The Library and Museum of Freemasonry is pleased to welcome Dr Vicky Carroll as its new Director
Carroll, who started at the end of November, replaces Diane Clements when she retires in December. Carroll has most recently been working for the City of London Corporation as the Principal Curator of Keats House in Hampstead and as the Head of the Guildhall Art Gallery.
She has also managed London’s William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, leading the delivery of its Heritage Lottery Fund-assisted redevelopment in 2011-13.
‘I am looking forward to this new challenge, building on the recent successful re-display of these wonderful Designated collections so that we can engage with an ever-wider audience,’ Carroll said.
Up to the plate
As the staff at the Parthenon restaurant busy themselves preparing Greek delicacies, they communicate in sign language. Matt Timms discovers how masonic funding is giving deaf people new opportunities and changing perceptions
Last year there was not a single Greek restaurant in Blackburn. So when the Parthenon flung its doors open in May, locals rejoiced that finally there was a place to enjoy some Mediterranean cuisine. Never one to do things by halves, Doug Alker, the man behind the place, brought over a chef from Greece, Greek waiters, and even a traditional Greek musical duo, complete with bouzouki (a traditional string instrument) and liberal use of the expression ‘Opa!’
Chef Petros Tsilgkiriau claims his moussaka is ‘perfect’, while the staff hardly let a night slide without a spot of traditional dance. It’s authentic Greek and shares much in common with any restaurant you would find in the motherland. However, it also has one major difference – most of the people working here are deaf.
Rather than bark orders at one another, the kitchen staff use British Sign Language, or BSL, to communicate in order to cook and prepare meals. All except Tsilgkiriau are deaf, and three of the workers have just started 18-month apprenticeships organised by the East Lancashire Deaf Society (ELDS) and funded by the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF).
Statistics show that deaf people are 50% less likely to find employment, education or training than those who are not hard of hearing, due mainly to difficulties around communicating verbally. Approximately 71% of the deaf community fail to achieve the government’s target of five GCSEs, exacerbating the issue further.
The £75,000 grant from the MCF will fully fund the Parthenon restaurant apprenticeship scheme three evenings a week for three years. It not only benefits the apprentices but improves perceptions of deaf people in Blackburn and beyond. With local businesses able to engage with the scheme, the hope is that it will open up employment opportunities for apprentices later in life.
‘We’ve created a working model here for how the deaf should be treated,’ says Alker, executive chair and managing director of the ELDS. ‘It’s a small-scale model, and all we need now is to expand. People should come in and see for themselves that this is how it can be done.’
The restaurant is a self-supporting, not-for-profit social enterprise established by the ELDS. It joins 11 other apprenticeships, including nurseries and a home-solutions programme, as part of the charity’s efforts to integrate deaf people into the community. ‘Perceptions have changed of what it means to be deaf,’ says Alker, who has headed up the ELDS for more than 20 years.
Vasileios Orfanos, who goes by the name Lakis, has been working in the kitchen as an apprentice for three months. ‘To the hearing people who think deaf people can’t, it’s a nice message to say, “Yes, we can,”’ he says of the restaurant.
As a fan of Greek food and cooking, Orfanos says the apprenticeship has not only helped improve his skills in the kitchen, but his confidence, too. ‘Now that people see me here at work, I think attitudes have changed. Working here, I’ve seen a shift. People see that a deaf person can work and do anything that they want to do.’
Tanvir Shah, an ex-apprentice and now kitchen manager, has experienced many of the challenges that young deaf people face in work and education. Despite attending college and obtaining a qualification in mechanics, Shah has struggled to find a job. His hearing issues were deemed too great a risk by potential employers, and requests for interpreters proved too problematic – and expensive – to carry through.
‘That really hit my confidence,’ says Shah, who credits the ELDS apprenticeship for kick-starting his career. ‘I had the future to think about. I have to work for myself and provide for my daughter.’ After two years in the kitchen, he was asked if he wanted to work at the Parthenon permanently. Now he teaches apprentices, who can not only communicate with him on the same level, but also learn from his experiences. For Shah, the evolution from apprentice to mentor has paid huge dividends. ‘My confidence has skyrocketed,’ he says. ‘I’m not in this little box any more, nor do I feel so shy. I’m in a good place and just enjoying life.’
BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS
Another apprentice, Cassie Chrysah, lives across the road from the restaurant, and arrived from Greece with aspirations to work as a waitress. She has seen first-hand how the ELDS can open doors. Chrysah previously expressed an interest in joinery back home, and the ELDS has now given her the chance to study it at college. ‘Of course, deaf people still encounter barriers. But situations like this mean people’s resistance dissolves,’ says Alker. ‘With Cassie, with the restaurant, with the dancing, our aim is to change perceptions.’
As executive manager and self-styled ‘mum to the group’, Clare Stocks says the Parthenon staff are more than just workmates. After the last customer has left, the staff get together for a sit-down meal. ‘I consider these people my family. It’s not like I really want to go home,’ says Orfanos. ‘In a world where people see me as disabled, here I’m treated as an equal.’
Issues such as social exclusion and isolation affect all areas of society, yet the media tends to focus on the elderly. ‘We sometimes forget that these same issues can affect people of any age, particularly those with disabilities,’ says Les Hutchinson, Chief Operating Officer of the MCF. ‘As a society, we are incredibly lucky that charities like the ELDS exist. They have proven that it is possible to combat educational and employment barriers for young deaf people.’
The East Lancashire Deaf Society is a not-for-profit charity based in Blackburn that provides support to deaf groups across Lancashire. It aims to understand the diverse range of communication needs of deaf British Sign Language users, deaf-blind people, hard-of-hearing people and those who have lost theirhearing later in life. The society aims for individuals to get the same opportunities in education, employment, access and involvement as everyone else in the community. It achieves this through three key routes:
Find out more - click here.
Vote of confidence
In celebration of the Freemasons’ Tercentenary year, the public was invited by the MCF to vote for their favourite charities. John McCrohan, Head of Strategic Development & Special Projects at the MCF, explains the rationale behind this initiative
Tell us about your role…
I support the CEO and Board to bring together the activities of the four legacy charities that were amalgamated into the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) to ensure they continue to meet the needs of both the masonic community and the wider community through our non-masonic grant-making. In January 2011, I started working for the Masonic Samaritan Fund, one of those four legacy charities, as Grants Director and Deputy CEO. I held the post until the consolidation of the MCF in April 2016, when I took on my current role. As well as respecting the legacy of the four charities, it’s also my job to focus on the future and think about how we can do things differently – and better.
What are the Community Awards?
The full name is the MCF Community Awards –Tercentenary Fund. These are 300 grants totalling £3 million that acknowledge the 300-year anniversary of UGLE. The Awards were created in part to raise MCF’s profile within the masonic community, but also externally. This initiative was our first large-scale, public-facing activity, and was designed to let the wider public know about the good work that happens as a result of the generosity of the Freemasons. We typically spend up to £5 million a year supporting UK charities and responding to disasters and emergencies, both here and abroad. But to celebrate the Tercentenary, we wanted to do something in addition to that, which is where the idea for the £3 million Community Awards came from. We also wanted to celebrate the formation of the MCF.
How do the grants work?
They were for either £4,000, £6,000, £15,000 or £25,000, depending on how many votes a charity got. The grants were spread across all of our Provinces, and we allocated either four, six or eight grants to each depending on size. London got 26 because of its size. It was important that the charities we supported were operating, and helping people, locally. We wanted the grants to reassure masons that the MCF is pushing money back to their communities, to see that the money they give doesn’t get swallowed up in a black hole here in London. And, of course, we wanted to show that we apply good grant-making practice and observe good due diligence.
How did you decide who would qualify for a grant?
Firstly, I went to Provinces and said, ‘We’ve got money for you, we’ll be giving grants in your region, but we’d like you to tell us which charities are close to your heart.’ We then asked each Province and Metropolitan Grand Lodge to compile a list of their chosen charities, filtered down to their allocated number. The shortlists came to us and we carried out initial due diligence to make sure charities were eligible, that they weren’t already an active recipient of a grant, and so on. We then confirmed shortlists with the Provinces and Metropolitan Grand Lodge and began contacting charities, inviting them to formally apply for a grant. They still needed to complete an application, though by this stage they were guaranteed at least £4,000 – but could potentially get as much as £25,000 if they got the most votes.
What types of charities were nominated?
We had charities in every sector – from financial hardship, social exclusion and disadvantage through to health and disability, education and employability. We had community centres, initiatives reducing isolation and loneliness for older people and complementary emergency services – things like blood bikes, for example, which take blood supplies around a county.
And how did the general public phase of the vote work?
People voted primarily online – we promoted the vote on our website, and through our social media and masonic contacts. Having spoken to some charities that had already worked with the public on that kind of scale, however, it became clear that to really make the voting work, we needed the charities themselves to lead the promotion – on their own social-media sites and during public events. To do this, we provided them with materials showing masonic iconography and branding that they could use. And, of course, the competitive element of ‘more votes equals a bigger grant’ really spurred them on.
What were the responses like?
We ended up with 177,801 votes, which really blew away our expectations. Almost 160,000 of those votes were made online, with another 18,000 cast at local events. After people voted, there was an optional short survey of just two questions. One asked if the initiative had improved the voter’s opinion of Freemasonry. Some 57% of those who completed the survey – 36,000 people – said that it had improved their perception of Freemasonry. We believe that’s pretty strong evidence that the initiative really worked.
What did you learn from the project?
We’d never done anything like this before so we were all on a massive technological learning curve. We were very exposed, so the pressure was on – we only had six months to develop the project before it went live. We were still testing the voting pages, making sure the images were right and the copy was okay the day before launch. That was a bit stressful. It was all worth it when the charities, and public, told us they didn’t realise we operated on this scale or supported so many people in this way. Given that raising this awareness was one of our key drivers, I think we’ve been really successful. Going forward, we’ll be able to do something like this much more easily because all our building blocks are now in place.
What happens next?
We are going to monitor the projects throughout the 12 months that the grants last, and do a full evaluation at the end. We want to make sure that what we have done with this grant fund has made a real impact. In a year’s time we’ll go back and see what has worked, what hasn’t worked so well and what lessons have been learned. We’ll see how we can improve, if we do something like it again in future.
Find out more - click here.
Around the world
Four charities that have benefited from the Community Awards
Social Exclusion and Disability: Veterans in Action
Veterans in Action (VIA) helps armed service veterans who have suffered the effects of war or who have found the transition back to civilian life difficult. For the past six years, VIA has been organising walking expeditions that have needed support vehicles – Land Rovers and minibuses – which are now ageing and require maintenance. The funds from the MCF grant will be used to fund a new project called the Veterans Restorations Project, which aims to restore and upgrade the existing vehicles.
Financial Hardship: Centrepoint North East
Centrepoint is the UK’s leading charity working with homeless people aged sixteen to twenty-five. It supports more than 9,000 people a year, 800 of whom are from the North East. The grant will be used for its Rent Deposit Guarantee Scheme (RDGS), which aims to increase the supply of affordable rented accommodation to disadvantaged sixteen- to twenty-five-year-olds and those at risk of homelessness. As part of their acceptance on to RDGS, the person agrees to save with Centrepoint so they can afford their own cash bond as and when they move tenancy. This will enable them to have a secure base from which to build their future.
Education and Employability: Romney Resource Centre
Romney Resource Centre (RRC) was founded in 1999 and has developed a reputation as a centre of excellence, being the only provider of careers and skills advice, training, education and employment support in Romney Marsh for sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds and adults. Due to significant cutbacks in adult skills at the Skills Funding Agency, there is little further-education funding available for Romney Marsh communities – a critical situation if they are not able to upskill or attain updated qualifications. As a consequence, RRC is now seeking grant-funding support in order to continue its mission.
Health and Disability: HUTS
Now established for more than two decades, the Help Us To Survive (HUTS) Workshop supports individuals suffering with mental-health issues and learning disabilities across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. The therapeutic arts-based centre currently has more than 100 active members attending its workshop. The MCF award will go towards maintaining a full-time qualified ceramics and silkscreen-printing support worker. They provide support for members to explore creativity, gain confidence and to reduce isolation and deprivation within the rural community.
The last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire
Maharaja Duleep Singh gave up his throne in India to be raised a gentleman aristocrat in England. Philippa Faulks finds out how Duleep’s connection with the Royal Family inspired his Freemasonry
Mharajah Duleep Singh’s life was one of opulence and tragedy. On 29 March 1849, the son of the late Maharaja Ranjit Singh (known as Sher-i-Punjab, or ‘Lion of Punjab’) effectively became a king without a country.
Ending what his father had founded as Pakistan’s first independent state of Lahore, in the Punjab, the ten-year-old reluctantly signed the official document, later known as the Treaty of Lahore, and annexed the state. In doing so, he relinquished vast areas of India, and his family’s wealth, into the hands of Britain’s East India Company.
The Koh-i-Noor diamond, subsequently ‘gifted’ to Queen Victoria by the Marquess of Dalhousie, was part of this treasure trove. Given the diamond’s history of royal bloodshed and the ill fortune attached to those who possessed it, it is of no surprise that the newly disposed Maharaja’s life went from bad to worse. Born on 6 September 1838, Duleep was the youngest son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) and Maharani Jind Kaur (1817-1863). When Ranjit died, he left six sons, of which four were legitimate or ‘acknowledged’; only two of these – Khurruck and Duleep – were ‘fully acknowledged’ by the Maharaja.
At the age of five, having lost his predecessors to assassinations, Duleep was declared sovereign with his mother, who was described by the British as ‘a woman of great capacity and strong will’. Duleep acted as Regent until December 1846, after the First Anglo-Sikh War. The former Maharani was deposed by the British, imprisoned and replaced by a Council of Regency. Duleep would not see his mother again for more than 13 years.
Following the Second Anglo-Sikh War, the ten-year-old Duleep signed the Treaty of Lahore and the annexation of the state was complete. The document stated: ‘His Highness the Maharajah Duleep Singh shall resign for himself, his heirs, and his successors all right, title, and claim to the sovereignty of the Punjab, or to any sovereign power whatever […] All the property of the State […] shall be confiscated to the Honourable East India Company, in part payment of the debt due by the State of Lahore to the British Government.’
Within a week of control being relinquished, Duleep was handed over to the guardianship of Sir John Login and his wife. Login had just been installed as Governor of the Lahore Citadel and would benefit from Duleep’s guardianship, monetarily and socially. Indirectly, the finances of the Maharajah contributed significantly to Login’s missionary schools in Fatahgarh, Uttar Pradesh, where, according to the book Sir John Login and Duleep Singh (Lady Login, 1890), the young sovereign lived comfortably and, in the main, enjoyably with the Logins after his removal from Lahore.
It was to be a condition of his future exile in England that the young sovereign become a Christian, but how much of this was under duress is a controversial point. Certainly, Lady Login’s account is that he was most enthusiastic and adhered to his Bible studies with a passion; he was baptised on 8 March 1853.
‘Duleep’s passions included art, music, shooting and coursing – fitting the part of an English country gentleman, which he would soon become’
SCOTLAND'S ‘BLACK PRINCE’
Duleep’s other passions included art, music, shooting and coursing – fitting the part of an English country gentleman, which he would soon become. But his life was monitored and manoeuvred by the East India Company Board. Any hint of a desire to return to India was thwarted and a gentlemanly diversion of travel and other pursuits was instigated.
During his young life, Duleep moved from one part of Britain to another but was most taken with Scotland, where he was known for his penchant for shooting parties and donning Highland dress, gaining the nickname the ‘Black Prince of Perthshire’.
Not long after his arrival in England, Queen Victoria received the Maharaja at Buckingham Palace. He became a friend of the Royal Family, spending summers with them at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. The Queen affectionately called the young Singh ‘her beautiful boy’, and he struck up a firm friendship with Albert and her sons (Duleep’s own sons were to bear the names of Albert Edward, Victor and Frederick).
Likely inspired by the Royal Family’s masonic connections, he became a member of various gentlemen’s clubs – notably, and ironically, the East India Club. However, it was in 1861, when Duleep returned to India to bring his mother out of political exile, that he was admitted into Freemasonry in Lodge Star in the East, Calcutta, No. 67.
Aside from his masonic membership, Duleep was awarded the title of Knight Grand Commander (GCSI) in the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India by Queen Victoria – the Order’s motto is ‘Heaven’s light our guide’.
After Duleep brought his beloved mother back to England, she only lived for another two years, passing away on 1 August 1863, at her son’s Kensington residence, Abingdon House. Her death prompted Duleep to request to escort her body to the Punjab for cremation. This was denied by the government of India, but he was later permitted to take her to Nashik, Maharashtra, which he did in February 1864.
Duleep returned to England via Egypt, where he met Christian Mission teacher Bamba Müller, the daughter of a German banker and an Abyssinian Coptic Christian slave. They married on 7 June 1864. A year later, the couple took up residence at Elveden Estate in Suffolk, ensuring he could live as a Victorian noble. They had six children – three sons and three daughters.
RECONNECTING WITH HOME
The marriage was short-lived. In 1886, Duleep became disillusioned with the British government after it continually reneged on a promise to supply him with a yearly income in exchange for his allegiance. He had begun to reacquaint himself with the Sikh faith during his years in exile and had re-established contact with his relatives in Lahore. Duleep longed to return to his homeland and regain his royal status, something he attempted on 30 March 1886. Along with his family, he set sail for India but was intercepted and arrested in Aden.
Duleep was no longer welcome in England, and his wife and family returned alone to London, where the Maharani died shortly after in 1887. The Maharaja remarried, having two further children, but his burning desire to return to India led him as far as exhorting the support of the Tsar. This mission also failed.
Heartbroken and in reduced circumstances, Duleep reached out to Queen Victoria, and after negotiation with the government and Crown, he received a pardon. Sadly, he was to die in Paris, aged just 55. His body was not transferred to India for cremation, as per his wishes, but was instead returned to England for a Christian burial, laid beside the Maharani Bamba in the churchyard on his former estate at Elveden.
Duleep Singh’s grave has since become a pilgrimage site for Sikhs. Requests to return both the Koh-i-noor diamond and the remains of the last Maharaja of Lahore to their homeland have never been granted, with the diamond, now resplendent in the Crown Jewels, having barely been worn.
We make a difference
While the names may be forgotten, the contributions made by individual Freemasons to local communities live on. Director of Special Projects John Hamill celebrates their efforts
During the Tercentenary celebrations, both here and overseas, there have been many references in speeches, books and exhibitions to the famous individuals who have graced our fraternity over the last 300 years – monarchs, statesmen, senior members of the armed forces, musicians, artists, writers, actors, philosophers, great philanthropists and those who have distinguished themselves in the fields of science, invention, industry and commerce.
Some of these luminaries have made major contributions to the development of Freemasonry. Others have simply enjoyed the fellowship with their fellow members, seeing their lodge as a haven of peace in an often turbulent and stressful world. We rightly remember them and give them due praise.
What we often forget and rarely praise, however, is the central core of our membership, memories of whom fade within a generation. They may not have set the world alight but in their own quiet way they have kept Freemasonry alive; preserved its principles and tenets; and selflessly passed them over to the next generation. They have, almost unconsciously, followed these principles in their private and public lives, in the process making a difference to their communities.
SERVING THE COMMUNITY
One of the American Grand Masters speaking at the 275th anniversary of Grand Lodge in 1992 characterised Freemasons as ‘doers’ in society. With a strong sense of service, they tend also to be involved in other voluntary organisations, community groups and civic life. Their activities run the gamut of community life, and these groups would be all the poorer without them.
Easy claims to make, a critic might say, but can you prove them? One source of proof is those items in lodge rooms that we all see but rarely read: the honours boards listing Past Masters of lodges, particularly those dating back to Victorian times. On a number of occasions, I have been present in a Provincial masonic hall when the editor of the local paper was being entertained. While looking at the honours boards, they often said that the Past Masters listed represented the history of the town as they were also the civic leaders and those who had developed its economy – and these people were often represented in the names of the town’s streets, buildings and recreational spaces.
We are often asked by outsiders if Freemasonry is still relevant in today’s society. Our answer has always been that we certainly are. We live in an increasingly self-orientated society in which the individual appears more important than the community, and where public and private morality is in decline.
The principles and tenets of Freemasonry and our strong tradition of community service, therefore, have a real part to play in the future of society. Freemasonry as a body has no power to change, but we as individual Freemasons can make a difference in our communities, just as our forebears did in the past.
We have been celebrating the Tercentenary of an institution, but should not forget that this institution is made up of people. We should remember with pride what our forebears have done. Their names may be forgotten, but their service, and its results, survive. We have inherited a proud tradition and should now look to the future to ensure that those principles and tenets are carried forward.
‘The principles and tenets of Freemasonry and our strong tradition of community service have a real part to play in the future of society’
A special invitation
From flapper girls and casinos through to big band orchestras and silent discos, The Grand Ball was a night to remember for the guests coming to Freemasons’ Hall
On the evening of Saturday, 30 September 2017, more than 2,000 Freemasons, their families and guests braved the autumnal weather to attend The Grand Ball at Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street.
A highlight of the Tercentenary social calendar, The Grand Ball was an opportunity for brethren of all ranks to enjoy a night of entertainment at UGLE’s headquarters. Lodge rooms were transformed into music venues, bars and even a tea room. The Grand Temple was unrecognisable following the installation of the largest raised dance floor in the capital.
Guests visiting from as far away as the US, Brazil, South Africa and Australia were treated to wine tasting, minigolf, arcade games, a giant Scalextric track and virtual-reality installations. The more active had a chance to dance to a jazz orchestra in the Grand Temple and a ceilidh in the Old Boardroom. Those heading up to Lodge Room 9, which had been transformed into a ‘rockaoke’ venue, had the opportunity to sing along with a live rock band.
Speciality gin, whisky and cognac bars, along with The Goose & Gridiron ale house, offered guests their favourite tipple, with more than 1,000 bottles of Champagne consumed by the end of the evening. Luckily, there was plentiful food available, including a seafood bar, world food stalls and an upmarket barbecue – all of which culminated in a breakfast served in time for the survivors’ photograph at 2.30am.
With an estimated 1,300 guests still partying the night away at 3am, the hardest part of the evening proved to be persuading them that it really was time to go as the doors were closing.
Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes salutes the generosity of Freemasons who have helped to support good causes all across the world
In June, the Grand Master unveiled a plaque on the outside of Freemasons’ Hall, erected by the time immemorial lodges, and he was then declared their Worshipful Master at a splendid ceremony at Mansion House. This was particularly appropriate as, 100 years ago, his great uncle and godfather, the Duke of Connaught, had received a similar honour.
The other Rulers and Past Rulers have covered cathedral services commemorating our Tercentenary from St David’s in West Wales to Norwich in the east, and from Salisbury and Exeter in the south to Durham in the north, with many in between. You have then arranged dinners, a race meeting, car rallies, choral events and concerts, family fun days and fossil digs – all of which were splendidly organised.
I was privileged to visit our Districts in the Eastern Archipelago and Sri Lanka, witnessing first-hand the charitable work that they have been involved with. In Kuala Lumpur I visited the site of what I believe will be a splendid new home for the elderly. In Sri Lanka, the District has raised funds to bring drinking water to an outlying village and three schools in that area. Together with the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), they are also supporting the relief efforts following the flooding caused by the unprecedented May monsoon.
These felt like short trips compared with those of our Assistant Grand Master, whom I feared was in danger of meeting himself coming back as he flew to Buenos Aires on 4 August for a meeting of our District of South America, Southern Division, and then on to Chile for talks with their Grand Master, before flying back to Heathrow on 8 August for onward travel to our District of Madras in Chennai.
It is humbling to witness your splendid efforts in support of Freemasonry. I have mentioned the Districts, but there has also been extraordinary work carried out in all the Provinces.
In June, I mentioned the phenomenal response you made to the Manchester bombing and Grenfell Tower fire in London. I can confirm that East Lancashire gave the Red Cross in Manchester more than £226,000 for the victims and that the Metropolitan Grand Lodge gave £100,000 to the Grenfell Tower Appeal – thank you for your generosity. And well done, North Wales, whose Festival with the RMGTB raised £3.1 million at £899 per member.
Thank you for your efforts with the MCF grants and public vote. I can report that more than 150,000 votes were cast across UGLE for the 300 charities to be awarded grants, and most of these votes – more than 80% – were from the general public. I know that the MCF has scrutinised these votes and has announced its award recipients. Congratulations to all involved in the MCF for this splendid initiative.
The project would not have been as successful without the exhaustive use of all social-media outlets, but I must here issue a caution on its use. Last year, we issued a very comprehensive instruction on the use, values and dangers of social media. One of the key points made was that you should ensure that anyone who you post images of on one of these sites should have agreed to be pictured. Yes, we need to be open and we want to promote our activities, but we must protect our members’ wishes. A little bit of common sense goes a long way.
From the Grand Secretary
What a year that was – a year to look back on with a great sense of achievement and pride. The sheer number and variety of events held across Provinces and Districts is a testament to the vitality and relevance of Freemasonry today, and to your hard work.
It has been a year when we have opened up Freemasons’ Hall to a number of major events, including the unveiling of our VC Memorial, our Artist in Residence, Sky TV, two Open Days and two organ concerts. Not forgetting a Grand Ball, at which 2,000 or so revellers marvelled at the transformation of the Grand Temple and many other art deco rooms for a splendid night.
It was also a year when other Sovereign Grand Lodges from around the globe celebrated with us the 300th anniversary of the formation of the world’s first organised Grand Lodge, which was established in London in 1717. Indeed, we were greatly honoured that more than 130 Grand Masters from these Sovereign Grand Lodges travelled great distances, many with their wives, to be with us at the various events taking place from 29-31 October. All of which culminated in the spectacular celebration at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 31 October.
A TIME TO REMEMBER
How privileged we have been as Freemasons in the United Grand Lodge of England to have been part of such an important and influential organisation at this time; 2017 will long be remembered, and we must now capitalise on this success as we move forward into the next 300 years.
In this issue of Freemasonry Today, we feature the spectacle and fanfare at the Royal Albert Hall when the Grand Master was joined by more than 4,400 brethren for a very special meeting. A testimony to the enduring strength of Freemasonry, the event was a remarkable feat of organisation that saw members transported to a banquet held in Battersea, south London – all of which required some meticulous preparation and planning.
Yet amid the grand celebrations, the everyday business of Freemasonry continued. We report on this year’s New and Young Masons Clubs Conference at the Severn Street Masonic Hall in Birmingham, which welcomed 100 new and young Freemasons from across the country. With attendees discussing ways to ensure the Craft’s relevance in the 21st century, Provincial Grand Master for South Wales Gareth Jones emphasised the need for masonry to become more intertwined with everyday communities.
As John Hamill explains in his ‘Reflection’ column this issue, it is our contribution to communities that will stand the test of time. While the central core of our membership may not make the headlines, they do keep Freemasonry alive by following its principles and tenets. In the process, they make a difference to their communities and ensure our legacy. I hope that you and your families have a wonderful festive season.
‘It is our contribution to communities that will stand the test of time’
Whether it’s paying bills or buying Christmas presents, we are increasingly being driven online to conduct sometimes complex transactions. Peter Watts finds out how masonic funding in Leicestershire is helping to close the digital divide for an older generation
Lindsay Prince volunteers as a Digital Champion, delivering technology support and advice for elderly people, and she never knows what to expect. It may be someone in their eighties wanting to log on to an online seminar, or someone in their sixties struggling to send their first text message.
‘Some can’t even use keyboards, but that’s what we’re there for,’ says Prince, who volunteers for Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland. ‘I feel strongly that anybody who isn’t online is disenfranchised from society. If they don’t engage with IT they are in danger of missing out. They can’t run a bank account, get tickets to an event or vote on Strictly. People are terrified by it, but once they take the first step they find they can get over that hump.’
It’s this belief in the importance of digital accessibility for social inclusion that has prompted the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) to provide £65,000 for Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland, which has been running the project in the region since 2014. The charity holds drop-in sessions at care homes, Age UK facilities, shops and town centres where anybody can attend and receive support for their tablet, laptop or smartphone. The funding will allow the project to run for another two years, employ an administrator and coordinator, and train volunteers. Troy Young, assistant director of Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland, says they hope to reach 2,000 people in that period.
THE DIGITAL LEAP
One beneficiary of the sessions has been Aileen, 86, who is now able to use her tablet to access a range of services. ‘It’s taken me months to believe that I can’t damage the tablet, so the digital sessions have been as much about confidence using the tablet as they have been about learning what I can achieve by using it,’ she says. ‘YouTube is marvellous because I can watch and enjoy seminars on a range of topics.’
Aileen’s story is one that the MCF and Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland hope will be repeated over the next two years. ‘What we like about this project is that it tackles social isolation from two angles,’ explains David Innes, Chief Executive of the MCF. ‘One is that in this age, where an increasing amount of our day-to-day activity takes place on the internet, there’s a large number of elderly people who struggle with the technology. They can’t manage money, access bus timetables or make GP appointments. It’s a real challenge and narrows their horizons even more.’
The other benefit is that in the process of gaining technology training, participants will have social interaction with the people teaching them. ‘The fact they are taking part in an activity will give them something to look forward to,’ Innes says.
Prince says that several of her regular attendees make a point of coming to sessions in part because of this social aspect. Many Digital Champions are young, and Prince – who is 70 and began volunteering after retiring from further education – admits sometimes she gets mistaken as a participant rather than a volunteer. But she believes that her age gives comfort to attendees, who see that age doesn’t have to be a barrier to new technology.
Having trained as a Digital Champion, Prince thinks it’s vital to go at the right pace and avoid scaring attendees with technical language. ‘It’s important to understand how different people learn,’ she says. ‘You need to realise you are working at somebody else’s level. It depends on the person, their attitude and what they did in their career beforehand. If you’ve never worked with machines, it can be difficult. You start by finding out what they want to use it for and you have to be careful you don’t overwhelm them.’
It’s also important that sessions are enjoyable, and Age UK’s Young says that feedback has been positive. The project has discovered hundreds of older people who were keen to go online but couldn’t find anybody providing the advice they required. ‘They were often worried they’d be made to feel stupid, and some of them have had negative experiences that made them feel out of their depth, but these are relaxed sessions that can be fun,’ he says.
Older people came to Young explaining that they had signed up for evening courses but were being taught about how to use spreadsheets or make presentations. ‘They weren’t interested in learning in such a structured way – they wanted advice and guidance about all the wonderful new technology. We started rolling out engagement sessions so people could have a play with the equipment. People were also coming to us very confused about the range of what was in the market, and they wanted impartial advice. A lot of it is about demystifying and making sure that older people don’t find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide.’
Young is intrigued by the potential of using digital technology to provide reminiscence therapy for people with dementia. He hopes that Age UK Leicester Shire & Rutland will soon be able to find volunteers who have experience both with technology and dementia care. ‘I want to take this project to older people who might not use the technology but can still benefit from it,’ he says. ‘There’s been some very interesting stuff around virtual reality and dementia recently, where they use virtual reality to take people back to times they might remember and that have a calming, therapeutic effect.’
As well as allowing the MCF to tackle social exclusion, the location of the project in the East Midlands allows the MCF to ensure masonic funds are evenly distributed.
‘We try to balance our grants, just as the masonic community is spread around the country,’ says Innes, who was previously Chief Executive at the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) and has experience of supporting elderly people.
‘I’ve seen for myself at the RMBI the difference that technology can make,’ he says. ‘Families are far more dispersed than they used to be, and with opportunities such as social media and Skype, you can connect to a family member anywhere in the world. In our masonic care homes, we provide connectivity to all residents, which has enabled older people to stay more in touch with relatives.’
Young is looking forward to continuing his work with Digital Champions like Prince, thanks to the MCF. ‘We were so pleased to get this funding because the grant will keep it going for another two years,’ he says. ‘And that’s important because the technology isn’t going away – we have plenty of demand. We want to make our sessions as inclusive as possible and ensure that all older people will benefit.’
Find out more about the work of Age UK in Leicester Shire & Rutland - click here.
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.’
Find out more about clubs in your area - click here.