Celebrating 300 years

Bedfordshire casts first line

A new branch of the Masonic Fishing Charity (MFC) has been set up in Bedfordshire with the help of a generous grant of £2,500 from the Province of Bedfordshire. 

The charity aims to bring an interactive fishing and countryside experience to people with special needs. The inaugural event was held at Manor Farm Fishing in Lower Caldecote, where a dedicated lake was provided for the day’s supervised hands-on fishing, for children from Keech Hospice Care, Luton.

MFC branch chairman Dick Sturman commented, ‘These events are offered free of any charge to the participants and their carers, and are funded by our sponsors and fundraising events.’

Fresh intake for Universities Scheme

Five years ago, Lincoln’s Saint Hugh Lodge, No. 1386, was admitted to the Universities Scheme. The undergraduates have brought vitality to the lodge and introduced many new young people to Freemasonry. PGM Graham Ives, Deputy PGM John Hockin and the Provincial team visited the lodge to witness the raising of five candidates in November. This was followed by the raising of five brethren and five initiations in subsequent months. 

Over in Stoke-on-Trent, Universities Lodge of Staffordshire, No. 9907, has been consecrated at Shelton Masonic Hall, becoming the 65th lodge in the Universities Scheme. The Consecrating Officer was Past Assistant Grand Master David Williamson, President of the Universities Scheme.

Published in Universities Scheme

District help for  Dominica storm relief

Last August the small Caribbean island of Dominica was hit by tropical storm Erika. Five hours of the storm’s intense wind and rain provoked flooding and landslides, destroying hundreds of homes in the process.

St George Lodge, No. 3421, which has worked on the island for over 100 years, enlisted the help of brethren in the District of Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, and took immediate steps to assist. The Freemasons’ Association of Jamaica, through District Grand Master Walter Scott and District Grand Secretary Robert Forbes, donated JMD 800,000 to The Salvation Army as its contribution to the Dominica Relief Fund. The presentation was received by the territorial commander, Commissioner Gerrit Marseille, and property officer Major Stanley Griffin.

The Provincial Perambulator

Clive Jones, a Past Master from Shropshire, has walked 11 miles in aid of a masonic charity. The former Welsh Guardsman lost his sight in an off-duty assault, and heard that brethren from his lodge, St Mary’s, No. 8373, were walking from Whitchurch to Market Drayton as part of a series of walks connecting all the lodges of Shropshire. 

Dubbed the ‘Provincial Perambulations’, the walks are designed to raise funds for Shropshire’s Grand Charity Festival over the next few years, and will culminate in a final ‘grand walk’ from Shrewsbury to Great Queen Street, London in 2019.

Bridging the gap

The Iron Bridge Lodge in Shropshire is attracting younger members with a blend of social media, streamlined ceremonies and core masonic values, as Peter Watts discovers

On 1 February 2016, something happened in Shropshire for the first time in more then a century. At a meeting room in Telford town centre, three new members were initiated into Freemasonry at one lodge on the same day. This was so exceptional it required a change in the rules. ‘The laws say you can only initiate two at once,’ says Andy Delamere of the meeting at The Iron Bridge Lodge. ‘We had to seek special dispensation from the Provincial Grand Master.’ 

What makes it more extraordinary is that one of those new masons was only 20 years old. 

Could the future of Freemasonry be blossoming in this corner of England?

It has been an impressive first 12 months for The Iron Bridge Lodge, No. 9897, which is named after a local landmark and created specifically to cater to the preferences of younger masons. In January 2015, The Iron Bridge Lodge became the 34th lodge to be consecrated in Shropshire and the first new lodge anywhere to join the Universities Scheme. 

Launched in 2005, the scheme was created to attract students into Freemasonry, an idea inspired by the existing lodges at Oxford and Cambridge. While The Iron Bridge Lodge is not affiliated with any university, it welcomes all students to join its meetings.

One of The Iron Bridge Lodge’s new masons is student Tom Perring, 28, who says he has been ‘interested in Freemasonry for as long as I can remember’ – an interest nurtured by reading copies of Freemasonry Today donated to him by an elderly mason. Tom explored various options until he heard about The Iron Bridge Lodge being set up. 

‘I followed them on Twitter and they followed me back, saying thanks for the follow and if I was interested in Freemasonry I should ask,’ recalls Tom. ‘I told them I was, and it went from there.’

Finding new channels

Embracing social media is just one way that The Iron Bridge Lodge is trying to appeal to a younger generation. When Shropshire’s Deputy Provincial Grand Master Roger Pemberton found that 27 per cent of new masons in his Province resigned within five years, he knew that making changes to recruit and retain young masons was key, but wanted to do so without diminishing the gravitas of the ceremony.

Roger was among those trying to find a way to marry the procedures of Freemasonry with the responsibilities of contemporary life. ‘We want to make Freemasonry attractive to young men and students in Shropshire, and one way to do that is to make it possible for them to be there,’ he explains. 

‘Society is very fast and unstable; Freemasonry offers a strong, decent core that can help people.’ Tom Perring

Lodges traditionally meet at 5pm, when many people are still at work or looking after children. ‘We therefore start at 7pm and finish by 9.45pm so people can get home at a reasonable hour. We’ve also made it a more attractive, simpler ceremony,’ says Roger.

Proceedings have been streamlined by circulating reports and minutes by email before the meeting, rather than reading them out. A buffet-style Festive Board has also replaced formal meals. This is more relaxed and provides an opportunity for masons to socialise. 

Roger was convinced that these measures would bear fruit. ‘If you have a market stall and you put it where people can’t see it then nobody will buy anything,’ he explains. ‘But if you have something attractive that’s easy to see, then people will be interested. It’s about presentation – making sure people feel welcome when they join and that this welcome is maintained. None of it affects the central tenets of Freemasonry, which are brotherly love, relief and a personal journey to truth.’

Ray Dickson, The Iron Bridge Lodge Secretary and a member of the founding committee, explains the journey that Shropshire Freemasons have been on. ‘We could see younger people live in a very busy environment where everything is needed yesterday, so finding time simply to attend meetings is difficult. We looked at how we could a provide a meeting place that accommodates modern life.’

Student recruits

As well as identifying ways to simplify the ceremony, the lodge founders contacted the Universities Scheme. ‘It sat with our ideals – bringing in young people, embracing and encouraging them,’ says Ray. ‘It seemed to be a good match with the principles we had started to build at The Iron Bridge Lodge and how we were organising and structuring things.’ 

The founders visited three Universities Scheme lodges in Leicester, Oxford and Nottingham to see how they operated, and contacted others via Twitter and Facebook. The results have been impressive. The Iron Bridge Lodge had 70-odd attendees at each meeting in 2015 and initiated seven new masons, some attracted by social media. 

The Iron Bridge Lodge was the first Shropshire lodge on Twitter, with its young members eagerly sharing information with their friends. ‘It puts it out there, the good we do, and that sparks an interest and shows this is a vibrant lodge,’ says Andy.

The younger masons have also brought ideas of their own and new members into the fold. 

‘Young people bring other young people. They bring enthusiasm and they also bring innovation,’ says Ray. ‘We don’t have a physical banner or tracing boards, we use projections – little things like that come from having younger people around. They are very enthusiastic with social media. That’s good for the lodge, Shropshire and Freemasonry in general.’

Tom is a fine arts student with an interest in film, so he’s made reels for the lodge and plans to make another for the Universities Scheme. He feels Freemasonry has much to offer men of his generation: ‘Society is very fast and unstable; Freemasonry offers a strong, decent core that can help people,’ he says.

For Tom, Freemasonry provides young men with the opportunity to give something back. ‘We’re learning confidence and manners, becoming better people and meeting people we’d never otherwise rub shoulders with. It makes you want to return the favour, using whatever talents you’ve learnt at work and university.’

Tom is just one of the new recruits who will take Freemasonry forward. Harvey Greatrex is a 21-year-old student who discovered The Iron Bridge Lodge via the website. He is looking forward to finding out more about the Craft and its values. ‘Some of the older masons tell us that we are still going to be in Freemasonry in 20 years,’ he says. 

Harvey’s journey in The Iron Bridge Lodge is something that Roger hopes will be emulated elsewhere in Freemasonry. ‘A lodge needs experienced people to start it off and run the main office until you get a cohort of masons who understand what it is about. We are two or three years away from that, but in about five years, this lodge will be entirely run by new young men.’

‘Young people bring other young people. They bring enthusiasm and they also bring innovation.’ Ray Dickson

Monday, 07 March 2016 00:00

The importance of Almoners

The Freemasons are a family to us

When she lost her husband and home, Paula Kilshawe-Fall faced emotional and financial chaos. Glyn Brown meets the almoners who helped Paula rebuild her life

We all know that the masonic movement gives support and financial assistance to society at large through its charitable and philanthropic work, but there’s another aspect, which is the aid that an almoner, sometimes called a ‘caring officer’, provides for lodge members and their families in time of need. 

A job that’s quiet and often unsung, an almoner needs to be an adviser, supporter and friend. Crucially, they also need to detect that help is required in the first place. Almoners embody the spirit of Freemasonry; their community work is not performed for show but because of a concern for others.

Someone who has experienced this is Paula Kilshawe-Fall. Seven years ago, the kindness and advice she received from local almoners helped her to rebuild a life that was falling to pieces. It’s a story of stoicism, hope and bravery. 

Ernie Greenhalgh is Provincial Grand Almoner for the Province of West Lancashire. ‘Between the Craft and the Royal Arch we have just over 500 almoners,’ he says, ‘and their role has been to look after members’ widows and their families, those who are elderly or in difficulties, to help with the filling in of forms and to dispense grants.’

Ernie believed that filling in forms was getting in the way. ‘Now we have a team that focuses solely on admin, which frees up the almoners to focus completely on pastoral care.’

Being an almoner can be demanding, requiring time and perceptiveness. ‘Lodge members and their families have a sense of privacy. They don’t want to need assistance,’ says Ernie. Which is where an almoner needs to be alert, to notice things. In winter, is the house cold? Why isn’t the heating on? ‘So an almoner sits down for a chat, and often the real story will come out.’

‘I used to call him my fairy godfather – he gave me advice and emotional support.’ Paula Kilshawe-Fall

It can be hard to find the right people to be almoners. ‘You’re looking for someone with tact, patience, humour and compassion – and who listens actively, searching for the meaning underneath what’s being said.’ So do you have to be a saint? 

‘Not exactly. But you need dedication and discretion, because people will tell you heartbreaking things, and you must keep those to yourself.’ 

The plus side, of course, is that almoners are making a difference. ‘There’s an incredible upside,’ says Ernie. ‘To be able to say, “We’ve got a grant for you,” or “We’ve got you a chance to have that operation earlier” – it’s wonderful. Whatever I’ve done in my life, I’ve done something here that’s worthwhile, that’s made a change for the better.’

From theory to practice

Seven years ago Paula’s husband Adam died unexpectedly. He was 39, she was 34, and their children, Sarah and Adam, were four and three. 

Adam Snr had run a property maintenance firm and it was only when he died that Paula realised how badly things had been going. Within weeks, she began to be harangued by creditors. ‘I didn’t realise the extent of the debts until Adam died. When he’d gone, I saw how he’d shielded me from the truth.’

Paula and the children lost their home and sought refuge with her parents. Worse was to come, though, because Adam had used that house as collateral and soon it, too, was swallowed in the debt. ‘My parents lost the home they’d been in for 40 years,’ says Paula, whose father died soon after. 

She was alone. Or thought she was. After Adam’s death, Paula had written to his lodge to notify them. The lodge contacted the Provincial Grand Almoner and, within days, almoner Brian Mason visited Paula. He saw that the family needed financial and emotional support if they were not, despite Paula’s best efforts, to sink.

First, Brian took Paula through the state benefits she was entitled to. Next, he helped her to apply for grants from the masonic charities. She received awards from both and cried when she found out. ‘The masons had become our guardian angels,’ says Paula. A one-off grant from West Lancashire Province lifted the family out of homelessness. 

‘I was desperate to get some stability for the children. We’re now in a rented council house, but I’ve made it pretty inside, and it’s ours.’

There were still unpaid debts, however, and Paula was told that the only way forward would be to declare herself bankrupt. Brian supported her by going with her to court. She could finally start anew.

Paula is an upbeat, resilient woman, glowing with pride in her daughter and son, who are able to go on educational trips thanks to help from the masonic charities. ‘I thank God every day that my husband had a connection with the Freemasons.’

As for Brian? ‘Well,’ she laughs, ‘I used to call him my fairy godfather. He gave me advice and emotional support – he was like the kindest uncle.’

Brian recently handed over his role to a younger almoner, Tom Bradfield-Kay, who sees Paula regularly. According to Tom, he has one of the best jobs. ‘When I retired last year, I needed something to give me the stimulation I got from my career, and the satisfaction you get from helping is immeasurable.’

For Paula, the future is hopeful. ‘The Freemasons – well, to us, they’re a family. My son wants to become a mason one day, and I’d like that. It seems such an amazing thing to be.’

Published in Features

Craft brewing

Members of Thorpe Bay Lodge in Southend have been making and selling their own bitter to raise money for charity. Imogen Beecroft raises a glass to Lest We Forget

People couldn’t believe it when we told them what we were doing, but I don’t see why it’s surprising. We’ve got so much experience between us – maybe not with brewing beer, but definitely drinking it!’ Gordon Goodall, then Charity Steward of Thorpe Bay Lodge, No. 4803, smiles as he explains how his charity fundraising plan grew into something much larger. Last February, he decided the lodge should brew beer to sell at their Poppy evening in November to support military charity SSAFA and the Royal British Legion

Unsurprisingly, the plan was an instant hit and lodge members Andy Rogers, Stephen Bateman and Paul Bates jumped at the chance to get involved. However, as none of the team had ever brewed a beer before, they knew they would need some expert help. Gordon approached several microbreweries in the area, but finally struck gold with Wibblers Brewery, based in the Essex countryside. 

Wibblers head brewer Phil Wilcox says, ‘I have an understanding of Freemasonry through my godfather and have always appreciated the charity work they do. These are both fantastic charities, so we were very happy to help.’

Wibblers on board, the four men headed to the brewery for a hard day’s work. With Phil’s guidance, the masons finalised their recipe and set to work creating their drink: a classic English bitter with a malty taste and nutty finish. By all accounts, the day passed cheerfully, aside from a slight tussle over who would climb into the hot, cramped mash tun and shovel 300kg of grain out of it. 

‘We told our friends and they told theirs, and suddenly we were selling out.’ Gordon Goodall

Laughing, Andy says: ‘As soon as this job came up, Gordon said, “Oh my back, I can’t go in there.” Steve said he wasn’t feeling up to it, and Paul started complaining about his arm. So muggins here got lumbered with the job of getting into the tun.’

But it wasn’t all hard graft. As Stephen says: ‘The great thing about brewing is that at a certain point you just have to let the beer do its thing. So we got the barbecue out and decided it was time to try some of Phil’s other beers.’ Once the beer was fermented and sent away for bottling and labelling, all the team had to do was sell it. 

Aptly named Lest We Forget in honour of fallen servicemen, the bitter was promoted by the brewers in the lead-up to their Poppy night, which they opened up to non-masons. As a result of their campaigning, more than 80 people attended the event, and pretty soon they were receiving regular orders for cases of the beer. 

Social brewing

The four masons used their lodge’s social media accounts to sell the beer, crediting the Master of the lodge with reaching out to his connections in the pub trade. But, as Gordon says: ‘It was mainly word of mouth – we told our friends and they told theirs, and suddenly we were selling out.’

Indeed, Lest We Forget has been a success by almost any measure: they’ve sold 2,000 litres so far, over half of their stock, and are planning on heading back to Wibblers to brew a second batch soon. They have raised £3,000 for the armed forces charity SSAFA and the Royal British Legion, and expect to net at least £4,500 in total. 

So are the masons surprised by how successful the beer has been? Paul certainly isn’t: ‘Freemasonry is a very sociable pastime, and we do like a beer – so I knew we’d have a reasonable audience to sell to. We’ve been well looked after by Wibblers, and we’ve got a good network of contacts, so I’m not surprised it’s done so well, really.’ Andy is quick to add, ‘I’m not surprised how well it’s sold, but I am surprised that we managed to make such a nice beer!’ 

‘Making the beer has solidified the foundations of our lodge for the future – we’re going onwards and upwards.’ Andy Rogers

It seems that the quality of the beer is something everyone can agree on. Andy loves it, although acknowledges, ‘it’s not great for my waistline’, while Gordon gives it perhaps the ultimate accolade: ‘Even my wife, who doesn’t particularly like beer, says she thinks it’s quite tasty.’ And Phil, the expert brewer, admits that he has to keep putting money aside to give to the masons for the bottles he’s sampled.

Although the ultimate aim of this project was to raise money for charity, the team have noticed that it’s had a more far-reaching positive effect for Thorpe Bay Lodge. Gordon explains: ‘We’ve had some struggles as a lodge in the past, but this has really galvanised our members and pushed us to try new things. Of course, the serious message behind the beer is that we must not forget the people who fought for us in conflicts, but there is also the aspect of having fun and trying something different.’ 

Andy agrees: ‘Making the beer has solidified the foundations of our lodge for the future, and we’re just going to go onwards and upwards.’

New batch

As well as uniting the current members of Thorpe Bay Lodge, Lest We Forget has also secured some new recruits: ‘As a result of this project, and people seeing what Freemasonry is all about, we’ve got four people lined up to join our lodge next year, which is great,’ explains Stephen. 

Although they’ve nearly sold their entire first batch, Gordon reassuringly explains that this won’t be the end of Lest We Forget. ‘Because it’s been so well received we’re going to do it again on a bigger scale. We’re hoping to brew it in barrels now we know how quickly it’s selling. It seems like this beer might be the ideal thing to centre our 2022 Festival around, and hopefully some of the other masonic centres will pick it up too.’

With talk of selling at a few masonic centres and even going national one day, the project is a triumph. As Paul says: ‘It speaks for itself: it’s a damned good beer at a damned good price and it’s for a good cause.’ What’s not to like? 

Phil Wilcox explains the art of brewing

Malted barley and warm water are mixed in a mash tun. It sits for an hour and a half while the starch in the grain turns into sugar. The grain is removed and the solution is boiled with hops, for bittering. At the end of the boil, more hops are added for flavour and aroma. The liquid is chilled and placed, with yeast, in a fermenter: it’s left while the sugar turns into alcohol. After a week (lager takes around seven weeks to ferment, while cider can take up to three months) the beer is ‘crash chilled’ and bottled.

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.

Community support

‘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.

An essential guide to the Masonic Charitable Foundation can be found here

Striking  the right chord

Freemasonry Today caught up with renowned musician Thomas Trotter as he practised on the Grand Temple’s newly refurbished pipe organ for its inaugural concert

The pipes of the Grand Temple organ positively gleam as Thomas Trotter runs through the programme for a special concert to be held in the Temple the next day. The organ’s restoration has used enough gold leaf to cover the surface of a tennis court and introduced a new organ chamber in the centre of the Temple’s east wall. As he practises, Trotter’s hands dance over the three manuals while his feet expertly work the pedals beneath to create an epic sound from Bach’s Toccata in F.

The concert will not only be the culmination of the organ’s refurbishment but also the first of many celebratory events linked to the 2017 Tercentenary. One of Britain’s most widely admired musicians, Trotter is looking forward to playing to a full house: ‘The Grand Temple is a unique space, it’s incredibly plush and sumptuous. The carpets dampen the sound quite a lot so I’m going to have to work hard.’

A grand history

The organ was built by Freemason Henry Willis III for the inauguration of
the Grand Temple in 1933. 

It included numerous state-of-the-art developments that Willis had adopted following visits to the US, many of which were designed to help the instrument cope with its setting: a modern, efficiently heated building. Some 80 years of accumulated wear, however, threatened to irreparably damage the tonal accuracy of its pipes.

Thanks to funding from the Supreme Grand Chapter’s reserves, organ builders Harrison & Harrison of Durham have been able to restore the instrument to its former glory, retaining its console, mechanism and pipework. The projection and presence of the sound has been markedly improved by giving a greater degree of opening to the expressive swell enclosures, within which much of the pipework is situated, and also by removing heavy fabric hangings from the east wall. 

‘The curtaining would have soaked up the sound like a sponge. Now with the marble walls exposed, the sound is reflected off into the hall. It’s like having your windows cleaned – before it would have been a bit musty and unfocused,’ says Trotter. ‘I’m thrilled that people are still spending money on their instruments and buying new ones. There are far fewer organ builders than there were 50 years ago, but the standard is as high as it’s ever been.’

‘All the comments I have received show that the audience really liked being able to see Thomas’s remarkable dexterity, as well as hear the beauty of his playing.’ Charles Grace

Past in tune with present

The refurbishment has seen the addition of a new case on the east wall, clad to match the original design. It contains a chorus of five stops, balanced to augment rather than dominate the Willis sound, and a solo stop for special occasions – the Grand Tuba. ‘In the recital I’m going to use some of the old pipes and compare it with the new stops, which have made a big difference and are quite striking.’ 

The Grand Temple is in good company, with the organs at Westminster Cathedral and Liverpool Cathedral also built by Henry Willis III. ‘Every organ is different, but there are certain characteristics that follow through all the Henry Willis III organs and I can hear them here,’ says Trotter. ‘There’s a certain brightness about some of the stops that are representative of what Willis was doing in the 1930s.’

As the audience take their seats in the Grand Temple the next day, there is an almost palpable sense of expectation about how the organ will sound. With Trotter hidden behind the organ, a camera positioned behind his shoulder will stream his performance onto the wall of the Temple for the audience to see. He does not disappoint. 

‘I was very pleased with the way the concert was received,’ says Charles Grace, Project Manager
for the Grand Temple organ restoration. ‘All the comments I have received show that the audience really liked being able to see Thomas’s remarkable dexterity, as well as hear the beauty of his playing.’

In addition to performing pieces by Bach and masonic composers Mozart and Liszt, Trotter plays Reginald Goss-Custard’s Chelsea Fayre. It’s a fitting nod to the instrument’s proud history, with Goss-Custard’s brother Harry the recitalist at the opening of the Temple organ in 1933.

Note perfect

Thomas Trotter has performed as 
a soloist with conductors Sir Simon
 Rattle, Bernard Haitink and the late Sir Charles 
Mackerras, among many others. He
 regularly gives recitals in venues such as 
the Berlin Philharmonie; Leipzig’s Gewandhaus; the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; the Musikverein and the Konzerthaus in Vienna; and London’s Royal Festival and Royal Albert Halls. In 2012 he was named International Performer of the Year by the New York Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

Letters to the Editor - No. 33 Spring 2016

Concerted interest

Sir,

Among your readers there may be many who enjoyed the inaugural organ concert given by Thomas Trotter last September.

This year, again as part of the UGLE Tercentenary celebrations, there will be two further hour-long concerts. 

The first will take place at 5pm on Wednesday, 8 June, featuring Ian Tracey, organist at Liverpool Cathedral, in a wide-ranging programme.

As before, you will be able to see what the organist is doing, with a filmed display on the walls of the Grand Temple. Tickets (for which there is no charge) can be booked at https://goo.gl/zHW67w, and I do hope that many will take advantage of what should be another great occasion.

Charles Grace, Project Manager for the Grand Temple Organ, Freemasons’ Hall, London

Published in More News

Direction in life

After an accident left him unable to carry on with life in the military, Arthur Vaughan Williams leaned on masonic values to help him transition to a career in broadcasting

It’s clear Arthur Vaughan Williams is a man who isn’t afraid of a challenge as he reels off the many remote and wonderful places he’s visited in the past year alone. As a presenter for Channel 4, the Pershore-born Freemason has camped out in the depths of Canada’s sub-Arctic wilderness, used a helicopter to steer cattle around a ranch the size of Wales in the Australian outback and navigated the dangerous mountainside runways of Nepal. 

Arthur’s adventures have rarely been relaxing. Halfway through describing the ‘loaded march’, a notorious 30-mile trek that Royal Marines must complete before receiving their green beret, he shudders visibly at the memory of the experience.

‘You’re trekking for eight hours across Dartmoor with nearly 10kg of kit slung over your shoulders. That’s really tough,’ he recalls. ‘At the time, it felt like this huge tidal wave rearing up in front of me, and I thought if I do this, I’ll never doubt myself again.’

Fighting spirit

It’s a mantra that’s seen Arthur through the ups and downs of a pretty extraordinary life so far. As a commando, he worked in Sierra Leone establishing frontline communications for the Royal Marines. But after a car crash in 2007 left him paralysed from the waist down, his military career came to an abrupt end. At just 21 years old, Arthur had to rethink his entire life. ‘It’s such a graphic and horrendous thing to deal with,’ he says. ‘To go from peak physical fitness to somebody who can’t control two-thirds of their body – it’s unimaginable.’

Bedridden for six weeks, Arthur was incapable of showering, dressing or even sitting up without help. It took two months of painful rehabilitation before he was allowed to return to his parents’ house. ‘Probably the hardest part was realising that there was nothing [doctors] could do for me. I remember being wheeled past the operating theatre and feeling jealous of the people inside, because at least they had a chance of being fixed.’

Ultimately, it was the tenacity instilled in him through the marines that saved Arthur’s life. 

‘Suicide crosses your mind when something like this befalls you,’ he says. ‘But as far as I was concerned, I was still a marine and we never give up – we don’t know how to – so that helped a lot.’

‘I’m proud to have been a part of the Paralympics… How often can you say you helped change the way people think about disability?’ Arthur Vaughan Williams

Time for a new path

Gradually, Arthur began to rebuild his life piece by piece, starting with his initiation into White Ensign Lodge, No. 9169, in 2008. ‘My dad was a Freemason, and his father before him, so it’s always a path I’ve been interested in following,’ he says. ‘We’ve got a bit of a family tradition where the father initiates his son, so when my dad came to the chair as the Master of the lodge it seemed the right time for me to join.’

A military lodge based in Worcestershire, White Ensign’s membership all served in the Armed Forces, so Arthur was able to relive the esprit de corps of his military days. But most importantly, it helped him to gain some clarity in the aftermath of the accident.

‘In the marines they teach you to kill without a second thought, which requires a certain amount of aggression,’ explains Arthur. ‘That’s fine when you’re able to do the job because you can control and apply it when necessary. But when I was forced out of the marines, that instinct manifested itself in pure frustration and anger. I began to lash out at the people around me. It was never in a violent way, just shouting and screaming. But it wasn’t appropriate.’

Arthur learned to redefine his approach to life by using the morals of Freemasonry as a guide for his ambition and drive. ‘As a military lodge, it’s no coincidence that many of the Freemasons there are successful, but it’s not through greed or selfishness, or for material gain. It’s because we want to lead a good life, to raise a decent, good family and to play our role in society well.’

With this newfound positivity, Arthur returned to his early sporting passions to help propel himself into a new life. He immersed himself in the world of wheelchair racing, eventually progressing to the British cycling development squad for the 2012 Paralympic Games. ‘I was always the sporty type at school,’ he remembers. ‘I played rugby for Prince Henry’s High School in Evesham and competed in the Army Cadet National Athletics finals.’

However, it was television that would give Arthur his big break. After submitting a YouTube video to a national talent search, he was chosen as one of six new disabled presenters to front Channel 4’s coverage of the 2012 Paralympic Games. ‘It was one of those tidal wave moments again,’ says Arthur, who was put through a five-day boot camp at the National Film & Television School to test his presenting potential. 

‘There were over 4,200 athletes from 164 different countries competing in 20 sports across 12 days, and I had to know everything about all of them. 

I probably spent months sitting in my study poring over books and interviewing people on the phone. But it was worth it. Somebody believed in me at Channel 4, and I was going to prove them right.’

In the same year, Channel 4 won a BAFTA for its coverage of the Paralympic Games. ‘The Paralympics was probably the most rewarding thing I’ll ever do in my life,’ says Arthur. ‘How often can you say you helped change the way people think about disability? It was a real watershed moment for the country, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.’

Inspired by his passion

The Channel 4 work has been just the beginning of a career in television, one that has allowed Arthur to merge his passion for flying and presenting. ‘After the accident, I thought back to what I loved as a kid, and that was flying,’ he recalls. ‘All my life I’d heard stories of Douglas Bader, the disabled pilot who through grit and guile managed to earn his pilot license and fight in the Battle of Britain. Now he’s one of our most celebrated national heroes. I thought if he could do that back then, why can’t I do it now?’

After just nine hours of training, Arthur completed his first solo flight to become a licensed pilot. A few years later, he bought a 1943 Piper Cub light aircraft. 

‘The previous owner had been flying it for 30 years, so I do wonder if I should start wearing a parachute soon,’ he laughs.

In 2015, Channel 4 commissioned Arthur for a three-part documentary, Flying to the Ends of the Earth, in which he flew to some of the most remote communities in the world to learn about their unique ways of life. Today, he spends his time travelling between London and his home in the Cotswolds, and is working on a book about the pioneers who established the Imperial Airways routes now used by the likes of British Airways. 

‘Obviously my accident completely changed my life,’ says Arthur. ‘Back then, the young boy in me wanted to blow everything up and burn it all to the ground. But now, as an adult, I want to create, to have something to show for my work that I can always be proud of. It’s the only direction my life could’ve gone if I wanted to survive.’

Letters to the Editor - No. 33 Spring 2016

Down but not out

Sir,

I read with interest, and a certain amount of admiration, the recent article on Arthur Vaughan Williams and how he has overcome the devastating life change, after his accident in 2007.

It made me draw a parallel with a brother in our lodge, Mark Ormrod, who lost both legs and an arm in Afghanistan. He has written a book about his experiences, Man Down, and has overcome his injuries in an amazing fashion.

Mark joined Royal Marines Plymouth Lodge, No. 9528, and his initiation took place while he was in a wheelchair. He has since mastered the use of prosthetic legs and is able to march into the lodge and keep in step with the rest of the officers.

Mark has progressed through all of the offices in the lodge (IG, JD, SD, JW) and is our present Senior Warden. 

He will be installed, into The Chair of King Solomon, in June 2016 and is a stunning example to all.

Brian Saunders, Royal Marines Plymouth Lodge, No. 9528, Plymouth, Devon

Published in Features
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