Wednesday, 12 June 2019 15:31

Pro Grand Master's address - June 2019

Quarterly Communication

12 June 2019 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren we have a number of firsts today. It is June and, therefore, the first meeting of Grand Lodge since the investiture of the new team of Acting Grand Officers. Some old hands, some new, including, of course, the Grand Director of Ceremonies. We wish them all well and hope they enjoy their term of office how ever long that may be.

Another first is the luncheon arrangements. This is not the place to go into the whys and wherefores of the action that the Grand Secretary has taken. Many of you will be aware of the reasoning. What I will say is that the Grand Secretary deserves our support and, whilst I know how reluctant you all are ever to comment on such issues, I am sure that he would welcome constructive comments.

Changing the subject: I was in Stockholm three weekends ago at the Installation of the new Grand Master of the Swedish Order of Freemasons. In his address the new Grand Master laid out his vision for the future which included ensuring that all new candidates who wished to join their Order were properly interviewed and briefed prior to their initiation so that they knew what was expected of them as Freemasons and what they, as Freemasons, should and should not expect from their membership. This struck a slight chord with me, Brethren. Are we, perhaps, ahead of the game with Pathway which is now being so widely used within our Constitution?

I am quite certain that Pathway is a 'game changer' for many of our Lodges and I am so pleased that so many of you have embraced it, as it makes attracting new Brethren much more effective and we are far more likely to effectively engage our new members if they have been introduced to Freemasonry in this way.

I have also been delighted to have seen the use of Solomon in a number of Lodges not least on my visit to Cyprus in April. Many of the excerpts are ideal for filling in idle moments in Lodge, when there is a natural gap in proceedings, without extending the overall time of the meeting.

I have said before, but it bears repeating. Time is a precious commodity in most people’s lives and becomes more so as time goes on. The time that we meet and the time we spend in Lodge are very relevant. Personally it might suit me very well to meet at 5 o’clock or even earlier, spend two hours in the meeting and then be finished by 9 to 9.30, but that would be a pretty selfish attitude when it comes to the younger brethren and in the case of most Lodges, a sure way of reducing its popularity for new members.

Brethren, let’s all be flexible and listen to each others’ requirements. If suitable, the meeting times can be varied from meeting to meeting as many Lodges already do, and we should not be afraid to consecrate new lodges that meet the needs of those we hope to attract rather than blindly supporting lodges that don’t.  Every Lodge has a natural life span. 

Brethren that is enough lecturing for one day. The gap between now and our meeting in September has the natural summer break from which I am sure we will all emerge with renewed vigour.

Published in Speeches
Tuesday, 11 June 2019 00:00

Grand Secretary's column - Summer 2019

From the Grand Secretary

This Saturday, I attended a masonic event that will live with me until the end of my days. My mother lodge, Apollo University Lodge, No 357, met at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford – a building I last visited for my graduation in 2001 – to celebrate its bicentenary. In attendance were the Most Worshipful Grand Master, the Pro Grand Master, the Deputy and Assistant Grand Masters and the Provincial Grand Master for Oxfordshire, as well a host of friends, members and past members. 

The lodge was opened in a room adjoining the theatre, called off and there followed a potted presentation on the history of the lodge, and the presentation of a badge to UGLE for the use of the lodge by the Rouge Croix Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary to Her Majesty The Queen – something rather unusual I gather. All this in front of the families and friends of lodge members past and present, the Grand Master and Grand Secretary of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons and a host of invited guests from the university and beyond. It was, of course, an opportunity to showcase Freemasonry to a wider audience, to bust myths, talk of the bursaries the lodge funds for underprivileged students at the university, and remind the academics visiting us that we are one of the oldest and one of the very few university student societies to be able to claim uninterrupted meetings for over two centuries. 

All this was done in the unselfconscious, one might even say brazen style, exemplified by the 19-year-old undergraduate who, after speaking to the Pro Grand Master, attended by his DepGDC, for five minutes, had the disarming naivety to exclaim, ‘I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t quite catch who you are…’

The reception followed at the Ashmolean Museum under the gaze of a 2,000-year-old statue of Apollo and a rather raucous dinner ensued at Keble College, finishing when the bar shut at 4am with a round of McDonald’s with port chasers (I had made a dignified exit around midnight you understand…).

The event brought home to me happy memories of my initiation and my first meetings and introductions to Freemasonry. It also reminded me of what I consider to be a universal fact about Freemasonry, which is that, almost without exception, we consider our first tentative steps in the Craft, and the lessons that they teach us, to be the quintessential masonic experience. To me, nothing will ever surpass Apollo University Lodge. But to those of you reading, I suspect you would say exactly the same thing about your mother lodges, and no matter where we go, and how much we enjoy our Freemasonry elsewhere, few of us would admit the ceremony we had just seen, or the atmosphere we had enjoyed, could hold a candle to those meetings we remember from our formative steps in the Craft.

And therein lies a problem, one with which we all must grapple. There is no doubt that my idea of a wonderful lodge meeting would leave some of you stone cold. We do not all like the same things, and there are as many different types of lodges as there are types of Freemason. Through its ritual, traditions and customs, Freemasonry seeks to inspire its members. It encourages them, through dramatic shared experience, to seek for knowledge, and to put service before self. It does this in myriad different ways that appeal to different people. Times change though, and what may have worked in the past might not attract members now. Some lodges are simply unable or unwilling to communicate happiness or connect across generational divides. It is a source of great pride that my mother lodge, over its 200-year history, has numbered among its members many men who have made significant contributions to wider society, in all walks of life. In order for a lodge to continue to do this, and to thrive, it must find ways to keep its members engaged, interested, and coming back for more. It must also find ways to replace those members who leave or who die. It seems to me that there are a number of lodges which, put simply, don’t really mind either way, and perhaps we should all be a little more relaxed about this. Lodges exist to serve a purpose for their members, but some have no interest in keeping going forever. 

I remember my time as a Metropolitan DepGDC and the wonderful and moving ceremonies that the Met performed when a lodge handed back its warrant. There was an honest acknowledgement that lodges come together for a purpose, and for some, that purpose runs its course. The Craft has the means to create new lodges which meet the needs of present-day petitioners. Lodges which are able to attract and retain members will survive and thrive, perhaps even spawning daughter lodges in their own image, while those that can’t will, in all likelihood, pass into history. Which sort is your lodge, dear reader, and more importantly, are you content with that?

Dr David Staples
Grand Secretary

‘There is no doubt that my idea of a wonderful lodge meeting would leave some of you stone cold. We do not all like the same things, and there are as many different types of lodges as there are types of Freemason’

Published in UGLE

Here to serve

From continuing modernisation to clearer communication, Grand Secretary Dr David Staples reveals some of the major improvements being made to the United Grand Lodge of England

You spoke in the Winter 2018 issue about the ongoing modernisation of UGLE. What improvements were made in 2018?

The biggest change has been bringing together masonic and commercial staff at Freemasons’ Hall, which started with the Board’s appointment of a CEO. This meant that for the first time in a number of years a single person would be in charge of and responsible for delivering for the organisation as a whole. 

Staff have taken part in a number of workshops to understand what we stand for and why; what our values are as the ‘headquarters’ – a distinct organisation separate from UGLE or Supreme Grand Chapter. They have agreed a set of organisational values and goals which have resulted in the introduction of new appraisal processes, mandatory training, pay scales and benefits. Alongside this, regular communication with our staff through ‘Town Hall’ and departmental meetings has ensured people know what is going on and how this fits in to the bigger picture, all of which will help us attract and retain the best possible staff. A restructuring of the organisation and of the various business functions held within the building has allowed me to establish clear lines of accountability and allowed the new directors to facilitate change and improvement in their respective areas. This work has resulted in us being awarded Investors in People accreditation – a ‘kitemark’ not only of excellent people management, but also of normality for how a professional organisation is expected to run.

All of this may sound like management speak, but what it means in reality is that we have ensured the ‘Centre’ is up to the task of both serving our members and representing them effectively in the modern world.

In addition to these changes affecting staff, there have been many other smaller projects aimed at improving how professional we are, and enhancing what we can do and how we deliver. These have touched virtually every aspect of our operations. For example, an archiving project has examined the kilometres of shelving and paperwork stored in Freemasons’ Hall and helped us to develop a document retention policy. Clearing shelving from the main office has allowed us to consider exciting new options for the space that has been created. 

A web-based booking and payment system has gone live for those attending Supreme Grand Chapter and Quarterly Communications, drastically reducing the number of cheques we need to process and bringing us in line with the modern-day expectations of our members.

In preparation for an increased focus on communications, we have brought FMT in-house and appointed a new editorial team, while the Directory of Lodges and the Masonic Yearbook are now online living documents. We have trained a number of members as media ambassadors to represent us at events and in the press. We have commissioned a communications capability assessment and have undertaken polling of the general public to find out what people really think of us, and what opportunities might present themselves to improve their understanding of who we are and what we’re about.

We now have new phone systems and video conferencing suites to improve communications across our worldwide organisation, and these are saving both time and money while improving engagement with our members. The new Events Management Team has been tasked with engaging with our members and encouraging them to use and visit Freemasons’ Hall – a home for all English Freemasons, and we are starting a programme of community engagement projects to broaden our public footprint.

We have converted disused flats into three new lodge rooms in response to an ever-increasing demand for temples, and supported the Improvement Delivery Group in the creation of Operational Membership Dashboards, the Solomon online learning resource and the Members’ Pathway. All of these will directly inform our drive to improve our attraction to potential members and our retention of existing ones.

We have anticipated changes in the legal framework and have issued guidance on transgender members and data protection. We have blended the Grand Ranks system into ADelphi, thereby saving both our Provinces and Districts days of back-and-forth letter writing. 

A huge amount happened in 2018 and has continued to do so in 2019 to ensure that we are a professional, fit-for-purpose and efficient central organisation which is held in high esteem by the membership and the public and which communicates an appealing, confident, relevant and consistent message to the outside world.

What are the key objectives of this process of modernisation?

Simply put, to better serve the members of both UGLE and Supreme Grand Chapter. UGLE needs to be ready for the challenges set by the Rulers and the Board, but also needs to meet the expectations of our members. When I was a lodge Secretary a few years ago, I wanted my Grand Lodge membership fees to be wisely spent, and I wanted to see some tangible benefit for what I pay for in terms of a confident organisation ready to represent itself on the public stage and to stand up for its members. I also wanted to interact with it in a modern and accessible way. That principle still holds true now that I am the CEO. 

You also spoke about making the headquarters more ‘transparent’. How is this being done and why?

More open communication between the Provinces, our members and UGLE allows us to ensure an aligned approach to our common challenges – how people perceive us; how we represent ourselves to the outside world; how we normalise Freemasonry in the eyes of the public; how we attract and retain members. We are developing a new communications strategy with an appropriately resourced department to deliver it. We have a new Member Services Department to help streamline the relationship between our members and their organisation, and to implement the various initiatives being carried out by those groups with a care for Freemasonry. 

What methods will the organisation be using to put a greater focus on attracting new members?

I see this very much in terms of normalising the environment from which our members are drawn in terms of public opinion. I’m a scientist by training and I like to see the evidence for something before we invest resources in it. We know that 87 per cent of the public know of our organisation, and 49 per cent of the public have a firm opinion of us. We also know that the majority of those do not necessarily hold an opinion that we might like! That is despite all the good works we do, despite all the money we raise for charity and despite everything else we are doing to rehabilitate ourselves in the public eye. We recognise that the majority of new members join after personal conversations with those who already enjoy Freemasonry, but we must make sure that those to whom we speak already have a fair opinion of us. To these ends we will be embarking on a focused series of interventions to bring about just that – an understanding of what Freemasonry is, what its values are, what we stand for and why we are relevant in today’s society. In conjunction with the newly rolled-out Members’ Pathway, we hope to ensure that no opportunity is wasted.

What are some of the more important changes planned for 2019?

We want to find new ways to open up our headquarters to as many people as we can, and to ensure that every one of those contact moments affords those individuals a greater understanding of Freemasonry. Staff will be moving out of the old central office space, which we hope to develop into a public area containing a temporary exhibition space, a café and a very public-facing office for Metropolitan Grand Lodge.

The introduction of an expenses policy, travel policy and purchase order system will improve our financial controls, but the most important change will be our ability to deliver an overarching communications strategy aimed at taking back control of the public narrative on Freemasonry.

In terms of day-to-day processes, you will have already read about our ambition to revolutionise how we administer the organisation. Changes being planned through Project Hermes aim to replace paper forms with web-based systems, removing the need for endless form-filling and drastically reducing turnaround times. In short, we want to make the lives of lodge, Provincial and District Secretaries much easier. We want to streamline our ability to collect dues and improve our ability to analyse and spot trends in membership data, which will help us to identify and propagate best practice wherever it arises. I truly believe we have exciting times ahead.

‘Simply put, to better serve the members of both UGLE and Supreme Grand Chapter, UGLE needs to be ready for the challenges set by the Rulers and the Board, but also needs to meet the expectations of our members’

Published in UGLE

The first Women’s Regular Masonic Lodge in the United States, was consecrated in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, 25 May 2019, by the Honorable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF)

Immediately following the consecration, the officers of the newly created Lodge were installed with Lourdes (“Lou”) P. Elias as the Lodge’s first Worshipful Master.

The Lodge’s consecration and the installation of its officers were conducted in a closed ceremony. However, HFAF gave exclusive access to Audiovisual Media, Inc. to film rehearsed parts of both ceremonies for the purpose of producing a documentary underwritten by the John E. Fetzer Memorial Trust to mark this historic occasion. The late John E. Fetzer, former owner of the Detroit Tigers and a radio pioneer, was a 33rd degree Mason in Michigan.

At the Gala Celebration that followed the consecration, Lou Elias, the Worshipful Master of America Lodge No. 57, described the significance of the event: 'In a few days, on June 4th, America will celebrate the Centenary Anniversary of the passage of the legislation by the United States Congress that became a year later the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution granting women in our country the right to vote.

'To mark this important anniversary, our British Brethren brought once again to our shores the light of Freemasonry, except that this time around they brought us the light of Regular Women Freemasonry working in the same tradition and practice of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).'

The Gala Celebration was held at the Almas Shriners Center in Washington, D.C. as an open event that included a traditional Masonic Festive Board and was attended by the Grand Master of Free And Accepted Masons of the District of Columbia along with several former Grand Masters.

Dr David Staples, Grand Secretary of UGLE, commented: 'Many congratulations to the HFAF and their Grand Master Christine Chapman for the historic consecration of the first ever regular Freemasons Lodge for women in America.

'Having met their new Worshipful Master Lou Elias a number of times, I know the Lodge will be in very safe hands.'

Published in International

The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) welcomed members from across the globe to join the Grand Master, HRH the Duke of Kent, and Pro Grand Master, Peter Lowndes, for this year’s Craft and Royal Arch Annual Investitures at Freemasons' Hall

Investiture week saw the District Support Team of Lister Park and Louise Watts taking the opportunity to organise a number of District-centric events. On 24th April 2019, new District Grand Masters and Provincial Grand Masters were given a guided tour of Freemasons’ Hall, followed by a presentation and luncheon with the Chief Operating Officer of the Masonic Charitable Foundation, Les Hutchinson, and Senior Grant Officers.

A Workshop for District Grand Secretaries filled the afternoon before the day was concluded by a Fellowship Gathering for all District members, with their wives and significant others, in the Vestibules area outside the Grand Temple. It was a relaxed and informal evening hosted by Dr Jim Daniel, UGLE’s Past Grand Secretary, who gave a short and amusing welcome speech, alongside Willie Shackell CBE, another Past Grand Secretary, the Rt Hon Lord Wigram, Past Senior Grand Warden, and Bruce Clitherow, Past Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies.

Following the Royal Arch festivities on 25th April 2019, District Grand Masters and their guests were then invited to join the Grand Secretary, Dr David Staples, for a relaxed drinks evening.

As a result of an organisational restructure at UGLE in January 2019, the department for Member Services, under the Directorship of Prity Lad, has a renewed focus on attracting new members and engaging with its existing membership.

Comprised of three key functions, the Registration Department, District Support and External Relations, they are committed to a common goal of making UGLE an organisation that is fit for purpose and an efficient headquarters for its members.

Prity Lad, UGLE’s Director of Member Services, said: ‘Being our first opportunity this year to welcome and entertain our District guests, these events were hugely important to us. It is our commitment to work in partnership with the Districts more closely than ever by creating a function of expertise, training and events and to support and raise the profile of the charitable work which our Districts are engaged in.

‘It was a huge honour for me to meet with many of those who attended and I look forward to working together over the next coming months. I would also like to give grateful thanks to Jim, Willie, Lord Wigram and Bruce for supporting this inaugural event, which we intend to be the first of many.’

Published in UGLE

Quarterly Communication

13 March 2019 
A talk by RW Bro John Pagella, Grand Superintendent of Works

Most Worshipful Pro Grand Master and Brethren

If you want to understand the responsibilities which you have as a Grand Lodge Officer you can do one of two things. Consult the Book of Constitutions, or speak to Graham Redman.

Rule 35 states – ‘The Grand Superintendent of Works shall advise the Board of General Purposes when required on any matter in connection with the building and the works. He shall furnish reports on the state of repair of the properties of the Grand Lodge when required’.

When I asked Graham if this meant that I simply had to submit periodic reports on necessary works we intended to carry out to keep this building in repair his reply was to the effect that ‘well - you may find that in practice it is rather more than that’

He was right.

I will start with Freemasons’ Hall.

You are surrounded in the Grand Temple by the centrepiece of one of this country’s foremost art deco buildings with a heritage value sustained by the fact that it remains today in use for the purpose for which it was originally designed and built. We are in the middle of a Conservation Area, and the building itself is Listed Grade 11*. What this means in practice is that anything which we do which affects the exterior of the building requires planning permission, and anything other than very minor like for like repairs to both the interior and the exterior must be notified to, and approved by, the Conservation Officer.

Planning Officers have to work within National Planning Policy Guidelines, and they are required to implement Local Plan Policies. Conservation Officers on the other hand have responsibility for protecting the heritage value of buildings of architectural and historic interest which, by their nature, are individual. They have wide ranging powers, which frequently involve subjective judgements which, even with professional advice, can be hard to predict.

Carrying out work to a listed building which requires, but does not have, Listed Building consent is a criminal offence. As I have no wish to return to address Grand Lodge on my experience as Grand Superintendent of Works after 12 months in Ford Prison I treat the need for works in this building to be approved by the Conservation Officer with the utmost care and respect.

Late and unexpected interventions by the Conservation Officer can be a very real problem, as we discovered when we renewed the West Door steps. To avoid this in the future we are at an early stage in negotiations with the Conservation Officer and Historic England for an HPA, a Heritage Partnership Agreement, which will give pre-approval in principle to specified works which we are likely to carry out, often repeatedly. Examples range from future phases of repairs to the building’s steel frame ( Regents Street Disease ), through work to repair and refurbish the many original toilets in the building ( not very glamorous, but nevertheless necessary ) down to the specification of the paint to be used when redecorating some of the more elaborately embellished Lodge Rooms.

HPAs are complex, time consuming, and costly, but the prize is securing for UGLE ownership and control of the timing and phasing of major works of repair which we need to carry out.

Keeping a building in repair can require reacting to the unexpected, but for the most part it can be anticipated through planned property maintenance. We are working to a ten-year time horizon in implementing recommended works within this building so that, for example, phased repairs to deal with RSD will include routine maintenance and general repairs within the same area. As far as possible once we have access to any hard to reach area within this building, or for that matter any area, our aim is to complete all necessary work properly and to a high standard so that an early return is not needed.

I have concentrated up to this point on repair, but the more interesting challenge is working to deliver changes to the way in which Freemasonry needs to use Freemasons’ Hall to support the vision of the Craft’s place in society today which the Grand Secretary outlined at the Quarterly Communication in December.

Freemasons’ Hall is and will remain a Masonic building, but our needs are changing. Many of you will know from personal experience that most of the Lodge Rooms here in Freemasons’ Hall, with the notable exception of Lodge Room No 10, were designed to accommodate meetings with an attendance of between 70 and 80. Today average attendance is in the mid 20s.

We cannot subdivide Lodge Rooms in response to this. Their scale and proportions were an important element within the original design of the building, and we know that any attempt to change this would meet with strong opposition from the Conservation Officer.

We can, however, adapt space to form smaller Lodge Rooms from accommodation in the building designed for other uses. Examples of where this has been achieved are the conversion of two committee rooms on the Sussex Corridor to provide two Chapter Rooms, and the three Lodge Rooms created on the third floor in what was originally two caretaker’s flats.  

While these changes take place we are also looking at how this building can play its part in encouraging a wider understanding of Freemasonry in society. This means improving public access, both generally and through supporting outside hire events. Both encourage improved awareness, while providing the opportunity for education through community engagement.

Improving public access, while at the same time meeting the continuing needs of UGLE as well as those of MetGL, the Library & Museum and the Masonic Charitable Foundation is far from straightforward, and we always have to keep in mind that our ideas and ambitions may not always meet with approval from the Conservation Officer if work is involved requiring Listed Building Consent.

I don’t want to overstate the problem. There are projects which receive immediate support, at least in principle.

Freemasons’ Hall, like many public buildings, fails to provide enough female toilets. The building was designed to provide toilets for the convenience of members, and the paid employees of Grand Lodge were thought unlikely to include women. How the world has changed.

We have legal obligations to provide facilities for both men and women who work in the building, and if we are serious in wanting to host events such as Letters Live and London Fashion Week we must provide facilities which are as good, if not better, than competing venues. The unisex toilets off the vestibule and those on the floor below meet this need, and as we approach the refurbishment of the Gallery Suite to improve the facilities available for Masonic use and outside hire in what was Lodge Room 1 and its ante room, we will be restoring to their original use nearby toilets on the lower ground floor. These will, however, be designed with flexible male / female use use in mind.

As I and others on the Hall Committee oversee these projects I do so in the knowledge that my responsibilities as Grand Superintendent of Works do not end at the front door.

From the very early years of Freemasonry, Grand Lodge has owned a number of buildings in Great Queen Street. These include the Grand Connaught Rooms and the Sway nightclub, together with most of the buildings opposite on the north side of Great Queen Street. They are in the same Conservation Area as Freemasons’ Hall, and many of them are listed, including several which are Grade 11 *.

A diverse property portfolio such as this is by its nature management intensive, and just over 10 years ago the Board of General Purposes received a report from the then Grand Superintendent of Works John Edgcumbe drawing attention to the possibility of selling the properties to reinvest in a modern, well let commercial property which might provide better growth prospects without the need for continuous oversight, and periodic investment in refurbishment and repair.

Mindful of the importance which heritage has to Freemasonry, and the fact that ownership provides control over the setting of Freemasons’ Hall, the decision was taken by the Board that the buildings should be retained.

Maximising value by improving tenant mix, and income quality, while refurbishing and modernising the properties where necessary, became a long-term objective of the Property Investment Committee chaired by the Grand Treasurer, Quentin Humberstone. As well as being Grand Superintendent of Works I am a Chartered Surveyor with practical experience of property investment and asset management, and the valuation of commercial properties. With this background I should perhaps have expected that my work would extend beyond looking after Freemasons’ Hall to include contributing to the work of the Property Investment Committee.

Pausing at this point it is perhaps worth drawing attention to the fact that the Property Investment Committee’s investment objectives have served Grand Lodge well.    

The accounts of Grand Lodge are not exactly bedtime reading, but in 2006 the north side of Great Queen Street had a book value in the region of £14.5m. By 2011 an external independent valuation confirmed that the value of the whole portfolio including the Grand Connaught Rooms, and with the benefit of investment in the refurbishment of several of the properties, had risen to £31.1m, and as at 31st December 2017 the figure in the UGLE accounts was just over £56.5m. You must wait for publication of the 2018 accounts for the corresponding value as at December last year, but I can reveal that a further increase in value will be reported.

Given the long-term commitment of Grand Lodge to holding this portfolio improvements in capital value, while reassuring, are perhaps less important than rental income. This is currently just over £2.5m pa. which contributes to the investment income which is available for Grand Lodge to maintain, repair and improve Freemasons’ Hall without making a call on individual members’ Grand Lodge dues.

Masonic ownership of land and building extends well beyond Great Queen Street to the many Masonic Halls and Centres throughout the country. These are the responsibility of their owners. Whilst Freemasonry is a Craft, running and managing Masonic Halls and Centres is a business. Over the years there have been many successes, but occasionally things have gone wrong, and the accompanying adverse publicity compromises years of hard work in promoting the reputation of Freemasonry for the better.

We have within our membership valuable knowledge and experience of how to manage a Masonic Hall and Centre in a way which is both sustainable, and financially viable. What we did not have until recently was a reference resource which brought together in one place experience and best practice. This gap was recognised by the Membership Focus Group in 2015 which set up a Masonic Halls Working Group tasked with creating a Guidance Manual to share knowledge of best practise.

Unlike the Book of Constitutions compliance with the Guidance Manual is not mandatory, although ignoring advice inevitably leaves room for criticism if things go wrong.

As Grand Superintendent of Works I am now responsible for issuing updates to the Masonic Halls Best Practise Guidance Manual. Working with a Steering Group we issue periodic updates – best practise is not static. It evolves in the light of new legislation, and widened experience. We hold annual seminars here at Freemasons’ Hall as a way of making sure that Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works and those looking after Masonic Halls and Centres can contribute their knowledge and experience to the Guidance Manual and its advice.

As Grand Superintendent of Works here at Grand Lodge I am as much a user of the Guidance Manual as my counterparts in MetGL and across the Provinces.

As you can see Graham Redman was correct when he explained to me that I would be spending my time doing rather more than simply submiting periodic reports to the Board of General Purposes on the condition of this building. 

Published in Speeches
Friday, 08 March 2019 00:00

Grand Secretary's column - Spring 2019

From the Grand Secretary

Having been privileged to have participated in the Installation of its new District Grand Master, I am fortunate enough to be writing this from our sun-soaked District of Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.

As a doctor, I was always on the lookout for medical conferences in exotic places that happened to coincide with local lodge meetings. Escaping the ‘conference dinner’ in favour of meeting local brethren was never a difficult choice, and in the space of an evening I would find out, from those that knew, what was really worth doing and visiting for the remainder of my stay.

Our Districts are, and always have been, an integral and important part of the United Grand Lodge of England. For hundreds of years, they have represented and practised the finest values of English Freemasonry in far-flung corners of the globe. They count amongst their members those with power and influence, and those with little, and often bring together people who traditionally might not be easy bedfellows – much more so than we do in England. It is my stated intention to ensure that UGLE works ever more closely with our Districts and that we are able to recognise and support them in tackling not only the problems common to us all, but also those unique problems pertinent to their countries and environments. 

Our Districts, of course, have many things to teach us. I have noticed that whilst it is always dangerous to generalise, the Districts I have visited differ from our Provinces in two respects. Firstly, I am struck by how important ‘family’ is to their success – and bear in mind that they are growing an average of 10 per cent year on year. Events which routinely include wives, partners and ‘significant others’ increase the sense of community and normality of their day-to-day business.

Secondly, they are much more visible in the communities they are drawn from. In terms of the time they give to serve those around them, they seem proportionally much more engaged with local events and issues than we are back in England.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ method for success – our lodges, Districts, Provinces and indeed members are not, cannot and should not all be the same. Climates of political and religious hostility or tolerance exist to varying degrees across the globe. I am minded of a certain District where religious leaders are openly calling for ‘a coffin for each Freemason’ as a way to deal with the ‘problem’. Such obvious persecution rather puts our own press in perspective, but one thing I feel it illustrates is that we must become known for who we really are, what we stand for and what we do in our communities in order to counter such abject prejudice and nonsense. 

There are those members who feel that we should go about our business quietly with as little publicity or fuss as possible. Whilst respecting those of that opinion, they are wrong. Freemasonry must be associated in people’s minds with who we are, what we value and what we do if we are to have any chance of rehabilitating our reputation, and recent polling data shows that it is, indeed, in need of rehabilitation. In today’s age, burying our heads in the sand with a ‘who cares what they think’ attitude will, plainly and simply, seriously damage us further.

We must do everything we can, individually and as lodges and Provinces, to counter some of the unhelpful stereotypes we have picked up. How can we be viewed as secret if we are seen and known in our communities? How so sinister if those whose lives we touch think of us with fondness and gratitude? In an uncertain world, the masonic principles of integrity, respect and charity ring as true today as they ever have before. As W Bro the Right Reverend Albert Lewis, the District Grand Chaplain of Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, said in his sermon yesterday at St John’s Cathedral, Antigua – ‘Get out there and do something worthwhile’.

So brethren, if you are travelling this summer, or are abroad with work, and have a few evenings spare, be sure to contact your Provincial Secretary. Broaden your visiting horizons, do your part to bring our masonic family closer together and be sure to make the acquaintance of your brethren in our Districts overseas. And if you are reading this from a far-flung corner of a forgotten empire, and your curiosity has been piqued, you can be assured of a warm welcome should you be visiting London or our home Provinces.

Dr David Staples
Grand Secretary

‘I’m struck by how important ‘family’ is to our Districts’ success… events which routinely include wives and ‘significant others’ increase the sense of normality of their day-to-day business’

Published in UGLE
Friday, 08 March 2019 00:00

Enter Freemasonry's Got Talent

Could you be the star of UGLE’s next video campaign?

We want to know:

  • What do you love about Freemasonry?
  • Why did you join?
  • What does Freemasonry mean to you?

Send a one-minute video answering these questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The best videos will be shortlisted and you could be featured in UGLE’s future online campaigns as well as being treated to lunch with the Grand Secretary.

Published in UGLE

Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes welcomed five recipients of the Grand Master’s Order of Service to Masonry (OSM) for a special lunch at Freemasons’ Hall on 21st February 2019

OSM recipients Sir John Welch, Charles Grace, Edward Ford, Professor Aubrey Newman and Keith Gilbert were in attendance for the first event of its kind. They were also joined by Dr David Staples, Grand Secretary, and Quentin Humberstone, Grand Treasurer.

Instituted in 1945, the OSM is an acknowledgement of exceptional service to Freemasonry and is the highest honour the Grand Master can confer on any member of the Craft.

The Order is a neck decoration in the form of a Garter blue ribbon from which hangs the jewel of the Order. The jewel is of silver-gilt, being a double-circle with a pair of compasses extended on the segment of a circle, and the letters O S M; beneath it is the motto In Solo Deo Salus “In God alone is our safety”.

Read the OSM citations of each of the recipients:

Sir John Welch
Charles Grace
Edward Ford
Professor Aubrey Newman
Keith Gilbert

Read Graham Redman’s presentation on the Grand Master’s Order of Service

Published in UGLE

Quarterly Communication

12 December 2018 
A presentation by VW Bro Dr David Staples, Grand Secretary

Brethren, good morning. It is my great pleasure to be speaking to you here today.

As many of you will know, I used to work as a doctor. My clinical job was to work out why people were horizontal and try to get them vertical again. I shall try my hardest over the next 15 minutes or so not to reverse that process.

I left Derby Hospital four years ago to become Clinical Director for Medicine at Peterborough where I managed a whole host of awkward people and there, to my astonishment, I discovered that I rather enjoyed this thing called ‘management’. In fact, I found that I enjoyed it much more than medicine.

People were usually pleased to see me which made a change, and as someone who had always enjoyed solving problems I found that I was deluged with problems. It was not a great leap for me to move into another organisation with problems to solve.

I still practice medicine for half a day a week – it seemed foolish to burn all my clinical bridges in this particular role. The Board and Rulers hired me as Chief Executive with two main outcomes in mind. First, I was to bring the Corporate and Masonic sides of Freemasons’ Hall together – to meld 60 Great Queen Street into a purpose and values driven organisation which services the needs of the United Grand Lodge of England, Supreme Grand Chapter and of course you, our members.

Secondly, I was tasked with helping to formulate, coordinate and ensure the delivery of the United Grand Lodge of England’s strategies for the future as defined by the Rulers and the Board.

To my mind, the most important of these is rapidly becoming to ‘Normalise the perception of Freemasonry in the public consciousness’ – to make it as acceptable to say that one is going to a lodge meeting as it would be to say that one is going shopping, out for a meal, or to the golf course; and to make it a genuine choice for all of our members as to whether they wish to disclose their membership or not – rather than one mandated by the attitudes and prejudices of their colleagues.

Today I would like to try to give you a flavour for some of the challenges UGLE faces along that journey, and some of the things that we are doing to meet them. We are always, however, mindful of the need to respect the independence of individual lodges and Provinces, and only to mandate those things which are absolutely essential to the future of the Craft.

Things are not all rosy. In 1920, Grand Lodge issued around 30,000 Grand Lodge certificates each year. By 2015 this had dropped to 7,000 which equates to less than one new member per lodge per year. 20% of our members resign or never come back prior to receiving their Grand Lodge certificate. 60% of our membership is over 60 years of age. Membership remains one of our greatest challenges.

As an organisation, we are shrinking by 1% a year, although interestingly our districts are growing at 10% per year on average.

Attracting new members and engaging our membership so that they remain members is therefore of paramount importance, but the pool of candidates eligible to join Freemasonry is a fraction of what it was 50 years ago.

We can do little to change whether a person believes in a Supreme Being, or whether they have a criminal record, but UGLE has done a great deal to try to influence the opportunity that eligible members have to join us successfully; this has occurred most visibly through the Membership Pathway which was launched earlier this year – an initiative that seeks to ensure that potential members know what to expect, and to minimise the chances of them leaving.

What used to be ‘invitation only’ is now much more open. Lodges regularly exhibit at universities Freshers’ Fairs and all Provincial websites and the United Grand Lodge of England welcome online membership enquiries. We also seek to influence what is ‘findable’ on Google by engaging with the media. By having sensible stories which reflect what WE want about Freemasonry on the top three pages of a Google search, we are able to significantly alter our public footprint.

Before the Second World War, Freemasons would have been openly known and respected in their communities. Public parades of masons were common place. Masons were often asked to perform ceremonies around the laying of foundation stones for public buildings.

Then, Hitler murdered 200,000 Freemasons on the continent and looked as though he were poised to invade England. Suddenly, it didn’t seem quite such a good idea to be so open about our membership and we collectively retreated into a position of privacy that we have only just, with the Tercentenary celebrations last year, started to retreat from in a coordinated fashion.

The third factor which influences whether we attract new members is the environment – by which I primarily mean the court of public opinion. What do the public think of us? How likely is it that our members are happy to ‘come out’ as Freemasons? How likely or acceptable is it that an organisation or employer decides to discriminate against Freemasons? What is the political climate? What is the religious climate? – All of these issues form the environment from which our members are drawn.

The national press is obsessed with handshakes, trouser legs, nepotism, corruption and with events that may have happened 50 years ago in a then corrupt police force. Not a media interview has gone by over the last year when I have not been asked about one of these issues – yet only 4% of young people under 25 ever read the national press, and only 9% get their news from television. By far the predominant source for news in the under 30s is the internet. We need to ensure our media presence reflects this.

In centuries past, however, Freemasons and Freemasonry was enormously respected. Before the times of professional organisations and trade bodies such as the British Medical Associate, the Bar Association, The Law Society etc., if you wanted to employ the services of someone who wasn’t going to rip you off, a Freemason represented someone who openly ‘met people on the level’ and ‘treated them squarely’. It was the closest one could get at the time to a kite mark of decent and moral professional behaviour, and, for tradesmen, membership was a likely to result in both increased respect and increased business.

Unfortunately, how Freemasonry is explained to us as Entered Apprentices is not necessarily an easy and straightforward concept to grasp. We are told that Freemasonry is a ‘peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols’ . That its system of morality forms of a set of values and principles of conduct. Freemasons are the custodians of a way of behaving which takes good people and makes them better, doing so by acting out ancient myths and encouraging a study of the deeper meaning of symbols, so it is both a philosophical and philanthropic society. One can see how it might prove very difficult for us to explain what Freemasonry is to those who might be curious. And, of course, Freemasonry means many different things to different members.

If we talk about charity, we are no different to hundreds of other organisations who fight for space in a very crowded sector. If we talk about friendship or camaraderie then similarly we do not capture the unique aspects of Freemasonry which set us aside from a club or society.

We will never be able to, nor should we, reinvent ourselves to please the public, but we do need to nuance our message so that it can have the greatest effect on those who we might be able to influence, and what you will see over the next 18 months or so is a coordinated media and communications strategy that starts to deploy these messages. We started this year with ‘Enough is Enough’ and there is a great deal more to come.

We need to find something that communicates the unique nature of Freemasonry in a friendly, accessible fashion, and in a way which makes us an attractive use of our potential members’ precious time. So how do we achieve, in the minds of the public, a favourable opinion preconceived of the institution? We must define ourselves clearly and positively to the outside world. We must regain control of our own narrative, we need to promulgate the timeless principles of brotherly love and self-improvement. We need to inspire people to lead better lives and be a values driven, professional organisation.

So Communications and Membership are two of my top priorities as mandated by the Board, the Rulers and the various committees and groups that have a care for Freemasonry.

These priorities are clearly reflected in the restructuring of the United Grand Lodge of England communications apparatus, and by the creation of a new Membership Services Department, which will encompass a new department for the Districts which, in the past, have not perhaps received the attention that they deserve; the Chancellery which manages foreign masonic affairs and also all of your enquiries should you want to visit a lodge abroad as well as the membership and registration functions.

When I came to UGLE, the headquarters had been split along masonic and non-masonic lines, and it was fair to say that there was a degree of civil war existing between the two. What I found was a headquarters crying out for modernisation. I am pleased to say that following considerable effort by all the staff over the last year, UGLE has just been awarded Investors in People Accreditation – something that will help dispel our reputation as operating from a secret volcano base somewhere off the West Coast of Sumatra.

Bringing about change within UGLE is not a simple task. I have entitled my talk 'Risk Takers, Caretakers and Undertakers' which broadly explains the mindsets which govern all of us here today in some part. Some aspects of the organisation need curating – they are precious to us and to our members and should be preserved as part of our responsibility as the de facto caretakers of a three-hundred-year-old institution, other parts need to be allowed to run their course and die, for an organisation which never renews itself is unlikely to survive. We see this often in the lives of individual lodges, which come together to serve a need for their members, but as times change, or that need changes, some lodges pass away whilst others invigorate themselves and thrive. In order to thrive, we need to be prepared perhaps to take risks and to change in order to remain, or perhaps regain a relevance in the modern world. If we aren’t prepared to do this, we become undertakers and bury something enormously precious to us all.

Another key priority for us at UGLE is to modernise the processes by which the organisation is administered. This year, we will have performed 24 Installations of Provincial and District Rulers all of those, coordinated from this building. We are recognised the world over for our pre-eminent ceremonial. It is my intention to ensure that this excellence shows itself in all that we do. We have moved the Masonic Year Book and the Directory of Lodges and Chapters to living online documents, and now have a thriving members’ area on our website. For the first time, some of you will have booked your place here today online and made payment for the lunch that follows electronically – something you will no doubt have been doing in other areas of life for well over a decade.

Astonishingly this change will save over 1,800 man hours of work each year. Those of you who are Secretaries will be pleased to hear that we are aiming to ensure that Installation Returns are pre-printed, meaning that you will never again have to write out the names and numbers of all your past masters – something which has been done and remained unchanged for over 175 years.

But that is just the start. The Book of Constitutions lays out guidance on how a modern membership organisation should be run, but the problem is that its current iteration was written in the nineteenth century.

Imagine now an organisation where the Lodge Secretary could access the central database of their members’ information and keep it updated. Why should secretaries have to write clearance certificates when we already know who is paid up and who is in arrears? Why not just run a real time Masonic credit check when you want to join a new lodge? Why are forms needed in order to get a Grand Lodge certificate, when we already know all the information on those forms?

To start to modernise these internal processes is an enormous piece of work, but I know it will bring real benefits to our members and those who administer lodges and Provinces.

And these changes will alter the experiences of the everyday mason too. Can you imagine a system that sends links to articles that explains the ceremony of initiation to an initiate the day after he is brought in? Or a system that sends information about the Royal Arch to a newly made Master Mason? What about a system that flags to the Lodge Almoner when a member has missed three meetings in a row – a strongly correlated marker for poor engagement and retention. In this way we can start to influence how we engage our membership at a whole new level with that peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

The Craft has an old, established teaching system, which uses role-playing, memory work and public speaking to enshrine its principles in the hearts of Masons. These techniques have evolved over many centuries and even more generations of Brethren, to pass on our traditions to benefit our members by making them better people, at peace with themselves and with the society in which they live.

We have recently launched ‘SOLOMON’, an online learning resource covering the three degrees and the Royal Arch which you are able to register for, access and read as you progress through your masonic journey. It has over 350 articles, graded for the correct degree which augment these established teaching methods within the Craft and make each candidate’s journey through Masonry a much more fulfilling experience.

So, Brethren, there is a huge amount going on in your organisation, and that is not counting the numerous happenings at Provincial and individual lodge level. UGLE is building an efficient and effective organisation. An organisation which provides a structure able to support and engage our members, attract new people to the Craft and Royal Arch, normalize Freemasonry in the public consciousness and stand up for our members whenever they are unfairly discriminated against or collectively attacked.

The United Grand Lodge of England is here to act as a custodian of the values and traditions of Freemasonry which inspire people to Lead Better Lives for the benefit of society, valuing Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. We should be a straightforward organisation that is supportive, self-confident, welcoming, member focused, friendly and fun because that is an organisation that good men will want to join and even better men will want to remain members of. It is the duty of all of us to make this an organisation we are proud to be a part of.

Thank you.

Published in Speeches
Page 1 of 13

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