Over the festive period a band of determined and enthusiastic brethren from the Leicestershire and Rutland Light Blue Club undertook a unique and historic feat, visiting 12 different lodges across 12 different evenings in December
The lodges visited were:
1st December - Jason Lodge No. 7716 (Leicester)
4th December - Highcross Lodge No. 4835 (Leicester)
5th December - Edward Sherrier Lodge No. 6757 (Lutterworth)
9th December - Castle of Leicester Lodge No. 7767 (Leicester)
11th December - Beacon Lodge No. 5208 (Loughborough)
12th December - Rothley Temple Lodge No. 7801 (Leicester)
13th December - Old Oakhamians No. 8033 (Oakham)
15th December - Lodge of the Golden Fleece No. 2081 (Leicester)
16th December - Temperantia Lodge No. 4088 (Leicester)
17th December - Reynard Lodge No. 9285 (Loughborough)
18th December - St Peter's Lodge No. 1330 (Market Harborough)
19th December - Wyggeston Lodge No. 3448 (Leicester)
The event was organised by Samuel Harris (Lodge of the Golden Fleece), and was conceived not only as an enjoyable test of endurance (and waistlines), but also to achieve three specific aims:
- To introduce brethren to the joys of visiting and meet other masons across the Province, by providing a unique opportunity to attend any of the 12 lodges during this period knowing there were a group of likeminded individuals also attending
- To raise awareness of the Light Blue Club and its aims across the Province and
- To raise a significant amount of money for LOROS Hospice as one of the designated charities
Over the course of the event, over two dozen individual brethren took part at various stages, including a few who had only been in the Craft for a matter of weeks but were keen to take part. Indeed, one brother who was initiated at one of the meeting, then came to visit another first degree ceremony the day immediately after his own!
In total, visits under the guise of the 12 lodges accounted for over 60 individual visits during the period, with the Light Blue Club attended meetings across the Province, from Leicester to Loughborough and Lutterworth, from Oakham to Market Harborough.
The brethren were overwhelmed with the warm welcome and hospitality they received at every lodge, and enjoyed seeing a wide variety of ceremonies performed, as well as the peculiarities and traditions unique to each Lodge either in the meeting or at the Festive Boards.
Every degree was witnessed at least one, as well as an Installation, although due to the time of the year, Christmas dinner was more often than not the menu of choice! The brethren enjoyed being able to explain to other junior Freemasons the aims of the Light Blue Club, the events put on, and how much they enjoy meeting and socialising with others across the Province. As a result, many more are now aware of the club and intend to get involved in the future.
Samuel Harris was supported in organisation of the event by Karl Coles (Edward Sherrier Lodge), and both deserve full credit for their commitment being the only members who managed to attend all 12 lodges. By the end of the final visit, both stated they would be happy if they never had to see turkey on the menu again!
Over £800 has been raised so far for LOROS, with contributions still coming in.
The Wyggeston Lodge No. 3448, which is the Universities’ Scheme lodge for the University of Leicester, welcomed another five new members at their Christmas meeting on 19th December 2014 held at Freemasons' Hall, Leicester
These five new members take a very special place in the history of Wyggeston Lodge, being part of an ever growing number of young Freemasons to have joined since 2011 when the lodge joined the Universities’ Scheme
Three of the members are either undergraduate or postgraduate students at the University of Leicester whilst the others work and live locally. The Lodge now has 47 members in total, with an age range between 21 and 90 and an average age of 45.
The festivities continued at the festive board where the lodge members and visitors, including the Leicestershire and Rutland Light Blue Club, enjoyed a traditional Christmas dinner with an interjection of rousing christmas carols and songs including 12 Days of Christmas and Good King Wenceslas.
Through the generosity of those at the meeting, over £240 was raised for LOROS Hospice, a local charity that cares for over 2,500 people across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, and the Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance.
The new experience
Freemasonry has a refreshingly open-minded attitude when it comes to age. The routes to the Craft for engaged young people are now more accessible than ever. The emergence of the Connaught Club, a social club for Freemasons under thirty-five, and the hugely successful Universities Scheme prove as much
But while there’s plenty for this younger generation to take from Freemasonry, what can these new brethren bring to the Craft? From a choreographer with all the right moves and a stonemason preserving the nation’s heritage, to an archaeology student unearthing our past, Sarah Holmes meets three young Freemasons with fresh perspectives, experiences and knowledge just waiting to be shared.
Mat Tindall, stonemason, King Egbert Lodge, No. 4288, Province of Derbyshire
Mat Tindall rarely has a typical day at the office. He is currently rebuilding the roof of Castle Drogo on Dartmoor – the last ‘castle’ to be built in Britain in 1911. It’s a painstaking process that involves re-fixing 3,000 granite blocks back into their original positions. ‘It’s like piecing together a giant jigsaw puzzle,’ Mat reveals, adding that the puzzle is made all the more difficult by the fact that some of the pieces weigh as much as one-and-a-half tonnes.
The whipping autumnal winds blowing in from the exposed Dartmoor landscape certainly don’t make it any easier. Fortunately, Mat isn’t deterred. ‘If I didn’t enjoy my job, I wouldn’t be here,’ he admits. ‘I’m lucky I get to experience some of the country’s most incredible heritage first hand.’
Just last year, Mat ventured below the floors of Sheffield Cathedral into the sixteenth-century crypt of George Talbot, the fourth Earl of Shrewsbury.
‘It was amazing being able to explore this archaic space by lamplight, to stand beside these huge coffins and read the eulogies chiselled into their lids in lead. It’s not something everybody gets to do.’
It was Mat’s love of the historical aspects of his job that first inspired his interest in Freemasonry. Working in great halls, cathedrals and castles, Mat became fascinated with the masonic symbols that he regularly encountered. ‘But it wasn’t until I was working on a farmhouse conversion next to King Egbert Lodge in Derbyshire that I finally got in touch with the Worshipful Master,’ he says.
In September 2014 Sheffield-born Mat was initiated into the Craft. ‘I loved the camaraderie of it all,’ he recalls. ‘The history, the tradition – it’s exactly what
I’m interested in, but my partner felt unsure. I think she worried that the lodge would take time away from our three-year-old daughter, Willow. But she knows now it won’t come to that. There’s never been a pressure to prioritise the lodge over family.’
Despite having only just started his journey into Freemasonry, Mat is already feeling confident in this new undertaking. ‘It’s definitely broadened my horizons,’ he says. ‘As the youngest person in my lodge I feel I bring a fresh perspective, too. Young people do have a different way of thinking about things, and when everybody brings their own stories and insights to their lodges it can benefit Freemasonry as a whole.’
‘Freemasonry has definitely broadened my horizons. As the youngest person in my lodge I feel I bring a fresh perspective, too.’
John Henry Phillips, archaeology student, Wyggeston Lodge, No. 3448, Province of Leicestershire and Rutland
Unlike many students, partying was the last thing on John Henry Phillips’ mind when he headed to the University of Leicester in 2013. Having spent the past four years of his life touring Europe as part of a burgeoning rock band, John was eager to immerse himself in his archaeological passions.
It was the discovery of a World War I grenade during his first visit to the fields at Flanders in Belgium that inspired John to apply to study archaeology. He was just ten minutes into his visit when he and his dad happened upon the small explosive shell.
‘One hundred and sixty tonnes of ammunition are ploughed up from under the fields each year, so people often find artefacts,’ says John. ‘Even so, it’s astonishing to find yourself face to face with a soldier’s boot after over a century. I’m now in talks with various projects in France about excavating the trenches in the future.’
It was after being accepted to study in Leicester (with the same university department that discovered Richard III’s remains in a local car park in 2013) that John became interested in the Universities Scheme, which forges links between lodges and young people who are seeking to become involved in Freemasonry.
‘Student living can be quite intense,’ recalls John, ‘so Freemasonry was a great opportunity to step away from it all, to do something positive and unselfish rather than just going on a pub crawl.’ In December 2013, John was officially initiated into Wyggeston Lodge.
The overlap between the history of Freemasonry and the world wars had a strong appeal for him.
‘As a historical fraternity, it ties in with my interests. I particularly like masonic traditions that originate from those eras – such as raising a glass to absent brethren at lodge dinners, which stems from World War I,’ he says.
It is this sense of tradition, combined with the support of the fraternity, that John believes young people could benefit from most. ‘It’s an uncertain time for young people. We’ve more debt than ever – the old guarantees of a steady job and a mortgage are gradually disappearing. I think Freemasonry could be a welcome constant for many,’ he says.
‘But ultimately it’s a two-way street. Young people today have more diverse experiences and perspectives than they did fifty years ago. We’re better travelled than before and education is more accessible, so I think we have just as much to offer in the way of new ideas.’
‘Student living can be quite intense, so Freemasonry was a great opportunity to step away from it all and do something positive.’
Anthony King, Choreographer, Howard Lodge of Brotherly Love, No. 56, Province of Sussex
After balancing his entire frame on tiptoes, Anthony King bursts across the Pineapple dance studio in a fit of energy and excitement. A Michael Jackson song booms from the speakers above as he moonwalks his way across the white floors.
By day, Anthony is a born performer, specialising in the trademark routines of the King of Pop. His Michael Jackson-style dance classes are a firm favourite on the London fitness scene, and this October he performed two sell-out tribute shows at the Shaw Theatre. But outside the dance studio, he is a dedicated Freemason of Howard Lodge of Brotherly Love, where he was initiated in May 2014.
‘As a performer, I live in quite a superficial daily environment, so Freemasonry gives me insight into another world,’ explains Anthony. ‘It appeals to my philosophical and historical side.’
In particular, it was the idea of being part of a centuries-old brotherhood that drew Anthony to the Craft. ‘I loved the idea of being part of something bigger, of the continuity of the past through the ritual and tradition,’ he explains.
On entering the lodge, Anthony was inspired by the honesty and warmth of his fellow brethren towards him. ‘They made me feel valued and respected from the moment I arrived,’ he says. ‘That really impressed me.’
Anthony became interested in Freemasonry through his friend Simon, whose father, Richard, is a Freemason. ‘But I never thought I’d be able to join until we were discussing it over dinner one night. Richard saw how passionate I was about it, so the next day he gave me the forms and we got the process underway.’
While the prospect of balancing the commitments of Freemasonry with rehearsing for sell-out shows and preparing for dance classes might seem a challenge, for Anthony it’s not an issue. ‘I’ll always be able to make time for it,’ he says. ‘When Simon and I joined, we both agreed this was a turning point in our lives. We were committing ourselves to improvement through Freemasonry.’
Despite being the youngest person in his lodge, Anthony doesn’t pay much heed to the age difference between himself and his brethren. ‘The Craft attracts a certain type of person, regardless of age. Perhaps young people bring a little more vibrancy, but over three hundred years what difference does a generation make? The important thing is that we all value one another.’
‘I loved the idea of being part of something bigger, of the continuity of the past through the ritual and tradition.’
The first degrees
Through the Universities Scheme, Freemasonry is reaching a young, community-minded generation. Sophie Radice finds out what attracted five university recruits to Leicester’s Wyggeston Lodge
University is a place that encourages self-expression and personal discovery. Surely not a time when you would consider joining Freemasonry, with all its traditions and structures? Dr Andy Green of Wyggeston Lodge, No. 3448, disagrees: ‘Freemasonry is a sociable and supportive fraternity. This works very well with those just starting out on their adult lives and looking to meet a range of people with a solid moral code – it’s also a lot of fun.’
The first university lodge, Apollo University Lodge, No. 357, was founded at Oxford almost two hundred years ago, with Isaac Newton University Lodge, No. 859, following some years later at Cambridge. Since then, many thousands of young men have been introduced to Freemasonry through these two lodges, and they provided the inspiration for the Universities Scheme. Set up in 2005, the scheme establishes opportunities for undergraduates and other university members to learn about Freemasonry and to bring fresh minds and ideas into the organisation. There are now more than fifty lodges pursuing a similar course. Their membership consists of undergraduates, postgraduates, senior members of the university and alumni, ranging in age from eighteen upwards.
Wyggeston Lodge in Leicester joined the Universities Scheme in 2011 to try to revive membership numbers – in the 1950s the lodge had one hundred and twenty members and in 2010 it had dwindled to thirty-two. In the past few years, however, the lodge has initiated twelve students. Last summer, four students from the University of Leicester were part of a special meeting of the lodge, when it carried out its first ever quadruple initiation ceremony. This saw Valentin-George Tartacuta, Yusif Nelson, Peter Clarke and Peter Shandley joining the Craft.
‘It’s very exciting to see the lodge filling up with the younger generation, all of whom seem to have great ideas about the future of the lodge and what might make Freemasonry more attractive to their age group,’ says Andy, Universities Scheme Subcommitee Chairman at Wyggeston. ‘We have already made good use of social networking sites – we have a strong Facebook and Twitter presence, as well as a website with film clips of our new members talking about why they joined, and a blog. I realised that it was essential to be able to contact and attract young members through these forums. It has made the lodge communications more dynamic, because we have all had to up our game in a way.’
Provincial Assistant Grand Master Peter Kinder, who is also the Provincial Universities Scheme Liaison Officer, says: ‘We are very lucky in this area with potential next-generation Freemasons because we have three very good universities – Loughborough (with the Lodge of Science & Art), De Montfort (with Castle of Leicester Lodge) and Leicester itself. When we first went to the University of Leicester freshers’ fair three years ago, we were really surprised at the interest. So many people wanted to talk to us and asked us to explain what we were doing there. We spoke about the history of Freemasonry and if they seemed interested, we suggested that they came and had a tour of the lodge.’
Peter recalls how, at the end of the freshers’ day, the floor was filled with flyers. ‘But you couldn’t see any of the Freemasonry ones chucked away. I suppose we were a little bit more unusual than the pizza and taxi firms. We gave out seven hundred leaflets that first year and one thousand this year. We seem to be going from strength to strength.’
Learning the ropes
Peter Clarke is in his third year studying history and knew very little about the Freemasons when he came across the stand at the freshers’ fair. ‘It took me a year to think about it and by the time my second freshers’ came up, I had done a bit of research and found out about the history of the Freemasons. I thought it would be something a bit different to join and take me out of my normal social circles. I like the feeling of being part of something bigger and, as a history student, I was fascinated by tracing back the roots of Freemasonry.’
‘It’s very exciting to see the lodge filling up with the younger generation, all of whom seem to have great ideas about the future of the lodge.’ Dr Andy Green Business and finance student Jeff Zhu also came across Freemasonry for the first time at a freshers’ fair. ‘It was my second year at university; I had just split up with my girlfriend and was feeling a bit down, so I went to the freshers’ day. I come from China and I have to say that I liked the historical look of the Freemasons’ stall, but I had never heard of them before.
Many Chinese students just stick together but I really wanted the chance to branch out. I also like the values of integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness. It fits in with the way I want to live my life.’ Peter Shandley, who reads law and has just finished a year studying in Germany, was taken aback when he made his first visit to Wyggeston Lodge, which holds its meeting in Leicester’s Freemasons’ Hall – a Georgian building with stunning interiors. ‘From the outside it doesn’t look like much, but when I came inside and saw the main hall I was really interested in the heritage. e hall was built in 1910, when this area was really booming from the textile trade, and is one of the most impressive in the country. I feel really privileged to have been initiated into this lodge because it is such a distinguished one. I have so enjoyed my experience here that I have brought someone else into the lodge. He was initiated in December.’
‘I like the feeling of being part of something bigger and, as a history student, I was fascinated by tracing back the roots of Freemasonry.’ Peter Clarke
While initially surprised by the decision to join, friends of university lodge members have been receptive to hearing about the general ethos of Freemasonry. Andrew Slater, who is in his third year reading medical biochemistry, says that he was attracted by the international aspect of Freemasonry and the fact that ‘pretty much anywhere you end up in the world you could find a Freemasons’ lodge and be welcomed there’. He also goes to other lodges in the UK and enjoys being part of the events that they hold. ‘It’s a good feeling to know you have people who will welcome you everywhere.’
For Andrew, joining a brotherhood that brings him together with new people is important. ‘Andy Green is so great at promoting the values of decency, charity and brotherhood that it is hard not to be enthused by him. there is also the feeling that as well as having a great deal to teach us, the Freemasons here are very receptive to what we have to say about the way forward to keep membership alive. I have also become friends with students from different departments that I would never have met if I hadn’t become a Freemason.’
Alex Pohl is twenty-two and has enjoyed acting in the ceremonies. ‘I’m often nervous and things never go exactly to plan but it really helps with a sense of belonging and fraternity.
I am really committed to the Freemasons – it is a lifetime thing – and I joined because I knew about the huge amount Freemasons do for charity. I also really like the modesty behind the charitable giving. It’s not something that the Freemasons make a big deal of but so much of what we are about is the desire to help others as much as we can. I really respect that, and I am excited about being a part of a new generation of Freemasons.’
‘As well as having a great deal to teach us, the Freemasons here are very receptive to what we have to say about the way forward to keep membership alive.’ Andrew Slater
Varsity scheme gains pace
Four students from the University of Leicester were part of a special meeting of Wyggeston Lodge, No. 3448, at which the lodge carried out its first ever quadruple initiation ceremony. They bring the number of students from the University of Leicester initiated at the lodge to 11 since it joined the United Grand Lodge of England’s Universities Scheme in 2011. Among the guests was Provincial Grand Master for Leicestershire and Rutland David Hagger, who witnessed the initiation of Valentin-George Tartacuta (reading Aerospace Engineering), Yusif Nelson (reading Economics), Peter Clarke (reading History) and Peter Shandley (reading Law).
As Provinces around the UK welcome university students into the Craft, the biennial Universities Scheme Conference focused on why students are vital in ensuring the future of Freemasonry
More than 130 brethren gathered at Freemasons’ Hall, London, for the third Universities Scheme Conference. The Scheme is a pioneering initiative by Grand Lodge under the auspices of the Assistant Grand Master, David Williamson, to help forge links between well-placed, enthusiastic lodges and the many students – as well as other young people – seeking to become involved in Freemasonry.
There are currently 50 lodges under the Scheme across England and Wales, the West Indies and South Africa. In 2010 these lodges held 159 initiations of candidates found through the Scheme, and between them had over 300 members who were under 30. This year, the conference included presentations on recruitment, retention and break-out sessions on making masonry affordable.
A tremendous level of Provincial support has greatly contributed to the success of the Scheme. Five final-year students at the University of Bath have been initiated by St Alphege Lodge, No. 4095, Province of Somerset. Meanwhile over in Leicestershire and Rutland, Wyggeston Lodge, No. 3448 has forged links with Leicester University students.
The mood of the day was encapsulated by Mike Jones from the University Lodge of Liverpool: ‘Student recruitment is an ongoing process. You need to engage with students not only when they make their first enquiry, but all the way through the application process. You need to mentor them so that they feel comfortable.’
Go to www.universitiesscheme.com for more details on the conference