Freemasons across England and Wales are coming together to provide vital personal protective equipment (PPE) for care homes to protect the elderly, following Health Secretary Matt Hancock's call for a 'Herculean effort' to protect critical NHS staff.
The government is currently supplying 58,000 separate organisations including pharmacies, care homes and GP surgeries with PPE, which has led to logistical issues due to sheer demand.
While the NHS has been prioritised, care homes are struggling to source PPE equipment. The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), the governing body for Freemasons, has 18 care homes and 1,000 residents, through its Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI).
Dr David Staples, CEO of UGLE, said: 'Freemasons have a proud history of providing care to the elderly, and as a number of our members fall into the vulnerable category, we are stepping forward to help in their time of need. No elderly person – or the staff who care for them – should believe their life is at risk due to the lack of essential equipment. And no parent or grandchild should feel their loved ones were left unprotected during this national emergency.'
He continued: 'Freemasons across the country are already taking steps to safeguard our vulnerable loved ones and the millions of carers who help protect and care for them during this time.
'Not only can we help provide physical protection but we can also – through our core values of friendship, respect, integrity and charity – help provide monetary support though Age UK, the ability to provide cross-generational friendship; and highlight our respect for this generation by providing for them in their hour of need.'
In just two days, Scunthorpe Freemasons made 1,000 St Lawrence full-face visors to protect carers working for the RMBI. The work was done at the premises of Cymarc Engineering, which normally makes components for the rail sector and the motorbike industry.
Company owner Mark Hooton said: 'From nothing to 1,000 St Lawrence visors were manufactured, assembled and packed in just two days. I’ve been overwhelmed by the help of volunteers who’ve stepped up to help make this possible. Without them this would not have happened.'
Mr Hooton switched his highly specialised industrial laser-cutting equipment to producing aluminium frames for his own design of visor in a move prompted by a cry for help from the RMBI, which was looking for visors for staff in its care homes. Within 24 hours, he had created a prototype, and was then supported by other members of his lodge and his staff in gearing up to produce hundreds every day, including sourcing raw materials, establishing logistics channels, setting a production line and defining the product in a document.
Mr Hooton is now supplying 600 visors for the Carers Trust, which had been unable to secure a single visor for its staff due to the national shortage.
Freemason Sean Fitzgerald from Valence 5388 Lodge, which meets in Upminster, also donated 500 packs of antiseptic wipes to the Carers Trust and 500 visors to NHS Moorfields Eye Hospital.
Face shields to protect frontline and key workers are also being made by Colin Breckons from Norwich. He is making the face shields using his 3D printers and giving them away free to the NHS and other key workers. A monetary donation came from Freemasons to help produce the visors. He has been inundated with requests and says there is a struggle to find the plastic needed for the visors, of which he aims to make at least 2,000.
In Wales, Freemasons from the Aberpennar Masonic Lodge, Aberdare, donated 100 safety visors to surgeries in the North Cynon Valley.
Beverley Evans, advanced nurse practitioner, said: 'I would like to thank Aberpennar Lodge, on behalf of the surgeries in North Cynon Valley, for the 100 visors they've donated. We are so grateful for this much-needed equipment that was organised by Mark Griffiths and his wife Joanne. I also want to say this has really highlighted the good work Freemasons do, as people are very unaware of the charitable work done by the Freemasons.'
North Wales Freemasons donated £2,250 to help produce PPE face visors, after Joseph Mearman – from St David’s Lodge – set up a 3D printer system to make visors for local hospitals.
UGLE’s Dr Staples added: 'I am extremely proud of how our members have helped to step into the breach during this national crisis. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the support we will be providing. We are now galvanizing the membership on a national level to help ramp up demand, and we aim to be supplying thousands of new items of PPE in the next few weeks.'
Freemasonry is one of the largest charitable givers in the country, contributing more than £48m to deserving causes in 2018 alone. And Freemasons do not only donate money – more than 18.5 million hours of volunteer work was undertaken by Freemasons in 2018.