W Bro Tony Shepherd SLGR MetDepGDC describes this epic delivery.

Back in the middle of April 2020, barely a month into the Masonic Suspension and
the nationwide social Lockdown, a time when the Thursday Evening 8pm Clap for NHS Workers was the highlight of our collective week, Phase One of the joint UGLE / MCF response to the Coronavirus Pandemic was launched.

This was to address the rapidly emerging needs of huge swathes of our communities in terms of mental health, personal isolation, the lack of basic day-to-day living essentials and the urgent and pressing need for a whole range of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

In response, Assistant Metropolitan Grand Master VW Bro Andrew Manasseh PGSwdB assembled a London COVID- 19 Response group (LCRG) to deliver on a variety of initiatives including: to purchase and deliver 115 Samsung Galaxy tablets for the Intensive Care Units of twenty four London hospitals (to enable patients to communicate with relatives), £25,000 for West London Masonic Centre to cook and deliver 800 meals per week to local, vulnerable and disadvantaged people and £20,000 to the Felix Project and City Harvest London.

With the growing awareness that PPE would play a vital role in helping to keep safe the army of frontline clinical workers – doctors, nurses, care workers in hospitals, care homes, nursing homes and hospices – one of the boldest initiatives of the LCRG was devised, in conjunction with the Provinces of Surrey, Sussex, East & West Kent to commission, manufacture and ship a vast quantity of face visors from China to help protect these key workers.

A team of Metropolitan Deputy Grand Directors of Ceremonies were tasked with identifying needy establishments within the capital who were struggling to source protective face visors and then co- ordinate and manage the delivery of the visors. It was agreed with Bro Andrew that London hospital intensive care units, hospices and non-profit care homes would be contacted once the visors were on British soil and definitive lists were compiled for this purpose.

Members of both the Metropolitan Grand Stewards Lodge and Chapter were approached to assist in this endeavour and a small army of volunteers was assembled to make calls to the potential recipients or personally deliver the visors. Other London brethren, who learned of the initiative, also volunteered their time.

Once the visors were manufactured and boxed, there followed a frantic fortnight of air cargo slots being gazumped or being missed due to frantic and fever-pitch activity on the ground in China, so it was quickly accepted that the most reliable method of delivery would be by sea and cargo space on a ship was secured.

The boxes were loaded onto a cargo ship at the Port of Shanghai and the visors travelled 11,866 nautical miles on a 49- day sea journey on board the proverbial ‘Slow boat from China’.

London’s 36,700 visors (at a cost of 95p each) eventually arrived at Freemasons’ Hall in the middle of July and were stored, by kind permission of UGLE, in the anteroom of the Gallery Suite on the ground floor. A total of 183 boxes, each containing 200 visors with a combined gross weight of over thirteen tonnes.

By the time, the visors were ready for delivery, London hospital ICUs had confirmed they had enough PPE, but London hospices and non-profit care homes were still reporting chronic shortages. Thirty London brethren then began the mammoth task of telephoning each one of the 355 identified potential recipients to establish if they had a need for the visors, and if they did, to arrange delivery.

Sixteen volunteer drivers, again all London Masons, were provided with a dispatch list, designed where possible to incorporate destinations within a few miles radius of where they lived. Each driver was responsible for arranging suitable delivery dates and times with his recipients. Each volunteer driver was personally met at FMH – in a socially distanced manner – by a member of the MetDepGDC team, thanked for their time and efforts and handed their boxes. Many of the deliveries were undertaken during the punishing heat and humidity of the mid-summer heatwave, but despite this, every recipient that requested visors received their allocation.

The hugely successful appeals for the London Air Ambulance, the Cyberknife, the London Ambulance Rapid Response Vehicles and the most recent London Fire Brigade Arial Platforms appeal provided essential hardware and technology to enable London’ s frontline workers to help keep us safe. The visor initiative went one step further by providing personal protection for the frontline workers themselves, something greatly appreciated by them, as they continue to work in the most challenging of environments and circumstances.

From a personal point of view, it was an incredible and rewarding experience to be a cog within a wheel of so many moving parts, driven entirely by the dedication, energy and commitment of London Freemasons. As volunteers, we came together as friends and brethren as part of the wider London Masonic family and I know I speak on behalf of all the volunteers when I say it was more of a privilege than a duty to be involved in this wonderful initiative.

In the midst of the scary, changeable and unprecedented times that currently exist, the core values of Freemasonry were called upon and a small army of London Freemasons modestly heeded the call on behalf of every single London Brother, Companion, Lodge and Chapter.

This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 42 October 2020 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons – Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.

Read more articles in the Arena Issue 42.