Have you heard the one about the three Essexboys?
The Essex Cornerstone Club is bringing younger masons together to create new connections across the Province, as Peter Watts discovers from three of the founding members
Lazy stereotypes abound when it comes to Essex, yet it’s one of England’s most diverse and under-appreciated counties. It boasts a lively mix of busy commuter towns, rural villages, regal Roman settlements and colourful seaside resorts. Essex also has a huge number of Freemasons, with around 10,000 members meeting in hundreds of lodges.
Since 2016, Essex has also been home to the Cornerstone Club, which was founded to connect young masons from across the Province. Three of its founding members – self-declared, born-and-bred ‘Essex boys’ – talk among the cockle sheds of Leigh-on-Sea, which sits on the northern side of the Thames Estuary: ‘With the Cornerstone Club, we want to capture the spirit of Essex,’ announces chairman Elliott Chevin. ‘It’s such a large Province with so much to offer.’
Elliott and his co-founders Jack Gilliland and Jack Saunders discuss the beginnings of the club, which has attracted 150 members from Essex’s large but not particularly youthful masonic community. Elliott, 41, took to Freemasonry enthusiastically in his 20s, but only realised the full range of potential masonic experiences as he moved higher up the ranks, out of his own lodge and into the wider Province. This was also when he began to meet other young Essex masons.
‘There was an age gap between me and everybody else in my lodge,’ he says. ‘I enjoyed the meetings, the meals, the beer, and I loved meeting different people, but the interests of somebody in their 20s can be very different to those of someone in their 60s.’
After Elliott became more involved at the Provincial level, he met more people of a similar age and formed a circle of younger masonic friends. ‘I wanted to find a way to extend this, as I knew there were masons in Essex who had never had that sort of access.’
Supported by Deputy Provincial Grand Master Paul Reeves, Elliott recruited a six-man team of young masons, among them Jack Saunders. Now 31, Jack has been a Freemason for three years and helps to manage the Cornerstone Club’s social media presence.
‘We looked at the data for the Province and saw there were around 500 masons under 40 – one or two per lodge – and we wanted to join them together,’ says Jack. ‘It’s great being with different people [in lodge], but sometimes you want to speak to someone who has the same life experience.’ The club has blossomed, and half its 150 or so members are under the age of 30 – the youngest being 19.
The Essex Cornerstone Club combines its home county’s get-out-and-do-it spirit with a deep respect for masonic tradition. ‘We didn’t want to create another commitment, something that was compulsory,’ says Elliott. ‘We wanted to create something so compelling they’d want to be there. It’s not just meetings and beer – although beer and meetings are important – but a mix of social and educational events that deepen and strengthen knowledge as well as being fun.’
Events have included a tour of the museum at Freemasons’ Hall, playing paintball, a trip to a local brewery, a chance to go inside an Apache helicopter, a family day at Romford Greyhound Stadium and marshalling at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for a charity run raising funds for Haven House Children’s Hospice.
The imagination demonstrated by these activities may account for the club’s success. ‘We expected an initial burst of interest but have continued to build on those numbers every month,’ says co-founder Jack Gilliland, 33. ‘After every event, people have talked about it on social media, and we always get new members. It’s the mix. We’re not just a drinking club; we have thrown in educational events and charity and community engagement.’
‘The club is all about connecting with people – creating an extended family’ Elliott Chevin
The club is focused on holding events in different parts of the Province to enable members from all over Essex to participate, but also to ensure all new young Freemasons in the county are aware of the club. Here, the support of the Province is essential.
‘When a new young mason signs up, we will go to a meeting to welcome them and talk about how to connect with Freemasons of a similar age,’ explains Elliott. ‘We also try to be there every time they do a ritual or event. The Province was very supportive [when setting up the club] and it was important we moved in step with them in order to use their ability to communicate with Essex’s 10,000 Freemasons.’
Jack Saunders admits the club initially had to reassure lodges that it wasn’t planning to poach any younger masons. Now lodges all over Essex help to spread the word, understanding that the Cornerstone Club operates to everybody’s benefit. ‘It’s supplementary, not competitive,’ he explains.
Jack Gilliland is one of three generations at his lodge, which he attends alongside his father and grandfather, and believes this mix of ages is one of the appeals of Freemasonry. ‘There aren’t many other places where people in their 20s and their 80s can discuss life experiences,’ he says. ‘I’ve never had that outside family and Freemasonry.’
MORE THAN A CLUB
Rodney Bass, Provincial Grand Master for Essex, appreciates the way the Cornerstone Club has enriched masonic life in his Province. ‘It’s clear by the significant number of young Freemasons who have signed up to the club just how enthusiastic our younger members are about Freemasonry, and this bodes well for the future,’ he says.
The club is active on social media and Elliott is excited by the potential of technology to build a national or international network of young Freemasons. It uses Facebook to give younger masons a private support system, so they can discuss masonic principles without fear of embarrassing themselves in front of older masons or non-masonic friends.
Elliott is now considering the creation of a Cornerstone Lodge, as a way of maintaining friendships for those who have become too old to attend the club itself; at 41, he is already anticipating his own retirement.
‘Wouldn’t it be great to create a Cornerstone Lodge; a way for people to stay connected to the club for life?’ he says. ‘The club is all about connecting with people – creating an extended family. Before the club existed you had to hope you’d make a connection with somebody or, if you were lucky, find there was somebody of a similar age in your lodge already. Now people can make an instant connection with others around their own age while also expanding their masonic knowledge. That could help somebody stay in Freemasonry for 50 or 60 years.’
FIND OUT MORE: Read more about the club at www.essexcornerstone.com
More than 300 Freemasons and their families attended a service in Guernsey in celebration of the Tercentenary of the United Grand Lodge of England, which was represented by Past Assistant Grand Master David Williamson
The service was held at the island’s principal church and was led by the Dean of Guernsey, the Very Reverend Tim Barker.
Prior to the service, the brethren paraded in full regalia through the town of St Peter Port for the first time since the bicentenary in 1917.
They were joined by Jersey Provincial Grand Master Kenneth Rondel, who formally handed over the South West Provinces Tercentenary banner to Guernsey & Alderney Provincial Grand Master David Hodgetts. The service was followed by a festive lunch, at which the Dean was an honoured guest.
For the first time since it was founded in 1934, members and guests of Blundell’s Lodge, No. 5467, held their meeting in Blundell’s School in Tiverton, Devon
The event took place by permission of school head Nicola Huggett, who was guest of honour alongside Richard Swarbrick, chairman of the Old Blundellian Club.
Lodge Master John Shepherd and Devonshire Provincial Grand Master Ian Kingsbury each presented Huggett with a cheque for £1,500.
The £3,000 will help fund a project in Laos that is organised by Community Learning International, and supported by Blundell’s School, which helps provide opportunities for children to develop their skills and knowledge.
The lodges of the Furness and South Lakeland area in West Lancashire have come together to organise a fundraising boxing and dinner evening for the past 31 years
Held each January at the Cumbria Grand Hotel, Grange-over-Sands, with the support of Kendal Amateur Boxing Club, the event is always a sellout. This year, £9,500 was raised, bringing the total over the event’s lifetime to more than £190,000.
With the money distributed equally between masonic and local, non-masonic charities, the emphasis is on helping less well-known good causes that are often overlooked.
At a presentation evening at Barrow-in-Furness Masonic Hall, attended by Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison, £4,800 was presented to 11 recipients representing local, non-masonic charitable organisations.
In an unprecedented move, Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons opened the doors to several of their Masonic Halls across the region on Saturday 9th September 2017 for everyone to see inside as part of the National Heritage Open Days and to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England
Over 600 people wanted to see and know more about Freemasonry and took the time to visit one of the Halls.
At Freemasons’ Hall, London Road, Leicester, Dale Neal from BBC Radio Leicester did a live outside broadcast as part of the Monica Winfield show. His reaction when he saw the decorative Holmes Lodge Room live on air was priceless, similar to those of other visitors and was just simply “Wow!” Dale spoke on air to the Provincial Grand Master David Hagger about Freemasonry and organiser of the event David Turner, who described some of the history surrounding the historic building which has been the Provincial Headquarters since 1910.
Other Masonic Halls which opened their doors were Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Hinckley, Lutterworth, Market Harborough and Syston.
At Hinckley Masonic Hall, amongst the many visitors was the Deputy Mayor of the Borough, Councillor Jan Kirby with her consort Mike Kirby, who were delighted to learn about the building and its historical past. After the visit the Deputy Mayor said: 'It was a pleasure to be shown around your lovely Masonic rooms and told the history of the Masons within Hinckley.
'It was explained to us that you are all just people who are like minded from all parts of our community who want to help others. Many people do not realise the charitable works that the Masons do for our community.'
Another visitor was Mrs Shirley Ashmore who was only too pleased to view the large board recording the names of the Past Masters of the Knights of Malta Lodge No. 50 which occupies a prominent position within the Lodge Room. This board was presented to the Lodge in 1967, by her mother, Mrs Hipwell, in memory of her late husband Cecil Hipwell who was the Master of the Lodge in 1948.
Andy Hardy-Smith, organiser at Market Harborough, said: 'The reaction from the public was good and it has been suggested that perhaps we should open our doors again in the future. It was an opportunity for one of our potential new members to come along and is now intent on joining.'
Malcolm Talbot from Ashby-de-la-Zouch said: 'The day proved a great success and started with visitors queuing outside before we even opened our doors. We had a steady stream of visitors appearing throughout the day.'
Victor Petrie from Lutterworth said: 'We had several visitors including a couple who were passing through Lutterworth while on holiday and two members from Rugby, Warwickshire. All the visitors were greatly impressed with the facilities available at the centre and asked many questions when they were shown round the Lodge Room.'
The Provincial Grand Master David Hagger said: 'We are thrilled that so many took the opportunity to come and have a look around our Halls and we hope that it helped them better understand the history of our Halls and Freemasonry in general.'
Despite inclement weather, the Province of Somerset safely delivered the special south west Tercentenary banner to the Province of Devonshire in the magnificent Exeter Cathedral
The banner recognises the special fraternal bond that exists between the South West Provinces and has toured to the Provincial Grand Lodges of Jersey, Hampshire and Isle of Wight, Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset. Devonshire will pass it on to the Provincial Grand Lodge of Cornwall later in the year.
The Provincial Teams from Somerset and Devon paraded in regalia and met in the nave of Exeter Cathedral where the banner was formally passed over.
Stuart Hadler, Provincial Grand Master of Somerset, and Ian Kingsbury, Provincial Grand Master of Devon, greeted one another and expressed their delight to be able to publicly show and acknowledge the 300th anniversary of the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge.
The efforts of Dorset Freemasons, with the support of Freemasons across the country, have given over 200 children a free adventure holiday for a week
This project, conceived in Dorset, was a unique way for Freemasonry to work for the benefit of the wider community, as well as providing an unprecedented opportunity to celebrate 300 years of Freemasonry in England. The Masonic Province of Dorset was delighted to host 209 deserving children for a Jurassic Coast Youth Adventure holiday.
122 children from Dorset schools were joined by a further 87 from 14 other Provinces as far afield as Durham and Cumberland and Westmorland at a cost of £500 for each participant, which was funded by Freemasons.
At the beginning of their stay, each child was given £20 pocket money, two specially designed t-shirts and a matching baseball cap as souvenirs. One of the organising team commented: ‘All the young people and many of the leaders on arrival were overjoyed and amazed at what Freemasonry had provided for them. Several children were moved to tears at not only being presented with t-shirts and a cap but pocket money as well. You could see on many faces that they were experiencing something beyond their imagination and dreams.’
One of the highlights of the week was the visit by the Assistant Grand Master and former Lord Mayor of London Sir David Wootton who, in the company of Dorset’s Provincial Grand Master Richard Merritt and the organising team, spent the morning watching the delight of the children dragon boat racing and raft building at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.
After joining the children for lunch at Osmington, he witnessed a host of activities including abseiling, fencing, aeroball, the giant swing, archery, a sensory trail and a beach walk. Following the children’s dinner, and before the evening camp fire, he had pleasure in presenting children with a group photograph and certificate in memory of and testament to their exciting stay.
The free holiday was organised by Dorset Masons and was entirely funded by many Masonic Lodges and their members across England and Wales.
The official opening of an accessible low ropes course in Little Deer Wood, Mirfield, West Yorkshire took place in August
This facility is the only rope course accessible to both able bodied and disabled young people in the whole of the North of England and is one of only two in the country. It was funded primarily from a major grant of £20,000 from the Provincial Grand Master’s Fund in the Province of Yorkshire, West Riding, together with donations from Huddersfield-based Cummins Turbo Technologies and the Yorkshire Regional Spinal Injury Centre’s Stepping Stones Appeal, based at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, who will use it to treat patients whose spines were injured in accidents or warzones.
The opening ceremony was performed by Major Stan Hardy, the Deputy Lord Lieutenant for West Yorkshire, who was accompanied by Worshipful Brother Anthony Llewellyn, Assistant Provincial Grand Master from the Province of Yorkshire, West Riding, and Anya Philip, HR Director of Cummins Turbo Technologies.
The course is strung beneath trees with a series of linked challenges. It is designed to be environmentally friendly and should last for many years. The ropes, wires and other elements that make up the obstacles are no more than 50cm from the ground but team members must remain off the ground as they negotiate the course. There are also moving platforms which youngsters confined to wheelchairs must negotiate.
Courses like these are becoming more popular in the UK, but, there are only two which are totally accessible for able-bodied and disabled people. This type of course aims to encourage communication and co-operation as well as to help individuals build up confidence and develop balance and co-ordination.
Little Deer Wood is situated in woodland at Shepley Bridge in Mirfield and is one of the locations locally where young people train for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award which is the world’s leading achievement award for young people. Over 6,000 young people in Kirklees are currently taking part in the scheme.
Denise Bedford MBE, manager of the Kirklees Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, said: 'Around 40 young people with disabilities, who are currently staying at the centre for the Wild Activities Challenging Kirklees Young people (WACKY) programme, had the first go on the course. They absolutely loved it. Everybody had a smile on their face.
'It is often really difficult to ensure that people with disabilities can join in and benefit from a whole range of activities, most of which require specially-adapted equipment. We can only achieve this with donations such as the ones we have received and from the excellent support we get from volunteers.'
'The course has been three years in the making,' said Steve Dunn, Chair of Kirklees Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Trust. 'Having raised the necessary funds it was difficult finding an organisation that would build it to fit in with its natural surroundings in the woodland. Eventually the course was designed and constructed by Gloucestershire-based Motiva Adventure Construction and is tailor-made to the site. It will be a superb addition to the other facilities at Little Deer Wood which include canoeing, archery, climbing, orienteering, bushcraft and many more which are already accessible to both able bodied and disabled young people.'
David Archer, secretary of Howley Lodge No. 5012 in Batley, who sponsored the bid to the PGM’s Fund, and Trustee of the Kirklees Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Trust, said: 'When you see how our charitable donations are used to provide facilities like these for young people, especially those with special needs, it makes you feel proud to be a Freemason. It is really emotional seeing able-bodied and disabled children working together to navigate the course, and the Trust is extremely grateful to the PGM’s Fund for making it all possible.'
A charity which helps people with disabilities take part in sport has received a £4,500 donation from a group of Norfolk Freemasons
Members of the Wroxham-based Boileau Lodge No. 6862 have completed a triathlon to raise funds for WheelPower, which offers opportunities for disabled people to get active.
As part of the celebrations to mark the United Grand Lodge of England's 300th anniversary, Lodge Charity Steward W Bro Robin Rush cycled 300km in Norfolk whilst Worshipful Master Steve Kemp ran 20km and his wife Michelle completed a 3km swim, one for each century.
Chris Rattenbury, an ambassador for WheelPower, the national charity for wheelchair sport, said: 'I was delighted to receive the cheque and meet those who have made this very generous donation possible. The money will go towards a second Primary Sports Camp to be held in Norfolk. The first, held in 2016, introduced 69 children to cricket, wheelchair basketball, boccia, table games and golf.'
W Bro Robin Rush, who is 76 years old but still very active, commented: 'There are so many youngsters with disabilities wanting to join in with activities, so this has been my charity focus in our Tercentenary year.'
W Bro Steve Kemp, who is also a keen sportsman, added: 'I have been involved with WheelPower helping to organise events and have seen how much support is given to help people with disabilities participate in sport. Robin and I have experienced so much pleasure from sport and wanted to help others do the same.'
Almost all of Norfolk’s 76 lodges had joined in fundraising activities following a call from Provincial Grand Master Stephen Allen to give extra support to local charities during the Tercentenary year.
Masonic teddy bears visited the National Arboretum for a picnic in the woods to help raise money for Manx Breast Cancer Support
Over 100 families attended the event with many of the children bringing along teddies that they had been given through the Freemasons Teddies for Loving Care (TLC) initiative when they were in hospital.
The picnic was organised by Rachel Corlett, who was Manx Breast Cancer Support Group’s entrant for the Miss Isle of Man contest, and supported by the Provincial Grand Lodge of the Isle of Man.
‘About half of the children who attended brought their TLC bears with them – it was so sweet to see,’ commented Rachel.
The Masonic Teddies for Loving Care initiative has been running in the Isle of Man since 2011 and has so far given more than 4,000 teddy bears to children attending hospital appointments.
The Provincial Grand Master for the Isle of Man, Keith Dalrymple said: ‘To maximise effectiveness we are building practical links with local charities. Our Brethren are encouraged to work with other organisations in a spirit of 'constructive collaboration' rather than simply making cash donations.
‘In this instance we found that the Breast Cancer Support Group, high profile and extremely energetic people, had arranged a picnic the same weekend as ours was planned. Rather than competing, it was agreed that we would join them and support their event.
‘The day formed part of the newly re-vamped 'Miss Isle of Man' competition which requires the individual contestants to raise funds for their nominated charity. Rachel selected the Breast Cancer Support Group which, with a little help from Manx Masons, has benefitted to the tune of more than £30,000.’