From the Grand Secretary
We are delighted at the response to the first Membership Focus Group survey with 5,265 of you taking part. Please do read the very interesting results in this issue on page 16, as they reveal how members cherish mutual respect and moral values while still embracing fun and enjoyment.
The Membership Focus Group survey is a classic example of involving members in the future of Freemasonry – not least members at lodge and chapter level. Our ability to communicate with individuals in order to seek their views is increasingly important to ensure the success of our organisation going forward.
It is therefore crucial that we recognise that it is right and proper to talk openly about our membership and to feel proud of that membership. To that end, we must meet the challenge to find a simple manner of communicating our unique offering to new members, as well as to family, friends and acquaintances. Actions speak louder than words and we are increasingly convinced that the challenge of communicating what Freemasonry means will be met by members at lodge and chapter level.
In this issue of Freemasonry Today, we talk to masons who are sharing the message at a local level. Our profile of Somerset’s Adair Club reveals how combining a modern outlook with traditional values can ensure new recruits to Freemasonry feel part of their Province. Meanwhile, we look at the masonic contributions to sports charity Street League that are giving unemployed young people career direction by encouraging them to use the team-building skills found in football.
Our feature on the pioneering work being carried out in RMBI care homes shows how residents can be made to feel more secure. The charity is finding that, whether it’s memories of flying with Franklin D Roosevelt or pretending to be Father Christmas over the phone, life stories can be used to better understand and care for its residents.
Looking further back, the spirit of Freemasonry is revealed in a fascinating document held by the Library and Museum. We learn about the hundreds of Freemasons held at Ruhleben internment camp in Germany during World War I and the launch of a campaign to send food parcels to their aid. It is just one of the many stories in this issue of Freemasonry Today that show why we should be proud to be members of this fraternal organisation.
‘Actions speak louder than words and we are increasingly convinced that the challenge of communicating what Freemasonry means will be met by members at lodge and chapter level.’
What’s the use?
How a local council values a masonic centre or hall can have significant financial implications. Grand Superintendent of Works John Pagella scrutinises the fine print
One of the more significant elements within the overhead costs of occupying and running a non-residential property is business rates. While economies can be made in managing most day-to-day expenses, the payment of business rates to local councils is a legal obligation over which there is no direct control.
Business rates are calculated by reference to values entered in local rating Valuation Lists. The rate in the pound is not something about which anything can be done, making it all the more important that every care is taken to see that the property is correctly assessed in the rating Valuation List as this can be challenged.
The recent experience of Freemasons in Bury St Edmunds offers an example of how important it is to look carefully and, if necessary, challenge individual rateable values. When local Freemasons decided that their masonic centre was no longer fit for purpose, they decided to relocate to a more suitable property that had previously been used as offices and as a warehouse. The building had been assessed by the valuation officer as having a rateable value of £52,000. Currently, rateable values are assessed on the basis of the annual value at which the property would be let as at 1 April 2008, broadly as it stands for its current use.
Planning permission was needed to change the use of the property to a club to be used for masonic purposes. The application was made and, in anticipation of permission being granted, the property was acquired. It was decided that, amid the many things that needed attention during the move, advice was required about the property’s rating assessment.
Rating valuation involves a complicated interaction between commercial reality and a complex area of law and regulation, so a local firm of chartered surveyors with a specialist rating valuer was instructed to advise. With years of experience in valuing properties used for masonic purposes, the firm investigated and then challenged the rating assessment.
Despite every effort to resolve the case by negotiation, the matter ended up in the Valuation Tribunal where the key issue was whether the change of use from offices and warehouse to a club required adjustment to the rateable value, despite the initial absence of works of adaptation. Significantly, there was no dispute over the fact that the annual value of the building when used as a club for masonic purposes was considerably less than for its former commercial use.
The decision of the Valuation Tribunal was that the rateable value should be reduced from £52,000 to £16,500, backdated to August 2011. The saving in business rates payable by the Freemasons was in the region of £16,500 per annum.
The Bury St Edmunds case illustrates how the valuation officer can unreasonably resist requests to alter the rating list. In seeking to convince the officer otherwise, one needs to delve deep into rating statute and case law, and also have an appreciation of how the Freemasons operate and how this impacts upon their property requirements.
The lesson Freemasons can take from this is the importance of being aware of the process that is available to challenge assessments in the rating list, and the need to seek specialist advice when doing so.
It is worth noting that the valuation supporting the revised assessment of £16,500 was based upon local rating schemes for clubs, but also a comparison with the rateable value of other masonic centres across the region. Most masonic centres and halls are owned rather than leased, and for that reason evidence of rental values available from open-market lettings is limited. Despite this, the hypothesis underlying rating valuations has over the years been accepted as requiring valuations by comparison wherever possible – even where the evidence base is narrow.
Clubs come in many guises, some of which are commercial and profitable, while others such as masonic halls may not be. This case shows that for rating purposes, a distinction between use as a commercial club, or indeed for any commercial use, and use as a club for masonic purposes is accepted.
‘Be aware of the process that is available to challenge assessments in the rating list, and seek specialist advice when doing so.’
Rochdale’s temple to Freemasonry
The Church of St Edmund is the only known church building in England overtly dedicated to masonic symbolism. John Hamill profiles Albert Hudson Royds, the Rochdale Freemason who made this possible
The growing industrialisation of the nineteenth century allowed many men to make fortunes. Some then looked for ways of putting something back into their communities, taking on voluntary positions and involving themselves in charities.
One such individual was Albert Hudson Royds (1811-1890).
The Royds family traced their ancestry back to the Halifax area of West Yorkshire in the 1300s. They developed as yeoman farmers, became involved in the wool industry, and had comfortable livings. In the 1780s Albert’s grandfather, James, moved to Rochdale in Lancashire where he bought the Brownhill estate and later built his own house, Mount Falinge, with an eighteen-acre park, on the outskirts of Rochdale.
James became involved in the planning and financing of the Rochdale canal and the family prospered to the extent that in 1827 Albert’s father, Clement Royds, was able to buy the Rawson & Co. banking house, also known as the Rochdale Bank.
Albert Royds was born at Mount Falinge in 1811 and educated in Rochdale and London. His long connection with Freemasonry began in 1847, when he was initiated in Lodge of Benevolence, No. 226, meeting at Littleborough. Promotion was rapid and he became Master in 1849, serving for two years. Promotion in the Province of East Lancashire was equally swift as he served as Provincial Junior Grand Warden from 1850 to 1856, then Deputy Provincial Grand Master from 1856 to 1866.
On moving to Worcestershire in 1856, Royds joined Worcester Lodge, No. 280, and in 1857 was appointed Deputy Provincial Grand Master for Worcestershire, holding office until 1866 when he was appointed both Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent in the Royal Arch.
In 1878, Royds had to resign his high offices in Worcestershire after he became incapacitated as a result of losing the use of his legs. This was the long-term result of an attack he and his brother suffered when returning on horseback to Rochdale late one evening. Both sustained serious injuries, resulting in their attackers being transported to a penal colony. A combination of this and the death of his daughter caused Royds’ removal back to the family in Rochdale.
A monument to morals
It is clear from his diaries and letters, along with comments from those who knew him, that Royds was a man of great faith and high moral standards. His monument is the Church of St Edmund at Falinge, a memorial to his parents and described by art critic Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘Rochdale’s temple to Freemasonry, a total concept as exotic as Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland’.
Built between 1870 and 1873 in the Gothic Revival style to designs by Manchester architects James Medland and Henry Taylor, St Edmund is replete with masonic symbolism. No expense was spared in the building, which cost Royds about £25,000 at a time when the average cost of a church was £4,000. Built at a crossroads on the highest point in Rochdale, it dominated the town.
The exterior stonework, capitals of the interior supporting pillars and hammer-beam roof all have masonic symbols, but the glory is the stained glass. The windows on the south side are dedicated to building and Freemasonry, culminating in the east window, a depiction of the building of King Solomon’s temple at Jerusalem.
The central panel shows the three Grand Masters studying the plan of the temple, the head of Hiram Abiff, its chief architect, being a portrait of Royds himself. The side panels show operative stone masons preparing the stone for the temple and the dedication of the completed building. In the Royds Chapel, windows show the scribes Ezra and Nehemiah and a lodge Tyler.
Royds’ two sons had followed him into Freemasonry and presented the font and lectern, both carved with masonic symbols, to the church. The lectern is formed of three brass pillars of the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian Orders, the bases of which are decorated with the jewels of the Master and Wardens of a lodge: the square, level and plumb rule. The Bible is supported on a large square and compasses enclosing a five-pointed star.
Sadly, the congregation of the Church of St Edmund declined and it was closed in 2007. Originally a Grade II* listed building, its importance was recognised when it was raised to Grade I status in 2011. There was considerable concern as to its future but that became assured when the building was acquired by The Churches Conservation Trust. With a major restoration project now under way, the church can be visited on the first and third Saturday of the month.
To support the restoration, please go to www.visitchurches.org.uk/savestedmunds
‘Rochdale’s temple to Freemasonry, a total concept as exotic as Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.’ Sir Nikolaus Pevsner
Royds of Rochdale
1827: Aged sixteen, Albert Hudson Royds joined the family bank and, as his father’s public and political career took off, gradually took over its management. He became part of the Rochdale Development Commission and used his own and the bank’s resources to invest in roads, waterways and the early railways.
1839: Married Susan Eliza, heiress to Robert and Susan Nuttall of Kempsey House near Worcester.
1844: Joined the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry, raising its Rochdale troop and commanding them for seven years. He founded the Lyceum, an educational establishment in Rochdale.
1853: Became a Justice of the Peace for the County Palatine.
1855: Left the bank and bought an estate, Crown East, near Worcester, and began life as a landowner and gentleman farmer. He rebuilt the house and provided cottages and a church for the estate workers.
1856: Petitioned for Rochdale to be incorporated and was elected the first representative for the Spotland Ward, as well as one of the first Aldermen. He narrowly missed out on being elected the first mayor.
1865: Became High Sheriff of Worcestershire.
1869: Sold Crown East and moved to another estate, Ellerslie, near Malvern.
1878: Moved back to Rochdale where he remained until his death, except for a period in the 1880s when he moved to Lytham for health reasons.
Letters to the Editor - No. 30 Summer 2015
A temple to Freemasonry
Readers who enjoyed John Hamill’s article on St Edmund’s might be interested in some additional background. After long conversations when The Churches Conservation Trust first took over St Edmund’s, we were able to visit it.
At this time the trust was not aware of the depth of masonic overtones in the fabric and history of the building.
When we pointed some of these out they were very interested and allowed us to take photographs. Dawn Lancaster from the trust was impressed with our work and paid for us to go to London to give a talk at one of their events. We later received a letter from Loyd Grossman, chairman of the trust, thanking us for our work.
We decided to do an event for the church and after delivering our lecture four times in one day, we were amazed to note from the visitors’ book that all the locals, including many from the Muslim community of the area, had shown interest in what the church is about. The local interest, with the help of the parishioners, meant artefacts and banners that had been missing started to reappear and the church is now beautiful.
We have since promoted the church throughout Cheshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Scotland and elsewhere with the support of the Provincial Grand Master and Assistant Provincial Grand Master in both Craft and Mark Degrees.
A Friends of St Edmund’s Church group has also been formed, attracting interest from around the world, and on open days we give our lecture. At Christmas we delivered our lecture to a full church with a 21-piece brass band.
Albert Blurton, Lodge of Peace, No. 322, Stockport, Cheshire; and Bernard Rourke, Lewis Lodge, No. 4371, Stockport, Cheshire
Director of Special Projects John Hamill considers why the Grand Lodge has never defined the landmarks that form the basis of Freemasonry
One of the perennial questions that Freemasons ask is what are the landmarks of Freemasonry? We refer to them at various points in our ceremonies and each Master at his Installation obligates himself to uphold them.
With one exception, however, nowhere has Grand Lodge defined what the landmarks are.
The exception is the requirement in each candidate for a belief in the Supreme Being. That first appeared in the Book of Constitutions issued in 1913, in what was then Rule 150, dealing with the admission as visitors to our lodges of brethren from other Grand Lodges, and still appears in the current edition at Rule 125(b). The rule states this belief is ‘an essential landmark of the Order’.
In Victorian times, American masonic scholar Albert Mackey (1807-1881) produced for his Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry a list of twenty-five landmarks. These were avidly taken up by the State Grand Lodges in America, many of which greatly extended Mackey’s original list and incorporated them into their Books of Constitutions.
When we examine those lists, however, rather than being landmarks many of them are simply good rules for the conduct of the Craft in general and the government of Grand Lodges and lodges.
In England there has been scholarly argument over the definition of what constitutes a landmark. Some believe that anything that has been done in Freemasonry from ‘time whereof the mind of man runneth not to the contrary’ should be considered a landmark. I much prefer the definition, first put on paper by the late Harry Carr, that a landmark is something in Freemasonry that would, were it removed, materially alter the basis of Freemasonry.
Using the Carr definition I would suggest that there are six landmarks:
1. Belief in the Supreme Being, that being the one thing, in a very disparate membership, that we all have in common.
2. The presence of the three great lights, particularly the Volume of the Sacred Law, which underpins our system of morality.
3. The three great principles of brotherly love, relief and truth, they being the embodiment of our basic principles and tenets.
4. The use of ritual using allegory and symbolism, as well as the allusions within the ritual to King Solomon’s temple, but not the detail of the ritual itself, which has changed over time.
5. The ban on the discussion of religion and politics at masonic meetings, which if it were removed would undoubtedly lead to dissention and disharmony.
6. The taking of an obligation to uphold the principles of Freemasonry and to preserve inviolate the signs, tokens and words used as a test of membership.
The question arises of why Grand Lodge has never defined the landmarks, other than the belief in the Supreme Being. The answer to that, in my personal view, is in two parts.
First, Freemasonry has always been free from dogma. Grand Lodge having agreed the basic form of our ceremonies, after the union in 1813, then stood back from it, except for major principles such as the former physical penalties in the obligations, and has never entered into discussion as to what the meaning of the ritual is. This has been done in the firm belief that it is part of the individual’s personal journey to form their own understanding of the ritual. In addition, were the Grand Lodge to define the landmarks, that would be the first step on the road to establishing dogma.
Secondly, in addition to finding his own meaning of the ritual, discovering the landmarks surely forms part of the individual’s journey, providing an opportunity to make his own study and increase his own understanding of the Craft.
‘There has been argument over what constitutes a landmark… I prefer the definition that a landmark is something that would, were it removed, alter the basis of Freemasonry.’
Letters to the Editor - Autumn 2015
Pride in membership
It has always been a great pleasure for me to read and reflect on John Hamill’s epistles in Freemasonry Today. His thoughts on the landmarks of Freemasonry were succinctly summarised in his ‘Six Pillars’ piece and were explained with admirable clarity.
Being a Freemason of 46 years, I asked myself, ‘Where has Freemasonry led me?’ In answer I have to say that it has certainly made me a better human, a better husband, a better father and, above all, a better doctor to my patients – simply because, through Freemasonry, I was reminded of and was able to achieve my ‘personal responsibility’. I shall be ever indebted to Freemasonry.
Mohamed Pasha, MBE, Thamestide Lodge, No. 8147, Southend-on-Sea, Essex
In safe hands
The first year of a research project exploring the reasons behind stillbirths is being funded by The Freemasons’ Grand Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund. Sophie Radice finds out more about this pioneering work
The heartbreak of losing a baby during pregnancy and birth affects one in four pregnant women in the UK each year, yet comparatively little is known about why this occurs. When babies are lost, the families usually have a desperate need to know why it happened and are often disappointed by the lack of knowledge or interest. ‘That’s why Tommy’s was set up in 1992 by two obstetricians working in the maternity unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London,’ explains Jacqui Clinton, Tommy’s health campaigns director.
Tommy’s funds research into pregnancy problems, and provides information and a dedicated midwife telephone helpline – a heavily used service that received three thousand six hundred calls and emails last year from mums and dads wanting advice, and bereaved parents in need of support. The charity now funds three research centres in the UK run in partnership between hospital and university experts, based at St Thomas’, London; the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh; and St Mary’s, Manchester.
When a baby dies after twenty-four weeks of gestation it is called a stillbirth. Every year in the UK more than four thousand babies are stillborn; many deaths remain unexplained, although it is estimated that abnormalities in the placenta – essentially a baby’s life-support machine – occur in forty per cent of cases. In 2009, the Manchester Placenta Clinic was set up with the aim of detecting these abnormalities.
The centre combines specialised antenatal care for pregnancies affected by fetal growth restriction with frontline research into why the condition occurs and how it might be treated. The Freemasons’ Grand Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF) are donating £42,000 towards new Tommy’s research that will pioneer a method of MRI scanning to build a detailed picture of fetal development that doesn’t place the baby at risk. The Freemasons will support one year of the three-year research programme, enabling Tommy’s to seek match grants for the remaining period.
‘Every year in the UK more than four thousand babies are stillborn; it is estimated that abnormalities in the placenta occur in forty per cent of cases.’
A founding member of the Manchester clinic, Dr Ed Johnstone explains this novel method of looking at placentas in vitro: ‘For MRI scanning, we have taken advantage of a new technology that uses oxygen as a contrast agent to provide unique, non-invasive biomarkers in compromised pregnancies. We are then able to look in much more detail at the placentas of the pregnant women at different gestational stages and assess the complications that are linked to different placental problems by the blood oxygen concentration.’
Adrian Flook is one of the trustees of the MSF and has a personal connection with Tommy’s. ‘My own daughter was born at St Thomas’ eight years ago. My wife was not a young first-time mother and we were anxious about that. We did our research and found that St Thomas’ was considered one of the best places to give birth for mothers who might have complications.’ Adrian is full of praise for Tommy’s. ‘They deserve their excellent reputation because the team that took care of us was amazing. I’m really proud that the Freemasons have donated to such an interesting and worthy cause.’
Susan Harper-Clarke, from Teddington, is another beneficiary of Tommy’s. She had experienced the agony of two late miscarriages at nineteen weeks and twenty-two weeks; tests showed that she had what’s known as an ‘incompetent cervix’, despite being healthy and free of risk factors. After some online research she found the Tommy’s website and the Preterm Surveillance Clinic at St Thomas’ Hospital. ‘I wasn’t even pregnant yet and was so grateful to be taken seriously,’ says Susan. ‘It gave me real confidence that Tommy’s would support my third pregnancy fully. I hadn’t been given any information or help with the other pregnancies and no one seemed interested in finding out why this had happened to us.’
Under the team’s care, Susan gave birth to her son, Thomas, at thirty-eight weeks in July 2012. Her story is just one of many as Tommy’s works towards its target to halve the number of babies that die during pregnancy or birth by 2030.
Sanjukta Chaudhuri, from Beaconsfield, has benefited from St Thomas’ expertise. After three miscarriages, the first in 2000, she was put in touch with the Preterm Surveillance Clinic, London. She describes the clinic’s Professor Andrew Shennan as ‘the eternal optimist’.
At eighteen weeks, during her fourth pregnancy, her membranes bulged and the potential for the onset of infection was high. There was no opportunity to save the pregnancy so she requested to be induced rather than wait for nature to take its course. Now knowing what the problem was, Sanjukta was recruited to take part in a trial at St Thomas’ and had an abdominal stitch inserted before becoming pregnant again. Care at the clinic included having her cervix measured every other week and the fetal fibronectin test – the result of which showed she was no longer a high-risk patient.
Professor Shennan delivered Sanjukta’s son, Oisin, by caesarean in January 2013, and after three days she was able to take him home. She says of being a mum: ‘It’s unconditional love. I can never repay what Tommy’s has done for me.’
From the Grand Secretary
For any of our members to celebrate fifty years in the Craft is a great achievement, and one that is usually commemorated with fellow lodge members and the acknowledgement of the Province or District. However, when our Grand Master celebrated his fifty years in Freemasonry in December 2013, it was an occasion marked by the whole English Constitution. You will, I am sure, be interested to read more about this important event further on in this issue of Freemasonry Today.
Many of you will know that, at the March Quarterly Communication, Sir David Wootton succeeds David Williamson as Assistant Grand Master. We all thank David Williamson for his tremendous contribution during the thirteen years that he has held the role, and wish David Wootton every success in his new appointment. David Williamson’s address at the December 2013 Quarterly Communication is well worth reading.
Now that 2014 is underway and with only three clear years to our tercentenary, I take this opportunity to remind us all of our values of integrity, kindness, honesty, fairness and tolerance. These values apply internally as well as externally. Remember too, above all, that Freemasonry is to be enjoyed.
In this issue, you will read about how Freemasonry enables its members to explore their hobbies and interests while also making new friends. Our profile of Connaught Lodge reveals a community that has been uniting dog lovers, Freemasonry and The Kennel Club for more than one hundred years. We also report on the University Lodges’ Ball, which saw one thousand Freemasons and members of the public come together for a fantastic night that recalled the grand balls of yesteryear.
A feature on Freemasonry Cares shows another side to membership. For David Blunt, accepting that he needed support, after illness left him severely disabled, was a challenge. Encouraged by his lodge Almoner to call the Freemasonry Cares hotline, David now has a new scooter that has given him the freedom to live his life. At the other end of the age spectrum, we look at the work of pregnancy and birth charity Tommy’s and how the masonic charities are supporting its research.
I believe that the breadth and depth of stories in this issue shows an organisation that can hold its head high as we count down to our three hundredth anniversary.
‘In this issue, you will read about how Freemasonry enables its members to explore their hobbies and interests while also making new friends.’
An accountant by profession, Anthony Wilson explains why he brought modern business practice to Freemasonry when he became President of the Board of General Purposes ten years ago
How did you come into Freemasonry?
I’d been married to my wife for about a year and was spending a weekend down at my father-in-law’s.
I noticed after lunch that he was walking around the garden with his brother. I knew he was a Freemason but I didn’t know that his brother was. They were deep in conversation and later he sidled up to me and asked if I’d ever thought of becoming a Freemason. I said I hadn’t, I knew about it but not in detail, so he told me what was necessary and proposed me for the Tuscan Lodge, No. 14. I was about twenty-six when I joined.
What drew you to the Craft?
Initially, what attracted me was the intrigue of finding out what Freemasonry was about, but once I’d been through the ceremonies my whole view of it changed. It was relaxed but there was also a formality – it wasn’t an easy ride. Don’t just expect to get things out of it; put things into it and you’ll get enjoyment. I realised that there was a lot of knowledge, that it was telling you a story linked to your values and that it gelled with what I stood for in life. The other aspect I was grateful for was that it brought me into contact with a large number of people I wouldn’t otherwise have met.
How did you become President of the Board of General Purposes?
One thing I’ve learned from Freemasonry is that although you don’t expect things to come along, somehow people notice you. I was asked to sit on a committee to look at the future of London, which brought me into contact with the Rulers and the Grand Secretary. From that I was asked to become a member of the old Board of General Purposes.
When the old Board was restructured I came off it but was subsequently asked if I would become President of the Committee of General Purposes, which is the equivalent to the Board of General Purposes for the Royal Arch. Having been President of that for about three years, I was asked if I would like to become President of the Board, which I had already rejoined on becoming President of the Committee. This is my tenth anniversary in the position.
What does the Board do?
We’re responsible for the governance of the Craft; the relationship between individual lodges and the Grand Lodge; the relations between Grand Lodge and the Provincial Grand Masters; the relations with recognised foreign Grand Lodges; the finances of the Craft and its assets – of which Freemasons’ Hall is one. We set the membership dues to run the services at the centre of the Craft and we manage the PR with the outside world. Very largely, we do everything apart from the ceremonial side. What I do as President would not be possible without the Deputy President, the Grand Treasurer, the Grand Secretary and the whole team at Freemasons’ Hall. It’s very much a collegiate affair – we’re a team and I’m very fortunate with the support and counsel I get.
What drew you to the business of Freemasonry?
My background is in chartered accountancy and I’ve always been interested in business and how you can improve it. Working on the Board was a way of helping the running of Freemasonry that wasn’t purely ceremonial but rather administrative. When I was in the profession, one of the first audits I did was for the Grand Lodge 250th Anniversary Fund, which is a charity that sponsors research fellowships with the Royal College of Surgeons. I didn’t think that some twenty years later I’d be approached to become a trustee for that – it’s funny the way the world moves.
How did the old Board function?
Pre-1999, the Board of General Purposes met eight times a year. It consisted of nearly fifty people and all its business was done through a number of committees in the morning which reported to the full Board in the afternoon – it wasn’t an environment in which discussion ever took place. It had the hangover from thirty to forty years ago when Freemasonry wasn’t so much run by the Rulers, who were more titular and ceremonial, but by the then Grand Secretary and the President of the Board. They would basically decide what they wanted and the Board was there to serve that way of doing business.
How is the Board different now?
It’s much more transparent. Gavin Purser spent a lot of time working on a new structure when he was President to create a Board of about twelve people who meet six times a year. It really is a better way of conducting business. We have proper discussions and I don’t think over my ten years that we’ve had to vote on anything because consensus has come from discussion. It’s a much better forum where each member is now an active contributor. We also sit in a boardroom where everyone can hear each other; the old boardroom had a wonderful dais at the top and the rest of the tables were set in a horseshoe shape, so if you were in the south of the room you couldn’t hear what someone was saying in the north – you could just about hear the podium. The Rulers have also become more involved, which is a great advancement, and I work with them closely.
How have things changed during your presidency?
Change is slow because you’ve got to take the members with you. One of the things I’m very proud of is advancing professionalism in the way in which the Craft is run. The organisation that supports the Grand Secretary has been streamlined; it’s more efficient than ten years ago because we’ve brought in standards you’d expect to find in business. There’s also much greater willingness to accept the culture of change in this building. The staff see the benefits and I would like to think the whole working environment has improved.
Is the Board structured differently?
We’ve increased our focus on the outside world. In the old days, dealing with the foreign Grand Lodges was handled by the Grand Secretary who also dealt with internal affairs and our members. Together with the Rulers, we saw the need for someone who would just focus on external relations and so created the role of Grand Chancellor.
Is managing Freemasons’ Hall a challenge?
By far the largest asset we have is Freemasons’ Hall and a lot has happened here over the past ten years – we had to strip out asbestos, which was a nightmare because it was everywhere. When the Hall was built, asbestos was what you used for safety and it took three or four years to strip it out while still allowing the building to be used for purpose. The new maintenance challenge is what’s called Regent Street Disease, which is named after buildings in that street that were built around a steel frame – a very popular method in the 1920s. Unfortunately, the steel and what surrounded it weren’t always fully airtight so the steel was capable of rusting. Freemasons’ Hall is one of the first all-steel-frame buildings so has the disease, but we’re tackling it – we’re very proud of this building.
What is modern Freemasonry?
When I took the role on, what worried me was Freemasonry no longer being relevant to the society we lived in. If you look over the years of our membership, numbers peak and trough. Membership has always been high when we filled a much-needed role in society but that changes because society changes. So that’s something we’re looking at more and more, to find that relevance. One of the things I feel very strongly about is that Freemasonry has to fit in with your family life – we’ve got to keep an eye on that, to make sure that members don’t focus too much on their Freemasonry to the detriment of their family.
What’s being planned for 2017?
The tercentenary will increasingly take up our focus and we have a working party looking at key elements. We believe very strongly that this will be a time for our members to celebrate – as the premier Grand Lodge of the world we will involve the foreign Grand Lodges, but we won’t lose sight of the fact that it’s a celebration by our members, of our members.
Back to life
When illness or financial problems strike, pride can inhibit some masons from asking for support. Tabby Kinder finds out how Freemasonry Cares is ensuring masons and their dependants are helped quickly, simply and in confidence
With a flurry of winter coats and woollen gloves, David Blunt and his wife wrap up against the chilly January day. David positions himself onto a shiny electric scooter – a vehicle that, for him, makes leaving the house possible. The couple are beginning the trip to their nearby hospital in Rugby for a routine check-up.
It’s a journey they have made a couple of times a month since an illness left David with severe disabilities almost five years ago.
For David, acknowledging that he needed support in the form of the scooter was a challenge that took a while to overcome. ‘When I first came out of hospital I just didn’t admit my disabilities,’ he says. ‘I struggled for months before I admitted defeat and asked for some help.’ According to Warwickshire Assistant Provincial Grand Master Trevor Sturt, David’s situation is by no means unique: ‘His case is a classic example and one that was likely to have slipped through the net had Freemasonry Cares not existed.’
Freemasonry Cares is a joint initiative between the four national masonic charities – The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB), the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) and the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF) – to provide charitable support, financial and otherwise, to masons and their families.
While this support has always been available, a need was recognised at the heart of the organisation to make assistance more accessible, both to those who aren’t sure if they are eligible for help, and to those who are embarrassed to even ask for it. So far, it’s proving a huge success in getting people like David vitally important support.
David’s old scooter, gifted to him several years ago by the son of an old friend, urgently needed replacing, and after speaking to his lodge Almoner in the autumn of 2013, he was directed to the Freemasonry Cares hotline. ‘The MSF was then able to pick up his case, assess his needs and grant him the new mobile scooter he’s using today,’ Trevor says.
In the course of just a few months, the MSF then went on to replace David’s bath with an accessible shower unit, and also granted his wife an adjustable chair, easing the problems she has with her own mobility. ‘Accepting help through Freemasonry Cares was a psychological step for me, as well as a financial and physical one,’ says David. ‘My wife’s quality of life has been greatly improved by the support, particularly for her sanity now I am able to get out of the house. The scooter gives me the freedom to go out, get to appointments and meet people almost every day of the week.’
‘People can just call one number... It’s the simple approach that encourages people to understand there’s no harm in asking for help.’ Jess Grant
David’s story highlights the importance of not just communicating the support available to masons but also streamlining how enquiries are handled by the masonic charities. ‘The process is a lot more simple than it used to be,’ says Jess Grant, one of the core team of just three people responsible for planning and administering the initiative. ‘Now, people aren’t put off by wondering what charity is right for them or if they would even qualify, because they can just call one number and have instant access to everything on offer. It’s the simple approach that encourages people to understand there’s no harm in asking for help.’
Jess attributes the success of Freemasonry Cares so far to the confidential nature of the scheme that allows masons, their family members and widows to ask for support anonymously if they so choose – and many do. ‘It’s a voice on the end of the phone rather than a familiar person who they might have known for thirty years,’ says Jess. ‘We wanted to remove any obstacle that might stop someone from making that initial approach.’
For Jess, Freemasonry Cares is definitely working:
‘We get calls from people who have been gearing themselves up for some time to phone, especially in the cases of widows who may feel they’re doing their late husband a disservice by admitting to not being able to cope. But the calls are coming in greater numbers and the charities are supporting more people than ever.’
The enquiry level in David’s Province of Warwickshire is now running at around fifteen calls per month – three times higher than the number of calls made to the charities in the previous year. ‘We’ve had eighty-one enquiries processed in this Province this year, which is a ten-fold increase in assistance given by the charities to our members, already proving that Freemasonry Cares is encouraging the people who need help to ask for it,’ says Trevor.
Paul, a mason in Surrey (whose name has been changed by request), admits straightaway that he would not have asked for support unless he was able to do so privately. ‘When you have cancer it takes over your whole life and everyone you meet just wants to talk about it,’ he says. ‘The lodge is one of the few places I can go where nobody really knows my situation; it’s a relief.’
Easing the strain
Paul first discovered he had metastasized bowel cancer four years ago, adding a huge burden to his family responsibilities of being a single father to his seven-year-old daughter and the sole carer of his elderly mother.
‘It was alright at first, the government provided some basic support and the NHS have been able to manage my cancer,’ he says. ‘It’s good in the most important way, because I’m still alive, but ongoing treatment has really stretched me financially as I’m not able to work and my savings have completely disappeared.’
Just weeks after being encouraged by his lodge Almoner to put in a phone call to Freemasonry Cares, the Grand Charity was able to give Paul a £5,000 lump sum towards his general living costs. ‘I was resistant at first but the application process was simple. Julia Young from the RMTGB welfare team came round and we spoke for over an hour. I had been living on the edge of what I could afford every month, but this grant means I have a buffer so I can worry a little less about my outgoings and a little more about myself and my family.’
The RMTGB was able to provide Paul with a termly payment of £600 to pay for music lessons, clothes, school trips and holidays for his young daughter. ‘I was amazed and so grateful, it was more than I ever expected to receive, and being able to pay for my daughter’s Christmas presents without worrying was such a relief,’ says Paul. ‘Julia provided a friendly face without being someone I would need to see every day and that was important to me – we’re a bit resistant, us blokes! But as soon as I’d made the first contact, the whole thing became a little less daunting.’
‘My advice to someone reading this would be to just pick up the phone,’ says Jess, explaining that there is no such thing as an insignificant grant. ‘Somebody may call us up and need major heart surgery that costs £50,000, whereas someone else may call and say they need a mobility aid to get down the driveway. Both of these things can have a huge impact on someone’s quality of life, and we always strive to provide individual support in a reassuring and confidential manner.’
Surrey rank and file
Bob Jenkinson, Provincial Grand Almoner for Surrey, is a huge advocate of the Freemasonry Cares initiative and wants more people to receive the help they need. ‘We grabbed the opportunity to offer Freemasonry Cares to the brethren in Surrey because we recognised the same problems as The Freemasons’ Grand Charity – that the rank and file mason often doesn’t have a clue what any of the charities are about and even less idea of how to get support from them,’ he says.
Since adopting Freemasonry Cares and promoting it in meetings and literature across the Province, Surrey has seen the number of enquiries made to the charities increase by around twenty per cent on the previous year. ‘We’ve had about fifty enquiries to the Freemasonry Cares hotline this quarter, and I’m personally getting twice as many calls from people asking me to initiate contact for them, so the push has really generated an understanding of what the masonic charities are there to do,’ says Bob. Masons in Surrey have received almost £1 million in grants since the launch of the initiative in the area a year ago – up £160,000 on the previous year.
Caring for the hidden wounded
Tom Stimpson MBE spoke at The Freemasons’ Grand Charity’s General Meeting about the help he has received in overcoming the psychological effects of warfare
Highlights at the Grand Charity’s General Meeting held last November included the approval of £745,000 of grants to non-masonic charities, bringing the total of such grants approved in 2013 to more than £2.4 million. Another highlight was the ongoing support for service personnel.
Among the guests was RAF veteran and Freemason, Tom Stimpson MBE. Tom spoke on behalf of Help for Heroes, a charity that provides wounded veterans with welfare support, life-skills courses, sports facilities, education and training – and gave him ‘lifesaving’ support after he was medically discharged from the RAF. Since 2008, the Grand Charity has donated £72,570 to Help for Heroes, with many lodges raising additional funds.
Tom’s traumatic experiences of war while in service in Iraq and Afghanistan left him both physically and mentally wounded. When describing his return home from Iraq, his wife said that he ‘left as a husband and father, and came back a stranger’. With the support of the RAF and Ministry of Defence, friends and family, Help for Heroes and his masonic brethren, Tom has come back from what he says was the ‘lowest point’ in his life.
Tom emphasised that his story is not an isolated one – thousands of active service men and women are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. Sadly, many veterans cannot face the despair their traumas have caused; according to the BBC’s Panorama, fifty service personnel committed suicide in 2012 in the UK alone. Tom’s closing message to the meeting was: ‘We may be leaving Afghanistan in 2014, but the effects of war will remain with so many for many more years to come. Please continue to support them and Help for Heroes.’
Funds for veterans
As part of the Freemasons’ continuing support for British ex-service personnel, the Grand Charity donated £50,000 to Blind Veterans UK (formerly St Dunstan’s). To date, the total donated to the charity is £101,000. The Grand Charity’s latest donation will fully fund a new state-of-the-art bedroom as part of a vital refurbishment project at its Brighton centre.
When thanking the Grand Charity for the donation, Lesley Garven, manager of the Blind Veterans UK rehabilitation, training and care centre in Brighton, said that it would enable ‘blind veterans to live comfortably in a supported environment with access to the highest quality nursing’. The continuing support from Freemasons to our ex-service personnel is helping rebuild lives.
A full list of the non-masonic grants that were approved in November 2013 is available to view at www.grandcharity.org