I was privileged to be exalted to the Chair of this prestigious Charity in late February 2020, when unfortunately, the world was at the early stages of this most ruthless pandemic, Covid 19.
Our team sprang into action early February, collating and analysing the daily changing circumstances, noting the progress of this deadly virus, and evaluating its likely effects to the social, economic, and domestic circumstances of our Masonic families.
To educate and prepare ourselves for what we may encounter in both the short and long-term, we instigated discussion with a number of medical professionals, politicians, and social services agencies – along with colleagues from local charities, and community groups. We quickly assessed that the “Community Spirit” was becoming more active within towns and villages, and that Churches, Sports Clubs, Shopkeepers etc., would structure their combined efforts in supporting their respective communities.
As we entered March 2020 and the circumstances continued to worsen, we looked for meaningful ways in which we might aid the wider community, avoiding any conflict with the efforts of localised groups. Knowing that we had the spread of the Masonic network to do something of a tangible nature we explored many ideas – “Covid Testing Packs” with a local pharmaceutical company – “Telephone and Contact Messaging Services” – “Production of Mask & Aprons” – and lots more. (see more in Events Section)
In response to government advice mid-March and pending restrictions, we immediately postponed our regular monthly meetings and circulated assurance to the Lodges and beneficiaries of the Fund that we stood ready, prepared, and able to assist a variety of their needs. We continued to receive and to respond to applications for assistance, financial and otherwise, Stair Lifts, Mobility Scooters, Medical Scans, all of which, in the light of NHS pressures were subjected to rapidly extending waiting lists of 12 – 18 months. In each of these cases our Emergency Committee reacted with expedited results, purchased and had the necessary equipment delivered and installed as required, with appointments for medical scans scheduled within days.
We shortly thereafter faced our first “contact” case pertinent to the “Virus” which I am happy to report, the effected Brother thankfully survived after a brave and arduous battle. More similar cases followed and were duly attended to, although regrettably some courageous battles were lost, and I extend our sincere condolences and deepest sympathies to the relevant family circles.
I take this opportunity to record our heartfelt thanks and appreciations to our generous donors and the District Charity Committees for their contributions and services throughout the difficulties of 2020. We have continued to assist all beneficiaries to include our Masonic Widows with our 2020 bi-annual Grants and Christmas Bonuses having been fully dispersed.
I would particularly wish to extend our thanks and gratitude to those volunteers who assisted us with the moving of equipment, files etc from the Mount Office to our new Office accommodation in Ballyclare. Many Brethren gave much of their time to assist with this move with many more taking part in the preparations of painting, electrical, flooring, etc. Without their generous assistance the move could not have been completed so efficiently.
I am pleased to confirm that donations received in the first half of the year were slightly healthier that our projected expectations. We are respectfully aware that Lodges have faced a year of postponement and cancellations of their planned meetings and fundraising events which I am sure has been of social disappointment. Unfortunately, I must report a substantial reduction and deficit in our donations for the 2nd half of 2020 with our focus now extending to the funding challenges in 2021 and possibly 2022/3.
Our Trustees and Management continue to review the ongoing circumstances. We hope to see improving social interaction and a subsequent return to pleasurable meetings and fundraising opportunities, that our “Masonic Charities” may continue to fulfil the objectives and purposes in support of our “Masonic beneficiaries”. We ask all Lodge Almoners and Stewards of Charities to remain vigilant and attentive to those who may require our assistance or services.
As we progress through 2021, with the recent good news of advancements towards conquering this vile Virus, I would appeal to you all to continue to be careful and responsible to yourselves and others in the hope that this pandemic may soon be defeated, and we can return to healthy and more pleasant days.
Bro. Walter Ferguson
Chairman of the Belfast Masonic Charity Fund