The chairman of the trustees, Mark Mathews opened the annual general meeting of the West Lancashire Freemasons Charity. After welcoming the ladies and brethren he introduced the trustees. He said there have been two changes amongst the trustees this year.
At the end of March, David Withey retired after seven years of dedicated service which was preceded by 14 years a secretary of the West Lancashire Masonic Educational Trust. Mike Kinsella has stood down after seven and a half years, four of which were as chairman. Mike had previously served for 22 years as treasurer and chairman of the Hamer Charity.
Mark contued: “Replacing Dave, we have been pleased to welcome back Howard Jones. Again, Howard has a long connection with the West Lancashire charities and has previously served for four years as a Trustee of WLFC. He brings a wealth of knowledge, charitable and Masonic, to our board and we look forward to working with him again. Mike Kinsella has been succeeded by Derek Parkinson and we extend a hearty welcome to him. Derek, is an Assistant Provincial Grand Master and will represent WLFC in the Provincial cabinet. We are delighted that this conduit to the cabinet has now been re-established.”
Mark then introduced the President of the WLFC, Tony Harrison. Tony said: “I am extremely proud of the record of charity within our Province and in particular, the work of our own charity which is the largest Masonic charity outside of London.
Since its establishment in 2008 the WLFC has continued to develop its systems and procedures and may now be considered to be mature. It is essential however, that the Charity, like every other organisation, does not stand still. It must continue to develop and adapt to current best practice. With this in mind, the charity is currently in the process of establishing new, robust information technology systems which will stand the test of time and will be compatible with the new Adelphi 2 software which is now being utilised by the Province.
A further and very important part of ongoing development, is to ensure that the work of the charity is conducted in accordance with current best practice and in particular, as regards governance. A very essential feature of current good governance is transparency. Transparency, not only to the beneficiaries but also the donors to the charity and indeed, to the public at large. To this end, the grant criteria of the charity have to be beyond reproach.
Earlier this year, the trustees concluded that future grant determination ought to be measured by reference to a nationally accepted definition of poverty, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation ‘Minimum Income Standard’. This robust poverty measure is used by central government and unsurprisingly, is also adopted by the Grand Charity. In so doing, the trustees have ensured that your charity is entirely transparent in its measure of poverty and as such, is indeed, beyond reproach. I would not make so bold as to say that the previous approach to grant determination was incorrect but rather, that your charity is keeping pace with current best practice. I entirely concur with this new approach which ensures that all petitioners are treated equally and fairly.
Before the meeting moves on to a more detailed report on the Charity there are a few further observations I would like to make. The West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity continues to make substantial grants to deserving individuals and causes. In this year alone, grants in excess of £500,000 have been paid making a total of well over £3,600,000 over the life of the charity. I am sure you will agree that this is, in the 7 years of the Charity’s existence, a truly commendable record.
Of course, the charity is only able to undertake this good work because of the generous support of the membership of our Province. During this year alone, in excess of £360,000, including gift aid recovered from central government, has been donated. Having regard to our non-Masonic giving, direct from lodges, chapters and groups, coupled with our donations to Grand Charity this reflects creditably on the entire membership and I am grateful for your generosity.
We must not forget however, that the Charity is now anticipating a significant fall in donated income as we approach the 2021 Festival which will commence in 2017. It is so important therefore that lodges, chapters and individuals continue to support it. That support and a continuation of good management will enable the charity to continue its valuable work for many years to come.
The new care structure which was introduced in our Province on 5 October this year is now fully operational and our West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity is assisting in so many of the administrative tasks associated with care in our Province. Of course, it is easy to take our charity for granted.
Charity in the Province has been available for well over 150 years. However, the custodianship of funds, the appraisal and disbursement of grants and all that is necessary for the administration of such a substantial organisation does not just happen – it is achieved by the commitment and dedication of a loyal team of volunteers who devote an untold and often unrecognised amount of time each year to the wellbeing of our charity. I would like to express our grateful thanks for their hard work and efforts in keeping our charity so well organised and efficient and its assets so carefully preserved.
In closing, I would also like to thank the trustees and executive officers of the charity, together with the Grand Charity team, the charity stewards and the almoners who all continue to work so hard together, so that they will be there when people need our help.”
Tony then introduced the WLFC CEO, John Smith who also thanked the retiring trustees for their unselfish commitment to the West Lancashire charities and in wishing them a long, happy and healthy retirement.
John then gave an overview of result for the year and financial position.
“The Statement of Financial Activities, which many of us know really means profit and loss account, is shown on page 9 of the full report. This reveals a small increase in voluntary income of £26,382. At first view, this is comforting. However, a review of the analysis of voluntary income shown at note 2 on page 12 reveals that this increase is entirely due to an increase in legacies received. I have been at great pains in the past to explain why legacies should not be regarded as recurring income and if we look then at the underlying giving of Lodges, Chapters and Brethren, this shows a deterioration, year on year, of £10,730. This is a particularly worrying trend especially as we inevitably approach another Festival.
Our investment and other income rose to £368,966 from a prior year figure of £347,749 and our total income was therefore £768,477.
The costs of our charitable activities, which include grants, have increased year on year by £8,850 with no single item particularly worthy of remark.
Investment management and governance costs amounted to £47,002 and the accounts therefore show net incoming resources amounting to £121,802. This is further enhanced by investment gains of £671,106
resulting in an increase in the Charity’s reserves of £792,908. At first view, this is a very good result but, we have to be aware that our investments can fall as well as rise. As I write this address, our investments have fallen by £735K from the year end position as a result of the volatile international stock markets. To some extent however, the value of our investments is academic because they do fluctuate so much year on year and because we use our investments to generate income. The unrealized gains and losses are therefore paper profits and losses only. The important number in the accounts is the net incoming resources at £121,802.”
John then said he often hears it said that WLFC do not need your money because we have over £10,000,000 invested. He continued: “The difference between grants paid out this year and voluntary income received, excluding legacies amounted to £158,756. If we did not have the income from our investments, how could we possibly meet our commitments to our needy petitioners? Put simply, we couldn’t and we, as Freemasons would have failed in the fundamental objectives of our great organisation.
As we enter a Festival, our voluntary income will tail off to a minimum which will mean that, not only will we be using all our investment income to meet our commitments, but we will in fact be eating into our capital. A reduction in capital will ultimately mean a shortfall of investment income and we will find ourselves on a downwards spiral. I put it to you then Brethren, that WLFC needs every penny it has and more besides. It is essential that we keep our own Masonic charity at the very forefront of our charitable giving.
In conclusion, the finances of the Charity are well managed and in good shape but we cannot be complacent. We are dependent upon the membership for the greater part of our income and are grateful for your continuing support. All I ask is that, even in times of Festival, WLFC is at or near to the top of your list when considering your Lodge donations.”
John then spoke about the change to the method of calculating assistance to petitioners: ”The relevant object within our ‘Trust Deed’ is ‘the relief of poverty’. How does one define poverty? One man’s poverty level will be quite different from another’s. However, in terms of good and transparent governance, it is unacceptable to treat each set of circumstances differently. For example, one petitioner may have no mortgage and another may have a £500,000 mortgage. Is it right for us to provide a greater level of support to the man with the mortgage just because he wants a bigger house or because he has adopted a grasshopper approach to life rather than the ant approach? The answer is simply, no!
There exists a nationally accepted determination of the ‘Minimum Income Standard’ which individuals in different circumstances of life require in order to stay out of the poverty trap. This is quantified by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and is available to the public at large, via the internet. This indicative poverty level is used by many organisations including the Grand Charity, to assist in determining the level of support to be afforded to petitioners. It is nationally accepted and as such, is beyond reproach. Accordingly, WLFC have also adopted this determination of poverty to apply to our own grant calculations.
Essentially, we look at the determination of the poverty level applicable to a particular set of circumstances and deduct from that, the total income actually received. This total income will include for example, grants from other Masonic charities. We then determine the shortfall, if any, and bridge the gap, subject to our current maximum grant of £2,600. In most cases, our grants ensure that petitioners have the relevant minimum income standard.
By using the nationally accepted measure of poverty, your Charity cannot be accused of exceeding its remit, ‘the relief of poverty’. I am sure that you will also appreciate that if we have achieved the relief of poverty through our normal grant system then the award of a Christmas grant would exceed the authority of or trust deed and accordingly, Christmas grants will no longer be paid to our petitioners in addition to their relief grants. However, I am pleased to inform you that today, our trustees have agreed that the Christmas grant should be consolidated with the current maximum grant giving a new maximum grant of £2,750. This means that those who are most in need, those who, despite our assistance are still below the ‘Minimum Income Standard’, will benefit by an additional £150.”
John concluded by saying: “You are all aware of the very considerable changes in the Care Structure and we at WLFC have been pleased to support the Provincial Grand Almoner in a number of aspects in this regard. One of the most significant changes will be the payment of grants direct to the qualifying petitioners. This will be done on a quarterly basis and will obviate the need for Almoner accounts in Lodges. This in turn reduces the administrative burden on Almoners which will afford them a greater opportunity to focus on pastoral care.
WLFC are also assuming responsibility for the distribution of Grand Charity grants again, on a quarterly basis. Hopefully this will relive the Provincial Almoner and indeed, the Provincial Office of some of their workload.
Our working relationship with the Provincial Almoner and indeed, the Province of West Lancashire is now stronger and more co-operative than ever and I thank the Provincial Grand Master, The Provincial Almoner, the Provincial Charity Steward and their respective teams for their approachability and help.
Finally brethren, a thank you to our Trustees for their unstinting support, to everyone for your attendance today and to each and every member of the Province who has supported your Charity so well, during the year.”
John then introduced Colin Rowling, the chairman of the community grant executive, who gave a short review of the grant criteria and application process which is now available to download from the WLFC section of the Provincial website.
Before introducing the first guest speaker Colin spoke about the Radley Common Luncheon Club which Is organised by Maureen Higham who has for a number of years provided facilities for local elderly people, entertainment and food. Maureen is helped by a number of volunteers who freely give their time.
When they found themselves with no facilities or lunch on four days of the week, they were left to cook and fend for themselves. WLFC was able to supply funding for a number of away days whilst the group applied for a number of grants. These grants were successful and with our help they now have new cooking equipment too. I wanted Maureen to give us a presentation at this AGM, but her response was I couldn’t possibly leave my clients on a Thursday!
Colin then introduced Julia Wilson from the Brathay Trust. Julia spoke about a project West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity has helped fund. She started by saying the Brathay Trust has been operating since 1946 and will be celebrating its 70th anniversary next year.
The trust works with young people up to 25 years of age including the severely disadvantaged, those at risk of exploitation or offending, care leavers, and those not in education, employment or training, by giving community-based youth work and residential experiences at their three outdoor education centers in Cumbria.
Julia continued: “The project WLFC helped to fund is based at Low Bank Ground on the shores of Coniston Water. We wanted to make water-based activities as inclusive as possible for the children and young people who visit and the grant from West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity has helped us to buy sit-on kayaks. Different to sit-in kayaks, these boats are easier to use for people with disabilities and or those who are nervous. The funds helped us to buy tandem kayaks which two people can sit on together and which means that those who need some support can be with an instructor.
We bought them in time to use this summer and already they’ve been used by approximately 400 young people .The response has been universally positive. The tandem kayaks have added a whole new dimension to kayaking, helping children to develop team-working skills.
We have also had notable success with people who are nervous about going on the water when they feel that they could get stuck in a traditional kayak. This has led to gains in confidence and self-belief and a corresponding awareness that they can overcome fear and take control of their actions – a central part of Brathay’s model of youth development.
Low Bank Ground was previously managed by Wigan Council, who still own the site, and so a large proportion of the children and young people who use the center are from the Wigan area. Many of the young people we work with won’t have a had the opportunity to try water sports before and some may not have visited the countryside.
Kayaking is the most popular activity we do with them because it gives them a sense of independence and freedom. Having a fleet of sit-on kayaks means that everyone in the group can take part and no-one should be excluded which did sometimes happened when we used kayaks with cockpits.”
Julia concluded by saying: Our main fundraising event each year is organising the Brathay Windermere Marathon, a circuit of Windermere, which around 900 people run each year and which we combine with a family fun day which raised £122,000. We’re very grateful for the support of West Lancashire Freemasons who help us at the marathon as volunteer marshals. And of course for the support we received from the WLFC”
Colin then introduced Anona Kelly from Sefton Children’s trust. Colin said that Anona has fostered over 100 children and has been working for over 30 years in the trust. Anona spoke about the early years when children from three to 16 years old were taken on weeks holiday by the trust, which she said was challenging as the younger ones were getting up the older ones were going to bed!
Anona said today the age range of the children the trust helps is between eight and 12. She spoke about the children the trust helps, who are described by Sefton Council as coming from “Dysfunctional families”. The aim is to help the children enjoy the things other children take for granted by involving other charities to help the parents and siblings that the trust does not provide for. Anona gave several examples of the support the trust provides, one of the most striking was a few years ago when one of the older children “Paul”was being disruptive and would not go to sleep and was disturbing the other children, she told him to: “Shut up and go to sleep, followed by good night and God bless”, Paul said: ”will you say that again please no one has ever said good night to me before!”
Anona was accompanied by Phil Morgan who spoke about his involvement in the trust – he said that the work could be simply described: “as being Mum, showing them how to eat properly with a knife and fork.”
He said the residential holiday really helped the children to learn how to interact in a group as many of them were loners who had never been shown how to interact with children their own age. Anona concluded by thanking the WLFC for their support which had helped put so many children on the right track for the rest of their lives”