A club for everyone
With the New and Young Masons Clubs Conference 2017 seeking to build on Freemasonry’s foundations, Matthew Bowen meets the organiser, Dan Thomas, to see why the future is in safe hands
On 14 October 2017, the walls of the Severn Street Masonic Hall in Birmingham echoed with the sounds of progress. Within the ancient building, 100 new and young Freemasons from across the country gathered to discuss ways of ensuring the Craft’s relevance in the 21st century. They were there for the annual New and Young Masons Clubs Conference (NYMCC).With more than 30 new and young masons clubs operating in Metropolitan and the Provinces, the annual conference – now in its third year – plays a vital role in inspiring change. This change can occur within clubs themselves by offering ideas and advice on best practice. It can also happen across Freemasonry as a whole by bringing new brethren face-to-face with some of the most senior masons in the country.
The responsibility of hosting the event this year fell to The Five of Nine Club and its chairman, Dan Thomas. Dan joined St Peter’s Lodge, No. 7334, in Warwickshire eight years ago, aged 27. As a young policeman, Dan finds that Freemasonry complements his life and he enjoys every challenge it brings. Attending the NYMCC in 2015 inspired him to share his enjoyment among his peers and launch The Five of Nine Club for new and young masons.
‘I went to that conference just wanting to have a look at what was going on, and came away with so much information that, when we launched the club, it was like we had been given a two-year head start,’ says Dan. ‘These clubs are all about bringing young masons together. There may only be one young brother in a lodge within the Province, but by getting them involved in the club, they feel a wider sense of community.’
Aside from pulling together to organise the NYMCC, The Five of Nine Club also arranges regular social activities that have so far included go-karting, paintballing and a brewery tour. ‘The focus is on enjoyment,’ explains Dan, with the hope being, he adds, that ‘enjoyment translates into higher retention rates among junior masons.’
Recruitment and retention are equally important goals for masonic clubs, as reflected by the theme of this year’s conference – ‘Building and Maintaining the Foundations’. According to Five of Nine Club patron and Provincial Grand Master of Warwickshire David Macey, Dan and the club have excelled at both. ‘We set Dan some fairly optimistic targets to hit within 18 months, and he smashed them in six,’ he says.
Though new and young masons clubs champion the views of a specific group of masons, the benefits they bring are being felt across the board. As David says, ‘The club’s energy and vitality is brilliantly infectious, not just within the youngsters they’re influencing, but on us senior masons as well.’
One of the senior masons present, Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence, delivered a keynote speech on how new and young masons clubs and the UGLE can work together. Dan was honoured when the Deputy Grand Master announced he’d like to attend. ‘The fact that he wanted to give a talk shows how important new and young masons clubs are to Freemasonry, and recognises the phenomenal work being carried out by every club,’ he says.
Provincial Grand Master for South Wales and Deputy Chairman of the Improvement Delivery Group Gareth Jones also took the stage. He joined Freemasonry as a 26-year-old in the 1980s, and believes it is as relevant today as it has ever been. For Gareth, Freemasonry is ‘a place away from the pressures of everyday life to sit quietly, reflect, learn and make daily advancements’. He spoke on the need for masonry to become more intertwined in communities, about the Improvement Delivery Group and on how Freemasonry must improve its reputation. ‘Let’s be frank – our image has traditionally been stuffy, middle-class and only for older people who can afford to join. It’s these ways of thinking that we need to get away from,’ he said, praising efforts being made by the clubs to revitalise the Craft.
‘We talk about [the] reduction [of] membership over last two years,’ Gareth adds, ‘but this is a symptom rather than a problem in itself. The problem has been, to a growing extent, one of quality in how we have engaged with communities and the media, and the way we’ve brought people in and looked after them once they’ve joined. We’ve put in a lot of effort in the last few years to address those problems, and these clubs are proving to be an effective way of arresting the decline we’ve seen since the mid-nineties.’
With the buzz around the new and young masons clubs, it would be easy to get carried away in the excitement. A key theme of the conference, however, was the importance of installing proper governance and setting clear objectives. David stressed at the conference that ‘structure is imperative to channel enthusiasm and pass it on to others’.
David led the conference into a breakout session on how to launch, manage and grow successful new and young masons clubs. Reflecting on the event and on his role as patron of The Five of Nine Club, David says, ‘It sounds as if I’m being condescending when I say, from the bottom up, that we’re learning so much from an age group we were in danger of neglecting.’
With buy-in at such senior levels, Dan is confident this is just the start for new and young masons clubs, and expects to be attending conferences for years to come. ‘Since last year’s conference, there’s been an unbelievable increase in numbers of clubs across the country,’ he says. ‘We’ve seen more recognition in Quarterly Communications and more senior support coming forward in support of the clubs.’
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A year to be proud of
From fundraising to the formation of new masons clubs, Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes reflects on the reasons to celebrate Freemasonry in 2017
I have received a copy of the Report of the New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference and was delighted to learn just how well the clubs are progressing with more than 30 established across London and the Provinces. This is a fantastic achievement and I would encourage those new Freemasons in Provinces without such a club to consider setting one up. You would have our full support and I am sure you would be greatly encouraged by your Provincial hierarchy.
I have asked Gareth Jones, Provincial Grand Master for South Wales and Third Grand Principal, to act as the focal point for the movement. It really is a splendid initiative and I congratulate all those involved.
I have frequently said how proud we should be of all our charities, and not just the big four. They all do tremendous work. The astonishing sum of £14.5 million was raised through the hard work of our brethren. The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Festival total of nearly £7.75 million is the highest total ever achieved.
Across the board, the money raised per capita by all four Provinces in Festival during 2016 was extraordinary and of a similar level. Your generosity is not taken for granted and is greatly appreciated.
The Masonic Charitable Foundation has launched a scheme to give £3 million to your local charities next year in recognition of both its own formation and, of course, our Tercentenary. This not only shows your generosity but is also aimed at promoting our involvement in the community.
Cause for celebration
I know that some of you have become frustrated at not being able to get hold of a Tercentenary Jewel. Please be assured that there are now plenty available in Letchworth’s Shop. Unfortunately, initial demand far outstripped supply. In spite of your frustration, may I ask you to beware of cheap imitations. Sadly, they do exist and are being offered at a very reduced price, but they are unauthorised and unlawful copies. We are working closely with the Provinces to get them all removed.
The forthcoming Sky documentary entitled Inside The Freemasons gives us a great opportunity to capitalise on the publicity being generated, and we anticipate that other high-profile events throughout the year will keep us in the public eye and produce some really positive results.
These are exciting times; let us celebrate in style by showing our pride in and talking about our membership. I am absolutely certain that we will all enjoy a splendid year in 2017.
‘Your generosity is not taken for granted and is greatly appreciated’
14 December 2016
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
Brethren, our December meeting is always one of the best attended and I am really encouraged to see so many of you here today. In particular well done to Lincolnshire with over 100 members travelling here; 40 from Wiltshire; 20 all the way from Yorkshire, West Riding and, I believe, that there are 16 newly installed Masters from Oxfordshire. Since we changed the rules to allow Master Masons to attend Grand Lodge we have had an excellent display of light blue aprons and they are very much in evidence again today. Bearing in mind work commitments and the eccentricities of our transport system it is a tremendous effort.
I have recently received a copy of the Report of the New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference and was delighted to learn just how well the clubs are progressing with over 30 established across London and the Provinces. This is a fantastic achievement and I would encourage those new masons in Provinces without such a club to consider setting one up. You would have our full support and I am sure you would be greatly encouraged by your Provincial hierarchy. Indeed, I have asked RW Bro Gareth Jones, Provincial Grand Master for South Wales and Third Grand Principal to act as the focal point here for the movement. It really is a splendid initiative and I congratulate all those involved.
We have heard a lot about charity during the course of today and I have frequently said how proud we should be of all our charities, and not just the big four. They all do tremendous work. You have already heard that during the course of this year the astonishing sum of £14.5m was raised through the hard work of our brethren. The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Festival total of nearly £7.75m is the highest total ever. I can’t believe, brethren, that it was all down to me having moved into Hampshire last year. I suspect that is purely coincidental. Across the board the money raised per capita by all four Provinces in Festival during 2016 was extraordinary and of a similar level. Brethren, your generosity is not taken for granted and is greatly appreciated.
You have also heard from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) about their scheme to give to your local charities £3m next year in recognition of both their own formation and, of course, our Tercentenary. This not only shows your generosity but is also aimed at promoting our involvement in the community.
Brethren, I know that some of you have become frustrated at not being able to get hold of a Tercentenary Jewel. Please be assured that there are now plenty available in the Letchworth’s shop. Unfortunately, initial demand far outstripped supply. In spite of your frustration, may I ask you to beware of cheap imitations. Sadly they do exist and are being offered at a very reduced price, but they are unauthorised and unlawful copies. We are working closely with the Provinces to get them all removed.
The Deputy Grand Master mentioned that the Sky documentary titled Inside Freemasonry would be shown in January. However this has been put back to the Spring. I have seen three of these so far – there are five in all – and have been most encouraged at the sensitive way that we have been portrayed by Emporium, the makers of the film. I would like to thank those Provinces, lodges and, perhaps most of all, those individuals who have so willingly participated.
This gives us a great opportunity in the early part of the year to capitalise on the publicity being generated and we anticipate that other high profile events throughout the year will keep us in the public eye and produce some really positive results. These are exciting times and let us celebrate in style by showing our pride in and talking about our membership. I am absolutely certain that we will all enjoy a splendid year in 2017.
In the meantime, I thank you all for what you have done for Freemasonry in preparing for next year. Keep the enthusiasm going and have a very happy Christmas.
On the level
At 26, Alex Rhys has just conducted his first initiation. Peter Watts finds out how younger members are embracing Freemasonry for its sense of continuity
When Alex Rhys is asked how he came to join the masons at the age of 21, he puts it down to an instinctive inquisitiveness you might ordinarily expect to find in a scientist. ‘I’d always been a bit nosey and I was at university, procrastinating during revision, when I saw on the university website that the alumni had been on a tour of the local masonic temple,’ he recalls. ‘I then found out about the Universities Scheme in Bath, went on a tour of the lodge and found it very interesting.’
From there, Alex moved fast. He was initiated at 21 and, five years later, has just presided over his first initiation as a Master, having gained the chair of Bath’s St Alphege Lodge, No. 4095, earlier this year. The ceremony was well attended as it came on the same day that Somerset’s club for new and young masons, the Adair Club, hosted the second annual New & Young Masons Clubs’ Conference at Bath Masonic Hall – an event that attracted 60 delegates from clubs in 20 Provinces and saw much discussion about the problems and possibilities of recruiting and retaining young masons.
‘Alex is an inspirational figure,’ says Sam Mayer, who founded the Adair Club in 2012 to support young masons in Somerset and allow for better interaction between masons across the Province. ‘Some young masons can feel isolated,’ says Sam, who also became a mason at 21. ‘I didn’t experience that myself, which may be the reason I stayed. I want other masons to have the same experience I did.’
Once in the Craft, Alex embraced all that it offered. He joined a second lodge in the South West before moving to London, where he was invited by the Universities Scheme to help take over the Lodge of Good Fellowship, No. 3655, in Great Queen Street, which was seeing declining numbers.
Alex holds regular drop-in sessions for interested young masons and has also been invited to join the Universities Scheme committee. ‘At Great Queen Street, we filled the offices with interested people and now bring in about 12 people a year – it’s thriving,’ says Alex, who achieved all this while working on his PhD in cancer research.
Since becoming Master of St Alphege, Alex has decided against jazzing up ceremonies for a younger audience. ‘Our last Master tried to change the lighting levels and that caused enough of a fuss,’ he jokes. Instead, he believes a sense of continuity can appeal to younger masons, who enjoy tapping into a tradition that goes back three centuries. ‘What’s most important is that they know what to expect,’ he says.
Alex feels his role is to fill meetings with enthusiastic young masons who will maintain momentum without upsetting older members. This mix of youth and experience is one of the things he most enjoys about Freemasonry.
‘I can sit next to a judge or a student and we are all completely on the same level; there’s no hierarchy,’ he says. ‘You get to know people at the top of their profession on a first-name basis. If we weren’t wearing the apron, I’d never have the chance to talk to people like that on a professional level, let alone a social one.’
In October, Alex returned to the South West to attend the Adair Club conference, where concerns about recruitment and retention were the main topics of discussion. Delegates from various clubs spoke about the specific structure and organisation of clubs for young masons as well as asking these members what aspects of Freemasonry were most important.
Ben Batley, Assistant Provincial Grand Master for Somerset, explains how important it is for groups like the Adair Club to target masons under 40 or with fewer than five years’ experience. ‘It’s that critical group who we view as most important to take masonry forward in our Province in the next 30 years,’ he says. Somerset has also introduced a Future of My Lodge initiative for all its 88 lodges. ‘We’ve been asking lodges to think carefully about young members, those at work or with a young family and how to keep them engaged with the Craft.’
‘Nothing can prepare you for how welcoming everybody is.’ Alex Rhys
Learning the Craft
The Adair Club has both a social and learning element, so members can learn more about the Craft and are better equipped to understand their place in it. ‘Recruitment is important but so is retention, and some of the learning opportunities may suit the more inquisitive mind of the younger masons,’ says Ben.
Sam takes up this theme. ‘The tradition has always been for masonry to be quite secretive, but it’s fundamental that people know about its history, its tenets, why it’s there,’ he says. ‘If people can get a grasp of that early on it will help them develop, and that’s fundamental for retention.’
The Bath Masonic Hall conference featured workshops, speed-networking sessions and talks about the traditional membership history of Freemasonry. The information will now be spread around the Provinces, helping those who are in similar clubs or thinking of setting one up. ‘It was very positive,’ says Sam. ‘We know there are a lot of capable people committed to the cause. We will now spread the word as far as possible.’ Staffordshire had already agreed to host the third annual conference next year.
Freemasonry’s increased confidence in reaching out to younger people is epitomised by the figure of Alex, whose enthusiasm remains unabashed despite the occasional quizzical response from colleagues and friends. ‘It’s difficult to explain that we wear aprons and do these little plays,’ he says. ‘But I am very open about it – for lodge meetings I wear a suit to work and my colleagues know where I’m going. I don’t hide anything.’
Alex enjoyed the conference, noting the enthusiasm and how people new to Freemasonry would have benefited from meeting others at a similar stage in their journey. As for how his first initiation played out, Alex says that it went as faultlessly as it could have done, remembering his own initiation five long and busy years ago.
‘I was probably more nervous this time as I had an actual part to play, whereas for my own initiation I didn’t know what was going to happen. Everybody says Freemasonry is sociable, but nothing can prepare you for how welcoming everybody is. They are all there to see you flourish, and want you to get the most out of your experiences.’
As Freemasonry searches for new ways to build membership, Sarah Holmes learns what insights were revealed at an innovative light blue clubs’ conference
On a crisp Saturday in late October, young Freemasons from across the country congregated at London’s Freemasons’ Hall. The event was the New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference, organised to share knowledge and best practice about how to keep the next generation of masons engaged with the Craft.
Testament to the growth of ‘light blue’ clubs within Freemasonry, the conference was hosted by the Connaught Club, whose Chairman Mitchell Merrick-Thirlway is a strong advocate of the need to support Freemasons after they have joined a lodge. As rites of passage go, initiation is a definitive milestone for a mason. ‘I couldn’t sleep for a whole week before mine,’ admits Mitchell, who joined Lodge of Candour, No. 7663, in 2010. ‘The ceremony was beautiful. I couldn’t have been more excited to start learning about this ancient Order.’
When Mitchell discovered that his lodge wouldn’t be meeting for another three months, however, he was understandably disappointed. ‘I imagined we’d be meeting every week, learning about different aspects of Freemasonry, its history and getting to know one another,’ says Mitchell. ‘Fortunately, my lodge secretary told me about the Connaught Club.
‘I went along to the Friday social and discovered a whole new side to Freemasonry.’
Launched at a reception held by Metropolitan Grand Lodge in 2007, the Connaught Club was formed as a social club for masons under 35 years old who were eager to engage in a more active brand of Freemasonry. ‘There are lots of masonic events and trips to get involved with. Just this October, 15 of us went to Dublin to visit the Grand Master’s Lodge to witness a First Degree,’ says Mitchell.
‘I’ve experienced so much more of Freemasonry because of the Connaught Club,’ he continues. ‘The guys are constantly bouncing ideas off each other on Facebook, and inviting one another to their lodge meetings. It’s given me an outlet for the energy and excitement that I wanted to put into the Craft.’
Although a London-based social club, the concept has spread as far afield as Kuala Lumpur and South Africa, where ‘Connaught Clubs’ have also been formed. Today, the London club enjoys a membership of 284 Freemasons under 35 years old, with numbers on the rise. It even has its own lodge, Burgoyne Lodge, No. 902. In April 2015, just five years into his masonic career, Mitchell became Connaught Club Chairman.
‘The energy is one thing,’ says Mitchell. ‘But it’s also about meeting like-minded people. Brethren of a similar age can relate to each other’s lives more easily. The club is about complementing one’s Freemasonry, not replacing it.’
The need for this early support has become clear, as masonic social clubs are cropping up throughout the Provinces. The New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference heralded the first formal meeting for this national network. ‘It’s a chance for Provinces to exchange ideas, and share the lessons learned from the establishment of their clubs,’ explains Mitchell.
But it’s not just young masons who are benefiting. Light blue clubs give new masons of any age the support they need to get the most out of Freemasonry from day one. As founder of the Southampton Light Blue Club, Andy Venn appreciates the challenges of integrating new masons into the Craft. ‘I remember how daunting it was to come into a lodge full of established, older Freemasons,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t young myself – I was 43 coming in – but most of the brethren were between 60 and 80 years old.’ Thanks to the Southampton Light Blue Club, new members are now greeted at the door by brethren and officially introduced to the lodge.
A social structure
Regular social events have played an important role in easing new members and their families into masonic life. From an impromptu drink down the pub through to organised lodge visits and trips to places of masonic interest, the structure is informal and unpressured. Masons can get involved as often as they like, and events are scheduled to fit around family and work commitments.
‘So far this year, we’ve had three really successful breakfast meetings. We invited British Superbike rider Kyle Wilks to talk, and after that the actor Jeremy Bulloch, who played the bounty hunter Boba Fett in the Star Wars films,’ says Andy, adding that it was a talk by Lance Bombardier Gary Prout, who won the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for his service in Afghanistan, that really struck a chord with the Southampton masons. ‘When one of his comrades was hit by an explosive device, Gary ran out under Taliban fire to administer first aid and attempt to rescue him,’ recalls Andy. ‘It was an amazing story. He had 40 or so Freemasons with tears in their eyes.’
Having shared the story of his light blue club at the conference, Andy hopes other Provinces will be inspired to establish their own. ‘New Freemasons are our future. They bring a lot of value to the Craft. If we don’t stop this steady drip of younger masons leaving, we’ll stagnate.’
Retention is one benefit, but many clubs also offer a taste of masonic life for prospective members of the Craft. ‘We’ve seen a number of membership applications come off the back of our informal drinks receptions,’ says Ben Gait from Cardiff, who helped found the Colonnade Club in 2015. ‘They work well because there’s no pressure attached.’
For Ben, the conference has been fundamental in demonstrating the importance of the clubs to the rest of Freemasonry, particularly Grand Lodge.
‘If you look historically, things have tended to filter down from Grand Lodge to the Provinces. But the fact that members have organised themselves and grown this network organically says something about the changing face of Freemasonry.’
Indeed, the light blue clubs are more than an excuse for having a pint; they are actively building an organisation that’s fit for the 21st century.
Holding a social event
Andy: ‘Every time I try to get an evening social event together it falls flat. But our breakfast meetings work a treat, because they don’t intrude on family plans for the weekend.’
Ben: ‘It’s important to try different types of events. We organised a dinner at an all-you-can-eat buffet; it wasn’t the best-attended event, but the feedback we received gave us great ideas for the next one.’
Mitchell: ‘Charity events are a great way to unite people. This year, a group of us are rowing the length of the Thames on rowing machines to raise money for the mental health charity, Rethink.’
From the Grand Secretary
On behalf of the members of the United Grand Lodge of England, a message of congratulations was sent to the Grand Master on the occasion of his 80th birthday. How fortunate we all are to have such a dedicated royal leader since his installation as Grand Master by the 11th Earl of Scarbrough on 27 June 1967.
Thank you to those readers of Freemasonry Today who have participated in the recent Membership Focus Group surveys. One of the results from your feedback has been the creation of a clear strategy to make sure there is a sound future for Freemasonry. This strategy has been agreed at the highest levels throughout the organisation and we now wish to share it with all our readers. You will find a copy of this strategy attached to this issue of the magazine.
I trust you will find it fascinating, and that it gives you added confidence for the future and your continued enjoyment of Freemasonry.
In this issue of the magazine, we find out how Freemasonry is helping to build confidence among our members. Our article on the first New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference at Freemasons’ Hall reveals a support network of light blue clubs that are helping initiates get the most out of Freemasonry from day one. We look at how these clubs are giving new members an outlet for the energy and excitement that they want to put into the Craft.
The values of Freemasonry proved vital for Arthur Vaughan Williams, who, following a car accident, went from peak physical fitness to being unable to control two-thirds of his body. In our interview with Arthur, he explains how Freemasonry helped him to re-engage with society and create a new life for himself. With a reinvigorated sense of self-belief, Arthur has learned how to fly and is carving out a successful career as a television presenter.
Also in this issue, London’s new Metropolitan Grand Master Sir Michael Snyder discusses what motivated him to modernise the City, not only the way it runs but also the business buildings that populate London’s skyline. Meanwhile, our feature on deaf communications organisation Signature shows how masonic support is aiming to put British Sign Language on the curriculum and open up the education system for deaf youngsters.
I hope you enjoy our winter edition and wish you and your families a wonderful festive season.
‘We look at how light blue clubs are giving new members an outlet for the energy and excitement that they want to put into the Craft.’
National conference for young masons
An invitation has gone out from the Connaught Club and other ‘light blue’ organisations to take part in the first ‘New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference’ at Freemasons’ Hall in London on Saturday, 24 October 2015.
Each club will present any ideas they have, explain which events have worked well for them, and discuss best practices. The two-hour conference will include time to meet other members. Representatives from Provinces without a young masons club are also encouraged to attend.
After the conference, guests are invited to the installation meeting and Festive Board for the Connaught Club’s lodge, Burgoyne Lodge, No. 902.
For full details and to register, go to www.connaughtclub.org/nymcc2015
The New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference 2015
Please join the Connaught Club, and many other new and young masons' clubs, at Freemasons’ Hall, London, on Saturday, 24th October 2015, and take part in the first New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference
After a short introduction, representatives of each club will be given the opportunity to present any ideas they have, explain which events have worked well for their respective clubs, present best practices they’ve discovered and impart any event organising tips they might possess. Of course, no one and nothing is perfect, so tips for avoiding pitfalls will also be most welcome.
The event promises to be very insightful, informative and helpful for all clubs which attend. We believe by bringing many of the new and young masons' clubs together in this way, we can all gain from the shared knowledge and experience, and reach our shared objective – keeping new and young masons engaged with the Craft. With increased and continuous engagement with the Craft, we hope, in some small way, to prolong its existence.
We would encourage as many of the new and young masons' clubs from around the United Kingdom to attend this conference for the betterment of the masonic social clubs’ movement which is spreading, not just across the UK, but also around the world. We would also like to cordially invite any representatives from the various Provinces in the UK, which don’t currently have a ‘light blue’ or young mason club, to come along, and hopefully, be inspired to establish a club in their own Province.
The conference will start at 13.00 and last two hours, which will include time to mingle and chat to the members of other clubs, whilst enjoying some light refreshments.
After the conference, the Connaught Club’s lodge, Burgoyne Lodge No. 902, will be holding its Installation meeting, which you are most fraternally welcome to attend. The lodge will tyle at 17.00 and will be held in one of the many splendid temples at Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street. Following the Lodge meeting, a three-course Festive Board will be enjoyed at a local dining venue.
If you would like to register your interest in attending the conference, please enter your details below and a member of the Club Committee will be in touch here: http://www.connaughtclub.org/nymcc2015/