Northumberland Freemasons Support Local School with an £18,000 Grant

09th February 2024

Pupils at a school in North Tyneside can enjoy a new outdoor gym thanks to the generosity of local Freemasons who donated £18,000 to fund the project.

In October last year, Northumberland Freemasons agreed to make the substantial grant from their Richard Henry Holmes Masonic Benevolent Fund and on Monday 5th February the school’s vision became a reality with the official opening of the facility.

Named in honour of a former inspirational headmaster Dave Erskine, the outdoor gym features a wide range of equipment for the benefit of the North Shields school’s 161 pupils, who range from ages 11 to 16. The school is a specialist school for autistic children and young people with complex needs and learning difficulties. Pupils typically have an autism diagnosis, and all will have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

Officially opening the facility in Beach Road, North Shields, were Mr Erskine’s widow Wendy and John Bruce, an Assistant Provincial Grand Master of the Northumberland Freemasons. A sign will name the outdoor gym and honour the funding by the Masons. Norman West, the Provincial Grand Almoner, and Paul Winship, the Charity Steward, were also present.

Helen Clark, the school’s strategic business manager, said: “A huge thanks to the Masons for their incredibly generous donation, which has enabled our students to have this fantastic resource in our school.

“The outdoor gym will make a difference to our students in so many ways. We know that play is important to our students, it supports our students to make sense of their learning, and work through issues and challenges they may be experiencing. Students can use the outdoor gym for play during social time, for regulation when they need it and to practise their social skills.”

Mr Erskine joined Southlands in 1979, was head teacher for many years, and is remembered fondly by past students, their families and many members of staff. “He did so much for our school and the wider community. Dave’s number one priority was always the students, he wanted them to learn in the classroom, and be able to get along with each other and also have fun,” said Helen.

“We decided that the outdoor gym was more fitting to be named after Dave as we feel that he would have loved the fact that we now have this fantastic resource for our students to have fun, and he would have loved the slight peril too.”

The Richard Henry Holmes Masonic Benevolent Fund is the Province of Northumberland’s registered charity managing a sizeable fund from which, each year, dozens of awards are made to worthy causes throughout the county. The initial idea of making a grant came about after St Alban Lodge No. 5322 in Shiremoor donated to the school’s breakfast club and members heard about the hopes for an outdoor gym.