Three Leicestershire lodges were part of a unique joint meeting to celebrate recent UNIVERSITIES' SCHEME successes
Since joining the Universities’ Scheme, over 50 university staff, student and alumni have joined the lodges in just four years.
The Lodge of Science and Art No. 8429 joined in December 2010 and is the scheme lodge for Loughborough University. Wyggeston Lodge No. 3448 is the scheme lodge for the University of Leicester and joined in April 2011, with Castle of Leicester Lodge No. 7767 for De Montfort University joining in October 2012.
Members of the lodges and visitors from across the country gathered in the decorative Holmes Lodge Room at Freemasons' Hall to witness each lodge conducting one of the three ceremonies consisting of candidates from all the lodges.
The acting Master of the Lodge of Science and Art, W Bro Peter Legg, started the day's proceedings with a triple Raising ceremony. Then acting Master of Wyggeston Lodge, W Bro Andy Green, who is also part of the UGLE Universities’ Scheme Committee, conducted a triple Passing ceremony. Castle of Leicester Lodge then conducted a triple Initiation with acting Master, W Bro Paul Wallace taking the Chair.
The lodges were pleased to welcome the Deputy Chairman of the Universities' Scheme, W Bro Daniel Johnson, who said it was 'a marvellous day' and that the Province were seen as huge supporters of the scheme.
The members of the three lodges enjoyed a special celebration Festive Board after the meeting and raised £300 for the Alderman Newton’s Educational Foundation, a local charity that offers financial support to individuals and schools to help people access education or training opportunities in Leicestershire.
The entire meeting went extremely well and clearly demonstrated the very good heart of the three Universities’ Scheme Lodges within the Province of Leicestershire and Rutland.
VW Bro Peter Kinder, Assistant Provincial Grand Master, who has overseen the development of the scheme within the Province said: 'We are delighted with the amazing response we have had to this new scheme. Freemasonry has recently proved to be very popular amongst younger men, particularly students and this resurgence of renewed interest into our historic fraternity, which is 300 years old in 2017, has led to lodges, such as the three University Lodges, having to hold extra meetings to cope with demand. The Masonic code of moral behaviour, charitable giving, especially to non-masonic charities, and honesty, really appeals to many young men, even in this modern day and age.'
W Bro Daniel Hayward, UGLE Regional Co-ordinator for the scheme who also took part in the ceremonies, said of the meeting: 'It has been a wonderful day celebrating the success of the scheme with so many friends. We look forward to welcoming many more young men who are looking to better themselves as people and assist a wide variety of charities by becoming members of our fraternal society.'
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
How Cheshire Masons exhibited at the Royal Horticultural Society's flower show at Tatton Park is explained by David Heathcote
Between 19 and 23 July the Royal Horticultural Society Flower Show was held at Tatton Park, Cheshire – the ancestral home of two past Provincial Grand Masters of Cheshire – Earl Egerton of Tatton and the 3rd Lord Egerton.
With the anticipation of some 250,000 visitors to the multitude of gardens and flower exhibits, the show was set to be a resounding success.
Nothing new in that you say, with the exception that, in 2006, the Freemasons of Cheshire had designed, built and exhibited a garden entitled The Spirit of Freemasonry.
Why a garden? The idea came from attempts to communicate with the media in new ways – in this instance the project was to by-pass the media and go direct to our audience – the public.
Cheshire has created a special projects group, led by Harry Wright, whose aim is to undertake two major projects each year to deliver the Provincial objective of: Dispelling the myths and informing visitors of our work in the community.
It was this small team who set out to change the way in which the Province communicates with the public and in doing so … be friendly, open and honest about Freemasonry – not to attempt to increase membership directly, merely to offer opportunities for improving the understanding of our organisation and to ensure that visitors are left with a favourable opinion of the Craft.
The architect and designer of the garden, Peter Kinder, considered his brief carefully, and his description moved many members of the Province and the 80,000 members of the public who visited. Peter outlined the garden as follows:
The garden depicts the journey of man, from a rough stone to perfection, whilst travelling a path of good and evil, joy and sadness, right and wrong.
The good and evil of the world we live in is represented by a black and white tiled path, which passes alongside an ever-present danger of water, contrasted with verdant pasture representing peace.
The journey carries on until the traveller reaches his final resting place, a triangular seat symbolising the three basic principles of the organisation, namely faith, hope and charity.
The garden’s sundial, with square and compasses – the universal symbol of Freemasonry – depicts the passage of time, over which we have no control.
The Province produced a series of leaflets to support the event including one which explained the horticultural aspects as they related to Freemasonry. A leaflet entitled What’s the big Secret? … It’s no Secret targeted those who may have wanted to know more about Freemasonry.
The Grand Charity series of leaflets including the Tsunami and hospice grants, to name but two, dealt with charitable work. Almost 50,000 leaflets were distributed to members of the public, who without exception welcomed this new approach by Freemasons to communicate with the community.
What impressed so many of the visitors was that, unlike so many of the other display gardens at the show, which were to be sold or broken up, the Cheshire garden was given as a charitable donation to the Hospice of the Good Shepherd near Chester.
Indeed, one lady, when visiting the garden, said “What a lovely garden. This will be a lasting tribute for others to enjoy. I am delighted that it is going to a hospice. I visit this hospice and will certainly look out for it next time I visit”.
In addition to the garden, the Province had a display in the Arts and Garden Design Marquee which equally attracted a large number of visitors. The stand, which depicted a snapshot of a Lodge room with an ancient Master’s chair (courtesy of the Lodge of Unanimity No. 89), provided a glimpse of many rare and important artefacts, including the Provincial Sword, Provincial banner and Provincial Grand Master’s personal standard.
Supporting information told of famous Cheshire Freemasons, charity work and the teddy bear project operated in many Provinces across the English constitution – TLC. The Provincial Grand Master Timothy Richards got in on the act when visiting both the garden and stand on one of the build up days. In his own words, as the Grand Master Overseer of Mark Master Masons, he said: “This is fair work and square and such as we have agreed” – praise indeed!
The garden not only attracted the public, but many Masons from far and wide. Almost every Province and many overseas jurisdictions were represented, with several Masons accidentally stumbling across the garden and stand, clearly delighted at what they found.
Other members of the Cheshire Special Projects team for this initiative included David Heathcote, Eric McConnell and David Thomson, assisted by the Provincial Grand Secretary, Peter Carroll, and the office team, together with many brethren from the Province as volunteers.
David Heathcote is Media and Public Relations Officer for the Province of Cheshire