I shall be leaving office as Provincial Almoner this autumn and am delighted to record that Phil Blacklaw is taking over. Phil has been my Assistant for the north of the Province and has led the highly successful loan scheme for electric scooters, wheelchairs and stair-lifts. There have been great stretches of my time in office when I have received a letter of thanks for Phil’s scheme once a fortnight. Lives have been transformed by the opportunity to get up stairs easily and drive to the shops or friends.
I would like to say a very big and whole-hearted ‘Thank-You’ to all the lodge almoners for making the last five years so enjoyable and worthwhile. It has been a great pleasure to work with them, and so many other lodge officers, and to be part of a large team in which everyone is positive and encouraging. For me, the experience has been Masonry at its very best.
I am sure I will continue to encounter most of you around the Province, particularly as I have been asked to be Secretary of the Bucks Masonic Centenary Fund, providing grants for local Bucks non-masonic charities and causes.
My particular thanks go to the Assistants to the Provincial Grand Almoner who have been pillars of support and creative thinking. Derek Watts is to be heartily congratulated on being made Provincial Grand Secretary and we shall appoint a new Marlow Assistant soon to replace him. As for the north, John Hurley has agreed to take on Phil Blacklaw’s role and will be a great source of strength to the team. We are privileged that Mike Pavier and Ernie Harvey will continue at Slough, Peter Cranmer in the centre of the Province and Duncan Johnston with Beaconsfield.
The work has become a lot tougher over these last five years. More and more brethren have been made redundant or forced to retire early with mortgages still running and children at school or in higher education. Those in similar situations need to make contact before debts begin to build. Neither the Grand Charity nor the Bucks Masonic Benevolent Fund can pay off debts. What we can do is to fund consultancies that arrange debt rescheduling or, at worst, insolvency that is dignified and bailiff-free. There are many more cases we don’t hear about:
A good almoner gets to the heart of these situations and, remember, the sign of a really good lodge is that every member sees himself as an unofficial almoner. Don’t let brother masons suffer in silence and drift away.
There are so many people to thank. The Provincial Executive and the wider Provincial Team have been unfailingly supportive, monitoring wisely and giving me the freedom to innovate and explore new ways of doing things. Brian Gentle, Treasurer of BMBF, and the Provincial Treasurers have wisely looked after our finances. The many beneficiaries keep in touch and tell me how things are for them. I sometimes feel the need to remind them that it is not me personally that is supporting them financially! The staffs of the four great national Masonic charities have been kind, efficient and friendly. I shall long remember my working relationships with them and the way they go the extra mile to get help quickly when necessary. They are all under massively increasing pressures. Finally, I have worked from home and at least half of the many calls each day have been met by my wife, Wendy, who has shared the caring and responsibility.
To the Masons of Buckinghamshire, my gratitude for a most memorable five years.
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