10 million if you include those entering the city within peak times – the average traffic speed is just nine miles per hour. Not a problem if you are driving to the supermarket; more worrying if you have just been involved in a traffic accident.

The city generates about 4,500 health-related calls to 999 every day and, typically, London’s emergency vehicles will reach an average speed of 20 miles per hour – better than the average, but potentially not fast enough if you have life-threatening injuries. And that’s where London’s Air Ambulance comes in: a remarkable charity established in 1989 when the Royal College of Surgeons criticised the care that seriously injured patients received in the UK.

Game changer

Due to the importance of ‘the golden hour’ – the hour immediately following a serious injury – London’s Air Ambulance initially struggled to convince the medical profession that pre-hospital diagnosis and treatment could be implemented on the street or in the air. Since then, the charity has proved to the capital’s medical community – and the rest of the world – that life-saving surgery, anaesthesia and pain relief can all be delivered effectively out in the field.

Yet there have been challenges, not least the physical barriers: these helicopters can only be landed safely in daylight hours, which means that, after sunset or during adverse weather, London’s Air Ambulance service is delivered by high-performance cars. The other big challenge is, of course, funding.

It costs about £6 million a year to deliver what Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has described as a ‘world-class’ service. And while the charity receives some funding from the NHS, it relies heavily on donations from the public – which is why corporate partnerships and individual donations are invaluable.

When London’s Air Ambulance launched its ‘Your London, Your Helicopter’ funding appeal in 2014, its mission was simple: the charity needed to raise in excess of £4 million to acquire, adapt and fly a second helicopter for five years. The second helicopter has been the dream of the outgoing chief executive, Graham Hodgkin, from the first day he joined London’s Air Ambulance in 2012. What he and his team did not necessarily expect was that the London Freemasons would step forward and pledge £2 million – an unbelievably generous donation that would make the dream a reality far sooner than he had hoped.

‘I remember the call coming in,’ he says. ‘I was at a conference where one of our patients was talking about having survived open chest surgery at the side of the road, and I got a message to call the office urgently. I assumed something was wrong, but when I called I could hear the whooping in the background! I knew even then that it would be the biggest step change in our organisation’s history. The generosity was an absolute game changer.’

‘I knew even then that it would be the biggest step change in our organisation’s history.’ Graham Hodgkin

Unifying cause

For London Freemasons, it was a chance to donate to a charity that could, and would, genuinely make a difference to the lives of Londoners of every age and in every borough. Tony Shields, the Metropolitan Grand Charity Steward, recalls the moment the decision was made.

‘Quite simply, it was an absolute no-brainer,’ he says.

‘We were looking for a fundraising campaign to take us up to our Tercentenary in 2017, and they wanted to get a second air ambulance into the air as soon as they could. Everything about their vision appealed to us.’

The new helicopter, with its eye-catching ‘London Freemasons’ branding, has been up and running since January this year and, according to Hodgkin, ‘has completely changed the scale and resilience of our service’.

The partnership between London’s Air Ambulance and the London Freemasons is equally exciting. ‘It’s a magnificent organisation and the team has been brilliant at promoting our involvement,’ explains Tony. ‘This donation will probably end up being our largest to date. It has also been the cause that has met with most enthusiasm from our members, and we are delighted to have been able to establish such a positive fundraising partnership.’

Hodgkin is also very happy. ‘It’s about two organisations with the same values coming together, based on a unifying cause,’ he says. ‘We have worked very hard to show the lodges how their donation has been used and we’re thrilled that so many more people now know about what we do. It creates a groundswell of support and momentum, and helps to drive us towards a more sustainable future. We cannot thank the London Freemasons enough.’

The pilot’s story

Chief pilot at London’s Air Ambulance, Captain Neil Jeffers knows London’s skyline better than most

‘London has some of the busiest air space in the world because we have two airports, City and Heathrow, in relatively close proximity. We always have two pilots on board our twin-engined helicopters, and we are afforded a great luxury, which is “alpha priority” – you could describe it as blue-light driving in the sky!

‘Working for London’s Air Ambulance is a wonderful job for a helicopter pilot and having the luxury of two pilots means that one of us can help the medical team, if need be. From the helipad at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, we can reach almost any location in London within 10 minutes by air and we decide where we’re going to land once we get there.

‘We never plan the landing site in advance because things can change in weeks, days or even minutes. We need an area of about 80 feet squared – about the size of a tennis court – but trees and new buildings are making safe landing spaces increasingly challenging.

‘With experience, we’ve learned how to identify the potential risks – loose tree branches, baby buggies and clothing can all be dislodged by the helicopter’s downdraft. Many people don’t realise that our helicopter throws down about 2.85 tonnes of air a second when it hovers, and that makes it incredibly windy.

‘Every day is totally different, although we always start with an aircraft check, an equipment check, a team briefing and a practice drill. Then, when the bell rings, you’re immediately up in the air, liaising with Heathrow and the fire crew, the medics, and the police on the ground. There’s this whole amazing teamwork process going on, which is brilliant. And, of course, we get to see how beautiful London looks from above.

‘There have been cases over the years where we can genuinely say, if London’s Air Ambulance hadn’t arrived at that time, the patient would not have survived. We get to save lives and that’s a huge privilege.’

Wednesday, 14 September 2016 01:00

Grand Secretary's column - Autumn 2016

From the Grand Secretary

Since emerging from the basement of Freemasons’ Hall, where I have been a charity president for the past nine years, to assume the appointment as Grand Secretary, I have felt very humbled by the numerous letters, emails and tweets of support and encouragement that I have received. I am most fortunate in having taken over a splendid team who are doing their best to train me and get me up to speed so that we can continue to provide you all with the help and support you both need and deserve.

As you will see in this issue of Freemasonry Today, preparations for our 300th anniversary are gathering momentum. The in-depth and extensive work of the Membership Focus Group will soon be rolled out under the guidance of the Improvement Delivery Group. This is all producing a real feeling of excitement and anticipation that bodes well for our future – it is a great opportunity for us and I feel most privileged to be involved at this important time in our history. 

In the build-up to 2017, it is crucial also that we recognise and celebrate the contribution being made by masons at a local level. Our feature on London’s Air Ambulance describes how Metropolitan masons have helped to put a second air ambulance in the air with a £2 million pledge. Able to reach any location in the city within 10 minutes, London’s Air Ambulance says that the masonic donation has completely changed the scale and resilience of its service. 

With Londoners of every age and in every borough benefiting, Metropolitan Grand Charity Steward Tony Shields explains that the decision to help the service was a ‘no-brainer’ in the run-up to the Tercentenary. But it’s not just organisations who are getting our help. When Julian Elcock’s business hit problems, Freemasonry was on hand for advice and support. Thanks to funding from the masonic charities, his daughter Jasmine was able to continue music lessons and reached the final of Britain’s Got Talent. We interview Jasmine about realising her ambitions and find out from Julian why his decision to join the masons in 2008 was one of the best he ever made. 

Over in Somerset, Sean Gaffney’s story reveals a Freemason who, after losing his lower left leg, pushed himself to compete at the 2016 Invictus Games and brought home two golds, one silver and a bronze. While he was initially drawn to the Craft by the fundraising aspects, it was the camaraderie and strong moral standards of conduct that were to prove a winning combination. I think Sean speaks for us all when he says that being a mason is not just about being a good man today but having the desire to be a better man tomorrow. 

Willie Shackell
Grand Secretary

‘I feel most privileged to be involved at this important time in our history.’

Published in UGLE

Lift for London Air Ambulance

Assistant Metropolitan Grand Master Ian Currans has received a cheque for £4,000 on behalf of the Metropolitan Masonic Charity, in support of the appeal to help London’s Air Ambulance charity acquire and run a second helicopter for the city. The cheque was presented by members of Kynaston Studd Lodge, No. 5416, following a presentation of ‘Talking Heads – The Next Step: Into The Royal Arch’.

London Freemasons have pledged £2 million towards the London Air Ambulance’s £4.4 million ‘Your London, Your Helicopter’ campaign, which saw the second air ambulance go into operation on 28 January this year. 

Lodge Master Mike Binsted said, ‘London Freemasons are well over halfway to raising our target of £2 million to … extend the flying hours and capability of the London Air Ambulance advanced trauma team.’

Chainmail marathon

Shortly after the purchase of a London Freemasons’ lapel pin in support of the London's Air Ambulance appeal, Bro David Cooke of Westminster City Council Lodge No. 2882 started to think of how he could increase his £5.00 donation to something a little bigger.

Bro Cooke has already run six marathons in support of various charities and is therefore no stranger to the hard work and dedication required to complete the gruelling course around the streets of London. On the 24th April 2016 he will attempt a Guinness World Record by running the London Marathon wearing full upper body, hood and glove chainmail attempting to beat the current world record of 5:49:07 set in 2014.

The suit of armour weighs just under 20kg and has restricted movement. This has forced him to review and change his plans on how to tackle the challenge. 'Running is just not the same, for starters the tunic comes down just above my knees restricting your normal stride. Your body is enclosed in heavy chains and my first runs just felt so strange.'

A number of lodges and Orders with which he has connections have made pledges of support and his own mother lodge, Westminster City Council Lodge No. 2882, have supported him with additional collections at meetings.

At a meeting held in January 2016, Bro Cooke’s running identity was born following a speech at the Festive Board. 'I was asked by our Charity Steward to say a few words about the challenge I had embarked on. Some brethren cheered at the end with the name Chainmail Dave, which has now stuck and I use to help promote my challenge.'

ChainmailDave16 along with the lapel pin design that started this challenge is now emblazoned on his running kit and race day costume. He is hoping to raise as much money as possible for the LAA appeal and has a target of £3,000. 'This would be an amazing achievement for me but just completing the challenge would be great.'

To follow Bro Cooke in his marathon journey find him on Facebook and Twitter.

You can personally sponsor Bro Cooke on his Just Giving page which can be found here.

Air Ambulance flying high

London Freemasons have donated £2 million towards London’s Air Ambulance ‘Your London, Your Helicopter’ campaign, which has now succeeded in raising enough to acquire a second emergency medical helicopter for use by London’s Air Ambulance advanced trauma team. 

The Freemasons presented a cheque for £250,000 in March 2015, with a further instalment of £750,000 presented by Metropolitan Grand Master Sir Michael Snyder in November 2015. Graham Hodgkin, CEO of London’s Air Ambulance, said: ‘We thank all those Freemasons across the Metropolitan area who worked tirelessly to raise the £2 million.’

Monday, 29 February 2016 14:43

London’s 2nd Air Ambulance now named….

London Air Ambulance ran a competition for children in London to come up with a name for the new second helicopter. The judges have deliberated and six year old Megan from Fulham has been declared the winner with the name "Walter", after her late grandfather.

The ‘Your London, Your Helicopter’ campaign had a target of £4.4 million to acquire and sustain the new second helicopter and extend daylight flying hours for five years. Of this £4.4 million, £2 million came from Metropolitan Freemasons through fundraising activities in the Province’s 1,350 or so Lodges.

Congratulations to Megan! More information can be found on London's Air Ambulance website.


Monday, 29 February 2016 14:30

Double 50th at Oak Lodge No. 190

At a meeting of Oak Lodge No. 190 on Wednesday 17th February 2016 at Freemasons' Hall, W Bro Nigel Penn, PGSD, MetGInsp, presented not one, but two 50-year certificates in masonry to W Bro Fred Harris and W Bro Doug Woodmansee, PProvGAlm (Norfolk) respectively, both of whom had been initiated in 1965.

On the same evening the lodge presented a magnificent cheque for £11,000 in aid of the London's Air Ambulance Appeal to the Metropolitan Grand Charity Steward, Tony Shields, PGStB. Bros Harris and Woodmansee received many congratulations and the lodge was warmly thanked by Bro Shields for its generosity. Bro Penn was escorted by W Bro Graham Cottington, LGR, MetGD, and two MetGStwds.

As part of the SVO Team Units Inter-Visiting and Hosting initiatives, The Metropolitan Royal Arch In Camera "Your Chapter in Focus" Presentation Team comprising E. Comps Ian Clark, Harvey Roland and Wayne Hirst visited the hosting Chapter, Kings Cross Chapter No. 1732 on the occasion of the Installation Meeting.

There were 40 Companions present including Distinguished Companions Deputy Metropolitan Grand Superintendent Christopher Clark, PGSN, Assistant Metropolitan Grand Superintendent Ian Currans, PGSwdB, Metropolitan Grand Inspector John Hubbard, PGSoj, and Past Provincial Grand Superintendent of Essex John Webb.

The Metropolitan team delivered a lively and informative presentation, punctuated with humour, which provided guidance on such matters as the RA protocols and procedures that should be observed, the wearing of the RA regalia, the opening, closings and perambulations relative to both the Domatic and Aldersgate rituals and explored some the inextricable links between Craft and Royal Arch Masonry. The Companions were enlightened to some of the RA symbolism coupled with descriptions of the characters represented and their background history, including the relationship to the Ceremony of the Veils.

Kings Cross Chapter then went on to install the Principals for the ensuing year and presented the Deputy Metropolitan Grand Superintendent with a cheque for £500 in favour of the London Air Ambulance Appeal.

The evening was rounded off in good form with a "Burns Night" themed Festive Board with piper accompaniment.

AMetGM VW Bro. Ian Currans received a cheque for £4,000 on behalf of the Metropolitan Masonic Charity in support of the appeal to raise £2m towards the cost of a 2nd Air Ambulance for London in the "Your London, Your Helicopter" campaign. The cheque was presented to him by Kynaston Studd Lodge No. 5416 on his visit to the Lodge as part of a "Talking Heads –The Next Step: Into The Royal Arch" presentation (see Freemasonry Today Autumn 2015).

WM Mike Binsted said "London Freemasons are well over half way to raising our target of £2m to put a second Air Ambulance in the sky over London and so extend the flying hours and capability of the London Air Ambulance advanced trauma team. I am both pleased and tremendously proud of our Lodge members in raising and donating the £4,000 presented today, which forms part of this Lodge's support for the appeal."

Congratulating the Lodge, Bro. Currans said "I am stunned by the generosity of Kynaston Studd members in supporting this appeal which has captured the imagination of London Freemasons. The additional Air Ambulance will be of great benefit to the populous of London and will be a very visible sign of the charitable efforts and community commitment of all London Masons."

It was a gentle journey of sorts...

It involved being gifted water by a gypsy family on the hot juncture where countryside meets the foothills of the Parisian conurbation.

It involved being spat on by a driver in that city's disaffected, poor banlieues.

And in Beauvais, passing a night on my road from London, an Edinburgh man and Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF) Provincial Officer, William Laughton, dredged forth his bicycle to crest the first hill with me – the morning after he and his French bride greeted me with Islay whiskies and cheeses which were slightly more local.

I'd pedalled off on the Wednesday, to swap the Crystal Palace Transmitter for the Eiffel Tower, for a London Air Ambulance I hoped not to need on the way.

All this was in memory of two friends, and predecessor First Principals of the Royal Somerset House and Inverness Chapter No. 4 - Clive Thompson and Professor Merton Sandler. Both were lovely chaps who will be fondly remembered for quite a run of time. (Merton was known in medicine and elsewhere as a pioneer within his subject of brain biochemistry. His obituary in the Guardian is here).

I began with a breakneck scamper, atop a Ridgeback Voyage tourer named Herman, to cycle to the sea and set sail – catching by a trice the 11:00pm Newhaven-Dieppe ferry, planning a few hours' sleep in the Channel which aboard the roar and heave of the actual MV Seven Sisters did not quite transpire.

In Normandy, as I cycled a disused rail path beginning in Arques-la-Bataille, almost every last local I passed paused to say hullo. (I paused too, but for twenty minutes' sleep on a park bench).

I joined masonry for enlightenment, and got sunburn on the D927 through la Picardie. (Irish skin and sun sum up to bad news).

Reaching on Friday a city engrossed by strike, I arced off the Boulevard Pereire on to the Rue de Saussure in the capital's northwest, then the gentle right to the Rue de Pisan and the chic Parisian building of the Grande Loge Nationale Française.

A few companions of our chapter were there to meet me with water and rush me – possibly not entirely early – into the GLNF's grand temple, two grand pillars guarding each side of its doors, where we were able to attend a Convocation Exceptionelle of Chapitre No. 25, and an exaltation worked for our benefit in French with Gallic aplomb.

Over dinner – l'Agape, our French brothers call it – I said how happy we British companions and brethren had been to be able to join them, and that our communication with their constitution had been restored. That we had not been complete without them, and had missed them.

This, anyhow, is what I meant to say. Bear in mind I was speaking in French – so I might well have said I was an octopus.

But they were gracious, toasting the Queen and our Grand Master. I ate with hands possibly just a smidge swollen, a side effect of hanging on for dear life.

I had hurled myself before on the kindness of unknown brethren, advancing from Land's End to John o' Groats as a journeyman bicyclist, and the year after, running from the top of Ireland at Malin (you see, reader, downhill!) to its rump in Mizen.

Each time I inflicted myself on kindly, long-suffering strangers' sofas a remarkably consistent twelve hours after I'd intended to appear. To their credit, they each opened up their door to me, guided perhaps by a morbid curiosity, at 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning, and – as much their interest as mine – showing me the way to their shower, quickly tempting their washing machine to an unforeseen nocturnal kit wash.

All this called to mind mediaeval pilgrimage, a perambulation less akin to RyanAir than to the writings of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, or perhaps a wandering journeyman or compagnon (the French use this to describe a fellow craft, as well as a Royal Arch companion) who seeks to become a master. 

Our Chapter fundraising, www.virginmoneygiving.com/air-ambulance-cycle, is now over midway to its goal. The £4 million campaign to purchase a second air ambulance for London has been covered amply by the BBC. Half the cost is being met by us, the masons of London. 

And strapped sweltering to a heavy Herman, I thought of a bevy of supportive compagnons at l'Agape and London, and sharing yarns of misadventure from the dusty route intertwining London and Paris, a tale of two cities.

Because compagnons, we'll always have Paris.

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