In a bid to ensure that new recruits to Freemasonry feel part of their Province, the Adair Club embraces a relaxed ethos. Simon Lewis finds out how a modern outlook and traditional masonic values combine in Somerset
About five months after I became a mason I was made redundant,’ remembers Griff Bromfield-Jenkins, a thirty-year-old mature student from Bristol. ‘Redundancy can sap the life out of you.’
At the time, Griff was the youngest Freemason he knew. Many young men in his position, without a wide network of support, might start to lose their taste for lodge business. Luckily for Griff, his Province has a club for the rising number of young Freemasons in Somerset. Established in late 2012 and named the Adair Club after youthful Crimean War hero Colonel Alexander Adair – Somerset’s youngest ever Provincial Grand Master – it’s an informal network of friends who help each other through the early years of their masonic journey.
Founder and Club Secretary Sam Mayer explains how he got the idea: ‘I joined Freemasonry in Devon in a small village lodge and felt very much at home, but then I moved up to Bristol and joined a lodge that was much older. I was quite young in the chair at twenty-seven and the next youngest was probably double my age. I could see that being an issue for some of the younger guys coming into Freemasonry. So I set up a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter account and we started a club, initially for the under-thirties, doing local visits to other lodges. We did a tour of the Bath Ales brewery back in August.’
‘Could it be a nationwide movement? I’d certainly be keen to form a network with other groups.’ Sam Mayer
‘There were about fifteen of us,’ says Griff, who’d heard about the Adair Club at a talk given by his Provincial Officer. ‘We had a few drinks and it was a relaxed way of getting people together who’d never met, since we were all from different lodges.’
One of them was Dave Gleeson, a sales manager from Bristol who, at thirty, is about to have his first child. ‘It’s nice to get a wider mix of friends from my own age group,’ says Dave. ‘We’re all at a similar stage in our journey through Freemasonry, still learning the traditions, finding our feet. Sam’s a good guide because, although he’s still quite young, he’s been a Freemason since he was twenty-one. He has a great understanding and is able to impart that to me and the other guys. One of the first events he arranged was a visit to the Bath temple where Colonel Adair’s regalia is on display, so that was a good starting point.’
Dave cites the history, rituals and morals of Freemasonry as key reasons for joining. Sam and Griff agree. But what keeps them coming back is the social side – and the Adair Club has been crucial for that. ‘We’ve done a couple of curry nights, had Christmas drinks and visited some university lodges. Sam, Griff, Harry – they’re all from different lodges and I’d never have come across them if not for this club.’
‘It’s important to have a steady stream of new guys who stay around long enough to make a difference.’ Dave Gleeson
Harry Blinston, an insurance sales manager from Weston-Super-Mare, has, like most of the group, been a Freemason for less than five years. Unlike them, he’s forty-nine and married with three kids. ‘Freemasonry has been seen as a bit fuddy-duddy,’ Harry says. ‘People think it’s a bit dusty, a bit “old gentleman’s club”. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My ten-year-old son has made some fantastic friends through my lodge, Saint Kew (No. 1222), which is incredibly active. But it’s obvious that if you don’t retain new members, the thing will struggle.’
With a core membership of around thirty and rising, no subscription fees and easy communication by social media, the Adair Club is not only building stronger ties within the Province but also further afield. On a trip to Freemasons’ Hall in London last year they met members of the Connaught Club, a young masons network founded in 2007, and saw how things are done at the Lodge of the West Indies, No. 9424. ‘Halfway through they stop, have a shot of rum, then go back to finish off the ceremony,’ recalls Griff.
‘There are quite a few clubs like ours now,’ says Sam. ‘As well as the Connaught in London, there’s a new one in Bristol called The Dunckerleys. Then there’s The Trelawny Club in Cornwall and various Light Blue clubs around the country. Could it be a nationwide movement? I’d certainly be keen to form a network with other young masons groups as they develop. I’m already in touch with South Wales, Devon and Cornwall. I’m sure it will go from strength to strength in the future as more people take it up.’
So is it working? Are new masons more likely to stay when these groups support them? John Winston, Somerset Assistant Provincial Grand Master, who becomes Deputy Provincial Grand Master in April, has the figures to hand: ‘We’ve seen a definite boost in retention,’ he says. ‘Sam said he wanted to start with a small nucleus in Bath, where there are a lot of younger masons thanks to the Universities Scheme. We have held on to them. Now the club is spreading to the other big towns. They’re getting on well, organising social events and supporting new members.’
Recruitment in Somerset has gone up in the past eighteen months, too – which is not the case in every Province. ‘I used to think it was unusual for people to become masons in their twenties,’ says Harry, ‘but I’ve got two friends who joined last year. One’s twenty-four and the other is twenty-one.’
‘I met a mason the other day at the University of Bath who was twenty-four and already Junior Warden,’ adds Dave. ‘It’s important to have a steady stream of new guys taking over the reins, and staying around long enough to make a difference. A lot of the older guys are from the police and civil service, those more institutional backgrounds, whereas most of the Adair Club are from sales or professional services.’
‘Change doesn’t imply a criticism… It doesn’t have to be about throwing out tradition.’ Harry Blinston
Along with fresh blood come fresh ideas. ‘As Freemasonry grows in Somerset, we’re keeping the traditions that we love, some of which have been unchanged for centuries,’ says Dave, ‘but we’re also modernising. We shorten the rituals wherever we can to give people time back to spend with their families.
I think we were the first in the Province to get a Twitter account and I’ve built a website for my lodge (Eldon, No. 1755), which is primarily for recruitment but also has a social element. It all helps us with our charity work and keeps us in touch with other lodges.’
None of the Adair Club would dream of changing the core tenets of Freemasonry. They’re unanimous in their love of the ritual, the history and the traditions. Keeping those alive is what the club is for. ‘Change doesn’t imply a criticism,’ says Harry. ‘I was speaking to a senior Provincial Officer the other day who was concerned: he didn’t want to throw out tradition.
But change doesn’t have to be about that. If you don’t evolve, you go the way of the dinosaurs.’
With a growing membership, the support of a progressive Provincial Grand Master and a wealth of youthful energy, the future looks bright for the Adair Club. ‘I’d like another visit to London,’ says Griff. ‘Sam’s looking into a clay pigeon shoot, which would be fantastic, and another brewery visit! We’re toying with the idea of a lodge tour of Scotland. But we’ll have to see what the wife says about that.’ Progressive as the Adair Club may be, family still comes first.