Print this page

Picking up the pace

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Commonwealth Games medallist Mike Winch explains the history of Spencer Park Lodge and how it has managed to draw Olympic hopefuls like James Ellington into its fold

At first glance, Spencer Park Lodge is indistinguishable from any other post-war London lodge. It was formed in the wake of devastation, and founded on the camaraderie instilled by years of shared hardships. However, over the past sixty-six years, the lodge has counted runners, cyclists, football referees and sports coaches among its members.

One of its newest members is James Ellington. Under the watchful eye of another Spencer Park member, John Powell, James has forged his way into the Olympic relay squad as well as looking a good bet for an individual two hundred metres place. He finds Freemasonry an enjoyable release from life as an increasingly high-profile international athlete: ‘It’s a great way to switch off from a pretty high pressure life right now, and I’ve met some terrific people. The lodge is an ideal opportunity to do good while having a bit of fun with the other members.’

James is a great believer in giving something back, coaching disadvantaged youngsters in the Met-Track scheme in London, as well as doing as much work as he can within the lodge. Spencer Park can be proud of the fact that its members have supported James in his efforts and can look forward to watching him grace the Olympic stage. So what is it about the lodge that tempts world-class athletes?

Like most lodges over the years, Spencer Park has experienced several incarnations. It was formed in the 1940s and during the early years it was the founders and their candidates who kept the lodge solid and functional. In the late 1980s, the nature of the membership changed with an influx of prison officers from the local Wandsworth and Brixton jails.

The future looked rosy, but the light rapidly faded as the leader departed for northern shores. Fortunately, south London businessman, Mehmet Gursel-Cimen, a high-level weightlifter, joined Spencer Park at a crucial time. He encouraged me to look into masonry, and I joined in 1994. We formed the nucleus of the new direction that the lodge was to take, and indeed is continuing to take to this day.

Soon after my initiation, Russell Hart, karate player, and top-notch cyclist Simon McCarthy joined, giving us a firm foundation for a strong sporting future. My own success in international athletics included a couple of Commonwealth silver medals in the shot put, before moving into coaching.

In Freemasonry, I found men with competitive but also caring and loyal instincts. I was at home in the organisation and motivated to spread that word among friends and colleagues. By 2003, having occupied the Master’s Chair for two years, I slotted in as secretary, feeling this to be an ideal chance to work on expanding the sporting membership.

The first new member at this time was John Powell, an international coach with a squad of south London youngsters who were making waves in the sprinting world. John was a superintendent in the Metropolitan Police and a highly motivated man. Once on board he showed a strong commitment to the lodge. His influence extended into the younger generation, whom he encouraged to look at masonry in a new light. This started the lodge’s revival.

For many years, our organisation has been viewed with suspicion by the general public, and Spencer Park saw it as part of its raison d’être to spread a positive word. Although we are only a small part of the whole, it was felt that we could make a contribution towards helping masonry flourish by enlisting sporting youngsters in our activities.


The pressures of life for the younger generation are immense so the lodge instituted a commitment to a Lodge of Instruction with built-in flexibility to account for the difficult hours now worked by younger members. We also looked at bringing more sports coaches in to balance the younger intake. Two very important sportsmen became members at this time. Donovan Reid was an Olympic finalist in 1984 in Los Angeles. He moved from competing to coaching and has had many successes to his name in track and field over the past twenty-plus years. A close friend and coaching colleague of his, Clarence Callender, ex-army man and now Olympic team coach in the relays, also joined Spencer Park’s ranks.

The core of the membership continued to support this new direction. Terry Cover-White, who had joined from Rhetoric Lodge, became a central pillar and, along with John Hardy, formed the heart of the lodge. At this point, Mark Chapman joined our ranks. An international coach, he has been a major asset to Spencer Park, setting a superb example of how masonry and work can fit together harmoniously.

From the spark of an idea, Spencer Park has come a long way. Doubtless in the future it will take on other guises and strong membership groups, but in 2012, it is very much a sporting lodge.


Olympic Celebration
In 2007, Spencer Park Lodge’s senior members decided to promote the idea of a masonic celebration for the 2012 London Olympics. As part of this process, a study was conducted on how many masons had sporting connections. The results revealed strong links between Freemasonry and sport up to the highest level. Historically, that connection has influenced the development of sport worldwide and led to the setting up of many lodge and Provincial sporting groups. In the light of these findings, Spencer Park linked with the Royal York Lodge of Perseverance to organise a gala dinner at the Grand Connaught Rooms on 21 July this year to celebrate Freemasonry and sport. On 10 August, the two lodges are also hosting a joint meeting.