13 September 2017
A presentation by RW Bro Bro Sir David Wootton, Assistant Grand Master
Pro Grand Master and brethren, we all have our own view of what we see in masonry. For me, it’s five things:
- We’re all volunteers: none of us have to be masons or do what we do. The magnificent total of £3,100,000 announced at the North Wales Festival on Saturday was all the result of volunteering: voluntary time, voluntary effort, voluntary money;
- What we now call “social inclusion”: bringing together people of different origins, backgrounds, occupations, interests, locations, opinions, faiths; people who would not otherwise meet; in a common activity in which all are fundamentally equal;
- Our purposefulness: when we meet, there’s a purpose, whether it’s a masonic meeting, ritual; or charity or a community project; the best recent example I saw, the Jurassic Coast Youth Adventure organised by Dorset, 200plus children in need from all over the country taken on a week’s healthy activities by the sea. Whatever it is, we want to do it well, and we do;
- The practice of every moral and social virtue: words cited by the Bishop of Worcester, not a mason, at the Provincial Tercentenary Service on Sunday in a sermon that would inspire every mason. Our, if you like, moral code, best illustrated in the Charge to the Initiate, is a huge asset which will play increasingly well with younger generations for whom such things are in short supply;
- The social side: we do do the best parties, don’t we, getting to know each other informally, in friendship, and it works because of the other factors I’ve mentioned.
We all sense a steady move to greater openness: the Sky TV programmes; publicity in the right way for our charity and community activities: the word Freemasons on the London's Air Ambulance; wearing regalia in public: all in the right direction.
Recognising masonry’s good things but sensing that the make-up and profile of our membership – age, number – were going in the wrong direction, the Board of General Purposes – BGP – set up the Membership Focus Group – MFG – under the inspired leadership of Ray Reed to find out what was happening to today’s membership, to assess the likely affect on tomorrow’s and, if we didn’t like that – which we didn’t – to decide what to do.
Deciding what to do is called STRATEGY – YES! The MFG produced, and everyone adopted, Strategy: The Future of Freemasonry 2015-2020, which I know we’ve all read and like.
Thoughts then turned to implementing the Strategy. Ooh, the MFG said, could be difficult – better get someone else to do it, and so was born the Improvement Delivery Group – IDG (I hope you’re keeping up with the jargon, brethren) to Deliver the Improvements which should flow from the work of the MFG.
I was out of the room at the time, so they made me Chairman. Also out of the room was Provincial Grand Master for South Wales and Third Grand Principal Gareth Jones, so we made him Deputy Chairman.
Strategy is no good unless it is accepted, understood and embraced by the membership – remember we’re all volunteers. The IDG had to show it was including Craft and Royal Arch, and all areas of the country, and Head Office. So, in addition to Gareth and me:
- Michael Ward, London
- Jeff Gillyon, Yorkshire North and East Ridings
- Stephen Blank, Cheshire
- Peter Taylor, Shropshire
- Tim Henderson-Ross, Gloucestershire
- Charles Cunnington, Derbyshire
- Ian Yeldham, Suffolk
- Mark Estaugh, West Kent
- Stuart Hadler, Somerset
- Gordon Robertson, Buckinghamshire, who leaves us on retiring as PGM and is replaced by James Hilditch, Oxfordshire
- Ray Reed
...and from Head Office:
- Grand Secretary Willie
- Assistant Grand Secretary Shawn
- ..and now Chief Executive David
Brethren, in light of all they do, I would like all those I’ve named to stand and be recognised. Thank you.
To pick up the work of the MFG we formed Working Groups matching the elements of the Strategy. The Strategy talks about effective governance at all levels; a leadership development programme; the attraction and retention of members; and the sustainability of masonic halls. Thus…
Gareth Jones is leading our Governance Group looking at who and what does what, the roles and responsibilities of each office and body, what they and what they’re not, and how we ensure that people understand what their roles and responsibilities are and aren’t, and what is expected of them. From the esteemed Adelphi2 we have lots of lovely statistics which will help show how Provinces and Districts are doing in terms of membership and help them to direct their efforts where they are needed.
Leadership – Michael Ward – aims to equip office-holders for their roles. Workshop sessions for PGMs and Grand Superintendents; workshops for Deputy PGMs and Grand Superintendents; next week the first training session for secretaries. We now have a UGLE training officer, Andrew Kincaid, to devise and roll-out training roles for all different roles. This not about imposing uniformity – you will do it this way – but helping people to see what’s involved and how to do the job well.
Jeff Gillyon’s Masonic Halls Group have published the Masonic Halls Centres of Excellence Guide, now available, best electronically, and those responsible for the management of masonic halls are strongly encouraged to use it: you will find it very useful. It is now in the charge of John Pagella, Grand Superintendent of Works, who has formed a Steering Group to manage the Guidance Manual and keep it up to date. There will be an annual meeting for all Provincial Grand Superintendents of Works.
The five Provinces in Regional Communications Group 1 – North of England – on the initiative of Gordon Brewis, Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works for Durham, have recognised the need for professionally qualified Provincial Grand Superintendents of Works and arranged for them to meet so that the adoption of best practice can be recommended uniformly across them all.
The Guidance Manual is not a book to be read from cover to cover: it is a reference tool, to be consulted as circumstances lead. It is guidance, support and advice: a guide to best practice. It can’t give definitive advice on, for example, legal issues, because so much depends on individual circumstances.
We want our halls and centres to be at the centre of the local community. Maybe we should refer to them as Masonic Community Centres.
Our Membership Group, headed by Peter Taylor, has circulated for comment the Membership Pathway, the product of several years of devoted effort, and parts well piloted in ten Provinces and 110 lodges Its purpose is to help lodges attract and retain the right members in the right place: to show what we need to do to attract the members we want to join us, stay and enjoy the full masonic journey.
Again, it is not a book, you do not read it cover to cover, you look at the parts you want as and when you need to.
The Pathway will be launched at the Provincial and District Rulers’ Forum – PDRF – on 18 October and then rolled out. So no-one should worry that they will be presented with it and then left on their own. Roll-out will be organised for you: to Regions and Provinces from January to March next year, and then to lodges….and there will be a folding leaflet on the front of Freemasonry Today in December.
There is much demand from masons to know more about masonry, its origin, history and meaning. Stuart Hadler’s Education Group is creating an online store of masonic learning materials, readily accessible in a Virtual Learning Environment. It will be tested later this year, introduced to a number of pilot Provinces in the new year, and full roll-out will be in later in 2018. What the group want is more materials to include, so contributions welcome, please.
In parallel to all this continues the excellent progress of the Universities Scheme, of which I am honoured to be the President. Existing and new lodges, and chapters, here and in Districts, recruit among students at universities and equivalent across the country and outside the UK, and do so very successfully. There are still a number of universities in this country not represented in the scheme, and we are addressing that.
I would like to thank all who are involved in the scheme, all volunteers, for all they do, and in particular the Chairmen: the founding Chairman, Oliver Lodge, now moonlighting as the Grand Director of Ceremonies; Edward Lord, current Chairman who retires after eight distinguished years at the Scheme conference in this building on 4th November; and Chairman-Designate Mark Greenburgh, who takes over on that date, and I would ask them to stand and be recognised too.
Many Provinces and Districts have New and Young Masons’ Clubs, with a wide variety of imaginative names, and those that don’t will. These clubs are an excellent way of those newer to masonry getting to know more other newbies, and building essential camaraderie. The clubs are holding their conference on 14 October in Birmingham under Gareth Jones’ leadership.
All this, IDG and others, is about creating our future, which is in our hands and which we are doing. The figures already show that it is working: in many areas there is a discernible shift in the trend of the numbers, and there will be more.
I have illustrated this talk with scenes from the everyday life of an Assistant Grand Master. Here’s the last one. In his sermon at the Durham Tercentenary Service last Thursday – I’m into clergy this morning, brethren – the Dean of Durham, also not a mason, said he saw masonry as a confident, open and engaged fraternity with strong foundational values.
We can do this, brethren, we can do this.
Grant underlines core values
A £20,000 Masonic Charitable Foundation grant to the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) will fund a social care caseworker to help people affected by spinal cord injury reintegrate into society.
The cheque was presented by Buckinghamshire Provincial Grand Master Gordon Robertson, who said: ‘This is one of the many ways in which masonic core values of friendship, integrity and charity are used to benefit the local community.’
A better life
As the Masonic Charitable Foundation builds on a proud history laid down by the four charities, two families tell their stories about the masonic support they have received
When the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) launches in April, it will be the culmination of a major review that concluded last year as members of the four central masonic charities indicated their approval to consolidate their work under a new single organisation.
While the Foundation is new, the grants it makes will continue to support people like Geoff and his family (pictured above). Geoff was an active Freemason from West Lancashire, who suffered two strokes. ‘It was the worst time of my life,’ he says. ‘I thought I wouldn’t leave hospital.’
Geoff’s daughter Sue explains that the support he received meant he could return home. ‘The masonic charities helped us with everything from physio to all the equipment we needed at home. It wasn’t just the grant, it was the fact that Dad could be with his family again. Without the masonic charities it would have been impossible for him to come home.’
Making an impact
That a simple grant can reunite a family is testament to the impact the charities have had on so many lives. The story of Caroline and her children, David and Louise (pictured above), is another moving example. The family received support from the masonic charities after the unexpected death of Caroline’s Freemason husband Tony in 2011. ‘We were on a family holiday and Tony became poorly,’ says Caroline. ‘We took him to the hospital and discovered that he had melanoma. Within six weeks we lost him.’
The family was naturally concerned about the future. ‘As a 13-year-old losing your dad, it’s a very unstable time,’ says Louise, now 17. ‘I knew things were going to change and that was a massive worry.’ While the charities could not undo the tragedy, they could ensure that David and Louise were not otherwise disadvantaged.
‘The masonic charities helped David and Louise with their education,’ says Caroline. ‘David is now at the University of Oxford and Louise is applying for university thanks to them.’
Geoff, Caroline and their families are typical of the tens of thousands of masonic families who have received support from the charities. The launch of the Foundation will ensure that the same support continues to be available long into the future. The combined amount awarded by the previous charities to non-masonic causes in recent years has exceeded £3 million annually and the Foundation will continue to award a similar amount.
In 2014 a survey of Freemasons identified the causes that matter most to the membership. As a result, the Foundation’s community grant-making will focus on education and employability; financial hardship; health and disability; and social exclusion and disadvantage. Grants will also continue to be awarded to support hospices, air ambulance and rescue services, worldwide disaster relief appeals, and medical and social research for charities such as Anthony Nolan, which works to save the lives of those with blood cancer and blood disorders.
‘The support has enabled us to launch a project to improve survival and quality of life for transplant patients’, says Henny Braund, Anthony Nolan’s chief executive. The Foundation will award its first round of grants to charities over the coming months.
‘Dad could be with his family again. Without the masonic charities it would have been impossible.’
A stronger platform
The new Foundation also faces the challenge of combining fundraising activities. With only one central charity to support, new donations will be used to fund the full range of grant-making.
Later this year, one of the first Festivals in support of the Foundation will be launched in the Province of Buckinghamshire. ‘I am delighted that our 2021 Festival will be on behalf of the MCF,’ says Gordon Robertson, Provincial Grand Master. The Provinces of West Lancashire, Worcestershire and Essex will also launch Festivals for the Foundation over the next few years.
The new launch is exciting news. At its heart, however, the Foundation will continue a mission that is centuries old – using the generous donations of Freemasons to care for families like those of Geoff and Caroline.
The MCF’s Chief Executive David Innes shares his vision for the charity here
Business as usual
The MCF will become one of the largest charities in the country, assisting thousands of people each year as well as awarding millions of pounds to charities and medical research programmes.
Bringing together four charities is not easy, but Freemasons can be reassured that the Foundation will continue to provide the same types of support as currently available.
The Foundation will be in a position to offer an even wider range of grants. Support will continue to take the form of financial grants, along with advice and practical support.
Aylesbury children receive a boost
Children enjoying their end of term day at the PACE centre in Aylesbury welcomed Buckinghamshire Provincial Grand Master Gordon Robertson when he popped in to see the covered playground that local Freemasons had donated £10,000 to fund in action.
PACE is a family-centred charity that provides an innovative education for life for children with sensory motor disorders, such as cerebral palsy. The play area is part of the first stage of a building project that is eventually going to be the new Early Years and Independence Training Centre for the charity.
Top marks for Universities Scheme
It was a special occasion when six students at the University of Buckingham joined Grenville Lodge, No. 1787, which meets on the campus, at the same time. Among the guests at the initiation were Past Assistant Grand Master and President of the Universities Scheme David Williamson and Buckinghamshire PGM Gordon Robertson. Lodge Secretary Andrew Hough said, ‘I am pleased that increasing numbers of people are recognising the advantages of joining Freemasonry, which stresses friendship, decency and charity. It’s also great fun.’
Not to be outdone, Castle of Leicester Lodge, No. 7767, has also undertaken a sextuple initiation ceremony. It was a fitting day for Master Bryan Weston in his final meeting, having initiated 13 brethren in 2014. The lodge has seen a steady influx of candidates since joining the Universities Scheme in January 2013. Indeed, the ceremony came just days after the lodge conducted a quintuple passing in the Leicestershire and Rutland Lodge of Installed Masters, No. 7896.
Gibraltar cycle marathon raises £240,000
Masons and their families were among a large group of people who converged on the Wycombe Wanderers ground at Adams Park, High Wycombe, to welcome back the RockRide 2 cyclists who had battled searing temperatures across Spain and France – covering more than 1,500 miles from Gibraltar to Bucks on a charity ride.
Three of the team were masons who, along with another dozen cyclists, helped to raise over £240,000 for their nominated charities. Among the welcoming crowd was Buckinghamshire PGM Gordon Robertson.
An innovative competition run by Buckinghamshire Freemasons is confronting stereotypes by giving young people the chance to show why they care. Sophie Radice reports from the ihelp finals
The atmosphere in Beaconsfield Masonic Centre is buzzing with excitement. Five youth groups from Buckinghamshire have made it into the ihelp finals. Over the afternoon each team will make a presentation to a panel of judges to convince them that they deserve the top prize of £5,000 to fund their community project.
Each team is different. There’s Misunderstood, a street dance group who have raised £4,000 to build a youth club. The Leon School team has been making beautiful bird feeders for a local old people’s home and 1st Stokenchurch Scout troop has been running respite camping weekends for young carers.
Jan Smith from Leon School explains how much being a finalist means to the competitors: ‘Most of our kids have difficulties with learning, and presenting the project to the panel is particularly challenging for them. But being a finalist has been such a boost and the responsibility of putting their case forward has really increased their self-esteem.’
The ihelp project is the brainchild of Buckinghamshire Assistant Provincial Grand Master Mike Stimson and ihelp’s president Eugene Matthias. Three years ago, the two Freemasons found themselves talking over a pint about the mismatch between the young people they knew and the poor image the press gave them.
‘There were so many negative articles about the behaviour of youths and it just seemed so unhelpful. We thought about how great it would be if there was a Britain’s Got Talent-type contest to showcase the good things that young people do for their community,’ says Mike. The idea fitted in well with initiatives set up in 2006 by the then Provincial Grand Master Ray Reed to promote the work that Freemasons do in the community, as well as talk more freely and openly about their fraternity.
Turning an idea into ihelp
With approval from Ray and Deputy Provincial Grand Master Clifford Drake, Mike and Eugene worked together in conjunction with Provincial Information Officer John Poulter and Chris Coombs to roll ihelp out across the Province. ‘We thought up the slogan “Turn Hoodies into Goodies” and reached out to Scouts, Girl Guides, Air Cadets, Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme participants, youth clubs, church groups and schools. The response was amazing,’ remembers Eugene.
Mike explains how the ihelp idea fitted in with the concept of promoting Freemasonry within the community. ‘We already had a big display explaining the Craft, which goes round the local fêtes and community events. So ihelp was the next step,’ he explains. ‘We wanted ihelp to be different. We wanted to encourage youngsters to be the leaders of tomorrow and the successful projects were those led by the kids themselves, whether they’d been running for a while or just got off the ground. Overall, we wanted to ensure that each project embodied our values of friendship, decency and charity. That’s the modern way of explaining brotherly love, relief and truth.’
With the ihelp team constantly being asked to give talks about the project, there has been a great deal of interest in ihelp from local authorities, district councils and local businesses. Freemasons in other counties are now considering taking up the competition and there has been support from the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, who visited Buckinghamshire in the summer of 2010 to see Freemasonry in the Community projects.
Promoted around the Province through town and village shows, the ihelp project is now in the fabric of Freemasonry in Buckinghamshire. It was through these shows that John made contact with Sir David Jason, who agreed to back the scheme.
Back at the competition, the teams are waiting to make their presentations. Each team is cheered when they go to present in front of the panel and when they come back there is a feeling of real camaraderie rather than rivalry. In the hall where the presentations are being made, the judges do their best to put the young contestants at ease. One of the judges, Clifford, is asked to be part of the Misunderstood dance troop and he rises to the occasion. Donning a large gold chain and a backwards cap, he shows himself to be surprisingly good at following the street dance routine.
With all the presentations making convincing cases for why they should win, the judges have a particularly hard job this year in deciding who should take first prize. In the end it goes to the 1st Stokenchurch Scouts, whose presentation, although perhaps lower key than some of the others, proves to be such a worthy cause that the judges felt they could best benefit from the top prize. Leon School and their temple-like bird feeders get the second prize of £1,000.
After a long day with a lot of laughter and some tears, each team comes away smiling with a generous cheque in their hands. As Emily and Chloe from the 4th Taplow and Hitcham Guides, who raised money to take children with severe joint problems skating, enthusiastically explain: ‘We got so much out of coming here today and being runners-up. It was a great experience learning how to speak to an audience and present our case. We loved it!’
A friend in need
The RMBI needs continuous financial support to carry out its invaluable work
The RMBI helps around 400 older Freemasons and their dependants each year, supporting people who are unable to pay full care fees. Whether they have run out of personal savings or receive local authority support that covers only part of the total cost of their care, the RMBI can make up the shortfall, providing charitable support to the value of around £5 million a year.
Most of this amount is received from the funds raised by RMBI festivals, as well as through generous donations from individuals and voluntary groups. This invaluable financial support ensures that they are able to continue helping those in need.
Recent outstanding contributions include the very successful Walk the Province initiative that was set up as part of the East Lancashire 2015 RMBI Festival, which many local masons have participated in. The festival has raised over £1 million for the RMBI and hopes to exceed this over the coming years.
The Friends of the RMBI is a small group of Freemasons who, for over 30 years, have been raising money specifically for the Good Neighbour Fund, and through their efforts, and the generosity of the fraternity, have raised £565,392 to date. The Fund is used primarily to provide holidays for recipients of a relief grant from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity. It can also be used on a discretionary basis to assist those in immediate need.
During his year as President of the Friends of the RMBI, Buckinghamshire Provincial Grand Master Gordon Robertson has seen donations to the charity reach a record £50,000.
He explained: ‘Our role has been to encourage members to organise events and inspire everyone to be as generous as possible. This fantastic amount will enable the fund to continue to help those whose lives have been changed in many ways.’
The Epilepsy Society has received a £38,000 grant from the Grand Charity to help fund research
Professor Sanjay Sisodiya, the society’s head of genetics, said, ‘I am grateful to The Freemasons’ Grand Charity for this generous grant. Genetics research is very important, with changes such as deletions and duplications in a person’s genome recently emerging as important risk factors for epilepsy.’
Buckinghamshire Provincial Grand Master Gordon Robertson and Provincial Grand Secretary Derek Watts visited the charity’s site at Chalfont St Peter. ‘Sometimes, such changes have led to the identification of a particular gene, alterations in which are a direct cause of the epilepsy. Over time the understanding that this brings may prove to be the best way to find new treatments for epilepsy,’ said Professor Sisodiya.
For more information on the Epilepsy Society please visit www.epilepsysociety.org.uk
Letters to the editor - No. 20 Winter 2012
I greatly appreciated your report in the autumn issue on Epilepsy Society. The support that has been given by the Grand Charity is immeasurable. My son, a research scientist, was diagnosed while completing his PhD. However, he went on to research stem cell analysis, cancer of the brain, Alzheimer’s, and epilepsy in the US and Germany. Unfortunately, employment in the UK proved difficult, which emphasises a point made in the article. As parents, although aware of occasional seizures we were never totally aware of the traumatic consequences that could happen at any time. It is this concept that the general public are not aware of.
The two-hour-long games included indoor and outdoor activities such as darts, skittles, boccia, indoor archery and golf, giving both generations
a chance to chat and mingle. Provincial Grand Master Gordon Robertson said, ‘The judges were amazed at the way all the pupils at the school were inspired by ihelp to help others. They developed their ideas to fit the aims of the competition, particularly the way they worked together as a team to have fun helping others. Their efforts mirror perfectly Freemasonry’s aims of friendship, decency and charity. We started the ihelp project to show that youngsters do so much for the Bucks community. They are our future.’
The students beat Stokenchurch Scouts into second place, who won £1,000 for regenerating a local graveyard. The finals were held at the Beaconsfield Masonic Centre, and all the finalists received £250 for reaching the last stage. A total of £14,000 was available, and heats were organised at various masonic centres around the Province.