The sociable network
With social media and a pint at the local pub attracting a new following of junior Freemasons, Caitlin Davies meets the Rough Ashlar Club
These days, a recommendation to become a Freemason doesn’t have to happen at the local pub. Ubiquitous internet access and devices mean that social media is now proving an ideal way for Cheshire Freemasons to reach out to new, younger members. Launched last November for junior masons, the Rough Ashlar Club has a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed that’s gathered nearly five hundred followers to date.
The club is a result of the Cheshire Master Masons Forum, whose aim is to make Freemasonry a modern, appealing and fun organisation, while retaining its core traditional values. ‘Our leaders in Cheshire identified that we needed to engage with young guys.
Now the forum has various projects and we’re bringing Cheshire into the modern era,’ explains Master Masons chair Mark Sellers, thirty-six, a Freemason for nearly ten years.
The Rough Ashlar Club launched with a Greek-themed night, attended by around forty people. ‘The idea was to bring mates along to meet your masonic friends,’ says Mark. ‘We’ve not got two heads, we’re normal guys who enjoy friendship and raise money for charity.’
Forum member Tom Browne, forty-seven, says they surveyed lodges and found that people wanted more social events. So the club held a Fancy a Pint night in pubs around Cheshire.
Events so far have been as inclusive as possible, targeting the young but not excluding seniors, and open to family and friends. Plans are now afoot for cheese and wine evenings, casino nights, a family fun day and a Christmas ball. In February the club sold well over one hundred tickets for a race night – and raised £1,770 for charity. Upcoming events include a trip to the Chester Charity Beer Festival.
So, beer features quite prominently in the club’s activities? Tom laughs, ‘It seems to be a running theme.’
Another theme is the use of social media. Forum member Phil Hopkinson set up a website (www.roughashlarclub.org), which advertises events and keeps people up to date with news. A Facebook page has also been launched, but it’s the Twitter feed (@RoughAshlarClub), with news, comments and photographs, that has been the biggest success.
‘Twitter has been phenomenal. Older guys say, “I wish we’d had this while I was growing up!”’ Mark Sellers
Entering a new age
While posting regular tweets and keeping the website and Facebook page fresh is a big time commitment, the Rough Ashlar Club is already seeing the results. ‘Younger brethren are constantly asking when the next event will be,’ says Tom. ‘Social media is definitely working and this is only the beginning.’
Forum member Adam Collantine describes his role as ‘ambassador, champion and a bit of a mouthpiece’. He says the club was started for ‘young’ masons; then the forum realised the median age of new masons is between forty and fifty, so they changed the word to ‘junior’.
Adam, thirty, became a mason by simply writing to the Province saying he wanted to join. ‘I’d read up on it and I was feeling slightly disheartened about the state of the world, the country and the way people behave to each other. I liked the core values of Freemasonry.’
It was Adam and other forum members who made a concerted effort to bring Cheshire Freemasons into the twenty-first century.
‘We said we’d run a Facebook page and a Twitter feed as a trial for the Province,’ he says, revealing that the Province has just started a Twitter feed of its own. ‘I was a Facebook man, but Twitter is faster and constantly updated.
The point of social media is short pieces. I’m at work, I don’t have time to read an article, but I can read one hundred and forty characters.’
Open and honest
‘The people in the Province didn’t understand social media and there was a fear of exposing themselves to criticism,’ admits Mark. ‘There has been a lot of interaction, but no negative press. Twitter has been phenomenal. All the people I bump into think it’s great. Older guys say, “I wish we’d had this while I was growing up!”’
As for the social events, Mark explains that masonic activities are not exclusive from the rest of the member’s life: ‘Wives, partners and girlfriends get to enjoy them too.’ The club’s website, meanwhile, includes a section for people thinking of becoming a Freemason.
It explains the organisation’s history and dispels the myth that becoming a mason is difficult.
Mark says new members are now applying though the internet; the days of having to be invited to be a Freemason are well and truly gone. ‘We need to be open and honest and let people find out about us. People join, they go through their Three Degrees and then they wonder what’s next – especially if there aren’t younger guys at their lodge. They want to know how to get more involved.’
The Rough Ashlar Club’s aim is to help the Craft both survive and thrive. It has created a list of Cheshire-based masonic tweeters to encourage communications between all corners of the Province. And if social media continues to thrive as a communication and recruitment tool, what’s happening in Cheshire could provide a template for other Provinces to use – so watch this space. Or for those already on Twitter, watch this ‘#’.
Letters to the editor - No. 24 Winter 2013
Getting to know you
I was interested to read in your most recent edition of the concerns that many members have with regards to recruitment policies, and the quality and speed in which a member advances through the offices.
All views expressed seem to have merit but there are a complex number of issues that one has to consider with regards to recruitment within masonry. Quality is undoubtedly the major influencer in sustaining good numbers years after many others have come and gone.
Our lodge, White Eagle, adopted a policy some years back, which has some extremely encouraging results.
The basis of recruitment had been to identify a character that a member could recommend, and put it to him on the first occasion whether or not he wished to be a mason – this often without any real knowledge of the organisation or any of the people within the particular lodge he might be joining.
We identified this as being a policy which failed to produce the right quantity and quality of prospective masons. We therefore embarked on creating some ‘fringe events’, which include a dinner between 6pm and 7.30pm on Thursdays (as our Lodge of Instruction meets later that evening). Members are encouraged to invite anybody, without the slightest notion of recruiting them into Freemasonry.
This provides a way by which, through regular attendance, a prospective member could consider the characters involved in Freemasonry before making the enquiry to join himself. It is only once that person has proved themselves as somebody who would attend each Thursday for dinner, drinks and a social occasion (for say a year) do we begin to enquire if there is a deeper interest in them joining the organisation.
By encouraging these dinners, the potential candidate also has the chance to introduce other friends with the possibility of them becoming interested. We have found it a most useful and successful recruitment policy. Because it is not an obvious recruitment event, it attracts more enquiries.
It should also be noted that by creating an event on our regular Lodge of Instruction evenings, it maintains the interest and attendance of existing members which, in my own opinion, is the primary challenge that lodges face. On that point, we are purposefully delaying progress through the ranks, as rapid advancement has a tendency to put too much pressure on some, and they have a tendency to fall by the wayside, so to speak. I hope some other lodges find these ideas helpful.
Robin Norris, White Eagle Lodge, No. 4384, London
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 23 Autumn 2013
What an inspiration it was to read the article by Caitlin Davies in the summer 2013 edition. To see young Freemasons embracing new technology so successfully lifted my spirits.
At seventy-five years of age and twenty-six years a member, I have long wondered what the young guys make of us older brethren, with our old suits and tales of crowded lodge meetings of the past. Looking forward, I have long been convinced that once encouraged, modern communication systems would prove a great advantage in recruitment and retention.
Looking at the photographs accompanying the article I noticed not a musty old suit in sight; the confidence shone through the happy faces and demonstrated our openness to anyone in doubt – we are not a load of old fuddy-duddies with funny clothes and two heads.
Clearly, modern communication is the way forward and these brethren are proving their success in the interest they are generating. Despite occasional bad press about certain media sites, I hope the powers that be will encourage activity like this in all Provinces.
It must, of course, have clear guidelines in which to operate but please don’t strangle it at birth. No doubt some of the ‘suits’ will rail against my comments but I fear they might be the ones whose outdated attitudes slow down the future progress of this wonderful fraternity.
Brian Fairweather, Old Rectory Lodge, No. 6651, Caversham, Berkshire
Letters to the editor - No. 22 Summer 2013
Spread the word
Seventy per cent of our lodge’s new members have been secured directly through our website. Their enthusiasm and the renewed enthusiasm shown by our existing members has proved a draw for others. In 2011 we were fortunate to have initiated four members, in 2012 eight new initiates, and now have seven in line for next year plus three joining members. This takes the total to about thirty-nine – almost double our previous membership.
With almost thirty outstanding ceremonies projected at the start of 2012, we had to make sure new candidates didn’t lose interest while waiting to progress through their respective degrees. Mentoring and communication play an important part. As we are busy in the lodge, we are able to give them work at the earliest opportunity without them feeling under any pressure, and progression is now by merit and ability. We have also been fortunate to have support from a number of other lodges in Middlesex who have had no scheduled work. This means that our candidates can progress as quickly as they want and it boosts the numbers at the meetings of the other lodges because we will attend to support our candidates. Most importantly, visiting enables friendships to be made between the lodges.
By putting our efforts into digital and social media, we have been able to tap into a growing online community of existing and would-be Freemasons.
In doing this, we have provided a place where people can learn about, discuss and eventually join our lodge more easily than they have been able to in the past.
Nigel Harris-Cooksley, North Harrow Lodge, No. 6557, Harrow, Middlesex
A member of Thermopylae Lodge, No. 4386, in the Province of Cheshire created a Facebook page last year to help provide information about the lodge and to help dispel the myths about Freemasonry. Within months it became popular to the point where people were approaching asking for further information about charity work, activities and membership. The current following is little under four hundred and the page can reach up to forty-five thousand people some weeks.
The first to ask for more information were a father and son. After attending social events and getting to know the members of the lodge they decided to join and their double initiation was in February. They have fitted in brilliantly and taken on the true spirit of the lodge. We get asked by enquirers for more information daily. We offer links to Grand Lodge or the Province as appropriate and the benefit of the page is incredible: www.facebook.com/wirralfreemasons
Dale Bland, Thermopylae Lodge, No. 4386, Wallasey, Cheshire