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First in preparing this paper I thought I would like to reflect back on the early years of the charity and more importantly how the East Lancashire Masonic Benevolent Institution or as we all knew it the ELMBI evolved, and why changes had to be made. Support for those less fortunate than ourselves has always been a feature of our Masonic activity throughout the history of our Province. When in the eighteenth century, charity was dispersed by individual Lodges on behalf of their members. Then in 1815 Grand Lodge ordained that a Province could establish a local fund for charitable and other Masonic purposes, and then, in 1853, a meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge in Blackburn established a fund of benevolence. Eventually a committee was formed to promote the interests of charity and this committee included one representative from each Lodge in the Province, this was the origin of the Lodge charity representative, now known as the Charity Steward.
In 1876 “the East Lancashire systematic and educational Masonic benevolent fund” was established to administer the increasing work of helping needy masons and their families in the Province. In 1904 the institution was incorporated and registered under the charities act and became the “East Lancashire Masonic Benevolent Institution” or ELMBI. We are all aware that the constitution of ELMBI has stood the test of time and served the Province for over a century, during which time, through the Lodge and Chapter almoners, has been able to improve the quality of life for thousands of its beneficiaries, which would not have happened without the generous donations of Brethren within the Province, this being facilitated by the Lodge and Chapter Charity Stewards. In recent years, however, the focus of the Province’s charity has been diverted into various festivals, and thus ELMBI’s capability, profile and donations by way of covenants had reduced dramatically.
A review of the charity's activities was certainly overdue and consequently a paper was delivered to the Provincial Grand Master's cabinet in June 2005 with ways to bring the ELMBI up to date and raise its profile. This presentation included outlined details of the fund raising success in the Province of Yorkshire West Riding, a Province similar in size to that of East Lancashire with 8,000 Brethren of which approx 6,000 are active. Over a period of time, 62% of these Brethren have become members of their charity and make regular contributions. After the meeting certain objectives were set out by the cabinet and it was decided to hold a workshop on 21st September 2005 at Bridge Street, Manchester, at which each of the Districts within the Province were represented by three Brethren, the District chairman, Charity Steward and one other representative, which in the majority of cases was the deputy chairman, who of course is also the District Almoner.
The workshop, which was attended by the PGM and his Deputy, commenced with a presentation and discussion about the charity's objectives. This was followed by the Brethren being split into groups and forming several workshops. The workshops were asked to recommend ways to re activate the fortunes of ELMBI by encouraging more Brethren to make donations on a regular basis, and also to consider the model adopted by the Province of Yorkshire West Riding, which was mentioned previously. The workshops were also asked how to encourage and support Charity Stewards in their work within the Lodges & Chapters and how to reconnect with the community.
Each group condensed their views and gave a flip chart presentation on what had been discussed, with topics such as membership schemes, rebranding ideas, reward and recognition, patronage, raising our profile, and reconnecting with our community. Not surprisingly a high percentage of views and ideas were similar from the various groups. There was an overwhelming desire by the delegates for a second workshop to be held, this was subsequently held at Bridge Street on 10th November 2005, the main aim of this workshop was to debate the matters arising from the first workshop, and this was the last opportunity for discussion before the appeal was to be relaunched at Provincial Grand Lodge, Blackburn, in November 2005. Being present at both these workshops in my role as District Charity Steward I can assure you that the delegate’s inputs and ideas were taken on board and it was not just a case of paying lip service to the Province, which I think was very important.
David Lightbown, PAGDC