Bro Seb Giroux looks at some brethren who are just some of our ‘Covid Heroes’
As the whole world fell in the grip of an invisible threat, many were forced to shield themselves from relatives, friends, neighbours, and brothers.
The Meeting suspension increased the sense of isolation for the most vulnerable. It would almost have been easier to shut our whole life down and hibernate until Covid-19 went away. But undeterred Brethren took the fight to their heart. Proving, if it was still necessary, that Freemasonry is not a status but a state of mind, that our words are not limited to rituals and ceremonies and that our deeds outside the Temple demonstrate our strong attachment to helping others in time of need.
In the last few months, Freemasons everywhere have heard a calling to go beyond their daily routine and help others.
This is how Bro Solomon Jehwo (above) from Architects and Malleus Lodge No 3244 enlisted as a Care Support Worker, and Bro Kingsley Onofua registered as an NHS Volunteer Responder.
W Bro Graham Cottington from Hornsey Lodge No 890 secured a donation of 100 tablets to London Hospitals to help patients connect with remote families.
W Bro Donald McGarr LGR loaded 750kg of food in a van (above) and delivered it all over South London.
Bro Johnny Wolf (above) from Brecknock Lodge No. 6369 raised money for the homeless. And W Bro Ian Sinclair helped a stranded Brother (see "Brothers Across Borders").
Upon hearing that MCF and UGLE were looking to hand out some face masks, our Excellent Companion Liam Nammock (above) from Corona Chapter No 7446 drove his taxi to Great Queen Street, picked up a load and helped to distribute a whopping 3200 masks.
Postal services key worker W Bro David Lonsdale (above) from Richard Eve Lodge No 2772 decided to go the extra mile in a hectic period by adding to his regular pack of letters and parcels these all essential deliveries such as medicine.
And when there was a mix-up, he contacted the GP, got the mistake corrected and swapped the wrong medication for the proper ones. He also delivers the odd crumble prepared by his wife to ensure that those forced to isolate still receive a social call every now and then.
As lockdown fell upon us all, it would have been easy to simply stop everything and wait until the heavy curtain lifted again. But adversity does not intimidate a Freemason. W Bro Surjit Bhalla from the Lodge of Eastern Bon Accord No 7071 had registered to walk 1000 miles for the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB).
Falling into the high-risk category, he was compelled to stay home in self-isolation before he could even start. Would that stop him? No. Having to choose between complying with stringent isolating rules and delivering on a promise, Surjit resolved to do both.
Determined not to let RNIB down, he walked 5 miles a day around his garden (below). After 37,295 laps, he had completed 1,017 miles and received 'the Boot', the RNIB award for fundraising.
Bro Surjit is no stranger to helping others. Following a severe health scare in 2010 when the Doctors of Kings College Hospital had to resuscitate him, he has always been thankful to the professionals who look after him so well. When Covid-19 put pressure on the NHS, he not only donated to relevant charities, he also inspired his family, friends and Brothers (below) to contribute to the general efforts and created a funding page dedicated to Kings College Hospital Charity.
The entire Lodge of Eastern Bon Accord No 7071 (below) came together around
Bro Surjit and their W master W Bro Kuldeep Jheeta to not just raise money, but also to provide medical scrubs for nurses and doctors and meals to frontline staff across East London hospitals.
Unable to meet for a while, Brethren had to innovate to help. Freemasonry is not restricted by the walls of the Temple but by the imagination of our members.
Bro Professor Mark Sharp (above) was not going to let Beneficentia Lodge No 5308 down.
Despite a busy schedule on duty for the NHS Royal Voluntary Service he started virtual Lodges of Instruction to keep members engaged, delivered Sunday Meals to other Freemasons, raised £1500 within his Lodge to convert into regular food vouchers for brothers in need and manufactured face masks.
Likewise, brothers Alan Scott and Andrew Harrison from Bowes Park Lodge 3119, who are both members of the Nottingham Search and Rescue Team, used their experience and time to deliver meals, medicines and anything else that may have been required to shielding people (below).
Crossing the boundaries of their Lodges, many Brethren found ways to contribute to their community and to inspire their family and friends. Some even took it to the workplace.
This is what Bro Ben Hayes-Scott from Ranelagh Lodge No 834 did. As a director for Ace Carpet Cleaners, he partnered his company with The Caring Foundation and pushed the fleet of vans beyond their original purpose to deliver meals to NHS staff and vulnerable communities across London. Now that is putting care into a service company.
Similarly, W Bro Andrew Farleigh and Bro Philip Samuels from the Lodge of Friendship & Fidelity No 7077 brought their disposable wiping cloth business to contributing by continuously supplying hospital and industry with antibacterial wipes and buckets.
Although it may seem that such a company is a natural fit for combatting a virus, it takes determination, energy and above all a great sense of caring to keep it going when sourcing raw material becomes more problematic. Wipes are an essential part of keeping others safe so they can continue to perform their duties.
Also using his business to help, Bro Mick White (above) from Sanitarian Chapter No 3458 and managing director of a furniture outlet was recently awarded "Covid-19 Champions" status by Newham London Borough for assisting vulnerable people in the social housing market. In addition, he contributed financially by donating £1000 to the Richard House Hospice.
Sometimes, supporting others transcends financial contribution and the bare logistics of meal delivery and becomes much more personal.
That is how Bro Scott McNeil from Sirius Lodge No 4996 assisted young adults with Autism and their families by taking them out for a walk as much as restrictions could allow and by entertaining them with games or activities such as colouring.
On a different note, when the call came to Bro Anthony Harvey (above), from Metallus Lodge No 6150 to mobilise as an RAF reservist, there was no hesitation in his response. After initial training, he helped set up some of the first mobile Covid-19 testing units in the country.
Charity engagement takes a lot of different shapes. As Chairman of the Royal Variety Charity, W Bro Giles Cooper (above) from Chelsea Lodge No 3098 produces an annual performance to raise money for entertainers in need.
But at the onset of this challenging period, he turned his attention to the charity's
own nursing home, ensuring it was fully prepared, well equipped and the staff suitably trained to provide excellent care and support for its 35 elderly residents.
Across London, so many Metropolitan Masons have volunteered in this crisis. Some took on their own time to deliver meals and medication to those less able to circulate. Others found innovative ways to raise money.
More simply kept in touch with those self-isolating to ensure that physical shielding did not become social seclusion.
A selection of 'Covid-19 heroes' will be recognised by Metropolitan Grand Lodge for their efforts.
Sadly, we do not have enough space to acknowledge all those who helped during such a difficult time.
Still, we can express our grateful thanks for their work, for their devotion and for representing so well those truly Masonic Ornaments that we call Benevolence and Charity.
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 42 October 2020 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons - Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.
Read more articles in the Arena Issue 42.