A Ladies Night at the Lodge, Or a Weekend Away?
Many lodges hold an annual Ladies’ Night where members’ wives, partners and friends are invited for a formal dinner. But some lodges are more ambitious, they organise a weekend away where a day filled with leisure activities is followed in the evening by dining and dancing to a live band. Freemasonry Today decided it was time to look at the options available.
Since Bournemouth is now a major centre for these masonic festivals and many hotels are skilled in meeting the needs of lodges it made sense to visit the town in order to find out more. We contacted event organisers Guy Mason and Matthew Devine of ‘Square Events’ and arranged to meet at the Queen’s Hotel with manager David Burr and with Paul Feassey, manager of the Durley Dean Hotel.
Is a weekend in Bournemouth both good value for money and enjoyable for the lodges? This query was easily answered by David Burr: ‘I have been doing Ladies Nights for fourteen years. They are a significant part of our trade. I probably have about forty lodge weekends a year of which around thirty would be repeat business. In fact one lodge has been coming regularly for fifteen years! We often find that on the Sunday, when lodge members are checking out, they will book for the following year.’ Paul Feassey agreed: Ladies Nights were a great success and continued to be popular. He added that he had arranged over one hundred so far.
This volume of business - much of it repeat business - provides solid testimony to the good value of these weekend festivals.
For an hotelier, holding a successful masonic Ladies’ Night involves providing a bespoke service: while certain needs are common to all lodges, each will need a certain amount of tailoring to accommodate particular requirements.
Because Ladies’ Nights are such an important part of their business, Bournemouth hoteliers have gained a good understanding of what masonic lodges and their guests expect.
Furthermore, while Bournemouth provides a wide selection of live bands and experienced toastmasters it also has extensive recreation opportunities to pursue during the day: the beach and pier, walks on the Jurassic Coast or in the New Forest, golf courses, fishing, and a large range of shops and hotel spa facilities.
The price for a weekend is attractive, starting at around £130 per head. And, as David Burr pointed out, while you might obtain dinner for two in London for this price, in Bournemouth you not only receive dinner and a discothèque on Friday night but a banquet on Saturday evening running to four to five courses with live entertainment and two nights in an attractive hotel! For that reason Bournemouth, with its ease of access by road and rail, is a very popular weekend destination, particularly for London lodges.
Should your lodge wish to hold a Festival in Bournemouth the obvious place to start is with the internet: find an attractive hotel and then contact it directly. To help you be sure, most hotels will offer a ‘familiarisation weekend’ in which the Master or Festival Secretary of the lodge, together with his wife, is offered a weekend in the hotel which would be free if a booking followed. This gives the lodge organiser an opportunity to meet the manager and other hotel executives who will help make the festival weekend a success.
However, if you have not had experience in the organising and negotiation involved, why not contact a professional event organiser? What most Freemasons don’t realise is that to book the event through a professional event organiser will normally cost no extra.
Also, because of their contacts in the trade as well as in the entertainment and sports community, professional organisers are able to provide a greater flexibility over prices, dates and activities.
Experience is important; Guy Mason of Square Events Management has 20 years in event organising, his associate Matthew Devine has 15 years specifically running masonic Ladies Nights.
Guy Mason described how they reacted to an enquiry: most contacts come through the internet and they try to get back within an hour or so and follow this up with a full proposal within twenty-four hours, for the sooner the event can be organised, the better. He advises interested lodges to book early as dates quickly get filled up; at the very least booking should be done three months in advance.
But what if the lodge cannot raise the sixty or one hundred guests in order to justify using a private banqueting room and live entertainment? Is it, for example, possible to share the weekend with other lodges? ‘Absolutely’ replied Guy, ‘This is one of the areas in which we specialise.
Because of our contacts we are able to bring lodges together to share a weekend festival. In fact, we have organised events for groups as small as twenty or so.’
Simon Thomas, Master of Ethical Lodge, No. 753, which meets at Clerkenwell, has visited Bournemouth with his lodge on four occasions. He was enthusiastic about the city, stressing that all members’ wives loved Bournemouth, in particular the shopping facilities available. His lodge has usually varied the hotel they used but in all of them the food and service proved excellent. The price, he pointed out, was very good – they could easily spend the same amount on a single night out in London yet this way they were getting a full weekend away.
Had he organised the trip or had he used an event organiser? ‘We had always organised it ourselves in the past but for our last trip we used an event organiser. This made everything much easier and there was no extra cost to the lodge; it worked very well.’
Responding to a steadily increasing interest in these masonic weekends Square Events Management are providing an interface between the hotel industry and the Craft. Each month, in different cities, they hold seminars for hoteliers to explain what the masonic community wants. This is followed by a dinner for the Masters and Festival Secretaries of local lodges allowing them to meet members of Square Events Management and local hoteliers. A nominal charge is made for this meal which is then donated to the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, thus commerce and charity are combined, which is as it should be; for that is the masonic way.