Get involved

Following an extensive consultation process across the Provinces and Districts, the MFG has launched a new strategy paper aimed at securing Freemasonry’s long-term future

The Membership Focus Group’s (MFG’s) new paper, Our Strategy 2015-2020, sets out Freemasonry’s core strategic objectives over the next five years, introducing plans for the organisation’s governance, membership and masonic halls. 

Key to Freemasonry’s future will be the development of effective governance at all levels. The MFG aims to review, overhaul and clarify responsibilities, accountabilities, reporting relationships, leadership style, terms of reference and succession planning at every level. Proposed changes include reviewing performance in key masonic roles and the creation of a succession-planning model that meets modern-day needs.

The MFG wants lodges to be more rigorous in their leadership selection and development programmes, and will provide training to help grow masonic skills in key lodge positions. There will also be a review of rules and regulations, with a consideration of a rewrite of the Book of Constitutions to better reflect the 
future needs of Freemasonry.

Attracting and retaining members is a central plank in the new strategy and the MFG will be introducing a membership pathway programme as well as Membership Officers in each Province, lodge and chapter. Their role will be to help improve attraction, selection, mentoring, care for members and retention rates.

The pathway programme will assist lodges and chapters to attract and retain members by evolving the interview process so that candidate expectations are in line with lodge culture. Lodges will therefore need to demonstrate transparency by providing detailed costs of membership and ensuring that candidates are aware of the need to support a lodge’s social and charity activities.

Crucial to retention will be developing a mentoring culture in all existing members as well as ensuring Almoners are proactive in contacting members that do not attend a meeting to ensure they still feel included and
 cared for. Provinces will also be encouraged to implement a retrieval strategy with exit 
interviews and to assist disaffected members to find a lodge that 
meets their expectations.

Fit for purpose

Masonic centres have much to contribute to the future of the Craft. Surveys, however, indicate that many are not considered fit for purpose by the members that meet in them. UGLE will therefore seek to collaborate with masonic centre management to provide expertise, if required, and assist those that need help. Going forward, proposals include hosting a masonic centre summit at a national level to establish what help is needed. Assistance will also be given in identifying ways of growing revenue streams within centres.

The membership is Freemasonry’s most vital commodity and the MFG’s aims can only be achieved if the vast majority is committed to supporting the new strategy. A successful future where Freemasonry thrives means everyone getting involved.

To get a more in-depth view and regular updates, visit

Published in Membership Focus Group

Up and running

When Freemason Geoff Cousen suffered two strokes, it was the MSF’s support that enabled him to return home. His daughter Sue tells Imogen Beecroft how taking on an ultra marathon in the Lake District was her way of saying ‘thank you’

The Lake District’s dramatic scenery attracts visitors from across the world, keen to savour its rugged fells and literary associations. But for Sue Cousen, admiring the National Park’s picturesque charms was not top of the agenda on 27 June. Raising money for the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF), she ran a gruelling 55km amid the mountains and valleys. As her father, Geoff Cousen, a Grand Officer in the Craft and Royal Arch, says, ‘She must be mad.’ 

Sue decided to raise money for the MSF last year, after the charity supported her father when he suffered two strokes, aged 83. Geoff has been an active Freemason for almost 60 years, in Runic Lodge, No. 6019, in the Province of West Lancashire, and served as vice-chairman and chairman of the Lancaster and District Group of lodges and chapters. 

‘I’ve spoken about how we rely upon the charities many times, but I’d never realised quite how much. I shall be forever grateful to the MSF.’ Geoff Cousen

Following the strokes, Geoff was unable to walk and made little progress in his recovery. He was discharged from hospital after four months and sent to a nursing home. His family doubted whether he would ever be able to return to his normal life. Geoff says, ‘I didn’t think I’d get back home because I couldn’t really do anything. I can only use one hand so that made things difficult.’

Steps to recovery

Then Ernie Greenhalgh, a lifelong friend of Geoff’s and Provincial Grand Almoner for West Lancashire, stepped in. ‘I managed to get a small grant from the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity to pay for an independent occupational therapist to assess Geoff. They worked on him for three weeks and he made quite good progress. I told the MSF and they helped towards the cost of his physiotherapy over the next three months. He came on leaps and bounds, and can now walk about 30 metres and get himself out of bed.’

Geoff was able to return home to his wife, Brenda. ‘The physiotherapy the MSF gave me got me walking, and I’m so grateful to them,’ he says. ‘It’s wonderful to be back home. You’ll never realise how much you miss it until you’ve been in a nursing home.’

The MSF can often help those in situations like Geoff’s, offering a range of support tailored to the individual’s specific needs. The MSF provided Geoff with a riser-recliner chair, a profiling bed and a stair lift, as well as the additional physiotherapy sessions that enabled him to return home. Mobility aids like those given to Geoff and his family make up a quarter of all the support that the MSF currently offers.

As Sue says, ‘They’ve helped us so much. When he first went into the nursing home he had intense physiotherapy five days a week. That’s now been cut to three days a week because he’s done so well. He couldn’t have come home without the things the MSF provided. He still can’t use his left hand but he is walking. He can’t walk very far, but he can get from the house to the car. It takes a while, but he can do it.’

‘With all the help we’re getting from the MSF, I thought it would be a great way to give something back... I can’t thank them enough.’ Sue Cousen

Sue explains that she wanted to do something to express her family’s gratitude to the MSF. ‘With all the help we’re getting from them, I thought it would be a great way to give something back,’ she says. ‘I’ve always thought positively of Freemasonry. My dad’s enjoyed his time with them so much and the MSF really helps people like Dad and their families. They don’t blow their own trumpet about their charitable work, but I can’t thank them enough – they’ve done everything really, and without them there would have been no chance at all of Dad making it home.’

Sue decided to take on the Lake District Ultimate Trails Challenge, an ultra marathon course that starts and ends in Ambleside, near Lake Windermere. Over 55km of challenging terrain, runners cover 1,700m of ascent and descent. A regular runner, Sue trained five times a week in preparation for the day. 

Speaking just before the race, she said: ‘It sounded like a good idea when I signed up last year but I do keep having nightmares now! I know the hills will be the biggest challenge because I’m used to flat running, so this is completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve got no idea how long it will take, but I’ll be quite happy to complete it – that’s the main thing.’

Rising to the challenge

Sue completed the run in 10 hours, 38 minutes and 17 seconds, taking 217th place out of 312 runners. 

‘It was hard work but it was good,’ she says. ‘The camaraderie was great and everyone helped each other around the course. Some of the hills were a lot bigger and longer than I anticipated, but I got round. The hardest part was Grisedale Hause, which felt like a never-ending climb. Even coming down was hard because the ground was stony and there are steep drops nearby, so it wasn’t just a straightforward run.’

In total, Sue raised around £2,000 for the MSF and recovered from the challenge well: ‘I struggled to walk for a couple of days afterwards, but felt fine by the end of the week. My legs were okay and I went back to training five days after the race.’

John McCrohan, Grants Director of the MSF, explains that without fundraising efforts like Sue’s, the MSF wouldn’t be able to offer the breadth of support to those most in need. ‘All the money that she raised will be available to support Freemasons and their loved ones,’ he says.

For McCrohan and the MSF, it is particularly significant to receive support from a non-mason. 

‘We always hope that the support we offer will not only help a Freemason in a time of need, but will also benefit the family. The support can help relieve some of their caring responsibilities or reassure them that their loved one is getting the essential help they need.’

Geoff could not be more proud of his daughter and the contribution she’s made. ‘I’ve been a mason for 57 years now. They’ve been very good to me and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Although I’ve spoken about how we rely upon the charities many times in speeches, I’d never realised quite how much. 

You hear about them, you talk about them, but you don’t understand them really – until you’ve got to use them. I shall be forever grateful to the MSF.’

Published in Masonic Samaritan Fund
Friday, 04 September 2015 01:00

Grand Secretary's column - Autumn 2015

From the Grand Secretary

We have another fascinating issue for you about what is happening in Freemasonry today. The results from the latest survey conducted by the Membership Focus Group concentrate on the joining experience of new members. 

The moment that they join is a deeply significant time, and ‘feeling valued as a member’ came out top of the factors that contributed to their overall satisfaction as Freemasons.

It is pleasing, too, to hear about what The Masonic Mutual has achieved in its first year. 

This success has been driven by reducing spend, improving available cover, enhancing risk-management practice and establishing a vehicle through which any surpluses generated can be retained for the good of Freemasonry.

As we look forward to the long-term future of Freemasonry, we need to make sure that we are seen by the public as relevant to modern society. 

I believe this must continue to be the editorial direction of our magazine, which I hope you will enjoy in this latest issue.

Helping others grow

With Freemasonry sharing many of the same values as the Scouting movement, we find out about the ongoing support that our masonic charities have provided to encourage more young people to join their local groups. Over the past seven years, our grants have been used to pay for Scouting premises and training volunteers, as well as to buy much-needed materials and equipment – all with the aim of helping young people grow and develop.

Across the country, Freemasons and their families are making a difference to the communities they live in. Down in Cornwall, we meet Freemason Roy Newport, who takes retired military personnel out on the open water to help them adjust to life in the ‘normal’ world. Up in Lancashire, we follow the daughter of respected local mason Geoff Cousen as she runs across the Lake District to raise money for the Masonic Samaritan Fund, the charity that supported him after two crippling strokes. 

Our piece on the Talking Heads initiative looks at why chapter members have been performing to lodges across the country to explain the progression into Royal Arch. We also interview consultant surgeon Stephen Large about how masonic funding has been crucial to new research that could massively expand the number of donor hearts available for transplantation. At both a local and a national level, these stories reveal Freemasonry at its best, as members provide care, support and inspiration. 

Nigel Brown
Grand Secretary

‘At both a local and a national level, the stories in this issue of the magazine reveal Freemasonry at its best, as members provide care, support and inspiration.’

Published in UGLE

Pride and confidence

Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes explains why members should be proud to share aspects of masonic ritual with friends and family

In the middle of May I was at the Grand Charity Festival in West Wales. It exemplified how good we, as masons, are at raising money and, dare I say, at celebrating that achievement at the end of the road. A wonderful evening was had by all. 

I have said many times in the past that charity is not necessarily the masons’ raison d’être – but it is certainly a most important by-product of how all of us are taught to live our lives.

In this regard I have always thought that the Charge after Initiation is the best possible rule to guide us in what we do. 

It lays out quite clearly the duties that we owe to God, to our neighbours and to ourselves; how we should respect the laws of the country in which we live – whether that is the country of our birth or the country where we currently reside; how we should behave as individuals; and the other excellent qualities of character to which we should adhere.

Whenever I deliver this Charge, I am always struck by the important message that it contains. At a personal level, I find the lines ‘by paying due obedience to the laws of any state which may for a time become the place of your residence or afford you its protection’ extremely pertinent. This is as a result of having delivered this Charge on the evening of 9/11, and I have to admit to having stumbled a bit when I got to that section. I am still always reminded of those dreadful events every time I hear this Charge delivered.

As we all know, any member of the public can acquire their own copy of our ritual simply by going into a shop and making the purchase. We have no concerns in that regard, as there is nothing therein that we are not happy for them to know about. 

I would go further. I believe there are certain passages that we should be proud to show to non-members, most particularly to members of our families. Top of my list would be the Charge to the Initiate, with a close second being the Charity Charge, although that, perhaps, might need a bit of explanation.

‘We have so much to shout about – our history, charity work, enjoyment in life and code of conduct being just a few.’

Time to celebrate

As you know, 2017 is fast approaching. The run-up to it, as well as the celebrations during the year, are surely the right time to show our pride in being a member of our wonderful Order. We have improved our public image immeasurably over the past 20 years and now is the time to really push this aspect hard. 

We have so many things to shout about – our history, our charity work, our enjoyment in life and our code of conduct being just a few. Of course any organisation with 200,000 members is going to have a few rotten apples, but we have no more than our fair share, and I strongly suspect we have far fewer than most organisations of an equivalent size.

Given all this, let’s make sure we approach our Tercentenary with both pride and confidence.

Published in UGLE

The meaning of fellowship

Anthony West, Chairman of Trustees for The Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research, explains the charity’s history, achievements and selection process

 Back in 1967, in partial commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the foundation of Grand Lodge, every Freemason in England and Wales was invited to contribute at least £1 to create an endowment for what was then the Grand Lodge 250th Anniversary Fund. More than £580,000 was raised, and used to create the first masonic charity with exclusively non-masonic objectives. The charity’s objectives remain ‘to further, in conjunction with the Royal College of Surgeons, research in the science of surgery’.

In its first years, the fund gave £25,000 to the Royal College of Surgeons of England, financing the first three Freemasons’ surgical research fellowships, a dental research fellowship and a library grant to help with the research process. Grants were made in all subsequent years and, by last year, total grants of more than £4.4 million had been made. In 2014, £135,000 was credited to three Freemasons’ fellowships and now the fund is regularly the largest fellowship contributor (although occasionally the College receives more from a donation).

The Royal Arch steps in

It has been tacitly understood that the fund’s trustees would not engage in fundraising, which was seen to conflict with the fundraising efforts of the four major masonic charities and the festival system. But to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the formation of Supreme Grand Chapter in 2013, an appeal had been launched by the Royal Arch, with the object of ‘helping to fund the Royal College of Surgeons research fellowship scheme’. 

The appeal suggested a minimum of £10 plus Gift Aid from every Royal Arch companion, of whom there are 86,000 in England and Wales; the hope was to raise at least £1 million. In support of the appeal, the College mounted a roadshow to visit Provinces and chapters, where research fellows would speak in support of the appeal, and of their individual research projects.

When the appeal concluded, an astonishing £2.5 million had been raised, the Province of Northumberland alone raising about £50,000, which it donated directly to the College. This, together with other direct donations from chapters, has funded the first Royal Arch Fellowship, which was awarded to a research fellow at the Newcastle Medical School. It was subsequently decided to change the fund’s name to The Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research (FFSR), more accurately reflecting its nature.

‘When the appeal concluded, an astonishing £2.5 million had been raised – and this has funded the first Royal Arch Fellowship.’

Rigorous screening

What is the process for selecting Freemasons’ Research Fellows? Until 1993, our annual grant was used not only for fellowships but also for the purchase of pieces of medical equipment and for the library. In 1993, the College established its formal Surgical Research Fellowship Scheme, to which our fund has since been contributing. Currently, the College receives applications from some 120 prospective one-year research fellows. The applicants are all qualified doctors who have elected to become surgeons. 

The process for applicants is rigorous, consisting of a written application, setting out details of the project and justifying the reason for the research to be undertaken. The application for patient benefit in the near future is a key criterion. 

At the end of the assessment process, the College matches potential awards with the funds available. At this stage about 20 research projects will be funded and the sponsors are then invited to choose those projects that particularly resonate with them. In the case of the FFSR, our trustees have an annual meeting with representatives of the College, at which we are presented with a choice of about six projects, from which we select three (or, in the future, four).

I hope that this has given you some insight into the valuable research facilitated by the College and the significant role played by Freemasonry. In a very recent letter to me from the president of the College, thanking us for the current year’s grant, she says: ‘This significantly increased grant is very much appreciated – and can only enhance the very real friendship and bonds that exist between our respective organisations.’

Published in SGC

Creature comforts

From greyhounds to boa constrictors, a menagerie of creatures is now finding its way into RMBI care homes. Sarah Holmes discovers the therapeutic effects that animals can have on those in need

 Bella the greyhound is proving popular at Cadogan Court in Exeter as she meanders through the crowds at the annual summer fete. With her hazelnut fur and her pink tongue lolling lazily out of the side of her mouth, she’s a big hit with the residents. 

‘She loves it,’ laughs owner Sue Bescinizza. ‘She could stand here for hours being stroked.’

Meanwhile, across the grounds, Elsie and Walter Nicholls watch in delight as Audrey the schnauzer leaps enthusiastically around their bench. The couple have been living in Cadogan Court for nine months, and are ardent dog lovers. ‘I’m so glad they bring the animals into the home,’ says Elsie. ‘It brings back all the memories of our own pets.’

With more than a million older people suffering from loneliness in the UK, visits from animals such as Bella and Audrey are vital in tackling the effects of social isolation. This is particularly true for people in residential care homes, where there often aren’t the facilities – or the manpower – to look after pets.

‘Pets bring a sense of comfort and well-being, so we encourage many different animals into our homes,’ says Debra Keeling, Deputy Director of Care Operations at the RMBI. ‘We want residents to enjoy the benefits animals provide, even if they don’t have their own pets.’ 

Pet favourites

At Cadogan Court, an RMBI care home that looks after older masons and their families, residents like Elsie and Walter get to see Bella every week. Just one of 4,500 dogs registered with the charity Pets As Therapy (PAT), Bella regularly visits hospitals, special-needs schools and care homes around her local area to provide therapeutic comfort and companionship to the residents. Her docile nature makes her the perfect candidate for the charity. 

‘She’s always a welcome guest,’ says Helen Mitchell, Manager at Cadogan Court. ‘The residents’ faces light up when she walks through the door.’ With nearly half of residents aged over 65 relying primarily on their TVs for company, Bella’s visits give them a chance to engage in something a little different. 

‘The best thing about the PAT visits is that everyone can get involved,’ says Helen. ‘If a resident is immobile, we’ll take Bella to their bedside so they can reach out to stroke her.’

For residents who are battling with dementia, Bella has proven to be a particularly calming influence. ‘A lot of our nursing residents had pets before moving in, and they have fond memories attached to dogs. It’s a good way of helping them to remember. Sometimes, I think they remember the animals better than the people.’

‘I’ll always remember when Echo the Eurasian eagle owl tried to take off right here in the living room.’ Norman Wilkins

Creating a sanctuary

But it’s not just domestic animals that visit. The home has established links with animal sanctuaries throughout Devon, so that every year donkeys, ponies and even owls come to see the residents. 

‘I’ll always remember when Echo the Eurasian eagle owl fanned out its wings and tried to take off right here in the living room,’ remembers Norman Wilkins, a resident at Cadogan Court, with delight. ‘It created this incredible draft of air that pushed down on us like a gale. I’ve never felt anything like it before.’

In an effort to broaden the animal activities, Helen also got a local pet shop to showcase its collection of exotic snakes, lizards and tarantulas. ‘It’s not every day you see a three-foot-long lizard running loose in the living room,’ laughs Helen. She brought her own boa constrictor along for the visit. ‘Luckily, she was a lot smaller then, only about four-and-a-half foot,’ she says. ‘She’s double that size now.’ 

Despite some initial apprehension, it wasn’t long before many of the residents let the boa constrictor hang around their necks, and fork through their fingers with its head. ‘They were all asking for photographs to send home to their sons and daughters to prove they’d actually held a snake,’ remembers Helen. ‘The energy and excitement of the day really brought people out of their shells.’ 

Taking the idea one step further, staff at Prince Edward Duke of Kent Court in Essex decided to introduce a live-in dog to the home to bring the community together and give residents a renewed sense of purpose from having to walk and feed her. 

Named Meg, the black labrador was originally owned by a gentleman who refused to move into the home unless she could come with him. ‘Life changed the moment she arrived,’ explains Audrey Brown, Activities Coordinator at the RMBI care home. ‘The whole place felt more homely.’

‘A lot of residents had pets before moving in, and have fond memories attached to dogs. Sometimes, I think they remember the animals better than the people.’ Helen Mitchell

A positive presence

While PAT visits have always been a key form of therapy in the care home, Meg’s constant presence allows her to build up relationships with the residents and become attuned to their particular behaviours. If Meg senses that a resident is feeling down, for example, she’ll seek them out to sit by them or lie on their bed. 

For Kathleen, who lives in Mauchline House, the home’s dementia support house, companionship has proved particularly beneficial. ‘I think simply stroking Meg’s head is very calming for Kathleen, as it gives her something to think about other than herself and her condition,’ says Audrey. ‘Meg is one of the few companions who won’t force herself on you. She won’t insist you get up to take your medication, or expect you to make conversation. 

In dementia, your relationship with others can become difficult, but with Meg it’s a simple bond.’

The home has now been given Butterfly Service Status – a nationally recognised award that identifies care homes that deliver an exceptional standard of support for their residents living with dementia. Meg is another example of the way in which the RMBI provides individualised care for its residents. ‘Care homes are constantly changing, and what works changes with it,’ says Audrey. ‘But for us, Meg has been a seamless fit. It’s like having another member of staff.’

Canine confidence

One in eight older people rely on their animals as a source of companionship, but it seems dog owners are the ones reaping most benefits. Not only do four-legged friends keep people 12 per cent more active than those who don’t own pets, they also raise our self-esteem and make us more conscientious and extroverted, as well as less fearful, according to the American Psychological Association

Bella the greyhound passed away shortly before publication. Cadogan Court would like to thank her owner for all the happiness Bella brought to residents

Published in RMBI

Living under one roof

As The Masonic Mutual celebrates its first year, we find out how this alternative to conventional insurance has benefited its members

It’s been an exciting first year for The Masonic Mutual since its launch on 1 July 2014. Founded and run by Freemasons for Freemasonry, its membership is growing, and the high number of enquiries has been keeping Jeff Moore, the Mutual’s first port of call, very busy.  

‘The assets and activities of our members are diverse and wide-ranging,’ explains Jeff. ‘Mutual members have many historic and heritage buildings, as well as museums that house rare artefacts and treasures. And along with the more conventional fundraising pursuits, their charitable activities have included things like fire-walking. We have been able to provide better cover, often at reduced costs, and the feedback from members who have filed claims has been consistently positive.’

The Mutual was established by a group of masonic organisations to bring down the total cost of risk to Freemasonry. This is achieved by reducing spend, improving available cover, enhancing risk-management practice, and establishing a vehicle through which any surpluses generated can be retained for the good of Freemasonry.

The voluntary board of Freemasons, which is in overall charge of
the Mutual, appointed Regis Mutual Management to look after the business on a day-to-day basis. The board is advised by representatives from Regis, including Jeff Moore and head of underwriting Martin Richards. Both Jeff and Martin are dedicated and enthusiastic masons, as well as seasoned veterans in the insurance market, having more than 75 years’ experience between them.

Mutually beneficial

Robin Furber is Chairman of the board of the Mutual and has worked in various senior roles within the London insurance market. ‘I am delighted to report that the Mutual has performed well this year and am confident it has achieved, if not exceeded, its first year’s aims,’ he says, pointing to the new members who have been able to experience the improved cover and reduced costs first-hand.

‘We have been presented with some sensitive and potentially challenging claims in our first year. These have been handled efficiently and effectively,’ he continues. ‘Regis has provided a smooth and sound administrative framework for our members to access the Mutual. All UK masonic organisations with their own properties are welcome to apply for membership, including those in Scotland.’

In terms of what differentiates the Mutual, Robin singles out the fact that it has no shareholders, enabling it to operate for the long-term good of its members rather than the short-term demands of financial analysts. Owned by its members, who have a say in who is on the board, the Mutual offers tailored cover at prices that can be relied on over the long term. With no insurance brokers’ commissions or fees, or shareholders’ dividends to pay, it is also able to offer broad cover at competitive prices. 

‘The Mutual has performed well this year and it has achieved, if not exceeded, its first year’s aims.’ Robin Furber

The flex factor

A charitable, fraternal and member-run organisation, Freemasonry was an obvious candidate for the creation of a mutual mirroring the views, ethos and beliefs of its members. As a mutual, the final decision on claim payments is down to the board – giving it a level of discretion beyond what’s available in the general insurance market. This flexibility ensures that each claim is viewed on an individual basis and the decision-making process is member-focused. 

In terms of how the board actually runs the Mutual, membership is restricted to recognised masonic entities. At present, the Mutual is only for masonic organisations that have their own buildings. However, following a high number of requests for quotations, it will soon be offering cover for furniture, regalia and the liabilities of individual lodges or chapters.

‘Some of the largest and smallest masonic organisations have benefited by joining the Mutual, and all have either saved money or been provided with wider cover,’ says Martin. ‘Mutuality works.’

For more information on The Masonic Mutual, visit 
or call Jeff Moore on 01892 893221

Published in More News

Unlocking the brand

For UGLE Director of Communications Mike Baker, the challenge Freemasonry faces in the run-up to the Tercentenary celebrations is in improving public image

What is your background?

My career started in retail. I worked my way up the management ladder in companies like Habitat and WHSmith before moving into hospitality with Forte in regional operations management. 

I then took a leap of faith into a very different field for the Post Office. Initially a retail network manager there, I moved into sales development, communications and marketing for its financial services and travel products, which were new areas for the Post Office. After that, I left to set up my own business development and marketing consultancy. It was during a secondment with a telecoms company in 2013 that I became aware that UGLE was looking for a Director of Communications.

Is the role of Director of Communications a new one?

It is a new position in terms of the scope of the responsibilities. The job title had previously been held by John Hamill, and his role had extensively involved combatting discrimination. This is also within my remit, but it’s not as significant a part thanks to John’s excellent work and the ongoing strategy from both the Grand Master and the Grand Secretary to make Freemasonry a more open organisation. 

‘I believe that the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is out, and it really will be shining on Freemasonry in 2017.’

UGLE has a clear idea of the strategy leading up to the Tercentenary so, for me, the job is about matching my skill set and my views with that direction. The opportunity that our Tercentenary represents should not be underestimated. I believe that the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is out, and it really will be shining on Freemasonry in 2017. There will be huge charitable spend that year, but there will also be enormous involvement from our members in communities and in celebrating 300 years of heritage. One of the heartening things to witness is the amount of activity that is undertaken in the Provinces and Metropolitan area by volunteers. It’s not just about the amount of money they raise; it’s about the difference they make to people’s lives. 

How did you become a mason?

I joined Freemasonry by chance – I had two brothers who were Freemasons in Somerset and Bristol. 

I remember mentioning them to a colleague at work in 2000 and asked what he knew about ‘that lot’. The colleague asked if I was interested, I got introduced and became a Freemason in London. 

I progressed in the Craft and joined the Royal Arch. Since then, I’ve been involved in Metropolitan initiatives – most recently Talking Heads, which has also taken me out into the Provinces to explain the history and attraction of the Royal Arch. 

Do you have an average day?

One of my daily tasks is monitoring our media performance, looking at how our image is defined by other people and challenging discrimination when it happens, whether it’s from the media, MPs, faith groups or employers. All too often discrimination comes through lack of understanding, which is why it’s key for us to approach people sensitively and to dissolve any element of fear. I also work with the Provinces to help them engage with the local media and with their own membership, keeping them updated so that they can be advocates and ambassadors. One size does not fit all – the communication strategy for a Province depends on the challenges it faces, which may differ greatly from one to the next. 

Are you marketing a brand?

As a membership organisation we have a product in Freemasonry. It’s no different from the marketing function in any business; it’s all about developing awareness of that product. I want people to understand Freemasonry in its real sense, to see it as a force for good and consider being a member. There’s also the advocacy element, getting our members to say, ‘Hey, you ought to join.’ That’s no different from the objectives for mainstream marketing in any brand. 

What’s difficult about masonic communication?

When it comes to communication, all the activity that we undertake can be broken down into three elements: clarity, capability and consequence. In terms of clarity, we have a very clear picture about what we want Freemasonry to look like in people’s hearts and minds by the Tercentenary. We’re also very clear about what the consequences will be: that it’s about maintaining a stable number of people in the organisation; attracting and retaining new members; and moving forward in dispelling myths. The challenge is the bit in the middle, the capability, how we equip our members and give them the permission to speak. 

We know in masonic terms what our principles and tenets are, but how do we represent them? It can be a challenge to use the right kind of language in order to dispel myths, to talk clearly about what Freemasonry represents, to explain that it’s about integrity, kindness, honesty, fairness and tolerance. Not everyone has these word sets and it’s made more difficult because Freemasonry is different for every person. We therefore need to be non-prescriptive so people feel comfortable, whether they’re talking about Freemasonry to the local press or at a dinner party.  

Does the Tercentenary feel close?

We don’t always do things immediately in Freemasonry but when we do, we do them in a considered, appropriate and consistent way. I feel very positive about the Tercentenary because the sun will be shining in 2017 when we fix our roof and move forward. There is a massive dedication and desire to move forward, as well as a sense of duty to safeguard our future. Yes, there will always be a degree of trepidation about an event like this, but it’s not just about what’s happening at the centre on 31 October 2017. It’s also about what happens across the country and throughout the Districts from 26 June 2016, which is the start of our 300th year. This is why we need to start increasing the momentum of our communications and engagement. 

How does your job sit with your Freemasonry?

I deal with a lot of Freemasonry as a member of UGLE and the Supreme Grand Chapter. I’m the Scribe E of my mother chapter and Director of Ceremonies for my lodge in West Kent. I wouldn’t do it unless I had a passion for it and I wouldn’t go to a meeting if I didn’t think it would be enjoyable – I haven’t missed a main Craft or Royal Arch meeting since my initiation in 2001. As a representative of UGLE, I feel very privileged to hold my role and to be making a difference in some way to the future of the organisation by helping it become more open. In the What’s It All About? DVD, Anthony Henderson from Bedfordshire said that the value and teachings of Freemasonry have made him the man he is today. That holds true for me. 

Published in UGLE

On  an even keel

Just off Cornwall’s south coast, Freemason Roy Newport takes retired military personnel out on the open water to help them adjust to life in the ‘normal’ world. Imogen Beecroft finds out how sailing can treat the injuries you cannot see

‘There is no “normal” after Afghanistan. You come back a different person.’ 

Roy Newport was serving as a Royal Military Policeman in Afghanistan when he was thrown from his vehicle after being caught in the blast of an explosive device. Three days later, he was in his living room at home, unable to contact anyone he knew in the military. 

Keen to replace the sense of belonging he found in the army, Roy joined Fowey Lodge, No. 977, which meets in Tywardreath, a small hilltop village in southern Cornwall. ‘I found camaraderie in the masonic group,’ he says. ‘It was a massive part of my reintegration and helped with my confidence no end.’

While Freemasonry was a huge step in the right direction, Roy’s war experiences had led him to develop severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). ‘It was horrendous. I’d spent days on end being shot at in the desert, and when I got home I couldn’t go out in the sunshine, so I spent most of my time inside. 

I found it very difficult to talk to people I didn’t know and would get uncontrollably angry. I almost lost my family – almost lost my life. That’s how close it came.’

‘I was desperate to engage with people like myself, and that helped me more than anything. You don’t get over PTSD, but you’ll get through it.’ Roy Newport

Like-minded people

After a year and a half of suffering, Roy heard about Turn to Starboard, a charity that uses sailing to help military personnel adjust to life after the armed forces. Based in Falmouth’s picturesque marina, the charity takes groups of ex-military individuals on sailing courses, providing them with a new hobby, a supportive community of like-minded people and, occasionally, even a new career path. 

The comradeship helped Roy battle his PTSD and begin to regain his cheerful character. ‘I was desperate to engage with people like myself,’ he says. ‘Being able to decompress and spin a few yarns with chaps who’ve been in the same boat helped me more than anything. You never get over PTSD, but you’ll get through it.’ 

Roy now works full-time at Turn to Starboard, mentoring other servicemen on the water. ‘I saw so many lads struggling with PTSD and the things I’d been through. I wanted to help them deal with those experiences and defeat our common enemy.’

Turn to Starboard is the brainchild of Shaun Pascoe, who served for 16 years in the Medical Emergency Response Team, undertaking tours in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. Finding it increasingly difficult to adjust to normal life after returning from these war zones, Pascoe began teaching windsurfing. He found that his time spent with similarly active individuals – whether on the water or later in the pub – was having a pronounced effect on his morale. 

Pascoe eventually started sailing with groups of ex-military servicemen who were struggling with PTSD, physical injuries or other mental traumas. Seeing the positive impact sailing had on his students, he founded the charity in 2012 and now has groups of people on the water daily. 

Turn to Starboard runs several different programmes, from Royal Yachting Association-accredited courses for beginners to week-long family trips, as well as an extensive Zero to Hero Yachtmaster development programme, which gives participants the necessary qualifications to begin a career in sailing. The family trips are particularly important for servicemen with children, and Pascoe sees these as one of the most vital parts of the charity’s work. He vividly remembers one child saying, ‘My daddy came back from Afghanistan – but when we went sailing, he really came back.’ 

‘You’ve got to realise that you aren’t in control – that you can’t tell the wind or the weather what to do.’ Roy Newport 

Freedom on the water

Drastic transformations are not uncommon at Turn to Starboard. ‘We had one guy who had been locked inside his house for years. We picked him up and took him sailing. Since then, he’s really engaged with life and sails every day with his local club,’ says Pascoe. ‘Roy is someone else who’s really transformed his life. Before working with us, he wasn’t engaging with anyone and didn’t want to do anything. Now we wouldn’t recognise that because he moves at 100mph and is enthused about everything.’

For Roy, there is nothing like being on the water. ‘You experience complete freedom, which is a huge release. You’ve got to realise that you aren’t in control – that you can’t tell the wind or the weather what to do. You learn to control the things you can and adapt to the things you can’t. That’s completely different to being in the army, where your own and your soldiers’ lives are at risk, and giving up control is the furthest thing from your mind.’

Although 70 per cent of the people sailing with Turn to Starboard have to struggle with these kinds of mental traumas, the rest have physical injuries. 

The team refuses to allow an injury to prevent someone from sailing, says Roy, explaining that most amputees or people with physical injuries can’t bear special treatment. ‘We don’t make it any easier for them – they just crack on. If that means they take their prosthetic leg off and slide along on their bottom, then that’s what they do. We find most service people just want to be treated as normal.’

Rich Birchall had been in the marines for 14 years when he was medically discharged because of a back injury. A Freemason in the Royal Marines Plymouth Lodge, No. 9528, Rich felt lost after being discharged and took a job in an IT company. ‘It was driving me crazy. I hated being stuck inside and was working with people who I really had nothing in common with. I thought I was going to end up with a rope around my neck.’

Rich started volunteering with Turn to Starboard in May and has never looked back. ‘I’m really enjoying it, and it’s had a massive impact on my life. I was at my lowest, having some pretty sinister thoughts about how to get out of this situation, but I had a wife and three kids I didn’t want to leave behind. Turn to Starboard helped me turn things around just in time.’

As Rich saw it, he had gone from handling firearms in war-torn countries to being ‘babied’ by people who were worried he might hurt himself. ‘But the guys at Turn to Starboard let me manage my injury myself and have allowed me to get back outdoors. My ultimate goal is to do the Zero to Hero programme, which would mean I could sail for a living and continue volunteering with Turn to Starboard in my spare time.’

‘My concern is that we’ll get to a point where we can’t afford to help all the people coming forward…’ Shaun Pascoe

Navigating the future

Rich is full of praise for his lodge and Turn to Starboard. ‘They’ve both really helped me, and I hope if I’m well behaved and continue to work as hard as I can, Turn to Starboard will keep me on for the foreseeable future.’

The charity is going from strength to strength, with backing from Help for Heroes and the Royal Air Forces Association. For it to be able to continue helping people like Rich, however, it needs continual funding, as the participants don’t pay to go out on the water. Pascoe says, ‘We’re getting a significant demand for what we’re doing so it’s about making sure we don’t have to say no to any of these people – my concern is that we’ll get to a point where we can’t afford to help all the people coming forward.’

Roy voices similar concerns: ‘There’s only a certain amount of space on the funded courses. We can’t afford to help everyone. It would be great if lodges could help a local serviceman – injured, retired, out of work or down on his luck – get to us and we can give him a career. The masonic fraternity couldn’t have been more supportive of me, so it would be fantastic if they could take that one step further.’

Sailing into 2017

Freemasons and Turn to Starboard will be working together in the 2017 festivities. A trustee of Turn to Starboard, Freemason Mike Pritchard also sits on the Province of Cornwall’s Tercentenary Celebration Committee. At the culmination of events, the charity will be sailing a commemorative banner across to the Isles of Scilly. ‘Turn to Starboard has very graciously supported our event, and to have a tall ship escort the banner should indeed be a spectacle,’ says Mike, who is a member of St Pirans Lodge, No. 7620.

Mike has been impressed by the selflessness of the Turn to Starboard team. ‘Their drive and determination is hugely impressive, as is the empathy they offer to everyone lucky enough to be supported by this exceptional charity. I can think of no better candidate for the Freemasons’ support. A charity with such values providing help to injured or retired servicemen fits in extremely well with the grand principles on which our Order is founded.’

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Published in Features

Command performance

Robert Henderson-Bland was an actor, soldier, poet and Freemason. Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry Diane Clements traces his fortunes during World War I

It is 100 years since Canadian doctor Major John McCrae wrote his poem In Flanders Fields, the first line of which, ‘In Flanders fields, the poppies blow’, was to be an inspiration for the poppy as a memorial. The same year, 1915, also saw the death of one of the best-known war poets, Rupert Brooke, who wrote five sonnets in late 1914 that helped make him famous, including The Soldier. Somewhat forgotten now but also an active and frequently published poet in his time was Freemason Robert Henderson-Bland (1876-1941).

Henderson-Bland’s first war poem, published in August 1915, was inspired by the Scots Guards and includes the following lines, written before the idea of a War Graves Commission had been developed:

‘Let someone mark the place whereat they fell,
And hedge it round, for in the after-time
Their fame will draw the many who would dwell
Upon those deeds that made an hour sublime.’

Henderson-Bland was best known as an actor, working in the early 1900s with leading theatrical figures such as Lily Langtry and Herbert Beerbohm Tree. On 26 April 1912, as he records in his autobiography, he received a telephone call asking him to take the role of Jesus Christ in a new film to be made in and around Jerusalem. Directed by Sidney Olcott, From the Manger to the Cross became one of the most significant films of the silent era. 

It was Beerbohm Tree who had recommended Henderson-Bland for the part, as he considered that the only man who could play Christ was a poet. Although controversial at the time, the film was eventually praised by leading religious figures, and it has since been designated culturally, historically and aesthetically significant by the Library of Congress. It was revived in London in 1926 when it was shown at the Royal Albert Hall every day for three months, and the Bishop of London supported the showing of a sound-enhanced version, stating that he considered it to be ‘a most beautiful film’. 

A few months before Henderson-Bland went to Jerusalem to make the film, he was initiated in Green Room Lodge, No. 2957, one of several London lodges with theatrical connections. His raising was delayed until filming was complete, in November 1912. In November 1913, he presented a souvenir of his time in Jerusalem to the lodge – a gavel made from stone quarried ‘from Solomon’s Mines’, with its shaft made of olive wood grown on the Mount of Olives. 

Theatre of war

When World War I broke out in August 1914, Henderson-Bland, aged 40, was acting in America. He returned to Britain to join the Gloucestershire Regiment, initially in Britain and then, from July 1916, in France, where he served until he was wounded in April 1918. By the end of the war he had been promoted to captain. After the war, Henderson-Bland became involved with veterans society the Ypres League, working to promote the organisation in America. He continued with his Freemasonry, joining, in 1927, another lodge with theatrical links, Drury Lane Lodge, No. 2127, where he was installed as Master in March 1937. He died in August 1941 as the result of an air raid. 

Henderson-Bland knew many who died in the war. One friend, also a Freemason (Drury Lane Lodge), was poet Arthur Scott Craven, who had joined the Artists Rifles and was killed in action in April 1917. Before the war, Henderson-Bland had dedicated a book of poetry to him. He wrote the following poem after his death and it was published in June 1917:

‘O all my youth came singing back to me
When first I learnt that you were dead, my friend.
What of the years when you and I did see
In life a splendour daily spilt to mend
Our souls grown tired of trivial delights?
Not lost to you the glimpses of the heights,
For you went gladly where the worst is surely best.’

The gavel presented by Henderson-Bland to Green Room Lodge is on display as part of the Library and Museum’s Spotlight: Freemasons and Entertainment exhibition, which runs until 13 February 2016.

A book written by Library and Museum staff, English Freemasonry and the First World War, is available from the shop at Freemasons’ Hall or online at 

Published in Features
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