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On Thursday 28th December three Bolton Masons headed up to Hewlett Court to find out how it operates. What we actually found out was what an amazing and special place it is.
We Freemasons like to chat as we all know! In Masonic terms at least two of our number are considered “young lads”. Callam Mulhearn, Almoner of St Peters Deane 6521 and Alan Ogden the current master of St John’s 348, Initiated in 2010 & 2011 respectively.
Our third, and elder (not necessarily) statesman Kirk Mulhearn with 13 years membership under his belt.
Alan is the recently appointed Provincial Communications officer, and Kirk the Provincial Grand Charity steward. One of our talks concluded that even with our new positions we were not very aware of what ELMC does, and in particular how the jewel in the crown of ELMC, Hewlett Court, functions. We therefore set off to find out.
On arrival, we found an impressive building set in spacious well-kempt grounds. Hewlett Court staff go to great lengths to point out it is not a Care Home and rightly so. They do not dispense medication or fulfil the roles we would normally associate with a convalescent home. It is registered as Sheltered Accommodation and as such its facilities offer independent living. Residents can come and go as they please, either by themselves or with family and friends. For example 12 of the residents went to their families for Christmas this year.
First impressions is an instant atmosphere of warmth, welcome and comfort; a theme we found throughout our visit. On entering it reminded us of a modern hotel, absolutely spotless and obviously kept up to date in terms furnishings and decorations.
Hewlett Court was opened in 1979. We were a little surprised to learn from a resident named Pam that construction actually started in 1975. Pam recalled, as she lived in the area at the time, approaching the workmen laying the foundations to ask what they were building to which the reply came, “a pub”.
Julie Ward, Operations Director was happy to receive a visit from us despite being extremely busy between Christmas and New Year and we explained why we had wanted to visit. We didn’t know enough about Hewlett Court! We see the newsletters and events, but as members of East Lancashire we should be rightly proud of this unique place. You may know that there are 17 Masonic homes around the country (10% non-Masonic residents) and with the sole exception of Hewlett Court, they are all operated by the RMBI for which we have recently been in festival. Hewlett Court is unique in that it belongs to our own ELMC.
“What’s the more important thing you need right now?”
“The most important at board level right now is a new heating system. This is the original system installed when it was built in 1979. If anything fails we can’t buy the parts any more. Also some low temperature radiators. It has recently been approved at board level and some consultants are coming out to assess then it will be put out to tender.”
Hewlett Court is self financing and turns a profit, however it needs support from the ELMC for macro projects such as the heating system.
We spoke to Charles Ward, Chairman of the Comforts Fund Sub Committee, and he elaborated on what the Comforts Fund actually is.
The prime function of the ELMC Comforts Fund Committee is to support the day to day work of the Committee of Benevolence by administering monetary gifts on birthdays and Christmas and organising social functions during the course of the year for its beneficiaries.
The funds for this come from various sources including the sale of ‘Friends of Hewlett Court’ merchandise but it’s also important to remember that Lodges and Districts are able to donate directly to this fund if they should choose to do so. There are some lodges that support Hewlett Court as part of their make up. The fund is relatively healthy and it enables something to be put on virtually every day although they could do with more support.
Of course Hewlett Court is a business, and as such each of the residents Masonic or non-Masonic pay their own way and the fees are the same. Although it does not happen often, if a resident were to struggle with affordability, after state support of course, the ELMC / MCF could perhaps get involved.
It now has 23 staff members who operate in a shift pattern. When we visited there were 10 present. Rachel Cookson who showed us round with Julie had been there 6 years, and the cook had been there since leaving school some 25 years ago! Low turnover of staff show Hewlett Court is a great place to work.
There are 29 single rooms and 6 doubles over two floors plus two apartments which were originally for staff accommodation, but are now used by residents. The maximum occupancy is 41.
Some two thirds of residents have a Masonic connection, either themselves masons or their wives and partners. There’s a current waiting list of 15 highlighting the popularity of Hewlett Court to potential residents and their families. In the past the numbers of residents has fluctuated and the business is only profitable if the occupancy rate is high. The non-Masonic residents are part of this requirement to fill the rooms. They can come from anywhere in the country to Hewlett Court but priority is given to those with Masonic connections.
It’s perhaps important to remember that the rooms are the residents’ homes. We were kindly invited into one of the single rooms on the ground floor and it was immediately apparent that the lady occupant had made it her home. Not a room, but a home. Residents can bring in their own furniture and put their own stamp on their surroundings. As one resident put it:
“when I first arrived, I felt I was living in Hewlett Court. When I my furniture arrived I felt I was living at home.”
The common areas are again warm, welcoming and comfortable. A large T.V. room. a conservatory and library for quiet times, and a dining room. Its own hairdressing and nail salon (Imperial Cuts!). Plus, the equivalent of the local corner shop. We could safely say it was a self contained community.
Whilst the ethos is very much one of independent living; the fantastic staff go to great lengths to fill each day with purpose and fun.
Wednesday Quiz Coffee Morning, followed by exercise.
Thirsty Thursday, drinks all round.
Friday exercise and big chat.
All interspersed by occasional entertainers and by coach trips funded by the Comforts Fund.
We paid a visit to the hairdressers salon which has recently been added.
“We are very proud of our hairdressers salon, it used to be a horrible little room with just a sink and a chair. The hair appointments and the things from the shop are the only things the residents pay for themselves. We have a chiropodist that comes in for them that we pay for. We have two hairdressers who come in, one Wednesday and one Saturday, its not expensive for the residents though it does depend what they have done.”
The shop reminded us of a school tuck shop. Callam put his hand in his pocket and bought some chocolate for the residents we spoke to later. The shop definitely had the air of a local corner shop about it.
“We used to get their papers in and put them in the right chair for people but then they would just take them back to their rooms. This way they come and read the papers or do the crosswords together.”
We were privileged to speak to a number of residents. Again there was a great feeling of friendship and one big family amongst everyone. Amazingly the average age is 89 but you couldn’t tell that from talking to some of them.
We went into the library and inadvertently woke up ‘Stanley’ who had retired there for a cheeky nap it seemed. We asked him about any Masonic connection he has:
“I’ve been a Mason donkeys years. 1940… something. A lodge in Karachi! I was working out there. It was a Scottish constitution lodge.”
Amazing. Initiated into a lodge in Pakistan! When Stanley returned to England in the 60s he joined Solidarity Lodge 7885 (Oldham). We were wondering if he’d had a 50 year certificate as Stanley couldn’t remember.
Another resident we spoke to was Geoff, he wasn’t a Mason but he was keen to tell us that almost every male relative he had was scattered around the province. Why didn’t he ever join we asked?
“Well I had a very busy job that took me away from home a lot.”
We asked him how he ended up at Hewlett Court:
“I’ve been here 4 years, I was living down the road in Summerseat with my wife but she passed away. She had Alzeimers for about 5 or 6 years but with help I managed to keep her at home. I was doing ok at home after but then quite quickly I had a few nasty falls and ended up in Fairfield hospital. All my family live in the Midlands and although they visit regularly because I couldn’t drive due to my eyesight they said it wasn’t the best for me to be living on my own. I had the choice of moving to Nottingham where I didn’t know anyone or Market Harbour near Leicester. My daughter suggested Hewlett Court and I thought it was a great idea, all mainly local people and I must have already known about 20% of the people who come in to visit from the local area.
Hewlett Court is like a home away from home, rated almost on a par with a hotel! There is nothing at all you can complain about.”
Being from Bolton we were keen to talk to Ken Ward who is a Farnworth Mason. We asked him about the process of becoming a resident and what it was like, as he had only been there 18 months:
“Well it was dead simple because I already knew Charles and Julie. The communal living takes some getting used to, but I’ve made some good friends.”
Ken said he was still a subscribing member (Euclid installed masters Lodge 9468) but unfortunately whilst he could get to the meeting, he couldn’t get back at night.
Speaking to Rachel afterwards it was clear she enjoyed working at Hewlett Court:
“Its very much a family feeling, we all try and make it like a big family.”
From staff towards residents and their surroundings. Residents to each other, and collectively back to the staff. Everyone we spoke to had an undeniable feeling of contentment, security, comfort and friendship. What better environment could one wish for at any time of our lives?
All acknowledged and appreciated the Masonic contribution to their circumstances.
The only downside we could conclude, was that we as freemasons are not aware of the fantastic work ELMC and Hewlett Court do on a daily basis. We hope our little piece goes some way to changing that perception.
Our own Masonic charity is something we should all be proud of and celebrate.
Article by Kirk Mulhearn & Alan Ogden