Every year the MCF (Masonic Charitable Foundation) 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 counseling, 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 are 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, which means crossing the “T”’s and dotting the “I”’s
This task often fell to the local Lodge Almoner, and it would come on top of existing pastoral care responsibilities – which may mean visiting someone in the hospital or visiting widows and brethren who no longer attended their lodge. 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, it quite often led to a delay in the processing of the request for help. In 2014 the whole system was revised.
The role of the Visiting Volunteer, as the name suggests, is to visit the Freemasons and their families who apply for grants; help them to correctly complete the application paperwork, 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 and are personally vetted by the MCF.
The intensive training means that the Visiting Volunteers are up to speed on how forms need to be completed and aware of all the documentation that is required to support an application.
All Visiting Volunteers have learned about things such as state benefits so they can highlight to applicants what benefits they might be entitled to and to “signpost them” in the right direction when applicable.
They understand confidentiality, data protection, and safeguarding issues. They also have the support of the Advice and Support Staff who are employed full time by the MCF.
Once a form has been completed and all the documentation collated, the Visiting Volunteer sends the application straight to London.
In our Province, the Visiting Volunteers are Russell Dawson, Jeff Gibbs, Reece Valentine, Trevor Fish, and Norman West (Provincial Grand Almoner)
One applicant, who was recently helped by Russell to successfully apply for a grant for medical assistance said “I was on the NHS waiting list for an operation and the list just seemed to be getting longer and longer. A fellow Freemason suggested that I might be eligible for help from the MCF to be seen privately. I was helped to complete all of the paperwork and was greatly supported throughout the whole process” Outcomes such as this and an ability to help brings a great deal of satisfaction to the Visiting Volunteers. “It really can be a very rewarding experience,” says Russell.
Other families have been helped and supported when their incomes have been reduced by the Covid-19 pandemic not only with financial grants but also with Laptops for school-aged children who have been homeschooling.
As with every request for support, the involvement of the Visiting Volunteers always begins 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” 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.
The new system has streamlined the application process considerably. The scheme means that those in need have their application dealt with more speedily and efficiently. The Visiting Volunteers can discuss the situation in more detail during their visit and can look for what the applicant might be eligible for in other areas.
Jeff comments on his role as a Visiting Volunteer: “Confidentiality is very important, and the Visiting Volunteers are bound by the codes and policies of the MCF as well as data protection laws. Our members and their families are sharing personal and sensitive information with us; they need to feel that we, the Visiting Volunteers, can be trusted with that information”
A visit from a Volunteer can last anything from 30 minutes to a few hours. It all depends upon what needs to be done and the number of visits required also varies from case to case. The main task of the visit is to complete the application paperwork and collect all the relative supporting documents which is needed for the application to be considered by the MCF in London.
What does it take to be a Visiting Volunteer?
Norman has described his team as “extremely dedicated officers” who are willing to go that extra mile to help and support those in need
Visiting Volunteer, Reece, says he applied because the role requires many of the skills, he gained during his working life. “I had a keen sense of confidentiality because of my work” he says, “and I know that the importance of communication skills and being able to engage with people are key ingredients
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 Trevor, the role also appealed because it came at a time when he was winding down from his professional life but wanted to continue to use his time in a positive and useful way.
If you know someone who may need help and support or if you require any further information about the Visiting Volunteer scheme and the work of the MCF please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Provincial Grand Almoner, WBro Norman West on 0191 263 0204 or email email@example.com.