Tony Hales

Raili - the Old Chelmsfordian Sponsored Apprenticed Nurse

Raili had always wanted to support other people with care, comfort and compassion as a nurse.  With nothing more than the inspiration of Florence Nightingale who said “Starting a job and working hard is how to be successful”, Raili entered the new apprenticeship degree nurse training scheme at the Princess Alexandra Hospital (PAHT) in Harlow and Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) just three weeks before the first wave of Covid-19 in 2020.  Little did Raili then know that the Freemasons of Old Chelmsfordian Lodge No 5499 would soon play a big part in supporting her.

As the enormity of the pandemic hit home, the Lodge members held meetings on Zoom to plan their response. The Almoner designate who took office in October 2020, Brian Gilbertson, asked a simple question “Why can’t we sponsor a nurse?” The retiring Almoner, Keith Baggs, through a connection at Broomfield Hospital was directed to ARU which saw no reason why not over the four-year training period. The Charity Steward, retired police officer Kevin Thompson, had joined PAHT as a porter and met Raili, an apprenticed nurse who had no support network, was a single mother living on a minimum wage with no recourse to government funding, desperately needing support and help with car maintenance. Raili ticked all the boxes.

ARU suggested helping with equipment, study material and medical journals.  £1,000 for each of the four years was considered as both appropriate and feasible. Some members set up a regular standing-order, others donated lump sums. The Secretary, Rob Bates, remembered when the Lodge had donated to Blesma, for limbless veterans, that their Assistant Provincial Grand Master (APGM), Lee Taylor, announced the Essex Freemasons Community Fund (EFCF) could match-fund Lodges towards good causes up to £500. The Lodge applied and EFCF agreed with £500 now and £1,500 over the next three years. Treasurer, Colin Webb, makes sure all the money is wisely spent.

Assistant Secretary and Past Master, David Rootkin, arranged for some of the Lodge members and Lee Taylor and Colin Felton, the Provincial Grand Charity Steward and Chair of the EFCF, to meet Raili at Chelmsford Masonic Hall.  After listening to Raili and learning just how beneficial the Lodge financial support is to her, Lee and Colin agreed to make this a new Provincial-wide sponsorship project for Essex Freemasons. Lee has already approached the seven other Federation of School Lodges in the Province to ask if they will each consider similarly sponsoring an apprenticed nurse with a minimum of £500 pa, with a further £500 match-funded from the EFCF, for each of the four years.

Another Past Master, Brian Simpson, had seen a similar situation many years ago and encouraged the Lodge with his full support. The Worshipful Master, Gary Payne said “This is what Freemasonry is all about. It is the good work which is not usually publicised”. Rob Bates added “Now the project is off the ground it is very rewarding to see someone develop and benefit from Freemasonry”.

With weekly contact and helpful Lodge support, Raili said “This has all made me feel more confident with a no-stress drive to work I am able to focus on the task of achieving my degree. You have all made my year with this help and I am grateful. Again, I really can’t say thank-you enough.”  So, in the future if you receive care, comfort and compassion from a Registered Nurse with a BSc (Hons) nursing degree it may be Raili - the Old Chelmsfordian sponsored apprenticed nurse.


Home from Home

You all know the story of Rip Van Winkle who woke up to find he was 20 years older and the world had changed. He returned home to find his wife had died, his daughter was married and the portrait of King George III, the father of four Freemasons, had been replaced by Bro George Washington – you get the picture. 

In January 1999, I was a privileged to be invited to the opening ceremony of Prince Edward Duke of Kent Court (PEDOKC) by the Grand Master but it was not until 20 years later in 2019 when I joined the Lodge of Daily Advancement that I learned just how far the RMBI care home at Stisted had progressed since then and how well all the residents are being cared for. For this, I thank one of the Trustees of the Association of Friends of PEDOKC, Graham Larke, who has kept me posted with developments and sends me the PEDOKC Newsletters produced by David Badger, a Trustee and Secretary.

Edited by Aggie McDonald, the Home Manager and Jade Gibson, Business Relationship Manager, the latest production of the PEDOKC Newsletter PedokNews.Mar21.pdf ( is impressive with over 110 pictures, which is equivalent to an additional 110,000 words! The ‘Birthday Celebrations’ page for both Residents and staff is a nice touch and ‘Scouting in Stisted Hall’ is a superb initiative and most appropriate for a ‘Masonic Home’. Based on my own experiences as a Senior Scout and as a Leader, I see many benefits for residents who become ‘invested’ and join in the activities of the Stisted ‘Senior Scouts’.

At the Essex Almoners Conference on 6th May 2021, Jade gave a detailed explanation of individual residential costs, local government and RMBI support. Regardless of an individual’s subsequent financial circumstances, all Residents should feel secure knowing they will be cared for, for the rest of their lives. Both Aggie and Jade gave a fine presentation about life at Stisted including:

  • How everyone works hard to make it a ‘Home from Home’
  • The Safari Shuttle for exploring and picnics in the 50-acre grounds with 10 life-size fibreglass animals
  • Activities such as the cookery club, bingo or enjoying a drink in the new bar.

If you get the chance to view the new accompanying video and/or the Conference presentation by Aggie and Jade please do so.  Paul Reeves, the Deputy Provincial Grand Master in-Charge, described to the 180 online delegates how impressed he is with the quality of care and facilities at PEDOKC. Paul also encouraged all Essex Freemasons to support one of the upcoming open Coffee-Mornings at Stisted to see for themselves.

Graham Larke is pleased that the excellent work for the Residents in these difficult times by Aggie and all her Staff is being highlighted. Graham said “The Association of Friends is proud to support their efforts to maintain the high quality of the Home for the Residents”.  Visit Friends of Stisted ( to find out more and discover how you can help others make it a ‘Home from Home’.


The Next Item on the Agenda is the Almoner’s Report

The Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) has replaced what was once considered a difficult process for assistance into a smooth one for individuals and their families. Throughout England and Wales, it now takes four to 10 weeks for routine grant applications. Visiting Brothers have been replaced by Visiting Volunteers who are more qualified and work on a UK-wide basis.  Most applications to the MCF are received direct but a number still go through Lodge Almoners, especially those from older Brethren.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) prevents Lodge Almoners from reporting about a Brother’s circumstances without explicit permission.  The Almoner’s role is now defined as ‘Pastoral Care’ which Ray Heathfield, the Deputy Provincial Grand Almoner of the Essex Freemasons, described to the 180 online participants at the Essex Provincial Almoner’s Conference on 6th May 2021, means “making contact and listening”.

“To support Lodge Almoners”, Ray continued, “the Province is divided into six areas, each with an Almoner Liaison Officer (ALO). There is an additional ALO for Prince Edward, Duke of Kent Court care home and Hamilton Court.”  The Provincial ‘Adopt a Widow Scheme’ was presented by Paul Cash, who explained that one year ago, 123 widows were on the list. So far 99 have been adopted, leaving 24 unattached of which six have said ‘Thank-you we are fine’ and four are in care homes.

The new Provincial Grand Almoner, Gary Hostler, explained that Essex has nine Almoner Grants Officers (AGOs) and emphasised how important the Essex Provincial Almoners Fund (EPAF) is in providing immediate relief, in cases such as loss of income, before long term financial, medical or family support can be provided by the MCF. Gary also outlined how:

  • Being lonely can lead to an early death as it is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Gary said “There are 200,000 older people who have not had a conversation for over a month.”
  • Many more Lodges are recognising the importance of appointing a Deputy Almoner to assist in the wellbeing of Brethren and this should be encouraged
  • A list of speakers from medical charities is being compiled who will happily present to Lodges and Chapters about their work in return for a donation.

Deputy Provincial Grand Master in-Charge, Paul Reeves, informed the Conference that £72,000 had been given from the EPAF to help those unable to earn an income since the beginning of lockdown.  Paul, an Almoner in two Lodges since becoming DPGM, also added he “never realised how busy the role is”.  He is 100% right and an excellent role-model. Almoners need to reach out to all members and give courage to those affected to seek help, regardless of whether they are in troubled circumstances or just want to take a back seat for a bit and rest assured their Lodge cares for its members when they hear the Worshipful Master say “The next item on the Agenda is the Almoner’s Report.”

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