Regular Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter
9 November 2016
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes
Companions, I am very pleased to see so many of you here both from our Districts overseas and from our Provinces, including sixty companions from Cambridgeshire. Since our last meeting in April the Most Excellent First Grand Principal has been pleased to appoint Comp Willie Shackell as Grand Scribe Ezra and we wish him well. He was, of course, formally invested as Grand Secretary at the June Quarterly Communication.
This meeting, companions, always falls near to 11th November, Armistice Day, and as you are well aware this marvellous building is a peace memorial to all those who gave their lives for us during the First World War. It is worth, therefore, drawing your attention to two events taking place next year.
The first is on 18th April 2017 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, when the newly constructed Masonic Memorial Garden in memory of all those masons who gave their lives during conflict in the service of our country will be opened. You are all invited.
The second is the unveiling of the Victoria Cross Memorial by the Grand Master on 25th April 2017. It will be placed on the pavement in front of the Tower Entrance of this building and will take the form of a number of paving stones with the names of the 63 Victoria Cross holders who were awarded the Victoria Cross in World War I and who were members of UGLE. Of these, 17 were also companions in the Royal Arch.
Companions, this seems to be an appropriate time to say a few words about Comp Denis Beckett who was one of the companions we stood in memory of earlier in the meeting. Comp Beckett was a very remarkable man and I had the good fortune to know him well. Indeed he was President of the Committee of General Purposes when I joined it in 1987. He was a Craft mason for 71 years and a Royal Arch mason for 59 years. He was initiated immediately after World War 2 in which he served with such distinction. He was awarded the DSO for his extraordinary courage during the battle of Monte Cassino. There were those who felt a VC would have been more appropriate.
Companions, we were privileged to have him as a member and particularly so that he presided over the Committee of General Purposes for 7 years.
Companions, whilst it is clearly important to remember the past, we must also look to the future. I am therefore very pleased that the successor to the Membership Focus Group, the Improvement Delivery Group, is composed of both Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, with our Third Grand Principal, Gareth Jones, as its Deputy Chairman. It will be designing and delivering the future direction of both the Craft and Royal Arch.
Companions, you may have seen that, after my address at Quarterly Communications in June, I have been accused in the national media of suggesting that masons are all grumpy and boring – a misrepresentation, companions. At least I consider it to be a misrepresentation, but, if any of you think otherwise, I apologise. I said that if an amusing incident occurs at one of our meetings, it should not be frowned upon as had sometimes been the case in the past. It is not a capital offence to smile during meetings. Whilst I was not suggesting we should turn our meetings into a pantomime, there is no harm in us being seen to enjoy ourselves.
I believe this to be particularly so in the Royal Arch, as our Exaltation Ceremony is one of the finest and, in my experience, candidates derive great enjoyment from it. I think this is particularly so when the new format of the ritual is used which involves more of the companions and has the benefit of changing the voice that the candidate hears which I always feel refreshes his interest.
Finally, since Supreme Grand Chapter arranged the refurbishment of our magnificent organ, we have been treated to a number of superb concerts in this temple and I congratulate the Organ Committee on its achievements to date. I am very keen to draw your attention to the next concert at 5.00 pm, on 14th December, after the Quarterly Communication, to be given by the international concert artist, Jane Parker-Smith. The concerts are free, companions, and, so far, they have been wonderfully entertaining, and I am quite certain that this will be no exception.
Companions, I have no doubt that after our closing, you will enjoy listening to a team from the Royal College of Surgeons led by Professor Neil Mortensen, RCS Research Board Chairman at Oxford University, who will enlighten us on what has been achieved through your most generous support.
Thank you, companions.
Here to help
Having had a career in the army and charities that has focused on safeguarding the welfare of others, Willie Shackell, new UGLE Grand Secretary, wants to ensure that Freemasons have all the support they need
Did you always want to be in the army?
Well, the first thing one has to decide is what career best suits you. In my early days, I couldn’t make up my mind whether I wanted to be a vicar or be in the army, but I ended up joining the latter.
I went off to Sandhurst in 1960, was commissioned into the Royal Engineers in 1962, then went to the University of Cambridge from 1963 to 1966, which was paid for by the army. What a lucky chap. I came out as a young officer, having been a student for three years. It took me some time to settle back into army life, but fortunately I had a very persuasive Commanding Officer.
I then went off to the Naval Staff College and did a couple of tours in Germany as a Major before getting promoted and going off to Nigeria to the staff college in Jaji. I was 39 and the placement was an indication for me that I wasn’t in the top flight of Lieutenant Colonels. Throughout one’s career, one’s got to accept that there are people better than you and it’s a great lesson in life.
I got promoted in 1988 to Colonel and was made responsible for the army’s Welfare, Conditions of Service and Casualties Procedures. The Gulf War took place during that period and it was the first time in my army career that I’d had a large degree of autonomy. I brought in computer networks and extra staff and we ran a very successful operation. I was appointed CBE for this work, promoted to Brigadier and went to command a brigade up in York, before becoming the first Director of Reserve Forces and Cadets. Realising I wasn’t going to be a General, I retired at the age of 52 having had a great career and absolutely no regrets – I would recommend it to anyone.
What did you do after leaving the army?
My attention was directed towards charities when I came to leave the armed forces. I felt I had an empathy with that side of life, having dealt with service welfare and enjoyed that aspect of work.
I moved on to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) and my first job was to set up a contract for SSAFA to run the community health services in Germany. We had a very successful partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital and the Army Medical Service. I ran the department for three years, then supported the volunteer network and managed the housing assets for five years. My last five years on the staff were spent as Company Secretary, and I finished as the Vice Chairman of Trustees. During this time, I also held a number of posts in the voluntary sector.
When I retired from SSAFA, I applied to become the UGLE Grand Secretary. I was interviewed, but got a letter saying I hadn’t got that particular job.
I was, however, rung up a little bit later and asked if I would be the President of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI). It was a total surprise, I can tell you, but I said yes and what a marvellous experience it was.
What was your agenda coming into the RMBI?
I suppose it’s rather like my agenda on joining any organisation. I go in, look at it for three months, and then decide what my goals are. There were a lot of plans for rebuilding care homes to bring us into the 21st century – I took the opportunity to go to all the care homes because I believed I couldn’t discuss change unless I’d visited them all.
I then looked at the trustee board. My feeling was that we needed to have more people with the right skills and I wasn’t bothered whether they were Freemasons or what gender they were. It was a culture change for the RMBI, but my reasoning was accepted and we brought our first lady on to the board. We put more emphasis on accommodating those with dementia, improved fire safety and updated the homes. It was a major undertaking costing about £35 million, but we had tremendous staff support and it all needed to be done.
After six years, I felt that I had achieved what I set out to do and when asked to do another four years I said no. I was then made President of the Masonic Samaritan Fund, taking over from Hugh Stubbs, who had been a quite outstanding president. I just had to keep the ship ticking along, which gave me time with my fellow charity presidents to start work on planning the formation of the Masonic Charitable Foundation. My task was to coordinate the governance and then bring together the grant-making activities of the four charities.
Having retired as President of the Masonic Samaritan Fund on the formation of the Masonic Charitable Foundation at the end of April, I then got a phone call asking if I would take on the position of Grand Secretary on an interim basis. I spent a weekend chewing it over with my wife before accepting it on a three-day-a-week basis and on the understanding that I was fully accountable to the board. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
What is your approach as Grand Secretary?
Communication is the key to most things. Certainly at the United Grand Lodge of England, one of the first things I’m trying to do is to improve the internal communications. We’ve got a good team; we’ve just got to talk among ourselves a bit more.
My first goal is to get the trust and respect of the people here. Until you’ve got that, you’re not going to achieve a great deal. And probably the second most important thing I’ve tried to do is to make sure everyone understands that we’re all here as servants of Freemasonry. We’re here to support the many volunteers working in Provincial and District offices as well as any other Freemason with a problem – we’re the paid staff and our job is to help members promote the values of masonry out in the field, to understand it, to enjoy it and to have fun.
‘I’m in the comfortable position of not doing the job for a career... but because I love Freemasonry.’ Willie Shackell
A lot of the administration of the building is done by the Chief Operating Officer, whereas I’m involved in the administration between the Provinces, the lodges and Great Queen Street. Freemasons should see me as the person they contact and I’m very content in that role. I’m in the comfortable position of not doing the job for a career or because I need to be employed but because I love Freemasonry and believe I can contribute to our future.
Why did you become a Freemason?
I joined Freemasonry back in 1963. My dear old dad had been a mason for many years; he became one before the war. Dad was in the Infantry, which hadn’t been very pleasant, and there were no counselling services for people like him. You just had to get on with life and re-establish yourself. After the war, life wasn’t easy. Dad was a teacher, which wasn’t particularly well paid, and as a child I could feel the tension. But whenever he went off to one of his masonic meetings with his little brown bag, he’d come back relaxed. It was noticeable.
I joined my father’s lodge at 22 in 1963. I found that wherever I was in the world, there was masonry. I joined the Grand Lodge of British Freemasons in Germany and went through the Chair; in Nigeria I joined the Northern Nigeria Lodge in Kaduna; when I went to Northern Ireland with my Territorial Army regiment, I attended the Belfast Volunteers Lodge; and in the Netherlands I joined a French Constitution Lodge.
What do you want to have achieved by the time you leave?
I’d like to have improved the systems and internal communications and to have run a happy ship. We know people will grumble at us because we’re the headquarters, but we’re here to support them.
An American at the Naval Staff College once said to me, ‘You appear a really laid-back guy, but I can tell you’re paddling like mad underneath that water!’ Maybe he was right. I think I always want to do the best I can. I’ve never had a problem with accepting responsibility – I think I’m better at that than the fine detail. I’ve always had a vision as to what I want to achieve, and I’m a believer that as you aim for a goal the detail will get sorted as you get nearer to it.
From the Grand Secretary
Since emerging from the basement of Freemasons’ Hall, where I have been a charity president for the past nine years, to assume the appointment as Grand Secretary, I have felt very humbled by the numerous letters, emails and tweets of support and encouragement that I have received. I am most fortunate in having taken over a splendid team who are doing their best to train me and get me up to speed so that we can continue to provide you all with the help and support you both need and deserve.
As you will see in this issue of Freemasonry Today, preparations for our 300th anniversary are gathering momentum. The in-depth and extensive work of the Membership Focus Group will soon be rolled out under the guidance of the Improvement Delivery Group. This is all producing a real feeling of excitement and anticipation that bodes well for our future – it is a great opportunity for us and I feel most privileged to be involved at this important time in our history.
In the build-up to 2017, it is crucial also that we recognise and celebrate the contribution being made by masons at a local level. Our feature on London’s Air Ambulance describes how Metropolitan masons have helped to put a second air ambulance in the air with a £2 million pledge. Able to reach any location in the city within 10 minutes, London’s Air Ambulance says that the masonic donation has completely changed the scale and resilience of its service.
With Londoners of every age and in every borough benefiting, Metropolitan Grand Charity Steward Tony Shields explains that the decision to help the service was a ‘no-brainer’ in the run-up to the Tercentenary. But it’s not just organisations who are getting our help. When Julian Elcock’s business hit problems, Freemasonry was on hand for advice and support. Thanks to funding from the masonic charities, his daughter Jasmine was able to continue music lessons and reached the final of Britain’s Got Talent. We interview Jasmine about realising her ambitions and find out from Julian why his decision to join the masons in 2008 was one of the best he ever made.
Over in Somerset, Sean Gaffney’s story reveals a Freemason who, after losing his lower left leg, pushed himself to compete at the 2016 Invictus Games and brought home two golds, one silver and a bronze. While he was initially drawn to the Craft by the fundraising aspects, it was the camaraderie and strong moral standards of conduct that were to prove a winning combination. I think Sean speaks for us all when he says that being a mason is not just about being a good man today but having the desire to be a better man tomorrow.
‘I feel most privileged to be involved at this important time in our history.’
Interim Grand Secretary
Following the retirement of RW Bro Nigel Brown as Grand Secretary at the end of April, the MW The Grand Master has been pleased to make an interim appointment to that office.
RW Bro Brigadier WE Shackell, CBE, PJGW, will take up the appointment with effect from Wednesday 8 June, and will be invested as Grand Secretary in the course of the Quarterly Communication of the Grand Lodge on that day.
The Rulers and the Board of General Purposes believe that the process of finding a long-term successor as Grand Secretary should not be hurried, and recruitment is therefore unlikely to begin for some months.
In the meantime, I am sure that you would all wish to join in wishing Bro Shackell well in his new role.
Yours sincerely and fraternally,
President, Board of General Purposes
2020 vision in Herefordshire
The Province of Herefordshire has officially launched its 2020 Festival Appeal by presenting an initial donation of £45,000 to the Masonic Samaritan Fund. Herefordshire Provincial Grand Master the Rev David Bowen opened the appeal at the Provincial Grand Lodge in June.
MSF President Willie Shackell received the donation from the Province and offered his sincere thanks for such a generous contribution towards the Fund’s work. He said, ‘Your generosity will make a tremendous difference to so many people waiting to receive the treatment and care they need to live healthy and independent lives.’
Festival target smashed by £1m
West Kent’s Festival for the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF) has exceeded its target by more than £1 million, with the grand total of £3,253,148 announced in the presence of Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence, MSF President Willie Shackell and MSF CEO Richard Douglas at Freemasons’ Hall in London.
Shackell outlined some of the MSF’s projects, while Spence congratulated Provincial Grand Master Jonathan Winpenny for such a successful result. The PGM told the Province, ‘Your generosity has touched and changed so many lives. Be very proud of what has been done by the whole of the Province.’
The Provincial Grand Lodge meeting in May provided a fitting occasion to celebrate the finale of the West Kent 2015 Festival in aid of the Masonic Samaritan Fund
In front of a packed Grand Temple the PGM, RW Bro Jonathan Winpenny presented a cheque for the magnificent sum of £3,252,148.
RW Bro Willie Shackell, MSF President, offered his sincere thanks for such a generous contribution towards the work of the Fund. 'Your generosity will make a tremendous difference to so many people waiting to receive the treatment and care they need.'
At the Festive Board RW Bro Jonathan Spence, Deputy Grand Master, congratulated all present for their generous, energetic and innovative fundraising throughout the six years of the appeal.
A motorbike ride to Dar es Salaam, raft races on the Thames and a walk to the 1066 battlefield all helped to retain the fun in the Festival fundraising and achieve such a fantastic total. A further 'Howzat' event, for all the family, will be held on 28 June at the Warren in Bromley when even more members of the West Kent Provincial family can enjoy the extended celebrations.
Derbyshire’s festival finale
Freemasons and their families in Derbyshire have made a £2.4 million donation to the MSF after a six-year fundraising appeal
More than eight hundred Derbyshire Freemasons and guests gathered at the magnificent Devonshire Dome in Buxton for a gala dinner to celebrate the finale of the Derbyshire 2014 Festival, which raised the tremendous sum of £2,414,016.
During the meal, diners were entertained by the Three Waiters, singing popular operatic tunes, and a Fab Four tribute band playing Beatles hits. For the first time in an MSF Festival, and the second time in Derbyshire’s history, every masonic unit in every order made a donation. Members of Craft lodges in the Province donated an average of £741 each.
Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton congratulated the Province on its fundraising and on organising the occasion. MSF President Willie Shackell added, ‘Not only will this generous donation help the Fund to support the health and care needs of individuals but it will also enable us to continue funding much-needed medical research.’
Supporting wider needs
The MSF has expressed its thanks to all its fundraisers for their generosity in ensuring that sufficient funds are available to meet demand
Commenting on the MSF’s achievements in the last financial year (Oct 2013-Sep 2014), Chief Executive Richard Douglas notes that the Fund has allocated more grants than ever before: ‘1,578 grants have been given to support 1,462 applicants covering all areas of the Fund’s work: medical, dental, mobility, home adaptation, respite, counselling and consultation needs. This is a 12% increase in funds allocated and a 21% increase in the number of individuals supported compared with the previous year. The Fund allocated nearly £4.4 million to individuals, or £12,000 a day, across the year.’
Freemasons and their families in Derbyshire have made a donation of over £2.4 million to the Masonic Samaritan Fund
The Province of Derbyshire raised this magnificent figure following their six year Festival Appeal
Over 800 Freemasons and partners attended a spectacular finale event at the Dome in Buxton to celebrate the successful conclusion of the six year fundraising appeal.
In receiving the cheque Brig Willie Shackell CBE, President of the charity, said: 'We are tremendously grateful to the members of Derbyshire. Their hard work and dedication to fundraising, despite difficult financial times, will help to change the lives of thousands of individuals in need and national charities pioneering cutting edge research.'
Graham Rudd, Freemasons’ Provincial Grand Master, said: 'This six year fundraising appeal has given us a shared ambition to help our vital and life-saving charity. We move forward with the hope and ambition that Freemasonry and its charities can continue to thrive and contribute within the great Province of Derbyshire.'
The donation will be used to fund MSF grants, totalling £4.5 million each year, which are awarded in support of members’ health and care needs as well as to medical research charities. The Masonic Samaritan Fund has donated over £62 million in grants since it was established in 1990.
The Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, has opened the RMBI’s fully refurbished, state-of-the-art care home at James Terry Court in Croydon
Also at the ceremony were the Mayor, Cllr Yvette Hopley, residents of the home, and guests and volunteers from the masonic community.
The Duke toured the home, joined by Surrey Provincial Grand Master Eric Stuart-Bamford and Deputy PGM Derek Barr. Also present were RMBI President James Newman, former President Willie Shackell, who presided during the rebuild, and Chief Executive David Innes.
Following the £10 million refurbishment, James Terry Court can now house 76 residents and has 13 apartments for independent living. Surrey masons have generously supported the redevelopment: Springfield Lodge, No. 6052, donated £75,000; a local ‘Buy a Brick’ campaign raised more than £25,000; and The Grand Stewards’ Lodge donated £20,000. The Association of Friends of James Terry Court also provides substantial support each year.