The Benevolent Fund of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers was founded in 1913 by Institution members as a way of providing advice, support and financial assistance to colleagues and their families.
It was rebranded as Support Network in 2009 and although the nature of those needs has changed over time, the simple and straightforward aim remains the same: "To help members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and their dependants, who are in need."
Support Network is one of over 400 benevolent funds in the UK, which are linked to particular trades, professions or professional institutions. Other examples include the Royal British Legion and For You By You, the civil servants’ charity.
A year after the Fund started, Britain was at war. The early records were held in an accounts ledger (pictured above), reflecting the fact that the help provided was financial, and personal circumstances of the claimants were not detailed. The Chairman at that time was often unable to attend meetings due to his duties at the War Office. However, he was quoted as saying that the circumstances of war made the Fund “more required than ever”.
A 1919 report stated that 44% of applicants who approached the Fund during the war period did so as a direct consequence of the war. The Fund was regularly called upon to support widows or dependant relatives of engineers, often with long-term commitment to regular payments. By 1938, we were starting to look after the children of Institution members, providing results which according to a report from that year “have been extremely satisfactory to the Committee, and have naturally afforded great happiness to the mothers”. Our international reach had extended as far as British Columbia, New Zealand, the West Indies and South Africa.
To help engineers involved in the war effort, in 1942 the Fund asked Institution members to covenant donations, with the minimum set at 10/6 (about £20 today). We received our first legacies in 1944, totalling more than £8,000 (£360,000 today) – bequests which remain crucial to Support Network’s continued existence.
In the aftermath of World War II, with the number of engineers in need of help steadily rising, the Fund first encountered an issue that’s still relevant today. In 1946 the Management Committee complained that it had been unable “...to effect as much relief as could have been hoped... [as] in many cases public assistance is reduced or withdrawn when private assistance is rendered”. The Fund continues to fight for the principle that it does not exist to replace government funding.
We became a charity in 1962, and the especially cold winter of 1979 prompted the founding of the creation of the Winter Warmth Grant, still a standard part of our provision. In 1998 the Fund moved offices to join the Institution at One Birdcage Walk. The Benevolent Fund was renamed Support Network in 2009, reflecting what had already been many years of non-financial assistance to the Institution’s engineers and dependants.
Support Network marked its Centenary anniversary on 9th September 2013. To celebrate this landmark, we created a centenary 'timeline' publication to capture the first 100 years of the Fund.
Support Network has evolved and adapted to changing needs and the spread of Institution members far beyond the UK. We now offer practical, emotional and specialist advice, extending our assistance beyond just financial support while maintaining our original and ongoing objective.
Specialist services include employment coaching, new job-hunting techniques, writing a powerful CV and resources for dyslexia or autism, debt advice and counselling. Much of this is available at the end of a telephone line or by email, and we can often dispense help immediately.
Nowadays financial aid is more likely to take the form of a short-term 'breathing space' grant for people who may find themselves out of work, struggling with illness or coping with unforeseen circumstances.
All members are asked to contribute £10 on an optional basis when they pay their annual membership subscriptions, and the fund also receives income through investments and legacies.
Support Network is able to help students who are struggling to juggle their studies with working part time or other commitments, particularly when they are part way through their studies or close to graduating and entering the workplace. While it does not help with paying fees, Support Network can assist with grants towards living costs especially when people who are struggling through no fault of their own.
A recent example is a student who applied for help in her second and third years as she was not eligible to receive a student loan as she was at a Welsh university, but not domiciled in Wales, and as such had fallen foul of a change in regulation between applying for her place and commencing her studies.
Following graduation this summer she got back in touch with Support Network to say: “I hope this finds you well. I promised to let you know how I got on at uni and also the next steps. I graduated from my Mechanical Engineering degree with a 2:1. I will be starting my graduate job in London in September. I would like to thank you for all your support throughout my time at university. It is not too much to say that I could not have made it through without it. I am now back in London and trying to settle down. My current challenge is trying to find a flat to get completely settled down in. Thank you once again.”
The Institution’s community
The impact of Support Network has always been significant for those in need or facing problems, and is no less today than it was at its inception. It brings the Institution's community together and supports those who are experiencing difficulties.
Support Network is here to provide assistance to all members of the Institution wherever they are in the world and whatever stage of their careers, and partners and close family can be helped too.
If you or your family need personal support, information, advice, finance, emotional or practical assistance, please contact Support Network on Tel: +44(0)20 7304 6816 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information visit Support Network.