Celebrating 300 years
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 00:00

Grand Secretary's column - Autumn 2017

From the Grand Secretary

Normally, July and August are quiet months in which we relax and prepare ourselves for the new masonic season ahead. Such a period of calm has been noticeably absent this year, however, as you will discover by reading this issue of Freemasonry Today.

Your Rulers have been particularly busy travelling the globe to support our District activities, as well as enjoying the many events throughout England and Wales, which have been so successful through your hard work. These events may not have been relaxing, but they have certainly been reinvigorating.

I know the Masonic Charitable Foundation would wish me to thank you for your efforts in getting people to vote for the recipients of 300 grants totalling £3 million in celebration of our 300 years and the charity’s foundation. Over 177,000 votes were cast, of which more than 85 per cent were from non-masons. It has been a really positive and successful way of engaging with the community at large, and the charity will shortly be announcing the 300 fortunate beneficiaries of its grants.

We now eagerly anticipate the Grand Ball on 30 September and the culmination of our Tercentenary celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 October in a successful year that bodes well for the future.

CLUBBING TOGETHER

In this autumn issue of Freemasonry Today, we look forward to building upon our strong foundations with the Essex Cornerstone Club. Mixing social with community and educational events, the club has already attracted 150 younger members from the masonic community in Essex. Hosting activities ranging from paintball and family days to charity runs, the founding members are now exploring how technology could help create a national or even international network of young Freemasons.

Of course, innovation isn’t the sole property of younger people. Our piece on Music in Hospitals reveals how live music can spark important memories and emotions for the elderly. We travel to a care home in Surrey to see jazz musician Phoebe Gorry performing to a captivated audience. Thanks to the latest funding from the Masonic Charitable Foundation, the initiative is being rolled out in care homes across the country, allowing staff to have a more detailed understanding of their residents and provide improved levels of care.

For Freemason Iestyn Llewellyn, the immediate future will be spent pounding the streets as he aims to complete four marathons to mark his 40th birthday. Our profile on Iestyn reveals how he was inspired to push himself beyond his comfort zone when he discovered Daisy’s Dream, a charity providing support and advice for children facing the news of the terminal illness or death of a loved one.

Being a mason has allowed Iestyn to mix with like-minded people in an environment where he feels he belongs. While the work his lodge does for charity is crucial, it’s the brotherly love that keeps Iestyn coming back. All of which points to an exciting and positive future for us all.

Willie Shackell
Grand Secretary

‘Thank you for your efforts in getting people to vote for the recipients of 300 grants totalling £3 million’

Published in UGLE

A Lifetime of possibilities

Director of Special Projects John Hamill salutes the vital work of amateur masonic historians and their unceasing  efforts to uncover new information and reveal new insights

Among the many things I have been privileged to be involved with over the 46 years that I have been a member of the Grand Lodge staff, masonic historical research is my favourite occupation and something I am looking forward to spending more time on when I fully retire.

When I first started work in what was then called the Grand Lodge Library and Museum in the summer of 1971, a number of my academic friends questioned whether there was anything left in masonic history to research. I very quickly found that there was more than a lifetime’s worth of possibilities. New discoveries come to light, old accepted theories need to be re-examined and there are still many areas in which only the surface has been skimmed.

In my time at Grand Lodge, the major change has been the growing interest in masonic history in academic circles. With an in-depth knowledge of the periods they are studying, academic historians have brought new insights and taught lay masonic researchers to look at Freemasonry in the context of the time they are investigating rather than in isolation. Their interest, however, has also brought a tension between the academics and the lay researchers – the former sometimes being dismissive of the efforts of the latter.

CENTRE OF RESEARCH

Outside the archives of Grand Lodge and Supreme Grand Chapter, the great storehouse of masonic historical information is the Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076, the premier lodge of masonic research. For just over 125 years, the members of that lodge have produced an amazing range of papers, comments and notes covering the widest spectrum of the history and development of Freemasonry in all its branches, both at home and overseas.

In the past 50 or so years, the lodge members have been solidly in the historical camp but in the earlier days the Transactions contain many speculative papers drawing parallels between Freemasonry and other initiatory rites and systems. These comparisons were usually drawn in the search to find an answer to that still unanswered question: when and why did Freemasonry receive its birth and early nurture?

Over its history, the membership of the lodge has been eclectic. Some were academic historians and many others had academic training in other disciplines. A surprising number were scientists, engineers and architects who brought to their masonic research the same rigorous discipline of searching, analysing and testing evidence that they had learned in their own fields.

Most of the members of Quatuor Coronati Lodge were, and continue to be, amateurs in the best sense of that word. Their work might not meet with the rigorous standards of a modern university history department, but without it our knowledge of the history of Freemasonry would be greatly diminished. The discoveries they made, the way in which they brought together information from disparate sources and made it available through the Transactions has made life, in many ways, easier for the academic historians.

There is a wry irony in the fact that while some academic historians are slightly dismissive of the amateur masonic historians in their own published works, they regularly refer to papers by the ‘amateurs’ of Quatuor Coronati.

We live in an age of ‘experts’ but I believe that there is still a place in masonic research for those dedicated brethren who delight in their involvement in masonic history, spend hours scouring archives for new information and many times bring new insights to what are often considered closed cases. Long may they continue so we may enjoy the fruits of their hobby.

‘There is still a place in masonic research for the dedicated brethren who delight in their involvement in masonic history’

Published in Features

Going the distance

Iestyn Llewellyn is celebrating his 40th birthday by running a marathon for every decade. Matthew Bowen meets the Berkshire Freemason putting his body on the line for charity

Turning 40 is a significant landmark in any person’s life. Some ignore it, others throw parties or buy bright yellow sports cars. Iestyn Llewellyn, however, has chosen to celebrate his 40th birthday by pushing his body to the limit for a good cause.

The Berkshire-based police officer and member of Goring Gap Lodge, No. 8359, which meets in Pangbourne, is aiming to complete four marathons in the four home nations during his 40th year, raising money for children’s bereavement charity Daisy’s Dream. He’s two down, having completed the Virgin London Marathon in April and the Great Welsh Marathon in May. Next up is the Loch Ness Marathon at the end of September, with the Dublin Marathon set firmly in his sights in October.

‘I thought about doing the six nations,’ says Iestyn, who admits to being no runner, ‘but I’m very glad I chose four now.’ He confesses to almost being put off marathons for life after the first one, but says it was the chance to raise money for good causes that has kept him motivated.

Iestyn’s wife, Alex, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2012. The treatment she received at the Berkshire Cancer Centre saved her life, and she now has the all-clear. It was when Iestyn held a fundraising dinner to thank the centre for all it had done for his family that his journey began.

When Alex was undergoing treatment, the couple’s children, Gwen and Morgan, were just three and nine years old, respectively. They found it hard to process what was happening to their mother and the whole family struggled. ‘Gwen wouldn’t go anywhere near Alex when she had her tubes in,’ Iestyn remembers, ‘and explaining cancer to a nine-year-old was incredibly tough.’

Iestyn had witnessed the devastation that cancer can cause before. His father’s second wife died from breast cancer, leaving Iestyn’s half-sister without her mother. She was supported through this difficult period by a bereavement counsellor, and Iestyn saw the positive impact this had on her ability to cope. It’s this experience that made him seek out Daisy’s Dream.

CHILD SUPPORT

‘I wanted to find a local charity that offered children support like my sister had received,’ Iestyn recalls, ‘and was pleased to find one based in Berkshire.’ Daisy’s Dream works with families across the county, delivering individually tailored one-to-one and group support to children who are going through difficult times, whether that’s a bereavement from cancer or other illnesses, or from an accident, suicide or violent death.

Encouraged by the success of that first fundraising dinner, Iestyn held a second in 2014 – this time for Daisy’s Dream. While preparing to host this one, he discovered that the charity had a spare spot on its London Marathon team. ‘I’d never run anything over 10K before then, but I signed on and ended up doing London and Paris the following year,’ he says. The wheels were set in motion.

Daisy’s Dream is, quite understandably, delighted with Iestyn’s efforts. ‘His enthusiasm and passion for helping children through bereavement is contagious, and he’s such a nice, fun guy, too,’ says Claire Rhodes, who works for the charity as a fundraiser. ‘We don’t receive any government funding, so it’s thanks to all the local champions like Iestyn that Daisy’s Dream is here to provide free, professional therapeutic support and advice for those children facing the dreadful news of the terminal illness or death of a loved one.’

Had Iestyn known about Daisy’s Dream during Alex’s treatment period, he would most likely have asked for its support. ‘They’re a wonderful bunch of people who do amazing things for kids,’ he says. ‘They offered to speak with Morgan and Gwen once I’d told them our story, but I told them to focus on children with a more immediate need.’

At the halfway point in Iestyn’s marathon effort, he has raised nearly £1,400. He’s on track to reach his £2,500 target by the end of the fourth marathon, and won’t rest until he’s achieved his goal. Doggedly determined, Iestyn exclaims, ‘I’ll hold a dance in the village hall and go around begging until I have it all.’

While Iestyn first learned about Freemasonry though his father, who was a member, it was Iestyn’s father-in-law who asked him to join Goring Gap Lodge in 2001. It took eight years for the seed to germinate, but Iestyn’s decision to join in 2009 was made easier by already knowing so many people in the lodge. ‘It’s quite the family affair,’ he says. ‘My uncle-in-law and cousin-in-law are both members, as was my grandfather-in-law while he was alive.’

‘I grew up with a strong moral code… Freemasonry runs on these values’ Iestyn Llewellyn

COMMUNITY MINDED

Goring Gap Lodge has supported Iestyn’s fundraising efforts from the beginning. The Worshipful Master donated profits from a Ladies Night held last year to Daisy’s Dream, and many of the members have dug deep into their pockets to sponsor Iestyn on his numerous fundraising challenges – none has been convinced to sign up to a training run yet, though.

When asked whether he’d consider going for a run with Iestyn, Mark Prior, Acting Senior Grand Deacon, says, ‘Iestyn’s one of the more athletically gifted members of our lodge and it would take me about six months of training to get up to his lowest standards.’

Mark has nothing but respect for Iestyn’s efforts. ‘He’ll do anything he can to give something back, helping so many people in society restore something they’ve lost, or might never have had in the first place.’

Freemasonry has complemented the way that Iestyn chooses to live his life, enhancing rather than changing it. ‘I grew up with a strong moral code, knowing what was right and what was wrong,’ he says. ‘Freemasonry gives me something to hang my hat on, outside the police force, that runs on these values.’

Being a Freemason allows Iestyn to mix with similarly minded people and relax in an environment where he feels he belongs. In addition to his lodge’s charity work, it’s the brotherly love that keeps him committed, despite a hectic work/life schedule.

‘Being a mason allows me to meet people from all walks of life,’ he says. ‘Raising money gives us a common aim and it’s what I do it for; whether that’s raising funds for an individual wheelchair or contributing towards a bigger effort such as supporting victims of a natural disaster.’

Marathons and fundraising dinners are just the tip of the iceberg for Iestyn, who finds as many ways as he can to give back to his community. He’s a Scout leader, youth football coach and organiser of the Rotary Club of Pangbourne’s Christmas float, which hands out sweets to children in Goring every year. For the moment, however, the focus is on training. Despite a few injury scares, there’s no doubt he’ll overcome whatever obstacles stand in his way.

To support Iestyn’s marathon challenge, visit his fundraising page at goo.gl/82eSCU

Published in Features

Securing our future

Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes is encouraged and  humbled by members’ efforts as they ensure the Tercentenary year is a success

In our Tercentenary year, it is fitting that we look back on our history with pride. On 18 April we remembered brethren who have fallen since 1945 in the service of their country by opening the Masonic Memorial Garden at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. A week later, in the presence of the Grand Master, we remembered those of our brethren awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War in a magnificent ceremony outside Freemasons’ Hall.

And so, as we look back with pride, we must look forward with confidence, recognising that we are a force for good in society and have so much to contribute to it. The Sky 1 documentary series has given us an amazing platform and viewing figures have been good. It has been well received and our Provinces are reporting an upsurge of interest, which I know you are capitalising on in order to secure our future. In addition, I believe it has enabled us to be aware of how important it is to talk openly about our Freemasonry and, perhaps, how best to do so.

GENEROSITY OF SPIRIT

As Pro Grand Master, it is very encouraging, yet humbling, to witness just how much effort you are all putting in to promoting our masonic values and making this Tercentenary year such a tremendous success. Your charitable giving never ceases to amaze me, and a magnificent total of £3,617,437 was raised at the Sussex Festival for the Grand Charity. This has been followed by the West Yorkshire Festival for the RMBI, which raised £3,300,300. I now have firm figures that show that last year we not only supported our own brethren with more than £15 million in grants, but also helped non-masonic charities with grants in excess of £17 million.

This year, the nation has been rocked by the serious terrorist attacks at Westminster Bridge, the Manchester Arena and at London Bridge. You should be aware that we have received numerous letters of support and concern from other Sovereign Grand Lodges around the world, some enclosing generous cheques to the East Lancashire Fund. These have supplemented the extreme generosity shown by many towards this fund, and I have been assured by the Provincial Grand Master that the money will be spent wisely where need is identified.

WORLDWIDE APPEAL

While congratulating you on all your efforts, I must pay tribute to my fellow Rulers, who have been globetrotting on our behalf. Having previously been to Bombay, the Deputy Grand Master paid a second visit to India this year to join the District of Northern India’s Tercentenary celebrations, and followed this by attending a Regional Conference in Jamaica.

The Assistant Grand Master, as President of the Universities Scheme, invaded South Africa with a very strong team. He followed this, immediately after our Grand Investiture, with a gala lunch and banner dedication in Malta. As a past Ruler, David Williamson kindly represented us in Gibraltar. And just to show that I have not been sitting idly by, I have just returned from a most enjoyable visit to our District in the Eastern Archipelago, having previously visited Bermuda for the bicentenary of its Lodge of Loyalty.

Carrying out these visits is a great privilege, and our brethren in the Districts value our presence and have great pride in being members of the oldest Grand Lodge.

‘We must look forward with confidence, recognising that we are a force for good’

Published in UGLE

Hearts & Minds

For Ray Reed, past Deputy President of the Board of General Purposes and Past Provincial Grand Master of Buckinghamshire, the process of change that he helped to introduce within Freemasonry is only just beginning

What did your early career teach you?

I joined BP Chemicals straight from school and served a five-year apprenticeship as an instrument and electronics engineer before moving on to Reckitt & Colman when I was 23. The next 15 years were manic – two years after joining I was asked to set up and manage a new work-study department, followed by secondment as company negotiator with trade unions, then I became human resources director before becoming general manager.

Each move involved a new discipline and took me out of my comfort zone. I like the challenge of being thrown in at the deep end and rarely get stressed. If I had, I think I would have failed. These challenges opened my eyes to the fact most of what goes on in business management is common sense. Get a great team around you, identify what works, question what doesn’t, create a strategy and focus on improvement.

Equally, I learned that people at all levels love you to listen to and debate their ideas for improvement – it gives them confidence that they are part of the change process and makes them feel valued.

Why did you establish your own company?

By 1980 we were selling off the industrial division. Reckitt & Colman wanted me to stay but I was nearly 40 and wanted a new challenge, something completely different. Close friends thought I was mad.

My old sales director had left to do his own thing, working for an American company in psychological assessment. He asked me if I’d advise him on setting up a business, so I talked him into going to the US. Instead of working for the American company, we bought the franchise for the UK. About three years later, we found ourselves bigger than the US business, so we bought them out.

Family has been so important in the success of the business. My wife Doreen, who was a business partner, has been a vital cog from the outset and, after I retired in 2005, our son Martin has grown the business to become one of the top five assessment companies in the world. We are still a private entity and I continue to serve as a non-executive director.

What drove you to join Freemasonry?

I had been attending masonic social events from the age of 16 and always felt comfortable in the company of members. One day shortly after I married I asked my father-in-law, ‘What’s Freemasonry all about?’ I can recall his exact words: ‘I’ve been waiting for you to ask, I’ll get you a form. I can’t tell you what it’s about, you’ll have to trust me.’ In today’s fast-moving world such an approach would be laughed at, but that was the norm then.

Freemasonry was so popular in those days so I had to wait three years to be initiated, which just made me want it more. I joined Thesaurus Lodge [No. 3891] in North Yorkshire on 11 May 1967. It was the perfect lodge for me: great ceremonial, friendly and very encouraging with new candidates. I realised as a 27-year-old that while my business life was driving me into new areas and becoming ever more demanding, Freemasonry was developing me as a person, giving me a new-found confidence and a better understanding of my values in life.

Did you feel ready to become Provincial Grand Master?

No. Sadly, Lord Burnham died in office in 2005 and I received a letter asking me to take the role – not long after I had been appointed an APGM. There was no training, just a patent that told you to run the Province in accordance with the rules and regulations of the United Grand Lodge of England. And that was it, you were on your own. That suited me; it comes back to being thrown in at the deep end.

We identified member expectations through surveys, set a modernisation strategy that took account of these results, communicated them to members and then monitored the progress. Member collaboration was vital to the process – we set out to make masonic life more enjoyable, to improve our image in the local community and to market the Craft as a power for good within society.

It appears to me that succession planning is as vital at lodge level as it is at Provincial and UGLE level’

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve had as a PGM?

When I became Provincial Grand Master, the Past Pro Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex, Gordon Bourne, suggested I miss out the sweet course and coffee at the Festive Board in order to make time for talking to members. At first I thought, ‘This is a bit stupid’ – but within three months, members were coming up to me with really creative ideas to improve the Province’s image. It was a great success.

Gordon also suggested that at non-installation meeting dinners, I ask lodges to sit me with the five newest members of the lodge. That was magic; few realised the significance of the Provincial Grand Master role, so they talked openly and honestly. I heard their expectations, what they liked and did not like about their lodges and Freemasonry. The insights we collected helped convince Grand Lodge Officers to sit off the top table. It really broke so many historic barriers.

How important is the process of succession planning?

The second highest resignation levels in the Craft are those of Past Masters resigning shortly after completing their year in office. It therefore appears to me that succession planning is as vital at lodge level as it is at Provincial and UGLE level.

While there is no right or wrong approach to succession planning, lodges may well benefit from discussing the future aspirations with their lodge Masters well before they end their year in office. This should be done to ensure commitment and motivation, and in order to take any necessary steps to reduce the likelihood of resignation. One thing is for sure: if a member has an ambition toward a specific discipline – be it administrative, ceremonial or charitable – he is more likely to succeed in that discipline than in a role he has been cajoled into and does not really aspire to.

When did you become a member of the Board of General Purposes?

After a couple of years as a Provincial Grand Master I found myself sat next to Anthony Wilson, President of the Board, at a dinner. We had an enlightening discussion about Freemasonry’s past, present and future. Little did I know I had been recommended to him as a Board member and the next day I was asked to join. It was a complete shock and I embarked on another steep learning curve, but I loved being on the Board. We were all like-minded, giving our time freely and seeking to positively influence both the present and future of the Craft for our members.

How does change occur in the world of Freemasonry?

Historically, change has happened very slowly as we are a bottom-up organisation. Even small change in the past caused the shutters to go up. Members were perhaps fearful that there was a desire to change our traditions, which has never been on the agenda.Over recent years, Freemasonry has created a strategy for 2015-2020. Webinar technology has been tested and rolled out in the Provinces for member training and coaching, which can take place online at home. Even after one year of the strategy being communicated in 2015, membership loss dropped dramatically; indeed, several Provinces increased their numbers. This is a sure indication that members are getting behind the change process. We just need to win the hearts and minds of those who are yet to come to the party.

Published in UGLE

On the  home  front

The sacrifices made by Freemasons during World War I came on every scale, from those fighting overseas and those who remained in England, as Diane Clements explains

By the early 1900s, many lodges met in purpose-built properties and others converted for use as masonic halls. But with the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act allowing the government to commandeer economic resources such as property for the war effort, several of these were requisitioned for military use.

Built in 1911, Wivenhoe Masonic Hall in Essex was requisitioned for an Army School of Instruction and subsequently for a ‘wet canteen’ – a catering facility that served alcohol. The newly built hall at Frinton-on-Sea was requisitioned in 1914 and never returned to masonic ownership. After the war, it became Frinton War Memorial Club and was dedicated to returning ex-servicemen.

On the outbreak of war, Lodge of Faith and Unanimity, No. 417, in Dorchester immediately gave its hall to Dorset County Hospital for use by wounded soldiers and met elsewhere. In May 1915, the lodge protested at its premises being used for ‘contagious and infectious diseases, or for enemy aliens’ and held the hospital accountable for ‘disinfecting, re-decorating, and rendering the Lodge’. It was, however, able to return to its hall in January 1918, with £100 spent on making it habitable.

In Brighton, several lodges met at the Royal Pavilion. From late 1914, however, this was used firstly as a military hospital for Indian soldiers, then as the Pavilion General Hospital for limbless men. During this time, the lodges had to find alternative meeting places.

In Chelmsford, Springfield Lodge, No. 3183, met in the church hall, and when this was requisitioned in 1917, it had dispensation to meet in the local prison. Other lodges continued to meet in local public buildings or in hotels and inns.

At the beginning of the war, three London lodges were meeting at the prestigious De Keyser’s Royal Hotel on the Victoria Embankment near Blackfriars Bridge. In September 1915, City Livery Lodge, No. 3752, was consecrated and held its first few meetings there. The hotel was run by Sir Polydore de Keyser, originally from Belgium but long established in London, where he had been Lord Mayor in 1887.

As it was popular with overseas businessmen, the Royal Hotel’s fortunes collapsed during the war. In May 1916, it became one of many sites in London requisitioned for use by the War Office, in this case by the Directorate of Military Aeronautics. Meanwhile, the three London lodges all had to find alternative meeting places, with several of them using Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street for at least the remainder of the war. The dispute between the government and the hotel’s owners about compensation later became a noted case in constitutional law.

RAIDS TO THE EAST

On 16 December 1914, the German Navy attacked three seaside towns: Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby. The attack resulted in 137 fatalities and 592 casualties, many of whom were civilians. Old Globe Lodge, No. 200, was meeting as usual that evening in Scarborough but its minutes made no mention of the raid. The masonic hall in Hartlepool was slightly damaged during the raid but remained in use.

Towns on the east coast continued to be subject to bombardment and from 1915 were attacked by rigid airships or Zeppelins. Springfield Lodge, No. 3183, in Chelmsford took the precaution of paying three shillings to insure the lodge furniture against damage caused by hostile aircraft.

The heavy air raids could be heard at the Royal Masonic School for Girls at Clapham. During air raids, the girls were summoned down to the basement by the fire bell, taking their blankets and pillows with them. The girls particularly complained about Zeppelin raids on Sunday mornings. The combatants ‘evidently know that on that day we have an extra half-hour in bed, and seem very anxious to deprive us of it,’ wrote one pupil. The school laundry’s windows were guarded with blinds to prevent glass damage but the building was hit by anti-aircraft fire in 1917, with a subsequent claim for damage amounting to £4 18s.

‘By the self-sacrifice… of our people at home quite as much by the great sacrifices… by our gallant soldiers in the trenches’ Viscount Rhondda, Freemason in South Wales and Minister of Food Control, June 1917-July 1918

FOOD RATIONING

At the outbreak of war, Grand Lodge had urged restraint in lodge meetings and in dining arrangements at Festive Boards after lodge meetings. The Grand Master set an example by not wearing evening dress at masonic functions and many lodges began to dine much more simply.

In January 1917, the German government announced its intention to use unrestricted submarine warfare. Britain began to face problems with its food supply and David Alfred Thomas, Viscount Rhondda, an industrialist and Freemason in South Wales, became Minister of Food Control in June 1917. Food rationing was introduced in January 1918, beginning with sugar and then meat. A subsequent Grand Lodge circular to all lodges advocated strict economy in the consumption of food.

As Lord Rhondda explained at the time, the war was going to be won ‘by the self-sacrifice… of our people at home quite as much by the great sacrifices… by our gallant soldiers in the trenches’.

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.’

YOUNG GUNS

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

PEER-TO-PEER

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

Perfect arrangement

Musicians such as Phoebe Gorry are bringing comfort to vulnerable adults right across the country. Masonic funding will allow Music in Hospitals to find an even bigger audience, as Matt Timms finds out

Singer Phoebe Gorry shoots a glance at her guitarist before turning to the audience: ‘This one’s my favourite. It’s called Tea for Two.’ Popularised by Doris Day in the 1950 film of the same name, it’s an unusual favourite for a 28-year-old jazz musician to have. Then again, this isn’t your usual performance. In a quiet corner of Surrey, Gorry is reeling off classics for elderly residents at the Royal Cambridge Home.

The concert is one of many that are taking place in care homes (including RMBI homes), hospitals and hospices across the country. They’re the work of Music in Hospitals, a charity that has brought live music to vulnerable adults and children for more than half a century. With the help of a £60,048 grant from the Masonic Charitable Foundation – the latest in a line of donations from the masonic charities over the years – there is now funding for another 216 concerts over a three-year period.

‘Research has shown that live music can help to reduce levels of pain, stress and anxiety, as well as provide moments of joy for those who have lost their independence or feel isolated,’ says Emily Winchester, senior fundraising officer at Music in Hospitals, adding that music has an inherent ability to generate an emotional response in the listener. ‘Musicians like Phoebe provide stimulating and therapeutic enjoyment for hundreds of elderly people in care homes across the country.’

Judging by today’s performance, Gorry is a welcome addition to the home. There are singalongs and plenty of requests – particularly from a cheeky couple in the corner. There is also dancing between staff and residents, and an opportunity to revisit treasured memories while making new ones too.

‘The residents love it,’ says Gaye Wyeth, who is the housekeeper and activities manager at the home. ‘I’ve been here for 26 years and remember a time when there were hardly any activities at all – never mind this.’

Now there’s flower arranging, birthday teas and even a version of the Olympics – with straws and paper plates instead of a javelin and discus. Yet the Music in Hospitals concerts, according to Wyeth, are a house favourite because they’re so varied.

‘Live music can help to reduce levels of pain, stress and anxiety, as well as provide moments of joy’ Emily Winchester

SOUL MUSIC

‘We have some artistic residents here who have always appreciated music,’ says the home’s manager, Rory Belfield. ‘One of our residents, Joyce, loves today’s music, but we have plenty of diverse tastes. Some like jazz, some folk, others opera – the whole range.’

The music is enjoyable but it’s also therapeutic. Active participation serves as a form of physiotherapy, through clapping, tapping and moving in time to the music. Positive changes to patients’ mood and self-esteem can also make a real difference to their well-being. In addition, and most noticeably at this home, music sparks memories and emotions, meaning staff can understand more about an individual.

Gorry has been a professional singer for 10 years, since graduating from the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, and was introduced to Music in Hospitals through a friend.

Music in Hospitals’ chief executive Steve Rowland-Jones says that potential musicians are assessed against their musicianship, breadth of repertoire and communication skills. Since 2013, auditions have been conducted within healthcare environments to gauge how musicians engage with audiences and deal with the vagaries of such settings.

Often, musicians will take on the role of friend or listener as they chat to patients about the memories the music may have sparked. It’s an important part of the experience, and one that is welcomed by patients.

‘It’s intimate,’ says Gorry. ‘I can engage with an audience in a way I can’t do at, say, a wedding when everybody’s a bit drunk and I’m in the background. Over the past year, I’ve become a much better performer. It has changed the way I sing. Now I think about how to communicate a song simply, without overcomplicating it.’

SPECIAL MOMENTS

As well as in care homes, Gorry has performed in hospitals and special-needs schools. She says her experience with the charity has given her memories that will last a lifetime. One of the most moving was when a nurse in a children’s ward asked her to sing for an eight-year-old girl.

‘She hadn’t been responsive for a long time and, with her mum and sister by her side, my guitarist and I were able to wake her up and help make eye contact. At that point, her mum started crying. She said it was the most stimulated she’d seen her for a really long time. Moments like that make it all worthwhile.’

Close harmony

With the help of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), Music in Hospitals aims to reach 5,400 elderly people. David Innes, CEO of the MCF, says that the benefits of the service are clear to see and the work itself is closely aligned with the masonic ethos:

‘At the heart of everything we do lies one of the basic principles by which all Freemasons conduct their lives – an ingrained duty to care for those who are less fortunate. From its earliest days in the 1700s, Freemasonry in England and Wales has been concerned with the care of orphans, the sick and the aged, and this grant is a continuation of that principle into the modern day.’

Published in Freemasonry Cares

Craft on canvas

In its Tercentenary year, the United Grand Lodge of England’s first ever Artist in Residence, Jacques Viljoen, gives a fresh perspective on Freemasonry

On 24 June, the general public were invited into Freemasons’ Hall to view a new exhibition, Rough to Smooth: Art inspired by Freemasonry – past, present and future. It featured work by the United Grand Lodge of England’s first ever Artist in Residence, Jacques Viljoen, who had been given unprecedented access to objects and spaces throughout the five-floor Grade II* listed building.

All of Viljoen’s subjects were painted from life, using traditional techniques and no photography. His work presents a new look at the world of contemporary Freemasonry, showing intimate moments that might usually go unnoticed. ‘This has been an incredible opportunity to explore an organisation with an intricate and ancient history,’ he said.

Alongside Viljoen, nine guest artists were also given unique access to Freemasons’ Hall, working in different mediums that ranged from oils to mixed media and photography. Renowned Norwegian oil painter Henrik Uldalen’s contemporary yet classic figurative work sat by work by Lithuanian artist Elika Bo, who creates images by endlessly layering objects, while Nicholas Chaundy offered a technical homage to the painting techniques used in the many masterpieces that fill the Hall.

President of the Board of General Purposes Anthony Wilson commented: ‘What has struck me, above all else, is the amount of thought and work that has gone into each picture. The artists have demonstrated both an understanding of, and a variety of responses to, Freemasonry, its values and, in particular, our splendid building.’

Rough to Smooth was just one of the attractions at the Freemasons’ Hall Open Day, with members of the public also able to visit the building’s ornate Grand Temple and the shrine to those Freemasons who lost their lives in World War I. Musical performances from Grand Organist Carl Jackson, the Occasional Strings quartet and the Art Deco Orchestra accompanied visitors throughout the event.

The Open Day was organised by the Library and Museum of Freemasonry. Reflecting on the event, Library and Museum Director Diane Clements said: ‘It was a very successful day, with more than 2,800 visitors enjoying the music, the architecture and the opportunity to see the Artist in Residence exhibition.’

Published in UGLE

ugle logo          SGC logo