W Bro Col Simon Bennett LGR MetAGSwdB reports
Bro Les attended the most recent Zoom Meeting of the Kent Club and spoke about his career with some of the highlights, the evolution of Masonic charity and the creation of the MCF.
Bro Les joined the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys as a Management Trainee in January 1988 when there were four central Masonic charities: the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, the New Masonic Samaritan Fund, the RMBI and the Freemasons Grand Charity which in addition to supporting Freemasons and their widows who were in distress, was also the main external or outward looking face of masonic charity.
As a trainee with the MTGB, later the RMTGB gaining its Royal title in 2003, Bro Les spent time working within each of the charity's departments. He also completed a part time BA and MBA. In 1992, he was appointed a Senior Case Administrator and Team Leader within the Petitions Department, a post he held for five years. In this role, he gained a valuable insight into the needs of our Masonic beneficiaries and an environment where education and provision by the welfare state was changing rapidly and classes this as the best job he has ever had. For Les, it was such a privilege and so rewarding to work for a charity that, due to the extraordinary generosity of Freemasons across the country, was able to make such a difference, to so many, on a daily basis.
In 1997 he was promoted to Planning and Development Coordinator with responsibility for supporting the Chief Executive and helping to devise and
implement strategies for the future direction and development of the charity. During this time, he petitioned for the restoration of the Royal title and established Lifelites, a separate charity which supports all children's hospices in the UK.
In 2005, he was appointed Secretary to the Council, reporting directly to the Board. Undertaking a major review of the fundraising strategy he recommended the introduction of a new honorifics based incentive system and the annual Festival Forum. He also acted as Secretary on the newly formed strategic Committee, comprising the Presidents and Chief Executives of the four central Masonic charities, that would sow the seeds of the MCF.
Appointed Chief Executive of RMTGB in 2008, Bro Les also acted as Secretary to a Project Group, which by then was supporting the Deputy Grand Master in the process of creating the MCF. In the two years prior to the creation of the MCF Bro Les chaired the Charitable Support sub-Project Group charged with creating a unified and more accessible range of support for Freemasons and their families. He was very pleased to work alongside David Innes in creating and embedding the MCF as Freemasonry s principal charity, succeeding him as Chief Executive when David retired in September 2020.
Bro Les has been a Freemason for over 30 years having been initiated into Fortis Green Lodge No. 5145 in 1989. He was promoted Past Senior Grand Deacon in 2017 and acted as Grand Steward for Jerusalem Lodge No 197 in 2018. He says his biggest failure in Freemasonry is the inability to say no; as a result he is a member of several other Units and orders!
The evolution of Masonic charity and creation of the MCF.
The MCF was only created in December 2015 and became active in April 2016.
The MCF was established on the basis of what the four legacy charities considered to be key drivers for change, namely to:
¥ Respond to a reducing and ageing membership. ¥ Move from an illogical and restrictive division of the charities to a whole family, cradle to grave approach to internal charity.
¥ Optimise overhead and charitable resources.
¥ Adapt to decreasing income streams.
¥ Become more readily accessible to potential beneficiaries.
¥ Play a more central role in the future of Freemasonry helping to showcase the Craft as a tremendous force for good in wider society.
These drivers are not only important because they provided the stimulus for change, but also because they gave the Charity some way of assessing what was set out to be achieved and whether the creation of the MCF was the right thing to do.
The MCF s work in London.
In the current financial year to date 344 grants have been awarded to London Freemasons and their families and these amounted to £670k. Since 2016 150 London charities have received grants from MCF amounting to over £4M.
In addition, under its existing grants programmes over the same period the MCF approved 26 Large Grants totalling almost £1.5M and 34 Small Grants totalling £450k across 40 Provinces and London.
The MCF response to Covid.
The pandemic that swept the world back in March presented the MCF with by far its greatest challenge to date. However, switching to remote working, the MCF has been open for business throughout - Since the first lockdown we have awarded over 3,200 grants amounting to just over £6.4 million to support our members and their families. This has included 265 grants to provide children with computers for remote learning and a higher than normal number of emergency grants - usually turned around in less than 24 hours - for those in desperate need.
Bro Les wanted four important messages to be taken back to our Lodges:
1. The MCF is open for business and any mason or family member in need should not delay and should make contact as soon as possible.
2. The impact the pandemic has had on the mental health of members should not be underestimated. There has been a significant increase in referrals. to the Counselling Care Line. Encourage anyone who might be struggling to take advantage of this service.
3. The RMBI’s Care Homes remain open for business and have coped admirably with significant challenges and this is something of which Freemasonry should be incredibly proud.
4. The MCF enquiries line continues to receive unprecedented numbers of calls from Freemasons and their families. Not every enquiry leads to a full application but, even if the MCF is unable to help, the team have a wealth of knowledge and are able to provide excellent signposting.
In addition to its core activities and as a direct response to Covid, in April the MCF Covid-19 Fund was launched, this has awarded 242 grants totalling £385k over 43 Provinces.
Also, in April, the MCF launched the new Matched Funding programme, (£10,000 per Province) with 107 grants being approved totalling £212k. In total, 32 Provinces have engaged with the Programme.
In addition and in conjunction with UGLE, MCF also provided £1M in April and launched an appeal to raise an extra £1M that would be matched; the target was reached with ease.
Bro Les feels immensely proud at Freemasonry s response to Covid. We have seen the provision of tens of thousands of items of PPE, over 300,000 prepared meals and over 1,000 touchscreen tablets to those who needed them most during lockdown. The way that individual Freemasons have volunteered their service to support our collective effort, some of them repurposing their own businesses in order to produce face masks, visors, or to supply and distribute meals has been simply inspirational.
The recognition of Freemasonry's response has been incredible with over 1,000 separate newspaper articles printed with a potential reach of an incredible 44 million. One important side product is the number of young men expressing an interest in joining Freemasonry on the back of this positive publicity. One Province has a waiting list exceeding 150!
Hopes for the future of the MCF.
Looking to the future and MCF's strategic direction, Les explained that a key component will be the MCF's alignment with Freemasonry. The MCF, the Freemason's Charity, must support UGLE in redressing its strategic narrative and normalising Freemasonry in the public consciousness. Last year, collectively Freemasons across England and Wales (including the MCF) gave over £42M to charitable causes. This is an astonishing statistic and we should be proud to tell the world just how much Freemasonry is actually doing to support local communities across the country and further afield.
Bro Les also strongly believes that the professionalism and effectiveness of central Masonic charity, which has improved dramatically over the last decade, is something of which the organisation and its membership should feel justly proud. We are fortunate to have a highly effective Trustee board and in my view our staff are amongst the best in the charity sector.
Finally, there will be an increasing need to get to grips with impact assessment and understanding the real needs of our beneficiaries over the next 5-10 years and this is high on Les's to do list .
In closing, Bro Les spoke about his work within the Masonic Charities for over 32 years, witnessing first-hand the tangible difference that they can make on behalf of Freemasonry emphasising this is only possible because of the tremendous support received from all Freemasons, saying, On behalf of all at the MCF and all those who have benefited from your compassion, diligence, hard work and generosity thank you.
For further information about the impact of the MCF's work in 2019/20, including details of the support provided to Freemasons, family members and local charities in your area, you can access our digital-only impact report by visiting: impact.mcf.org.uk/2020
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 43 January 2021 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 43.