NOT many people know about Moose International these days, even though it’s had a British presence for decades.
The organisation began in 1888, and is probably the only such group whose name is inspired by the behaviour of a species of animal.
“Moose in a circle defend the old and the young within that circle,” said Roy Small.
“And we have a defending circle in which we look after the young, the old and the sick.”
The founder, according to the group’s official history, was John Henry Wilson, a doctor in Louisville, Kentucky. His original idea was for a friendly society, a mutual aid club of a kind which was vital in the years before state safety nets were established.
“It went in fits and starts for a while,” said Roy, “picking up more members as it went along. Later he was put in the background and the society went off on a different course. From that it started up again and attracted hundreds and then thousands of members in the United States.
“Later a man who joined in America, JJ Davis, came to the United Kingdom in 1926 and set up Moose in England.
“The society was about helping charities, raising money to help people who weren’t able to help themselves. It still is about that.”
There are more than 750,000 members worldwide, mostly in the USA and Canada. In the UK, the membership roll was in five figures as recently as the late 1990s, when Roy joined.
Moose arrived in Swindon in 1930.
“When I joined in 1997 we had around 10,000 members in the UK and in Swindon we had around 350. There used to be three lodges here,” he says.
There are now about 35 Swindon members.
Roy puts the decline down to a combination of older members dying and a lack of publicity to generate interest from potential new ones. The Swindon branch is trying to change that.
“We’ve started to reverse it – we enrolled three new members in 2016.”
When Roy joined, much recruitment was by word of mouth.
“I used to go to a working man’s club in Rodbourne and there was a member of Moose who used to come there every Sunday. I used to sit at his table and he had a badge on his lapel. I asked him about it.”
Even though its membership is relatively small compared with past numbers, Moose in Swindon has managed to give almost £10,000 to local good causes over the last year alone. As well as Brighter Futures, beneficiaries range from Alzheimer’s Research UK to TWIGS, the Swindon charity which promotes therapeutic garden work for people with mental health issues.
Moose’s local income is generated from a variety of social functions and other fundraising events, as well as revenue from hiring out the lodge’s headquarters, the Moose Hall at the top of Eastcott Hill.
Earlier in the organisation’s history, it tended to help mainly widows, orphans, people too ill to work and people who had otherwise generally fallen through the cracks in society.
“Over the years the state has taken on a lot of those roles, but it has lost a lot of the personal contact. I think you still need local people caring about others in their community, and that’s where Moose can help,” he says.
Roy championed support for Brighter Futures because he knows all too well why Swindon needs its own radiotherapy unit.
“My wife has had cancer three times and had to have radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
“She had to go to Oxford. She stayed there for a week to have her radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and when she came out she had to go up to Oxford every day for three weeks to have more radiotherapy.
“There are buses to take patients there and back, and if you can imagine going all over Swindon, picking up people to go to Oxford, what time do you get there and what time do you get home?
“Sometimes my wife used to leave at eight o’clock in the morning and get home at about seven at night.”
Roy and his fellow members would be delighted to hear from potential new recruits. The benefits?
“It’s the fellowship, it’s the meaning of it, of looking after one another and looking after other people through charities.
“We’re about raising money for charity, but we have fun doing it – a dinner, a dance, anything to get people in so we can tell them what we’re doing.
“You’ve heard of the saying that it’s better to give than to receive. That is very true.
“If you give something to somebody in need, the reward is the feeling you’ve got that you’ve helped somebody. We see it was the fellowship of the order – each to one another and each to every individual that we help.
“There are lots of benefits that you can get from being a member of Moose nationally and internationally – social benefits – but if somebody wants to join I’d say: ‘Don’t ask what you can get out of Moose, ask what part of yourself you are prepared to put into the organisation.’
“We’ve got the easier job, raising the money, but the people in the charities, doing the actual care, are at the sharp end of life.”
More information about the organisation can be obtained at mooseintluk.org and from Swindon secretary Gerald Heather on 07747 627260.