Saturday 27th April 2019 dawned cloudy and chilly. At least it wasn’t raining! By 9.30, outside the Maidstone Masonic Centre, Ron Carter, Ian Ireland and David Hiscock were getting the “Burger Bar”, the Province’s Mobile Information Centre, ready. Stuart Grenfell, a non-mason (as yet!) had towed it from its base in darkest Essex. Splendid fellow! Ron was hoping that the weather would not discourage the public from attending.
The Mayor of Maidstone, Cllr David Naghi, with members of the Widows’ Sons, East Kent Division.
You don’t need to announce the Widows’ Sons: they announce themselves. With a roar, Steve Bragg, a.k.a. Sully, President of the East Kent Division, powered his way into the car park with several of his team, including Melvyn Penney, a.k.a. Merlin, a.k.a. Worshipful Master of Belvidere Lodge No.503. Must have a chat with them, I thought, so I did.
Sully was very enthusiastic about what the Widows’ Sons were doing and had a clear vision of how he saw them expanding and continuing to help the Province by attending as many events as they could and helping to reinvigorate struggling Lodges. Sully’s Division had increased from seven members last year to thirty-three, many of whom were “Cornerstones” – partners and other non-mason riders.
Meanwhile, inside the Masonic Centre, the dapper Trevor Pankhurst, Event Manager, was welcoming the members of the guest charities and ensuring that everything was going according to plan. Yes – it was Group 5’s Open Day, a chance for non-masons and masons alike to tour the Centre and to see the practical results of our fundraising activities. Group 5 covers Maidstone, Paddock Wood, Cranbrook and West Malling.
Mark Costelloe, Provincial Grand Mentor, took some twenty-five volunteers from Group 5 down to Temple 1 and briefed them on the kind of useful information they could pass on to the public about Freemasonry and on the sort of questions they could expect. One interesting snippet that I picked up on: some 150 candidates had been recruited via the independent route – i.e. via such means as the “Just Ask One” website rather than being proposed by a friend – and only a very few had since left.
Tom Reaper of the Fleur de Lis Lodge No.8969, a qualified First Aider, had kindly agreed to be on hand, but fortunately his medical skills were not required.
At ten o’clock the Event was open. Three of the Province’s four Assistant Provincial Grand Masters, David Graeme, Mark Bassant and Richard Wingett, were there, as was Peter Rhodes, Provincial Grand Charity Steward. Trevor Pankhurst was very pleased to welcome the Mayor of Maidstone, Cllr David Naghi. David had previously attended the Provincial Cornwallis East Kent Freemasons’ (CEKFC’s) Charity Award Presentation in November, and told me, “In my mayoral year, which is just coming to an end, I have become very much aware of the great charity work that you Freemasons do”. We took David into Temple 1 and invited him to try out the Master’s Chair – which he clearly enjoyed. He was quite an expert at banging the gavel – though I’m not sure that “Order! Order!” is usually part of our ritual….
Mayor of Maidstone Cllr David Naghi tries to keep order in the Temple, much to the amusement of Chris Byrom.
The Open Day wasn’t simply a chance for people to look around: it was also a chance for masons and non-masons alike to meet representatives of some of the local charities that we had been supporting. I took the opportunity to chat to some of them.
Julie Blackmore, Chief Executive of MIND Maidstone and Mid-Kent (www.maidstonemind.org) was delighted that we were donating £4,000 to the charity, to enable them to install a disabled access ramp to a building in Maidstone. One person in six was reporting experiencing a common mental health problem in any given week, and our support of the charity was always extremely welcome.
Mary Goodger, Voluntary Services Officer and Project Co-ordinator at Demelza House Children’s Hospice (www.demelza.org.uk), was heading up a new team of volunteers and was looking for people, hopefully including Freemasons, to provide transport, dog walking, housework and DIY, to help reduce the stress on the 750 families on their books who were caring for terminally-ill relatives. I was very interested to learn that Gilly, wife of former Assistant Provincial Grand Master Roger Waltham, would be taking part in a Great Wall of China Walk this year in aid of Demelza, and was hoping to raise at least £1,500, preferably a lot more. Any sponsors out there, chaps? https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/gill-waltham1
Pippa Blythe and Cheri Strudwick of the Heart of Kent Hospice (www.hokh.org) stressed the importance of engaging with Freemasons and the public generally to raise awareness of the Hospice and the work that it was doing. They were proud that as much as 89p in every pound was spent directly on care, a very high ratio, which was so important because only 20% of their income came from government grants.
In the background, Pat Thomas (back to camera) in conversation with Roger Waltham
Our own Pat Thomas, former Assistant Provincial Grand Master, talked to me about the wonderful work being done by the Cornwallis East Kent Freemasons’ Charity (CEKFC). Last year the CEKFC had donated £40,000, much of it by match-funding, where the Charity matches the funds raised by individual Lodges and Chapters. With the Province gearing itself up for its 2025 Festival, there was a challenge to keep contributions coming in to the CEKFC as well, and he suggested that Lodges and Chapters might help by donating the proceeds from one raffle each year to the CEKFC. Pat’s wife, also called Pat, was representing the Royal British Legion, her table adorned with a wonderful variety of poppies.
Graham Cheyne of Kent Police (www.kent.police.uk/CPV) was there to promote volunteering. There were many ways in which we could volunteer, including becoming a Special Constable, a Community Policing Volunteer (a voluntary PCSO) or working in the back office doing administration, assisting CID or investigating fraud. And for youngsters aged 13-17, there was the Volunteer Cadet Force.
Maureen Cocks from U3A (University of the Third Age – www.u3a.org.uk) was also there, next to her husband who was manning the RNLI unit. Maureen had lots of information showing how the group was keeping older members of society active by organising talks, hobbies and outdoor events. They had 220 members but could do with a higher proportion of active members.
A youthful Sam Vieira was manning the Prostate Cancer UK stall (www.pcsakent.org), helping to draw attention to the challenges still facing the medical world in the accurate and timely detection of one of the most serious diseases affecting men.
Now what’s that big cuddly thing over there? A giant teddy bear with plasters on each knee, and lots and lots of smaller bears: yes, TLC (Teddies for Loving Care) – www.tlcappealeastkent.co.uk – a favourite charity for many East Kent Freemasons. John Sampson, TLC Chairman of the East Kent branch, was presiding over them. Did you know that they supply teddy bears to children at eleven A&E Departments and Minor Injury Units in Kent – and that they distribute up to a thousand bears a month? Amazing! And so, to the main event of the day: the presentations.
Anyes Reading represented Dandelion Time (www.dandeliontime.org.uk) – a charity based in West Farleigh specialising in helping children traumatised by domestic violence and neglect. Anyes told us that Dandelion Time gave children and families “time and space to love and trust again, time to heal from emotional trauma and abuse, time to rebuild confidence …” In a combination of one-to-one and group family sessions, families took part in practical farm and craft activities in which they engaged with the natural world and processes, bringing therapeutic and developmental benefits whilst enjoying being together in a relaxed supportive environment. To enthusiastic applause, Chris Byrom of the Bearsted Lodge No.6069 presented Anyes with a cheque for £15,000 on behalf of the Masonic Charitable Foundation.
Julie Blackmore of MIND then enlarged on what she had told me personally earlier, and was delighted to receive from Mark Costelloe a cheque for £4,000.
Kim Brophy of the British Heart Foundation (www.bhf.org.uk) described the work of the Foundation and mentioned that it was always a struggle to get sufficient volunteers for their important work. She was delighted to accept a cheque for £1019.50 from Monckton Lodge No.9236, presented by Gordon Ferguson.
All good things had to come to an end, so Trevor Pankhurst concluded the Event by expressing his appreciation to everyone who had helped him organise and run the Open Day; and also gave his thanks to Mr Mayor, David Naghi, and to the representatives of the charities for coming along. A big thank you, too, for Sharon, Sue and the team at Thyme 2 Dine Catering (www.thyme2dine.co.uk) for keeping everyone supplied with refreshments. For all of us, I’m sure, it had been a pleasure and a privilege to be there.
All photos by Peter Floyd