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.