The sociable network
With social media and a pint at the local pub attracting a new following of junior Freemasons, Caitlin Davies meets the Rough Ashlar Club
These days, a recommendation to become a Freemason doesn’t have to happen at the local pub. Ubiquitous internet access and devices mean that social media is now proving an ideal way for Cheshire Freemasons to reach out to new, younger members. Launched last November for junior masons, the Rough Ashlar Club has a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed that’s gathered nearly five hundred followers to date.
The club is a result of the Cheshire Master Masons Forum, whose aim is to make Freemasonry a modern, appealing and fun organisation, while retaining its core traditional values. ‘Our leaders in Cheshire identified that we needed to engage with young guys.
Now the forum has various projects and we’re bringing Cheshire into the modern era,’ explains Master Masons chair Mark Sellers, thirty-six, a Freemason for nearly ten years.
The Rough Ashlar Club launched with a Greek-themed night, attended by around forty people. ‘The idea was to bring mates along to meet your masonic friends,’ says Mark. ‘We’ve not got two heads, we’re normal guys who enjoy friendship and raise money for charity.’
Forum member Tom Browne, forty-seven, says they surveyed lodges and found that people wanted more social events. So the club held a Fancy a Pint night in pubs around Cheshire.
Events so far have been as inclusive as possible, targeting the young but not excluding seniors, and open to family and friends. Plans are now afoot for cheese and wine evenings, casino nights, a family fun day and a Christmas ball. In February the club sold well over one hundred tickets for a race night – and raised £1,770 for charity. Upcoming events include a trip to the Chester Charity Beer Festival.
So, beer features quite prominently in the club’s activities? Tom laughs, ‘It seems to be a running theme.’
Another theme is the use of social media. Forum member Phil Hopkinson set up a website (www.roughashlarclub.org), which advertises events and keeps people up to date with news. A Facebook page has also been launched, but it’s the Twitter feed (@RoughAshlarClub), with news, comments and photographs, that has been the biggest success.
‘Twitter has been phenomenal. Older guys say, “I wish we’d had this while I was growing up!”’ Mark Sellers
Entering a new age
While posting regular tweets and keeping the website and Facebook page fresh is a big time commitment, the Rough Ashlar Club is already seeing the results. ‘Younger brethren are constantly asking when the next event will be,’ says Tom. ‘Social media is definitely working and this is only the beginning.’
Forum member Adam Collantine describes his role as ‘ambassador, champion and a bit of a mouthpiece’. He says the club was started for ‘young’ masons; then the forum realised the median age of new masons is between forty and fifty, so they changed the word to ‘junior’.
Adam, thirty, became a mason by simply writing to the Province saying he wanted to join. ‘I’d read up on it and I was feeling slightly disheartened about the state of the world, the country and the way people behave to each other. I liked the core values of Freemasonry.’
It was Adam and other forum members who made a concerted effort to bring Cheshire Freemasons into the twenty-first century.
‘We said we’d run a Facebook page and a Twitter feed as a trial for the Province,’ he says, revealing that the Province has just started a Twitter feed of its own. ‘I was a Facebook man, but Twitter is faster and constantly updated.
The point of social media is short pieces. I’m at work, I don’t have time to read an article, but I can read one hundred and forty characters.’
Open and honest
‘The people in the Province didn’t understand social media and there was a fear of exposing themselves to criticism,’ admits Mark. ‘There has been a lot of interaction, but no negative press. Twitter has been phenomenal. All the people I bump into think it’s great. Older guys say, “I wish we’d had this while I was growing up!”’
As for the social events, Mark explains that masonic activities are not exclusive from the rest of the member’s life: ‘Wives, partners and girlfriends get to enjoy them too.’ The club’s website, meanwhile, includes a section for people thinking of becoming a Freemason.
It explains the organisation’s history and dispels the myth that becoming a mason is difficult.
Mark says new members are now applying though the internet; the days of having to be invited to be a Freemason are well and truly gone. ‘We need to be open and honest and let people find out about us. People join, they go through their Three Degrees and then they wonder what’s next – especially if there aren’t younger guys at their lodge. They want to know how to get more involved.’
The Rough Ashlar Club’s aim is to help the Craft both survive and thrive. It has created a list of Cheshire-based masonic tweeters to encourage communications between all corners of the Province. And if social media continues to thrive as a communication and recruitment tool, what’s happening in Cheshire could provide a template for other Provinces to use – so watch this space. Or for those already on Twitter, watch this ‘#’.
Letters to the editor - No. 24 Winter 2013
Getting to know you
I was interested to read in your most recent edition of the concerns that many members have with regards to recruitment policies, and the quality and speed in which a member advances through the offices.
All views expressed seem to have merit but there are a complex number of issues that one has to consider with regards to recruitment within masonry. Quality is undoubtedly the major influencer in sustaining good numbers years after many others have come and gone.
Our lodge, White Eagle, adopted a policy some years back, which has some extremely encouraging results.
The basis of recruitment had been to identify a character that a member could recommend, and put it to him on the first occasion whether or not he wished to be a mason – this often without any real knowledge of the organisation or any of the people within the particular lodge he might be joining.
We identified this as being a policy which failed to produce the right quantity and quality of prospective masons. We therefore embarked on creating some ‘fringe events’, which include a dinner between 6pm and 7.30pm on Thursdays (as our Lodge of Instruction meets later that evening). Members are encouraged to invite anybody, without the slightest notion of recruiting them into Freemasonry.
This provides a way by which, through regular attendance, a prospective member could consider the characters involved in Freemasonry before making the enquiry to join himself. It is only once that person has proved themselves as somebody who would attend each Thursday for dinner, drinks and a social occasion (for say a year) do we begin to enquire if there is a deeper interest in them joining the organisation.
By encouraging these dinners, the potential candidate also has the chance to introduce other friends with the possibility of them becoming interested. We have found it a most useful and successful recruitment policy. Because it is not an obvious recruitment event, it attracts more enquiries.
It should also be noted that by creating an event on our regular Lodge of Instruction evenings, it maintains the interest and attendance of existing members which, in my own opinion, is the primary challenge that lodges face. On that point, we are purposefully delaying progress through the ranks, as rapid advancement has a tendency to put too much pressure on some, and they have a tendency to fall by the wayside, so to speak. I hope some other lodges find these ideas helpful.
Robin Norris, White Eagle Lodge, No. 4384, London
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 23 Autumn 2013
What an inspiration it was to read the article by Caitlin Davies in the summer 2013 edition. To see young Freemasons embracing new technology so successfully lifted my spirits.
At seventy-five years of age and twenty-six years a member, I have long wondered what the young guys make of us older brethren, with our old suits and tales of crowded lodge meetings of the past. Looking forward, I have long been convinced that once encouraged, modern communication systems would prove a great advantage in recruitment and retention.
Looking at the photographs accompanying the article I noticed not a musty old suit in sight; the confidence shone through the happy faces and demonstrated our openness to anyone in doubt – we are not a load of old fuddy-duddies with funny clothes and two heads.
Clearly, modern communication is the way forward and these brethren are proving their success in the interest they are generating. Despite occasional bad press about certain media sites, I hope the powers that be will encourage activity like this in all Provinces.
It must, of course, have clear guidelines in which to operate but please don’t strangle it at birth. No doubt some of the ‘suits’ will rail against my comments but I fear they might be the ones whose outdated attitudes slow down the future progress of this wonderful fraternity.
Brian Fairweather, Old Rectory Lodge, No. 6651, Caversham, Berkshire
Letters to the editor - No. 22 Summer 2013
Spread the word
Seventy per cent of our lodge’s new members have been secured directly through our website. Their enthusiasm and the renewed enthusiasm shown by our existing members has proved a draw for others. In 2011 we were fortunate to have initiated four members, in 2012 eight new initiates, and now have seven in line for next year plus three joining members. This takes the total to about thirty-nine – almost double our previous membership.
With almost thirty outstanding ceremonies projected at the start of 2012, we had to make sure new candidates didn’t lose interest while waiting to progress through their respective degrees. Mentoring and communication play an important part. As we are busy in the lodge, we are able to give them work at the earliest opportunity without them feeling under any pressure, and progression is now by merit and ability. We have also been fortunate to have support from a number of other lodges in Middlesex who have had no scheduled work. This means that our candidates can progress as quickly as they want and it boosts the numbers at the meetings of the other lodges because we will attend to support our candidates. Most importantly, visiting enables friendships to be made between the lodges.
By putting our efforts into digital and social media, we have been able to tap into a growing online community of existing and would-be Freemasons.
In doing this, we have provided a place where people can learn about, discuss and eventually join our lodge more easily than they have been able to in the past.
Nigel Harris-Cooksley, North Harrow Lodge, No. 6557, Harrow, Middlesex
A member of Thermopylae Lodge, No. 4386, in the Province of Cheshire created a Facebook page last year to help provide information about the lodge and to help dispel the myths about Freemasonry. Within months it became popular to the point where people were approaching asking for further information about charity work, activities and membership. The current following is little under four hundred and the page can reach up to forty-five thousand people some weeks.
The first to ask for more information were a father and son. After attending social events and getting to know the members of the lodge they decided to join and their double initiation was in February. They have fitted in brilliantly and taken on the true spirit of the lodge. We get asked by enquirers for more information daily. We offer links to Grand Lodge or the Province as appropriate and the benefit of the page is incredible: www.facebook.com/wirralfreemasons
Dale Bland, Thermopylae Lodge, No. 4386, Wallasey, Cheshire
With a fistful of dollars and European currency, two Chester Freemasons hand over their impromptu returns from a Mediterranean cruise to Cheshire’s Assistant Provincial Grand Master as a contribution to the Grand Charity.
On board the Grand Princess in Autumn last year, W Brothers James Dandy and Mike Hughes of Deva Lodge No. 3447 met up with old chum W Brother Richard Gieir of Wichita, Kansas, and with other cruise members mustered a Lodge of some 30 brethren. Their alms plate amassed some £230 and all agreed it should be donated to the The Freemasons' Grand Charity. It was handed over to Cheshire’s Assistant Provincial Grand Master George W. Mann for onward transmission to Grand Lodge.
Young deaf and hard of hearing people in Cheshire have welcomed a £30,000 funding boost by the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys. Cheshire-based charity Deafness Support Network (DSN) received the award to expand its Deaf Active youth services into Crewe and Warrington.
The project aims to help socially excluded deaf children and young people develop their self-esteem and sporting skills by taking part in a variety of non-traditional sports alongside their hearing peers.
The scheme will give young people the opportunity to work towards achieving accredited outcomes to help boost their education and career prospects. It will also improve access to a broader range of services for its existing 78 users and strives to benefit at least 20 new deaf and deafblind young people in the area.
Promotion has come quickly for Mersey Valley Lodge of Installed Masters No. 9057 (which meets in Warrington, Widnes, St Helens and Leigh in the Province of West Lancashire) member John Bartley since becoming a member of Probus Ante Meridiem Lodge No. 9195.
Just 11 weeks after he became a joining member of Ante Meridiem Lodge which meets only four times a year, John was installed as Worshipful Master at the meeting in the Masonic Hall, Sidcup, in the Province of West Kent.
Among the many guests present was Derek Hunt who travelled more than 220 miles from Warrington to see his friend of 50 years installed. Derek gave the address to the Worshipful Master who he proposed into Mersey Valley shortly after its consecration in 1983. John has been a regular visitor to Derek’s mother lodge - St Oswald Lodge No. 5170 which also meets in Warrington for more than four decades.
It will be a special year for John for apart from being Worshipful Master he will also be celebrating his 80th birthday.
Despite John’s apparent rapid promotion, he was not a newcomer to Sidcup as he has been a tyler there for several lodges for some time. At the committee meeting where John’s application to become a joining member was on the agenda he was asked if he would like to progress in the Lodge. He said he would so at the next meeting when the ballot took place for him to join he also became master elect!
John joined Freemasonry in Cheshire in Egremont Lodge No. 2872 in 1959 and became its WM in 1973. He was appointed as a Past Provincial Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies in the Province of Cheshire in 1984.
In 2004 John and his wife Jeanette moved from the north to Masonic accommodation in Aylesbury and in 2009 he was exalted into River Chapter No. 5126 in the Province of Buckinghamshire. Following his wife’s death John moved to the Duke of Kent Court in Chislehurst to be nearer his daughter and his skills as a tyler were soon in demand.
He is tyler at Sidcup for Alma Lodge No. 9792, Burnt Ash Lodge No. 6285, Falconwod Lodge No. 5826 and Sydney Lodge No. 829. He is also janitor at Sidcup for Bexley Heath Chapter No. 4918, Burnt Ash Chapter No. 6285, Ideal Endeavour Chapter No. 7379, Manor Way Chapter No. 6161 and Sydney Chapter No. 829. He is also tyler at Great Queen Street for St James Union Lodge No. 180.
When John completed 50 years as a Freemason he was sent a commemorative certificate by the Provincial Grand Master of West Lancashire, Peter Hosker, which was presented to him by David Bearman, an Assistant Provincial Grand Master of the Province of West Kent at a coffee morning in the home where John lived.
John is planning to join Probus Ante Meridiem Chapter in September but is not expecting rapid promotion there.
The 'Rough Ashlar Club', a social club for Junior Brethren, launches in Cheshire
The Rough Ashlar Club was born from the Master Masons’ Forum of Cheshire with the aim of being a social club for all junior brethren, who can share friendship and fellowship as well as have some fun with other like-minded Master Masons.
The club will organise various social events, some for masons only, some to include their partners and families, and others to bring friends along to. It is hoped that this will ensure that we embrace our members’ families and bring them into our masonic lives, as well as offering friends, who may be interested in joining, the opportunity to meet some junior freemasons in a social environment.
Bro. Phil Hopkins, one of the founders of the Rough Ashlar Club said “We are all tremendously excited about the Club, it will enable junior brethren to get together informally and socially, in order to grow and develop those shared bonds of friendship with our peers throughout the Province.”
WBro Mark Sellers ProvGStwd, Chairman of the Master Masons’ Forum, said “This is an initiative that was devised & developed by members of the Forum with the full support of the Province and we are delighted at the positive response received from Cheshire brethren so far”.
David approached David Heathcote, manager of Stockport Masonic Guildhall, to interview him on business management for his college work, and the subject soon turned to Freemasonry. David asked if he could become a mason, and was told that if he still felt the same in six months it might be considered. He showed his commitment by volunteering to help at open days, Guildhall events and even in the office, leading to his initiation by Meridian Lodge Master Barry Cooper Stevenson in January.
David Heathcote made enquiries at the Provincial Office and, after a meeting with Provincial Grand Master Steven Adcott, dispensation was given for the ceremony.
There is an important role for women in Freemasonry as one Cheshire group has shown
Bridgegate Lodge No. 5961 in the Province of Cheshire was consecrated in 1944, meets at the Masonic Hall, Cheshire View, Christleton, Chester and continues to attract candidates at the rate of about two a year.
Until 1993, Bridgegate, like so many other Lodges, held Ladies Nights, looked after their widows and supported the Provincial Festivals and local charities.
Then, in 1993, Mrs. Sheila Cowell decided that if the men could go out and enjoy themselves, then so could the Ladies and, what is more, they could challenge their men’s charitable donations with donations of their own, so she founded the Bridgegate Ladies Circle.
At first, the Circle met at Sheila’s home, but as the interest grew, and space became restricted, they had to move to the new Masonic Hall at Christleton.
Starting a Ladies Circle has been done many times before, but Bridgegate Lodge’s Ladies Circle quickly became friends and discovered they had lots of fun doing their own thing, while at the same time fundraising for the charities, both local and Masonic, by arranging a variety of activities to suit all tastes.
In a surprisingly short period, membership had grown to around 40 and has remained about this level ever since. The membership comprises not just the wives of Bridgegate Lodge members, but also their friends, ladies of the brethren of other Lodges visiting Bridgegate and their friends.
It says a lot that such a disparate group should survive for so long and their programme of dining, fashion shows, jewellery displays, speakers, discussions and other social functions is obviously so well pitched that they neither become bored with it, nor feel themselves to be in any sort of a rut.
Each year since 1993, the ladies have donated between £800 and £1,200, usually to the Lodge Charity Steward on the occasion of the annual Ladies Evening. While the Lodge is the final arbiter of what happens to the money, the ladies have been given the opportunity by the Charity Steward to have their say in making donations.
The unique thing about all this is that this Ladies Circle are well aware that there is no mechanism from within the Masonic organisation for any formal recognition of their efforts and achievements, but they do it anyway and deserve a great big “well done and thank you” from us all.
After 13 years, Sheila has decided to retire from the Chair of the Ladies Circle and has handed the tiller over to Anne Reynolds and Diane Crank. Both Anne and Diane have been part of the development of the Ladies Circle for many years and there is no doubt that they are well able to carry on the good work started by Sheila. Both Anne and Diane have a vested interest in raising money because both their husbands are the current Master and Charity Steward of the Lodge.
Perhaps it is time for Freemasonry to be more inclusive of its women for, as Bridgegate Lodge have seen to their advantage, fund-raising of this sort has kept them up to the mark and helped the task of the Charity Steward.