Celebrating 300 years

Festival welcome in Chester

The 15th annual festival of the Association of Medical, University and Legal Lodges (AMULL) was held this year in Chester and attended by around 130 members, their wives and other guests. 

During the past year AMULL lost its chairman, John Harvey, who was killed in a motor accident. Subsequently David Williamson, Past Assistant Grand Master and the then President of the Universities Scheme, accepted the offer to become the Association’s new leader. 

Chester Cathedral was the venue for the annual ecumenical service, led by the Dean of Chester and Nigel Pett, Assistant Grand Chaplain. Next year the festival returns to London to be hosted by Western Circuit Lodge, No. 3154.

Published in More News

Mark at the helm in West Kent

Mark Estaugh has been installed as Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent for West Kent by Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes.

In his acceptance speech, Mark said, ‘Our strategy will revolve around a trident of three key initiatives – membership, communication and the development of our masonic premises.’

Mark also announced the launch of the Province’s appeal to mark UGLE’s 2017 Tercentenary celebrations. The funds raised will go towards a major building project at Canterbury Cathedral. 

French lessons in Jersey

The Masonic Classic Vehicle Club has made an annual visit to Jersey for eight years, each time touring the island in vintage and classic cars, as well as enjoying a fraternal visit to Loge La Césarée, No. 590. Of the 11 lodges meeting at Stopford Road in St Helier, Loge La Césarée is the only one that conducts its ritual in French. The La Césarée songbook includes many World War II songs and the visitors joined in with gusto on their latest visit. 

Canterbury evensong for Royal Arch

The choral evensong congregation at Canterbury Cathedral was enhanced by almost 500 companions, brethren, their families and friends coming together for the Province of East Kent’s Royal Arch biennial church service.

Led by Grand Superintendent Geoffrey Dearing, distinguished guests included Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton, Third Grand Principal David Williamson, the then Metropolitan Grand Master Russell Race and several neighbouring Provincial Grand Masters. 

Guests were able to view the Ancestors exhibit, a series of life-size figures representing the Ancestors of Christ that date to the 12th and early 13th centuries. These beautiful examples of medieval stained glass had been temporarily removed from the Cathedral’s Great South Window while conservation work was carried out on its crumbling stonework. They were on display in the Chapter House, the East Window of which was a gift from the Freemasons of Kent.

Devonshire benevolence

The Devonshire Provincial Garden Party took place at Ugbrooke House, Chudleigh, the home of Lord and Lady Clifford, with the proceeds going to the Devonshire Masonic Benevolent Fund. 

Entertainment was provided by the Budleigh Salterton Male Voice Choir; the Tiverton Town Brass Band; musician Steve Scadgell of Sanctuary Lodge, No. 5358; and the Royal Marine Volunteer Cadet Corps drummers from Plymouth, whose uniforms depicted five periods in the 350-year history of the Royal Marines. There was also a display of vintage cars and motorbikes, a fly-casting competition hosted by the Masonic Fishing Club and an exhibition of paintings by local Freemasons.

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.

£30,000 for island community groups

Guernsey and Alderney Freemasons have donated more than £30,000 to support local groups, with charity representatives attending a special gathering at the masonic centre in St Martin to receive their cheques. PGM David Hodgetts said the organisation was keen to support as many local groups as possible on the island. Charities receiving funding included Guernsey Jumbulance Holidays, Headway Guernsey, the Guernsey Sailing Trust, Wigwam Support Group and the Bailiwick of Guernsey Scout Association.

Sign of the times

With support from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, a new GCSE in British Sign Language could open up the education system for deaf young people, writes Glyn Brown

Communication is a major part of what makes life worth living. But it isn’t always easy. Some of us can find it hard to talk to others, to understand them and transmit what we want to tell them. But if you can’t hear, the difficulty can become far more pronounced. 

There is currently a groundswell movement to break through the barrier between the hearing and the deaf. But whereas places such as Scotland and Scandinavia are opening up education by teaching and promoting the use – and understanding – of sign language in schools, England and Wales are lagging way behind, which means they are missing out on the potential talent and ability of a huge number of young people. 

But someone is taking a stand. Founded in 1982, Durham-based charity Signature is now the leading awarding body for qualifications in deaf and deafblind communication techniques. In a radical move, it has drawn up and is piloting a GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL). Preparation has taken years, and the pilot is Signature’s next step in persuading the government that the qualification should be recognised. 

The language of change

It was only in 1890 that the British Deaf Association was formed, and began advocating the use of (what was at the time revolutionary) sign language, alongside lip-reading. Suddenly, the deaf were becoming teachers and civil servants, editors and chemists. ‘Once there was a recognised form of communication, people started to realise not only that BSL was a language in its own right, with grammar and syntax, but that these people had just as much to say as hearing people,’ says Signature’s senior policy adviser Dan Sumners. ‘The turning point was when hearing people started to learn BSL and become interpreters.’

With Sweden, Finland and Norway offering sign language as part of the national curriculum, it seems out of step that BSL is currently only taught in deaf schools, community colleges or private organisations in England and Wales. Signature has tried for years to get BSL recognised as a language in its own right. Its first attempt to draft GCSE criteria in 2010 was never used, but the charity was undeterred, assembling a crack team of qualification experts, examiners and BSL teachers to draw up new GCSE content in 2014. ‘They were incredibly passionate, and relentless in making this a rigorous qualification,’ recalls Gillian Marshall-Dyson, Signature’s funding and projects coordinator.

With everything in place by July 2015, the GCSE was then offered to six schools to pilot. ‘The course provides all students with a good working knowledge of BSL,’ says Marshall-Dyson. ‘Not just that – young people love learning it. It’s physical, expressive, a totally new learning curve. They absolutely throw themselves into it.’

Making progress possible

But none of this could have been achieved without financial assistance. Researching funding, Marshall-Dyson noticed that the Freemasons have a great interest in helping children and young people, so an application for funding was submitted in late 2014. ‘On a day very early in 2015 I got into work, switched on my computer and saw an email that said, “We are pleased to be able to award you a grant of £18,000…” I was delighted to receive the news and share it with the rest of the office… In fact, the whole office came to a standstill. And I thought, how wonderful, now we really can forge ahead and bring in a brilliant team to put this groundbreaking qualification together.’

Michael Daws, a trustee of The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, has high expectations: ‘The hope is that this GCSE can take pupils beyond survival skills and into having full conversations with each other in BSL. It could be a transformative experience. But what also struck a chord with me was hearing how learning BSL can sometimes be difficult for shy children because it’s so demonstrative – try putting yourself in a position where you’re using your facial expressions and your body to talk. But learning to overcome that reticence, in a GCSE class, could help with confidence in so many ways.’

Of course, it is early days. As Sumners explains, the GCSE will be tweaked and streamlined during regular meetings of the Signature team and the pilot schools, ‘so we can make the specification as robust as possible’. Above all, the GCSE needs to be recognised by the regulating body Ofqual; only then can it be offered officially, and in all schools.

‘The first aspect of this issue is acknowledging an individual’s human rights. But the second is asking why, if we want the UK to remain strong, we wouldn’t want to use the skills of everyone in this country?’ says Sumners. ‘Someone who’s grown up profoundly deaf has an entirely different view of the world to you or me, and it’s a view that’s not being made use of. It sounds grandiose – but developing this awareness could have ramifications that, at the moment, we can’t even imagine.’

‘Someone who’s grown up profoundly deaf has an entirely different view of the world, and it’s a view that’s not being made use of.’ Dan Sumners

Classroom communication

With 11 million people in the UK having some degree of hearing loss, education for the deaf is a key issue

‘Achievement grades in education are much lower for deaf children,’ says Dan Sumners, Signature’s senior policy adviser. ‘In the past, kids either went the deaf school route – learning sign language, which was great for developing the deaf community but constituted a barrier with mainstream society – or down the lip-reading route, where they had to try to speak, even though they couldn’t hear.’ 

Those who were encouraged to lip-read tend to have a low reading age and can lip-read little better than the rest of us. Gillian Marshall-Dyson, Signature’s funding and projects coordinator, adds, ‘Many schools for the deaf are now being closed, and those children are sent to mainstream schools. They struggle and can’t get the education they need, so they slip behind.’

The best way forward, says Sumners, is a mixture of communication, which is what deaf teens increasingly use. ‘They may have hearing aids or cochlear implants, they may use some sign language and do some lip-reading. For years, the assumption was that the deaf were cognitively challenged, but being deaf just means you can’t hear; it says nothing about the rest of your abilities.’ 

Published in The Grand Charity

Gloucester entertainment

It was a fun day out for Gloucestershire masons and their friends and families as a variety of attractions kept almost 500 people entertained in the spectacular 17th-century venue of Highnam Court Gardens near Gloucester (pictured above).

‘To see the happy, smiling faces of children and adults alike was worth all the hard work put in by the charity team,’ said Phil Waring, Gloucestershire Provincial Grand Charity Steward. The event raised more than £5,000 for the Province’s Festival for the Grand Charity, whose Chief Executive Laura Chapman was guest of honour at the day.  

Out of the scrum at Northampton

A record number of attendees were at the 2015 Convocation of the Provincial Grand Chapter of Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire, in Northampton, where the guest of honour was Second Grand Principal George Francis. At the Festive Board, Grand Superintendent Wayne Williams presented him with a ‘refill’ for a previously bestowed cut-glass decanter, and a Northampton Saints rugby shirt bearing the number two and the name ‘Francis’. The Second Grand Principal said he was pleased to visit the Province in which he had started his masonic career at Castle Ashby many years earlier.

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