Always in good form
With Visiting Volunteers helping Freemasons and families in need complete the crucial paperwork required to access grants, Steven Short discovers that masonic support comes in many guises
Away to meet Freemason Robert James at his home in Bridgend, South Wales, to do some paperwork. Arwyn is a Visiting Volunteer, a recently introduced role with a remit to help those seeking assistance from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) to fill in the application forms correctly.
‘The forms aren’t complicated once you get to know them,’ says Arwyn, who is a member of Dewi Sant Lodge, No. 9067. ‘But it’s a bit like when you get a tax return: you look at the paperwork and you think, “Oh crikey, I’ll have a look a bit later,” then a couple of weeks pass, you realise you haven’t done it, so you have a go and send the form off… then you realise you haven’t filled in all the right sections.’
Every year the MCF supports hundreds of members of the masonic community. The support can come in many different forms, from help with essential living costs to grants following redundancy or bereavement. Grants can also be allocated for education or training for children and young people, for medical treatment or counselling, or even for minor home improvements.
The first step for anyone applying for financial assistance from the MCF is to fill out the relevant paperwork – something that, historically, wasn’t entirely straightforward.
In the past, whenever a Freemason or their dependant wished to apply for a grant, it was a requirement that they be visited by someone who would help them complete the relevant paperwork. This person would also need to ensure that all necessary supporting evidence was in place, that Ts were crossed and Is were dotted.
This task often fell to the local lodge almoner and it would come on top of existing pastoral care responsibilities – which might include attending funerals in a lodge’s name, visiting widows and brethren who no longer attended their lodge, and making hospital visits. Furthermore, the almoners would have no formal training or receive any support in this additional administrative work.
This increased workload combined with a lack of specialist knowledge meant the application forms submitted could sometimes contain errors. As a result, the system was revised in 2014 and a programme of Visiting Volunteers trialled across seven Provinces.
The role of the Visiting Volunteer is, as the name suggests, to visit the Freemasons and their families who apply for grants, helping them to correctly complete application forms, and to collect and collate all the information necessary for a request to be considered. The volunteers also have to prepare an objective, detailed report to support the application.
Unlike the overworked almoners – who are now able to dedicate their time to their community-focused duties – Visiting Volunteers are thoroughly trained in the application process.
George Royle, South Wales Provincial Grand Almoner, helped to develop this new model and recruited the Visiting Volunteers who now help with applications in his Province. ‘We have an initial two-day residential training programme,’ he says, ‘which is followed by regular refresher training.’
‘The scheme means that those in need have their applications dealt with more efficiently… It’s a great step forward’ George Royle
IN THE KNOW
The intensive training means that the Visiting Volunteers (also known as Petition Application Officers in the Province of South Wales) are up to speed on how forms need to be completed and aware of all the documentation that is required to support an application.
‘We learnt about things such as state benefits,’ says Arwyn, ‘so that we can highlight to applicants what benefits they might be entitled to. We also looked at confidentiality, data protection and safeguarding issues.’
Once a form has been completed and all the documentation collated, the Visiting Volunteer sends the application straight to London. Previously almoners submitted everything to their Provincial Grand Almoner. ‘I would check everything,’ says George, ‘and if something was missing, I would have to go back to the almoners, who would have to go back to the applicants. I would then countersign an application and send it off. Now all I get is an email copy for reference, and much less paperwork in the office.’
To date, Arwyn has worked with around 18 brethren and describes the experience of helping others as hugely satisfying. Someone he has assisted recently is Robert James, who applied for a grant for medical assistance with a heart condition. ‘I was on the NHS waiting list for an operation,’ says Robert. ‘The list just seemed to be getting longer. Some fellow Freemasons said I might be eligible for help from the MCF to get seen privately.’
As with every request he is asked to oversee, Arwyn’s involvement with Robert began with a phone call. ‘Calling someone and introducing yourself is a great way to start, as you can put applicants at ease and they have the name and number of a real person who can help them.’ The initial call also gives the Visiting Volunteer the opportunity to tell the applicant what to expect from a visit and what documentation they will need to gather ahead of it.
‘Within a couple of days of initially applying, I had spoken to Arwyn on the phone and arranged a time for him to come around. It was really quick and easy,’ says Robert.
George agrees that the new system has streamlined the application process considerably. ‘The scheme means that those in need have their applications dealt with more speedily and efficiently. I’ve known decisions about grants being made in a fortnight,’ he says. ‘It’s a great step forward.’
‘The first time Arwyn visited we discussed my situation in a bit more detail and looked at what I might be eligible for,’ says Robert.
The pair also discussed confidentiality issues – Visiting Volunteers are bound by the codes and policies of the MCF as well as by data protection laws. ‘People are sharing personal and sensitive information,’ says Arwyn, ‘they need to feel you can be trusted.’
It is also felt that divulging delicate information to a properly trained, objective third party is easier than sharing it with a local almoner, who the applicant may know well and see regularly at lodge.
A visit from a volunteer can last anything from 30 minutes to three hours, depending on what needs to be done, and the number of visits required varies. The second time Arwyn visited Robert at home, they completed the application form together and checked that all supporting documentation was in order.
‘The experience was marvellous,’ says Robert. ‘Within three weeks of Arwyn sending off the forms I was in having my operation. My heart is fantastic now. I feel like a new man.’
What does it take to be a Visiting Volunteer?
To recruit the much-needed Visiting Volunteers in South Wales, Provincial Grand Almoner George Royle placed an advert on the Freemasons’ website. ‘I interviewed 21 people,’ he says, ‘and selected 12.’ George describes his team as ‘extremely dedicated officers who are all willing to go the extra mile’.
Visiting Volunteer Arwyn Reynolds says he applied because the role requires many of the skills he honed in his professional life.
‘I had a keen sense of confidentiality because of my work in HR and as a manager,’ he says, ‘and I know the importance of communication skills and being able to engage with people.’
Other desirable attributes for being a Visiting Volunteer are an ability to remain objective and a good level of literacy, numeracy and IT skills. For Arwyn, the role also appealed because it came at a time when he was winding down his professional life but wanted to continue to use his time in a positive, useful way.
Welsh vote for Tenovus
Clare Gallie, director of income generation for Tenovus Cancer Care, said: ‘With this magnificent support from the masonic community, we’ll be able to fund this work in one of the most promising new areas of cancer research – immunotherapy.’ The project will be overseen by Professor Bernhard Moser from the Cardiff University School of Medicine.
Hundreds of Freemasons from the area voted for Tenovus to receive the grant. South Wales Provincial Grand Master Gareth Jones said: ‘We were delighted to be able to demonstrate support for our local research charity.’
Gareth Jones to be new Third Grand Principal
Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes has announced at the December Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge that E Comp Gareth Jones is to succeeD David Williamson as Third Grand Principal
Peter Lowndes: I am delighted to announce that the MW The Grand Master in his capacity as First Grand Principal has appointed E Comp Gareth Jones, Past Deputy Grand Sword Bearer, who is better known in the Craft as Provincial Grand Master for South Wales, to succeed ME Comp David Williamson as Third Grand Principal in Supreme Grand Chapter, with effect from the Annual Royal Arch Investiture on 28 April 2016.
On that day I hope to have the pleasure of installing him. The contribution made by ME Comp Williamson in his capacity as Third Grand Principal for five years has been colossal, as, indeed, his contribution has been throughout masonry, but more about that on another occasion.
Charity awarded £89,000 following poll of local Freemasons who nominated them to receive the grant
Tenovus Cancer Care’s project is one of thirteen medical research studies the Masonic Samaritan Fund has supported this year as part of its 25th anniversary and as part of its Silver Jubilee Research Grant, with grants totalling £1.125 million.
Tenovus Cancer Care, who bring practical advice, emotional support and treatment to communities across Wales, will use the Freemasons’ donation to help fund a ground-breaking new research project.
The research, being overseen by Professor Bernhard Moser from the Cardiff University School of Medicine, will be looking into the use of immunotherapy treatment in order to help cancer patients.
This treatment could act as an alternative to surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy by helping the immune system to correctly identify and then attack individual tumour cells. This would reduce the need for invasive treatments. Successful immunotherapy treatments lower the risk of negative side-effects, and can also offer long-term protection from some cancers.
Professor Moser said that receiving grants like this one will help them to push their research forward. 'Cellular immunotherapy offers safe and effective routes to treating cancer. With Dr Eberl and a wonderful team, we’ve been fortunate to make some great discoveries. For this to continue, we need generous supporters and therefore are extremely grateful to the Masonic Samaritan Fund and Tenovus Cancer Care for supporting us in this way.'
Clare Gallie, Director of Income Generation for Tenovus Cancer Care welcomed the grant: 'With this magnificent support from the masonic community, we’ll be able fund this work in one of the most promising new areas of cancer research – immunotherapy. Some of the progress made in the field in recent months is remarkable, and the work of Professor Moser and his team will bring us one step closer to immunotherapy drugs changing the lives of patients here in Wales.'
South Wales Provincial Grand Master, Gareth Jones, said: 'We were delighted to be able to demonstrate our support for our local research charity by nominating Tenovus Cancer Care to receive a grant. Hundreds of Freemasons across South Wales voted. Cancer is a disease that affects so many of us, family, friends and colleagues. We are pleased to play our part in the fight against cancer.'
Welsh masons to the rescue
South Wales Province Freemasons are continuing to help their local communities. Henry Caylor of Croeso Lodge, No. 8377, which meets in Cardiff, made the Central Beacons Mountain Rescue Team (CBMRT) his chosen charity, raising £1,000 for the rescue unit through masonic and non-masonic functions. The funds will help CBMRT to purchase additional equipment for its vital service. Currently some 50 volunteers work within the unit, which operates from its base at Merthyr Tydfil.
Spring clean success
Porthcawl masons and brethren from the South Wales Province organised a two-day ‘spring clean’ in association with Keep Wales Tidy, helping to maintain the award-winning Blue Flag beach of Rest Bay as well as further along the coast to nearby Pink Bay.
With grandparents and grandchildren turning out in support, more than 180 bags of rubbish were disposed of – while the grounds team at the Royal Porthcawl Golf Club provided a tractor and equipment to help remove larger objects. The event was organised by Dilwyn Thomas and Peter Tayler.
South Wales tradition
Freemasons and their families from the Province of South Wales assembled at Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff earlier this year for the traditional annual service, all welcomed on behalf of the Dean by Canon Graham Holcombe who opened proceedings.
Readings were delivered by APGMs William Jenkins and Paul Marshall, while Psalm 67 was read in Welsh by Deputy PGM Roy Woodward and then in English by APGM Gerald Rowbottom. St Luke’s Gospel account of the Parable of the Good Samaritan was read by PGM Gareth Jones.
The congregation at Llandaff Cathedral was led in prayer by Past Provincial Chaplain The Rev Dafydd Edwards and APGM The Rev Alistair Swinford.
Those in attendance were also addressed by The Most Rev Dr Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales. The collection, held at the service, raised more than £1,000 and was presented to further aid the work of Llandaff Cathedral.
New ProvGM appointed for South Wales
Gareth Jones has been installed as the new Provincial Grand Master for South Wales by Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes at Barry.
A ‘seven-point plan’ is now in motion to address recruitment and retention, and to maintain standards within lodges. Charitable efforts will be further developed, as will greater social interaction for families.
Reaching the age of 100 is a significant milestone, but to do so as Master of a lodge makes it an even more memorable event, and Harold Paine of Indefatigable Lodge, No. 237, in the Province of South Wales, has achieved exactly this.
To honour the landmark occasion, South Wales Provincial Grand Master Captain Sir Norman Lloyd-Edwards was in attendance at a special birthday lunch in the Connaught Hall, Swansea.
Indefatigable Lodge, No. 237, South Wales, was warranted in 1777.
Backing for heroes
Freemasonry in the community has always been at the heart of Welsh masons and is underlined by the Provincial Grand Master of South Wales’s Gala Dinner, attended by members of 62 lodges in Cardiff. At the event, Provincial Grand Master Captain Sir Norman Lloyd-Edwards presented a cheque for £12,500 to Help for Heroes, a further sum of around £5,000 being added later.