A club for everyone
With the New and Young Masons Clubs Conference 2017 seeking to build on Freemasonry’s foundations, Matthew Bowen meets the organiser, Dan Thomas, to see why the future is in safe hands
On 14 October 2017, the walls of the Severn Street Masonic Hall in Birmingham echoed with the sounds of progress. Within the ancient building, 100 new and young Freemasons from across the country gathered to discuss ways of ensuring the Craft’s relevance in the 21st century. They were there for the annual New and Young Masons Clubs Conference (NYMCC).With more than 30 new and young masons clubs operating in Metropolitan and the Provinces, the annual conference – now in its third year – plays a vital role in inspiring change. This change can occur within clubs themselves by offering ideas and advice on best practice. It can also happen across Freemasonry as a whole by bringing new brethren face-to-face with some of the most senior masons in the country.
The responsibility of hosting the event this year fell to The Five of Nine Club and its chairman, Dan Thomas. Dan joined St Peter’s Lodge, No. 7334, in Warwickshire eight years ago, aged 27. As a young policeman, Dan finds that Freemasonry complements his life and he enjoys every challenge it brings. Attending the NYMCC in 2015 inspired him to share his enjoyment among his peers and launch The Five of Nine Club for new and young masons.
‘I went to that conference just wanting to have a look at what was going on, and came away with so much information that, when we launched the club, it was like we had been given a two-year head start,’ says Dan. ‘These clubs are all about bringing young masons together. There may only be one young brother in a lodge within the Province, but by getting them involved in the club, they feel a wider sense of community.’
Aside from pulling together to organise the NYMCC, The Five of Nine Club also arranges regular social activities that have so far included go-karting, paintballing and a brewery tour. ‘The focus is on enjoyment,’ explains Dan, with the hope being, he adds, that ‘enjoyment translates into higher retention rates among junior masons.’
Recruitment and retention are equally important goals for masonic clubs, as reflected by the theme of this year’s conference – ‘Building and Maintaining the Foundations’. According to Five of Nine Club patron and Provincial Grand Master of Warwickshire David Macey, Dan and the club have excelled at both. ‘We set Dan some fairly optimistic targets to hit within 18 months, and he smashed them in six,’ he says.
Though new and young masons clubs champion the views of a specific group of masons, the benefits they bring are being felt across the board. As David says, ‘The club’s energy and vitality is brilliantly infectious, not just within the youngsters they’re influencing, but on us senior masons as well.’
One of the senior masons present, Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence, delivered a keynote speech on how new and young masons clubs and the UGLE can work together. Dan was honoured when the Deputy Grand Master announced he’d like to attend. ‘The fact that he wanted to give a talk shows how important new and young masons clubs are to Freemasonry, and recognises the phenomenal work being carried out by every club,’ he says.
Provincial Grand Master for South Wales and Deputy Chairman of the Improvement Delivery Group Gareth Jones also took the stage. He joined Freemasonry as a 26-year-old in the 1980s, and believes it is as relevant today as it has ever been. For Gareth, Freemasonry is ‘a place away from the pressures of everyday life to sit quietly, reflect, learn and make daily advancements’. He spoke on the need for masonry to become more intertwined in communities, about the Improvement Delivery Group and on how Freemasonry must improve its reputation. ‘Let’s be frank – our image has traditionally been stuffy, middle-class and only for older people who can afford to join. It’s these ways of thinking that we need to get away from,’ he said, praising efforts being made by the clubs to revitalise the Craft.
‘We talk about [the] reduction [of] membership over last two years,’ Gareth adds, ‘but this is a symptom rather than a problem in itself. The problem has been, to a growing extent, one of quality in how we have engaged with communities and the media, and the way we’ve brought people in and looked after them once they’ve joined. We’ve put in a lot of effort in the last few years to address those problems, and these clubs are proving to be an effective way of arresting the decline we’ve seen since the mid-nineties.’
With the buzz around the new and young masons clubs, it would be easy to get carried away in the excitement. A key theme of the conference, however, was the importance of installing proper governance and setting clear objectives. David stressed at the conference that ‘structure is imperative to channel enthusiasm and pass it on to others’.
David led the conference into a breakout session on how to launch, manage and grow successful new and young masons clubs. Reflecting on the event and on his role as patron of The Five of Nine Club, David says, ‘It sounds as if I’m being condescending when I say, from the bottom up, that we’re learning so much from an age group we were in danger of neglecting.’
With buy-in at such senior levels, Dan is confident this is just the start for new and young masons clubs, and expects to be attending conferences for years to come. ‘Since last year’s conference, there’s been an unbelievable increase in numbers of clubs across the country,’ he says. ‘We’ve seen more recognition in Quarterly Communications and more senior support coming forward in support of the clubs.’
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The Association of Atholl Lodges celebrated the Tercentenary in a special event hosted by Athol Lodge, No. 74, at the Severn Street Masonic Hall, the oldest masonic meeting place in Birmingham, in the Province of Warwickshire
Present at the meeting were Grand Patron and Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton and Warwickshire Assistant Provincial Grand Master Trevor Sturt.
Addresses were given by Association Chairman Geoffrey Abraham on the history of Atholl Lodges, and by Clive Moore on ‘The Atholl Legacy’.
Hundreds of people attended the funeral of W Bro Ken Wilkinson, a Battle of Britain pilot and member of both Worcestershire and Warwickshire Provinces
The service was held in St Alphege Church in his home town of Solihull on 8th September 2017, with dozens lining the streets outside to pay their respects. W Bro Wilkinson’s coffin was carried into the church draped in the British flag, whilst a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire cascaded through the sky above.
W Bro Wilkinson was one of the last remaining Battle of Britain pilots and was described as “a true gentleman” by the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust.
W Bro Wilkinson died on 31st July 2017 at the age of 99.
As the sun shone down on Sulgrave Manor, classic cars from as far away as Yorkshire and South Wales were flagged off by W Bro Charles Bennett, Assistant Provincial Grand Master of Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire
This marked the start of the fourth and final Midlands route of the Classic 300.
The participants, on Sunday 27th August, followed a route taking them 78 miles from Sulgrave Manor – the ancestral home of Bro George Washington’s family - to the Blenheim Palace Festival of Transport - where Bro Sir Winston Churchill was born.
On the way, the classic vehicles passed through the Cotswolds including Bourton on the Water and Burford. This route was organised by W Bro Dermot Bambridge and W Bro John Harmer – members of Silverstone Lodge No. 9877 and on the Classic 300 Midlands organising committee.
Before the first car departed from Sulgrave, W Bro Charles Bennett handed W Bro Peter Manning, Assistant Provincial Grand Master of Warwickshire, a specially made gavel to carry on the route.
The gavel was made from the con rod of a Jaguar D-type, which was the legendary model that won the 24 Hours at Le Mans for England no less than three times during the 1950s. This and four other identical gavels are being ceremonially carried by a car on each route.
The Classic 300 is a series of events for classic cars and was started by the Grand Master at Windsor Great Park in May. It is part of the Tercentenary celebrations of the United Grand Lodge of England and will finish at Brooklands on 1st October.
National children’s charity Lifelites has donated a package of specialist technologies for children at Zoë’s Place Baby Hospice in Coventry
The children who visit the hospice will be able to use the equipment to play games, be creative and communicate with their families, something which may be impossible for them to do otherwise.
The package of equipment and services – which is worth £50,000 over its four year lifespan – was donated completely free of charge by Lifelites. The charity also provides ongoing technical support and training for the hospice staff.
The charity was able to donate the equipment due to the generosity of donors. For this project, money was donated by the Warwickshire Freemasons, as well as the Khoo Teck Puat Foundation, GamesAid, Microsoft and Children with Cancer UK.
One of the pieces of equipment donated was a Magic Carpet. This is a portable box which projects an image on to the floor, a wheelchair or a bed, which children can interact with. This technology gives them the chance to escape the confines of their condition and play one of the many games or animations, such as playing football or splashing in the sea.
The children also received an Eyegaze. This is a piece of equipment which allows those with limited mobility to control a computer using just their eyes. By using the Eyegaze, children who struggle to communicate with their family and their carers are able to do so – often for the first time.
Other items donated include iPads, cameras and touchscreen computers along with lots of games and other software specially designed to be accessible for children with disabilities.
After two days of staff training, families, donors and hospice staff gathered to celebrate the occasion and to officially hand the equipment over to the children at the hospice.
Clare Walton, senior care assistant at Zoë’s Place said: 'The eye gaze equipment will revolutionise the experience that many of our children will have here at Zoë’s Place Baby Hospice. It has already been fantastic to see a glimpse of their full potential and it has been wonderful for the parents to witness just what their children are capable of. It is incredible for the staff and parents to be able to communicate with the children on a far deeper level than we have been able to without this equipment.
'The equipment has so many applications for us and a child can use it for leisure time, completing school work and general communication. It is very easy and intuitive to use and we are currently rolling out the training to all of our staff. We are so thrilled to have this and cannot thank everyone enough who made it happen.'
Simone Enefer-Doy, Chief Executive of Lifelites said: 'We are thrilled to be able to provide equipment for the children at Zoë’s Place who have life-limiting, life-threatening and disabling conditions. The magical technology we have donated can be used to play, to be creative and communicate, and enrich the lives of these children and their families, for as long as is possible. We couldn’t have provided this package if it wasn’t for the generosity of our donors, so for this we are incredibly grateful.'
Lifelites has donated equipment to every children’s hospice in the British Isles over the last 16 years, and continues to provide new technology and ongoing support to ensure that children in hospices have unlimited possibilities.
Tackling food waste in the West Midlands
One of the first major grants awarded by the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) has gone to FareShare West Midlands. John Hayward, Provincial Charity Steward for Warwickshire, visited the charity and presented a grant for £60,000 over three years, a contribution to the salary of the warehouse manager, together with assistance with transportation of food.
FareShare is a national operation with more than 20 centres. It is estimated that there are more than 3.4 million tonnes of food wasted every year by the UK food industry.
Bronze desk and chair unveiled, which has been funded and donated by Freemasons of Warwickshire together with the United Grand Lodge of England, to mark 300 years of English Freemasonry
On Tuesday 5th September, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust officially opened the newly remodelled Shakespeare’s New Place which is the biggest and most enduring project anywhere in the world to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Shakespeare's New Place was his family home from 1597 until he died in the house in 1616. The house was demolished in 1759, a registered garden has been designed to commemorate the importance of the site and allow visitors to make their own personal connection with Shakespeare. When Shakespeare bought New Place he was an established playwright and it is believed that he wrote his later plays there, including The Tempest. Commissioned artworks and displays throughout the site will evoke a sense of family life and hint at Shakespeare's major works that were written during the 19 years he owned New Place.
Specially commissioned sculptures conjure up to the world that influenced Shakespeare and his enduring influence in our world today. A magnificent bronze tree takes centre stage in the heart of the garden surrounded by a circle of pleached hornbeams and a curved oak bench, with Shakespeare’s desk and chair at stage right. The desk and chair gives visitors from around the world a unique opportunity to sit and contemplate a view that has remained unchanged since Shakespeare lived there.
The Emulation Lodge of Improvement Annual Festival, held at Freemasons’ Hall on Friday 26th February 2016, is the high point of the lodge’s calendar
The Festival, attended by over 200 brethren, was presided over by the President, RW Bro David Macey, Provincial Grand Master for Warwickshire and the senior members of the Emulation Committee, and provided a superb showcase for a demonstration of four sections from the Lectures of the Three Degrees.
The Lectures take the form of a Preceptor asking questions of an Assistant, the Preceptor being a senior member of the Emulation Committee and the Assistant being a junior member of the lodge, but be under no illusion, standing on a blue dial next to the Senior Warden. It is the Assistant who is under the spotlight.
The programme of work comprised:
2nd lecture 2nd section: Preceptor W Bro Gerald Goodall, Assistant Bro Stephen Widdop
2nd lecture 3rd section: Preceptor W Bro Gerald Goodall, Assistant Bro Alexis Petrou
2nd lecture 4th section: Preceptor W Bro Graham Redman, Assistant W Bro John Lovett
2nd lecture 5th section: Preceptor W Bro Graham Redman, Assistant W Bro Mark Graham
Both Preceptors and Assistants delivered their sections with passion and conviction before a full temple and to a truly exemplary standard. I’m sure that for the Assistants this wasn’t just a daily advancement but an advancement they’ll remember for the rest of their lives and I congratulate them.
Worthy of note is the role of the Senior Warden (this year in the capable hands of W Bro Steve Turner) who must be prepared to prompt each of the Assistants from memory (and thereby must be word perfect in all four sections even if never called upon).
Afterwards the brethren retired to the Connaught Rooms for an excellent Festive Board.
Continuing aid for Vanuatu
Following the Grand Charity’s £20,000 donation via the British Red Cross after a severe tropical cyclone hit Vanuatu in the South Pacific in March 2015, Warwickshire masons have also provided aid. More than £5,600 has been sent to the Vanuatu Recovery Fund thanks to 16 Warwickshire lodges, one very generous brother and the Province’s Masonic Charitable Association.
The Vanuatu Recovery Fund, managed by Lodge of Discovery on the island, has decided to fund the rebuilding of the library at Suango Mele Primary School, and to create a bigger and better structure than had previously existed. The school will now have a media centre within the library to ensure it meets students’ future study needs.
Warwickshire support for Acorns
Every year for the past five years, Warwickshire Freemasons have donated £150,000 via the Masonic Charitable Association to around 120 non-masonic charities, including Acorns Children’s Hospice in Birmingham. Founded 27 years ago, Acorns offers a network of specialist palliative care and support across the West Midlands for babies, children and young people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions.
Over the years, support for Acorns from Warwickshire masons has included technical help with computer equipment that was installed at the Selly Oak hospice by Lifelites, a charity backed by the masonic community.