The history of the Freemasons' Fund for Surgical Research

Friday, 04 September 2015

The meaning of fellowship

Anthony West, Chairman of Trustees for The Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research, explains the charity’s history, achievements and selection process

 Back in 1967, in partial commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the foundation of Grand Lodge, every Freemason in England and Wales was invited to contribute at least £1 to create an endowment for what was then the Grand Lodge 250th Anniversary Fund. More than £580,000 was raised, and used to create the first masonic charity with exclusively non-masonic objectives. The charity’s objectives remain ‘to further, in conjunction with the Royal College of Surgeons, research in the science of surgery’.

In its first years, the fund gave £25,000 to the Royal College of Surgeons of England, financing the first three Freemasons’ surgical research fellowships, a dental research fellowship and a library grant to help with the research process. Grants were made in all subsequent years and, by last year, total grants of more than £4.4 million had been made. In 2014, £135,000 was credited to three Freemasons’ fellowships and now the fund is regularly the largest fellowship contributor (although occasionally the College receives more from a donation).

The Royal Arch steps in

It has been tacitly understood that the fund’s trustees would not engage in fundraising, which was seen to conflict with the fundraising efforts of the four major masonic charities and the festival system. But to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the formation of Supreme Grand Chapter in 2013, an appeal had been launched by the Royal Arch, with the object of ‘helping to fund the Royal College of Surgeons research fellowship scheme’. 

The appeal suggested a minimum of £10 plus Gift Aid from every Royal Arch companion, of whom there are 86,000 in England and Wales; the hope was to raise at least £1 million. In support of the appeal, the College mounted a roadshow to visit Provinces and chapters, where research fellows would speak in support of the appeal, and of their individual research projects.

When the appeal concluded, an astonishing £2.5 million had been raised, the Province of Northumberland alone raising about £50,000, which it donated directly to the College. This, together with other direct donations from chapters, has funded the first Royal Arch Fellowship, which was awarded to a research fellow at the Newcastle Medical School. It was subsequently decided to change the fund’s name to The Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research (FFSR), more accurately reflecting its nature.

‘When the appeal concluded, an astonishing £2.5 million had been raised – and this has funded the first Royal Arch Fellowship.’

Rigorous screening

What is the process for selecting Freemasons’ Research Fellows? Until 1993, our annual grant was used not only for fellowships but also for the purchase of pieces of medical equipment and for the library. In 1993, the College established its formal Surgical Research Fellowship Scheme, to which our fund has since been contributing. Currently, the College receives applications from some 120 prospective one-year research fellows. The applicants are all qualified doctors who have elected to become surgeons. 

The process for applicants is rigorous, consisting of a written application, setting out details of the project and justifying the reason for the research to be undertaken. The application for patient benefit in the near future is a key criterion. 

At the end of the assessment process, the College matches potential awards with the funds available. At this stage about 20 research projects will be funded and the sponsors are then invited to choose those projects that particularly resonate with them. In the case of the FFSR, our trustees have an annual meeting with representatives of the College, at which we are presented with a choice of about six projects, from which we select three (or, in the future, four).

I hope that this has given you some insight into the valuable research facilitated by the College and the significant role played by Freemasonry. In a very recent letter to me from the president of the College, thanking us for the current year’s grant, she says: ‘This significantly increased grant is very much appreciated – and can only enhance the very real friendship and bonds that exist between our respective organisations.’

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