Charlotte Harding finds out more about the charity work of the Freemasons.
Helping your fellow man is something that is integral to the Freemasons’ three guiding principles.
“These are brotherly love, in which we look after each other, relief – helping charities; and truth – where we strive for truth, requiring high moral standards,” explains Michael Harris, a past assistant provincial grand master and chairman of Sussex Masonic Charities.
Charitable giving is a cornerstone of Freemasonry which, from its earliest days, has been involved in caring for orphans, the sick and the elderly.
The Freemasons donate money to their own charity (Masonic Charitable Foundation), and most UK charities and disaster relief funds.
“We are the second-biggest giver behind the Lottery,” reveals Michael, who lives in Eastbourne and has been a member of the Knights of the Road, number 3,673, lodge in Brighton since 1985.
“I was the first person in my family to join,” he recalls.
“I was invited to join and was intrigued so my wife and I went to a social event and really enjoyed it so I got involved.”
More recently, Michael has been raising funds for St Wilfrid’s Hospice in Eastbourne and asked other lodges in the area – there are around – 12, to do the same.
“I went to the hospice for a cheque presentation and I was so impressed by the work they do,” he explains.
“They told me it costs £11,000 a day to run. I was astonished by that amount so wrote to a number of the Eastbourne lodges and asked if they would be interested in raising funds.
“In the end we raised about £24,000, which may only be two days worth of funding, but it is £24,000 they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
The different Freemason lodges are constantly fund-raising for a number of different charities and there is no limit to how many they raise funds for.
Money is raised at their meetings, where Michael explains a bag is passed around and members are asked to give only what they can afford.
“You don’t see who has given what so some give coins, others may give notes,” he adds. “We then have a meal, have a chat and a raffle and are told who we are fund-raising for: it may be a charity the master is interested in or another a member has suggested.”
Members can also apply for their donations to be matched by the charitable foundation up to £600.
“If they raise £400 we will match £400, if they raise £1,000 we will give them £600,” he says.
“They can apply three times a year.”
As 2017 marks the 300th year of organised Freemasonry, the Province of Sussex is doing something called ‘Sussex for Sussex’, where they are asking charities to apply for funding.
“Each registered charity that applies is assessed on its independent merits,” reveals Michael. “Some just ask for an amount whereas others want something in particular.
“We look at their finances and see if they can afford to pay for it themselves, as if they can we will give the money to someone or a charity that can’t. ”
In the Province of Sussex, Freemasons or their family members have benefited from its wide range of support and services with grants amounting to £487,806.
In Eastbourne, the Freemasons recently raised £50,000 to help to provide a radiotherapy machine for Eastbourne Hospital.
“Before that, people had to go to Maidstone or Brighton,” says Michael.
“The Friends of Eastbourne Hospital had raised most of it but were £50,000 short of their target, so we raised what they needed.
“The Royal Connaught Lodge in Eastbourne has helped massively with raising the money.”
To celebrate the society’s 300th year in 2017 the Sussex Freemasons set themselves a challenge to raise £2,017,000, the total of which was £4,617,437 all from their own pockets.
Key to Michael, however, is showing people a different side to the Freemasons, one they might not be aware of.
“There was a TV programme on Sky 1 which was really interesting: it opened the doors of the London Freemasonry and we have nothing to hide – and what you see there is going on at Freemasonries all over the UK,” explains Michael.
“Freemasonry used to be shrouded in secrecy, but we are trying to step away from that.”
In 2017, Freemasons will be celebrating 300 years of organised Freemasonry as the anniversary marks the tercentenary of the formation of the first Grand Lodge in the world.
This first appeared in the June edition of etc Magazine.