Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or even lodge emails perhaps. On all of these different mediums you’ll have no doubt seen posts promoting grants awarded by the MCF to individuals and families in a time of need. Yet for some perhaps, who may already have doubt in themselves, the thought of simply completing a form can be an impossible task. This is where the work of the Visiting Volunteer (VV) begins.
Paul Redington forms part of the team that covers Hertfordshire and became a VV in 2018.
The Freemasons Grand Charity, The Masonic Samaritan Fund, Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys and The Masonic Benevolent Institution, all amalgamated to establish the MCF in 2016. Broadly speaking the Foundation is there to build better lives by providing support and care for freemasons and their families who are in need. Paul outlined ‘In 2015 Hertfordshire was selected as one of the pilot Province’s to launch the VV scheme which I joined in 2018.’
Once it’s established that someone would like to apply for assistance, a VV would be commissioned by the MCF to link in directly with the applicant. The main aim from there is to outline the process to the applicant and work with them in completing their application. Paul acknowledged that it was fair to say that perhaps not enough was known about the process. Anecdotally some may be unsure about applying because they fear they’d be judged in terms of financial assessment of their application. ‘Yes of course there is an element of establishing what finances an applicant has at their disposal, and this is to ensure that those who are in most need are supported’ he said. ‘But the benefit of having a VV at such an early stage is that we also submit an accompanying report to the MCF’ The report is objective and gives a wider perspective of the circumstances apparent, and it is this that assists the awarding panel in reaching an informed decision.
Support comes in many different forms, grants for medical treatment where NHS waiting lists are excessive, daily living assistance and grants towards children’s education and support for their leisure activities ‘People can generally speak to their almoner, but we understand at times that some may prefer not to’ he said. What was refreshing to know is that there are other ways in which people can initiate that approach. Members can confidentially contact the MCF directly for instance, and alternatively within Hertfordshire they can contact the Provincial Grand Almoner, Tom Tinner who can provide confidential advice and support.
Paul outlined that the approach of the VV is to always go in with an open mind. The VV’s are also trained to think outside the box. Years of collective experience amongst the team enables them to draw on other recommendations that could be an additional source of support. ‘There are a host of other organisations out there, all with alternative services that may be useful to the applicant’ he said, ‘and this includes other orders within Freemasonry that they may already have a connection with’. The approach taken by the VV’s in applying a social lens to the visits they make really broadens the potential of enabling support. ‘Their application may be for one particular aspect, but we may pick up that mobility is or will soon be an issue for instance, and there is a chance we could do something about that.’
Pride and lack of awareness are amongst two of the biggest boundaries to access support. ‘Some people are embarrassed seeking assistance due to finding themselves in circumstances that are through no fault of their own.’ Paul explained, ‘every case we approach is with the utmost respect and confidentiality.’
Generally VV’s are assigned cases based on the home location of the applicant, and it’s not unusual at all for masons who are members of London Lodges for instance who live in the province of Hertfordshire to be visited by a Hertfordshire Visiting Volunteer. In terms of eligibility the criteria is broader than you would expect. The applicant must be a freemason themselves, or have a strong family connection to Freemasonry. This could include a wife, husband, life or widowed partner; their children, step-children, adopted or grandchildren.
Paul also highlighted that supporting carers within the masonic community is also something the MCF can assist with. ‘It may not be commonly known, but where you have people with caring responsibilities, funding may be available to provide for some respite in certain circumstances.’
Being on the front line as it were can present it’s challenges and for the VV’s the kind of situations they are assigned to can be complex and sad. In terms of remaining resilient Paul reflected ‘for me it is to try and maintain that professional boundary, not getting too emotionally involved or taking on things personally.’ What was encouraging was the fact that of the cases Paul is involved in he gets a great deal of satisfaction from providing what assistance he can.
Tom Tinner coordinates the VV’s for Hertfordshire and in reference to them he said, ‘Visiting Volunteers are an important part of the team that enables the MCF to make a difference to the lives of hundreds of Freemasons and their families every year. I am indebted to the team of Visiting Volunteers comprising Paul Redington, Stewart Willett, Tony Wright, David Parson, Tony Cook and Mike Smythe who assist potential beneficiaries residing in Hertfordshire to complete and return their application forms.’
For further information about the work of the Provincial Grand Almoner and his team, you can contact Tom via firstname.lastname@example.org.