Don't let the armchair get you
Aged 103, Wally Randall is the Tyler for three masonic lodges, turned on his town’s Christmas lights last year and is the UK’s oldest poppy seller. Peter Watts meets the legend of Leighton Buzzard
Resplendent in a suit and jacket, Wally Randall sits on a wooden pew with a military bearing that belies his years. He has been coming to this masonic temple in Leighton Buzzard for 53 years, which sounds like a long time, until you remember he is 103.
One of the country’s oldest masons, Wally is also the UK’s oldest poppy seller, something this World War II veteran is particularly proud of. ‘I go to our local Wilko – they let me sit inside,’ he says. ‘People say they come specially to get a poppy off me. It’s amazing how generous they are. A lot of people give even though they already have a poppy. I collected over £1,000 last year.’
This year’s Armistice Day had particular resonance for Wally. Not only did it mark 100 years since the end of the First World War, it was also 100 years since the death of his father, who served in that war and died of Spanish flu the day before the Armistice was signed. ‘It was rather tragic,’ he says. ‘It might be one of the reasons I started selling poppies. I thought the Royal British Legion did a really good job looking after people who need it.’
Wally is described as ‘a legend’ by fellow Freemasons Roger Wood and David Cato, who are full of stories about his escapades, such as the time Wally fell on to the garage roof while collecting apples from his tree back when he was a mere slip of a man in his nineties. Then there’s the time the doctor warned him his blood pressure was a bit high. ‘That was just before he turned 100. Wally told the doctor, “Well, I did have to cycle here – you can’t find anywhere to park on a Tuesday,”’ laughs David.
With that track record, a spot of poppy selling once a year is not going to get him too out of breath. What’s his secret? ‘Well, it might be a bit dull, but I’ve never been a drinker and I never smoked either – maybe the odd glass of wine during a lodge dinner but I don’t drink apart from that.’
Wally is careful about what he eats as well. At the festive board, he has the starter and dessert, but takes the main course home for his lunch the following day – the kitchen staff are only too happy to wrap up his meal. David thinks Wally is inspiring, ‘On his 103rd birthday he recited the 15-minute traditional history during the rituals, without any notes to read from. He keeps doing things, and tells us, “Don’t let the armchair get you.”’
KEEPING HIMSELF BUSY
Wally lives alone and still drives. As well as selling poppies and masonic activity, he was an active and enthusiastic gardener up until this summer, but now contents himself with directing his granddaughter around the plot. ‘Well, I tell her what I’d like her to do, but she won’t always do it,’ he grins. ‘She doesn’t like slug pellets, so this year I finished up with one runner bean and the slugs had the rest.’ In keeping with his philosophy of staying active, Wally doesn’t just attend weekly masonic events, but acts as a Tyler for three lodges. ‘It’s important to do stuff, you have to keep busy,’ he says. ‘That’s what like about masonry – being the Tyler, I get to meet the candidates and that’s always nice. It’s very interesting and I enjoy getting them ready.’
The esteem in which Wally is held can be seen in the anteroom to the Temple. In a prominent position is Wally’s stout wooden Tyler chair, which was a gift from fellow Mark masons on his 100th birthday. Above it is a large framed ‘Where’s Wally?’ poster, a present from the caterers, with Wally’s face hidden among all the cartoon characters. And his celebrity status extends beyond the lodge. In 2017, he was invited to turn on Leighton Buzzard’s Christmas lights.
Wally became a mason in 1965, but it was only when he retired at 70 that he began to take his involvement up a gear. Wally’s mother lodge is Leighton Cross, No. 6176, but he is also a member of Old Cedarians, No. 8078 and All Saints, No. 8776, the latter of which he founded. ‘When it first started, the subs were only £15 a year,’ he smiles, adding, ‘I really enjoy being with the brethren, we are all very close to each other. They look after me and keep me going.’
Having appeared in newspapers and on the BBC, Wally’s masonic contribution as well as his longevity have been widely recognised. ‘I got a certificate of merit after I’d been a mason for 50 years and another saying I’d been selling poppies for 50 years,’ he says, before declaring that he has no intention of stopping any time soon, even if he does need a break every now and then. Having spent a couple of hours in the lodge being photographed and interviewed, Wally remarks, ‘It’s fish and chip day isn’t it, so I’ll go home and have some scampi and then a little snooze.’
‘I really enjoy being with the brethren, we are all very close to each other. They look after me and keep me going’
Born in 1915, Wally Randall left school at 14 and entered the print trade, working for the local newspaper, the Leighton Buzzard Observer. ‘I was a comp machinist and I did a little bit of reporting, following the football team and so on. I got halfpenny a line,’ he recalls. After leaving print, he moved into transport, but one winter found himself out of work because the roads were blocked by snow. ‘I cycled to the labour exchange to sign on and there were hundreds of people queueing,’ he says. ‘I didn’t want to wait, so I biked up to Luton to look for a job. I went to the Vauxhall plant and got a job straightaway. I was there for 40 years.’
Wally served as a magistrate and on the local council, and it was a fellow councillor who got him interested in Freemasonry. At around the same time as he discovered the Craft, he started selling poppies, inspired in part by his own experiences during the Second World War. He’d signed up in 1940 and served in North Africa and Italy. ‘I was in the service corps,’ he says. ‘The nearest I got to combat was at El Alamein. The army was getting ready for the push and we took the 4th Indian Division in there. There was an artillery bombardment, it was like fireworks. That was about as close as I got.’
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force, the 100th Anniversary of the end of the First World War and the 75th Anniversary of the Dambusters Raid, Derbyshire Freemasons with special guest, Squadron Leader George 'Johnny' Johnson MBE DFM, made generous presentations to Derbyshire Air Cadets
‘Johnny’ was a 21-year-old Sergeant when he took part in Operation Chastise, where he was the bomb aimer in Lancaster AJ-T (T-Tommy) piloted by ‘Joe’ McCarthy RCAF, which conducted the first attack on the Sorpe Dam.
The Squadron was based in Lincolnshire but used the Derwent dams during training so he is no stranger to the county, albeit in those days he was seeing Derbyshire from the air. The connection to Derbyshire also includes Barnes Wallace, the engineer who designed the bouncing bomb and who was born in Ripley.
Looking for a fitting tribute to mark the various anniversaries, the Provincial Grand Master for Derbyshire Steven Varley decided to present all Air Training Corps Squadrons within Derbyshire a cheque for £1,000. In addition, the Squadrons each received a framed print of a Lancaster Bomber signed and presented by Squadron Leader Johnson, who at 96 years of age is the last surviving member of the aircrews that participated in the Dambusters Raid during the Second World War. These prints will no doubt be treasured by future generations of ATC cadets.
All of the donations were funded by the Provincial Grand Charity of the Province Of Derbyshire which regularly gives funding for many worthy causes throughout the County. All of the funds are collected from donations made by their members.
Flight Lieutenant Steve Broomhead RAFAC, Officer Commanding 1890 (Dronfield) Squadron ATC: ‘This is a fantastically generous gift that will certainly help as my Squadron is desperately trying to update our IT capability.
‘The IT is now such so important to the running of the Squadron both in our administration and in the gaining of cadet qualifications. The icing on the evening’s cake was receiving the signed print from, and meeting with, Johnny Johnson, such an inspiring gentleman.’
After the Presentations, Squadron Leader Michael Roe, RAF Rtd, gave an interesting talk about his long and distinguished flying career in the RAF. To cap it all, four lucky cadets will also receive a flight in an historic two-seater Chipmunk aircraft.
In a short but entertaining speech, Johnny Johnson paid tribute to those he flew with and told the cadets that they were the RAF’s future and that the future was looking to be in good hands. After the Presentations and speeches, Johnny Johnson was presented with a cheque for £1,000 for his own charity, Group 617.
The evening ended with a dinner for all present which included the Vice Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire, Civic representatives of Derby and Derbyshire and representatives of the Royal Air Forces association along with the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association.
Wing Commander Andy Pass, Officer Commanding South & East Midlands Wing, commented: ‘This was an extraordinarily generous gift to the 15 Squadrons from across the county. The money will be of great benefit to the cadets at the Squadrons and it will be spent wisely on equipment that will greatly enhance the Squadron’s ability to deliver the World class cadet experience for which the RAF Air Cadets are renowned.’
Freemasons’ Hall is hosting an extraordinary exhibition to showcase a photographic history of war and peace in the first half of the 20th Century
This exhibition of rare photographs spans the period from the Second Boer War through to the end of the Second World War, and features those who led and those who served on land, sea and in the air. It portrays the great landscape of the conflict across all continents and the diversity of the participants.
It includes those Freemasons who held top military positions, including Horatio Herbert Kitchener, who was Britain’s most celebrated soldier at the beginning of the First World War and was depicted on the famous ‘Your country needs you’ recruitment poster in 1914. It also highlights the great charitable work by Freemasons both during and after the war in building and supporting hospitals and rehabilitation housing, and providing pensions for ex-servicemen.
Brian Deutsch, who has curated the exhibition, commented: ‘Freemasons played a major role in both war and peace throughout the first half of the last century. From the leaders of men to the rank and file, field marshals to privates, they fought valiantly throughout all the conflicts, and supported the afflicted and downtrodden when peace came.’
One in six Victoria Crosses in the Great War were awarded to Freemasons for their valour in the face of the enemy. Deutsch added: ‘Partly as a result of this, many of their comrades in arms joined masonic lodges after the wars. I became fascinated by the stories that the pictures told and remembered many First World War pictures that came up in the research for the exhibition.’
The images illustrate the old war with cavalry and lances, through to the new mechanised war with motor vehicles, tanks and aeroplanes. It celebrates the lives of those who took part in the war – from the Royal Princes and Generals to the ordinary men and women, who served through those extraordinary times.
The exhibition will run until Summer 2019.
It's the start
With an emphasis on professionalism and transparency, President of the Board of General Purposes Geoffrey Dearing wants to take Freemasonry to a new level of alignment
How would you describe your masonic progression?
It was a very slow burn. I helped to manage a law practice in East Kent and became a Freemason in 1974 when two of my partners, whom I respected, proposed and seconded me. I only used to go to four meetings a year as I couldn’t do more than that; I was very busy working around the courts. But I found that those four evenings were very relaxing, because you’re with different people who have a similar view of life.
I joined the Royal Arch in 1981. That was purely accidental: somebody’s son was a member of our lodge, and I got talking to his father, who turned out to be the Grand Superintendent for the Province of East Kent. But, again, I was very busy with the business, so nothing else happened until the end of the 1980s, when I was made a Steward in the Province in the Craft and the following year Senior Warden.
Along the way I spent a year as president of the Kent Law Society and became a Past Assistant Grand Registrar in 1994, which is a common office for a lawyer to take in Grand Lodge. But I wasn’t involved at all in the Province, as I had been made managing partner of one of Kent’s largest law firms. I just had no time for anything other than getting on with the business.
When did your focus change?
In 2004, I stepped down as managing partner. My firm very kindly kept me on as a consultant, and I found the change quite reinvigorating. When you’re responsible for two or three hundred people, you’re not able to do your own thing, because you are looking for consensus. I was able to go off and do things that interested me. I did a lot of lecturing on various legal-related bits and pieces and worked with some small companies.
By 2011, I had ceased to be a consultant and coincidentally received a telephone call asking if I would become Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent for East Kent. I’ve never had any grand career plan; if I have been asked to do a job and think I can do it, I’ve done it, simple as that. So that’s really why I’m sitting here now – it was never my ambition.
How did you approach the PGM role?
I went in there entirely cold. I hadn’t been on the executive and knew nothing about how the office ran. But I had run a business. So, I went in there and started asking questions – it was not commercial, and there was a lot that I could bring to it that would make it work better.
I believe strongly that communication is fundamental. Most of the really big errors and some of the biggest claims as a lawyer that I’ve been involved in were avoidable. Things get to where they get to because of poor communication or, indeed, a total lack of it. So, when I started in East Kent in 2011, I supported a communications team.
We don’t tend to know enough about what Freemasons do for a living, but I found that we had web designers, we had people who really understood software and we had people connected with the media and the written word. It meant that when we had the Holy Royal Arch 200-year celebrations in 2013, we were able to interest the media, and ITV came down.
‘When you have to make big calls, you need as much information as possible in order to get it right’
How have you found becoming President?
You’re in touch with every single aspect of how the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) runs, which is fascinating. I’m trustee of the Library and Museum, I’m on the Grand Master’s Council and I’m involved with the External Relations Committee. All aspects of what’s happening in Grand Lodge are ultimately the responsibility of the Board. It gives you an insight into the entire picture, and very few have that privilege.
When you have to make big calls, you need as much information as possible in order to get it right. I think in order to get everything joined up, to get alignment, the communication with the Provinces is very important. What goes on outside UGLE is every bit as important as what goes on inside it, so coming from the background I’ve had, I know about what goes on around the country in the Provinces. I’ve dealt with the same problems that other Provinces have experienced; I’ve got some understanding and some sympathy.
What do you mean by alignment?
The biggest thing in terms of what I hope can be achieved is improving alignment. If you ask what Freemasonry is about, it might be expressed entirely differently if it’s in Cornwall, Durham, Carlisle or London, but it should be broadly the same message. This hasn’t necessarily been the case, because everyone’s in their own areas, not always talking to others.
After the Second World War, there was a period when you just didn’t talk about Freemasonry, and people thought that was the norm. That did us no favours at all. You’re always going to have a lot of conspiracy theorists, and if you’re not providing correct information, that’s their oxygen. If they put false accusations in enough newspapers and say it often enough, people will believe it. We have to communicate.
What role does communication play in alignment?
What you do with communications and how you address those people who are talking nonsense is important. If someone publishes a newspaper article that says Freemasons have a lodge in Westminster with many MPs in it, that’s untrue. So challenge it. You do it quietly, but you do it fairly. And you make sure there’s an audit trail. I know the truth is far less exciting, but why don’t we have transparency? Why don’t we have complete openness? Why aren’t we relaxed? Why don’t we encourage the Library and Museum to talk openly about Freemasonry to people who visit us? I think that’s exactly how it should be and how it should develop.
How are you different to your predecessors?
I’m hugely respectful of tradition and history, but the success of Freemasonry will come from it being able to evolve. That’s how it has managed to survive for 300 years. My responsibility as President of the Board of General Purposes is to try to ensure that we stay relevant. It is our job to look at the big picture and the messages we put forward. We’ve got to get our thinking straight at the centre and then consider how to get the messages out there, making sure that all our organs of communication are going down the same lines.
The more we communicate, the better. David Staples is going to be a very good CEO for the organisation, and I think his approach to management has not been seen before at UGLE. But that is how it needs to be in the modern world. If we get the set-up, professionalism and the operation here as good as it can be, it’s the start.
Why should someone become a Freemason?
One of the attractions of Freemasonry is that it actually takes away a lot of insecurity, because it creates stability and has very good support mechanisms. If you think about the world today, a bit of consistency doesn’t go amiss.
If we can get alignment, I think Freemasonry will become more normal, more accepted and more understood. And that’s a good thing. It’s not for everybody; a lot of people don’t like the ceremonial that goes with it, but others do.
I don’t think it’s any accident that those who have been involved in the armed services or organisations that have a certain disciplinary culture find Freemasonry very attractive. I absolutely get that, but we all have different reasons. For me it’s actually about the people. I have met some terrific people along the way, and it’s been my privilege to know them and to spend time with them.
‘I’m hugely respectful of tradition and history, but the success of Freemasonry will come from it being able to evolve’
Where do you want masonry to be in five years?
It’s a big question. I don’t have a burning ambition for massive change, but I do have a goal to improve and evolve. The basics would be that we have good alignment within UGLE, including the Library and Museum and the Masonic Charitable Foundation. They’re separate and independent operations, but they’re both masonic and are golden opportunities for communication with the wider world.
I mentioned relevance before, because if Freemasonry is going to regenerate and be here in another 50 or 100 years, staying relevant will be part and parcel of that journey. Then there’s the way in which we communicate what we’re about – we have to do this in a much better way in order to strengthen our membership. It’s a big ambition, and I’m not sure that it can be achieved in five years, but we can certainly start the process.
We have a fantastic opportunity here. Today is not going to repeat itself tomorrow, or any other time, so we need to make the most of it. I always have the ambition that, every day, something constructive gets done.
The end of mythology
John Hamill looks back to the pivotal moment in 1984 when Freemasonry had to confront its negative image with a policy of openness
Reviewing the many events that took place in our Provinces and Districts during the Tercentenary celebrations, I was struck by the number that included families, friends and members of the public. As the Pro Grand Master said in his review of the year, those events exemplified our membership’s renewed spirit of confidence and its pride in the Craft. It also reveals members’ wish to share that pride with their communities.
To most of the current members, being so visible in their communities last year was something new. However, like many things in Freemasonry, it was a welcome return to the past. Up to the outbreak of the Second World War, Freemasonry was a very visible part of the community. Meetings at national and local levels were freely reported in the national and local press: two weekly masonic newspapers and a monthly magazine were on public sale. Freemasons regularly appeared in public ‘clothed in the badges of the order’ either laying foundation stones of new structures or taking part in civic processions or those celebrating national events. As a result, Freemasons were both known and respected in their local communities.
A MUCH-NEEDED WAKE-UP CALL
During the war, Freemasonry turned in on itself and, with a shortage of newsprint, much social reporting disappeared from the media. After the war, introversion continued and Freemasonry gradually disappeared from the public consciousness. An unwillingness by Grand Lodge to engage with the media when they misreported Freemasonry allowed a mythology to grow. This was greatly helped by the less scrupulous in the world of journalism who knew they could write what they wished about Freemasonry without any fear of an official comeback from Grand Lodge.
The mythology and its effect on Freemasonry came to a head in 1984 with the publication of the late Stephen Knight’s anti-masonic rant, The Brotherhood: The Secret World of the Freemasons, which, for the first time in English Freemasonry, brought together the strands of anti-masonry in one volume.
In effect, the book was a wake-up call to English Freemasonry. The lead was taken by the Grand Master, who asked the Board of General Purposes to seek ways of better informing the public as to what Freemasonry is – and its place in society – so that they had good solid information against which they could weigh the nonsense appearing in the media on an almost daily basis. That gave birth to what has become known as the Openness Policy, which the Grand Master has greatly supported since its inception.
AND A CONTINUING EVOLUTION
It has been a long process – a perfect example of the old adage that it takes years to build a good reputation, seconds to lose it and years to rebuild it. I think that future historians will see the events of 1984 and what followed as a watershed moment. Since then, Freemasonry has evolved, and taken a long look at what it is and how it should fit with modern society. Today, it is a relevant and contributing part of our communities, without having changed its basic principles and tenets.
After all the positive media coverage that we received during last year’s celebrations, it was more than sad that a reputable newspaper such as The Guardian should put on the front page a story about Freemasonry that contained three major untruths, which a call to Freemasons’ Hall could have corrected. The story, as we know, led to ‘Enough is Enough’, which is reported on in this issue. As you will see, it was not a one-off project to meet an immediate need, but will be a continuing process led from the centre, with the Provinces, Districts and Metropolitan area all having a crucial role to play.
Plans are in place to provide the tools from the centre to bolster and maintain that pride and confidence that was so evident during the celebrations. Having been involved in ‘openness’ since its inception, I am convinced that what is already in place and what is being developed for the future will change attitudes and the public’s perception of Freemasonry. There will always be a minority that will believe the myths and are not open to their minds being changed, but with time they will become an insignificant minority.
‘Freemasonry has evolved, and taken a long look at what it is and how it should fit with modern society’
Loudly and clearly
As Freemasonry builds on the success of the Tercentenary celebrations, Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes says there is still much work to be done in promoting its values
We now have the Soane Ark back with us in the Grand Temple. As those of you who were at the Tercentenary celebration at the Royal Albert Hall, or those of you who read Freemasonry Today, will know, the original of this beautiful mahogany piece, the Ark of the Masonic Covenant, was made by Sir John Soane in 1813. It was dedicated at the great celebration marking the union of the Antient and Modern Grand Lodges in 1813, and the Articles of Union were deposited inside.
The Ark was tragically destroyed by fire in 1883, but the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) commissioned an exact replica for our Tercentenary, which was dedicated at the Royal Albert Hall in October. Then, as in 1813, we placed a facsimile of the Articles of Union inside it, as well as the three Great Lights.
It was on public display at Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields for the months after the Royal Albert Hall celebration, but now it has returned to its intended place in Grand Lodge. Triangular in form, it has at each corner a column of the Ionic, Doric and Corinthian order representing wisdom, strength and beauty, the three great pillars on which our lodges, including this Grand Lodge, are said to stand. I am sure that it will grace our Grand Lodge meetings for centuries to come.
STANDING UP FOR THE CRAFT
We have become only too well aware of the term ‘fake news’ in recent times, and we began this year with our own encounter with fake news. Many of you will have seen the coverage generated by the outgoing chairman of the Police Federation and The Guardian newspaper, and I trust you will have also seen our responses.
Let me assure you that UGLE will always stand up for its members, their integrity and their care for the communities from which they are drawn. It is my firm belief that policemen are better policemen for their membership of our proud organisation. However, it is not just policemen who can benefit from membership – lawyers, public servants and indeed all men benefit from the teaching our ceremonies have to offer. The time has come for the organisation to stand up and make these points loudly and clearly. Enough, brethren, is enough.
I have said it before and I say it again: I strongly believe that the future is bright for Freemasonry. We created a bow wave of optimism last year that produced a surge of interest in the Craft. We must now ensure that we maintain the momentum created and build on that legacy, and we will.
AN IMPORTANT ANNIVERSARY
This year, as you know, is the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. I have no doubt that many of you will be commemorating this as appropriate in your area.
The current Freemasons’ Hall was built to commemorate those masons who lost their lives in that war. It was called the Masonic Peace Memorial but changed its name at the outbreak of the Second World War to Freemasons’ Hall. We shall commemorate the end of the First World War on 10 November 2018 under the auspices of Victoria Rifles Lodge, No. 822, and I am sure it will be an impressive occasion.
‘We must now ensure that we maintain the momentum created’
A place for missing men
With bereaved men often finding it difficult to seek emotional support, hands-on initiatives like DIY workshops are providing sanctuaries where they can open up. Steven Short finds out how the MCF is helping in the hospice care sector
When a partner or family member dies, those looking after them not only have to say goodbye to the person they’ve lost, but also to their own identity as a caregiver. Many people have made great sacrifices to look after a loved one, often over months or years, and as this responsibility ends it can bring a sense of ‘Who am I now?’ as well as questions about the future.
At the same time, the bereaved can often feel cut adrift from those around them – and the support they experienced leading up to the death – at a time when they perhaps need it most, facing the practicalities of sorting out funeral and financial arrangements.
Hospices across the UK have, for many years, been accompanying people on this difficult journey. And the masonic community has long supported the incredible work they do – more than £12 million has been donated towards the operating costs of hospices throughout the country. Over time, it has become apparent that women are much more likely than men to seek out care and support, and that there is a need for programmes tailored to men who are bereaved, caregivers or coming to terms with their own illness. In response, a number of unique initiatives – such as ‘man sheds’ – have been developed to help these ‘missing men’.
A NEW WAY OF FUNDING
Historically, the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF)’s support for hospices has been via small grants across all Provinces. However, the MCF has determined that funds should be directed to where they’re needed most, helping to plug gaps in service provision and make the biggest impact. Working with Hospice UK, some of this year’s MCF grants will focus on bereavement support services.
‘We are constantly looking to improve our grant-making,’ says Katrina Kerr, head of charity grants at the MCF. ‘Our hospice grants in recent years undoubtedly made a tremendous difference in the palliative care sector, but over time it became apparent that we could direct the funds so generously donated to us by the masonic community in a more effective, strategic way.’
Due to the spike in births after the end of the Second World War, a generation of baby boomers is entering its seventies, meaning that now is a good time for Hospice UK and the MCF to be thinking about palliative care and bereavement support.
Karl Benn, head of grants at Hospice UK, agrees. ‘In the past year, hospices have supported around 46,000 people – adults and children – in coping with the death of a loved one,’ Benn says. ‘So there is clearly a need for bereavement care. We also talked to our members, who agreed that this was an area we should be focussing on.’
Benn and his team have worked with the MCF to develop and oversee the application process as well as the awarding of the first £150,000 allocated for grants through the new programme. ‘It was heavily oversubscribed,’ he notes. ‘We received applications for £1.5 million, so making our final allocations was really difficult.’
Grants were ultimately awarded to innovative bereavement support projects at hospices in seven Provinces, namely Staffordshire, East Kent, Sussex, Warwickshire, Essex, South Wales and West Lancashire, and in London. These focussed grants were in addition to £450,000 awarded in small grants last year to support 245 hospices under the former programme. Later this year, a further £300,000 will be available to fund the bereavement and support programme, with an additional £300,000 awarded in the form of small general grants as the new programme is introduced gradually over the coming years.
‘Terminally ill and bereaved men are very often reluctant to access traditional support’ Kathy Birch, Princess Alice Hospice
REACHING OUT TO MEN
Among the initiatives are several focussed on supporting men through the bereavement process. These will be hands-on, practical initiatives, where men can, in Benn’s words, ‘do some DIY, or work on renovating furniture – something they can get involved in rather than sitting around a table talking about feelings, which isn’t right for everybody.’
Martlets Hospice in Hove, for example, will run a men’s allotment project, while St Mary’s Hospice in Ulverston will introduce a ‘Make Do and Mend’ initiative. At the Princess Alice Hospice in Esher, Surrey, a Man Shed project is underway. The Man Shed, which will also be trialled at other hospices, offers the opportunity to engage in practical activities and learn skills while receiving ‘shoulder to shoulder’ support.
‘We had noticed at the hospice that the number of bereaved women who were coming forward to us for care and support outnumbered men by three to one, and so we sought to identify a new way to address this unmet need that was right on our doorstep,’ says Kathy Birch, day service programme lead at Princess Alice. ‘We wanted to reach out to the missing men within our communities, including bereaved husbands who have lost their sense of purpose, men who are caring for their partner and need someone to talk to, and men coming to terms with their own terminal illness.
‘Terminally ill and bereaved men are very often reluctant to access the traditional family-support offering, such as formal counselling or listening. Our data on those who seek care and support within a “traditional setting” certainly backed that up,’ Birch continues.
Kerr from the MCF agrees. ‘Men can find it more difficult to build social connections than women. It’s an unfortunate reality that men are less likely to share concerns about health and personal worries.’
The knowledge that men can find it hard to open up, especially in a formal face-to-face setting, inspired the team at Princess Alice to create the Man Shed programme. Birch says, ‘Our missing men can come together and put their skills and energy to use with a high degree of autonomy while talking to others who may be in the same situation and getting the support they need to face the future.’
A SPOT FOR SHEDDERS
The Man Shed idea originated in Australia, and Princess Alice is one of only a few hospice-based Man Sheds in the UK. As the name indicates, the shed at Princess Alice is a building consisting of a DIY workshop and a communal lounge. It was officially opened in June 2016, and within a month the hospice had 13 ‘shedders’ (patients, carers and bereaved relatives) involved in the project. By January of this year, that figure had risen to 112. Of those, 85.7 per cent are men, reflecting the need for spaces where they are able to cope in their own way.
At the Man Shed, shedders produce everything from bird boxes and chopping boards to bespoke memory boxes, which are then sold to raise yet more invaluable funds for the hospice. Shedders and project leaders also have come up with innovative ideas to help patients of the hospice, including a special raised cupholder that allows people who use a wheelchair to take a drink without having to bend over. They have also made a mobile trolley for the hospice library and benches for the garden.
‘I have cancer and I am a regular at the Day Hospice’s weekly social group,’ says one shedder. ‘I’ve recently started to visit the Man Shed and have made some smashing friends. When you walk in it feels like the sun has come out and the heaviness is lifted from your shoulders. Talking to people who know what you are going through really helps.’
Two teenage boys recently attended the Man Shed when their father was terminally ill, as he wanted them to learn vital skills while he could still be there. ‘Freemasons are fortunate to have a network of brethren around them for support during difficult times,’ Kerr says, ‘but not everyone is so lucky. Our grants will help to improve provisions for members of wider society.’
When John Hamill joined Grand Lodge as a librarian in 1971, he had no idea that he would go on to create a communications department, driving a policy of openness that has shaped modern Freemasonry
Can you remember a life before Grand Lodge?
I went off to university to read history and then went into librarianship before very quickly realising that the public library service was not what it used to be. At that time, if you had any sort of ambition, you went into administration, which is the last thing I wanted to do. Fortunately, when I was just about to start my postgraduate training, I saw an advert for a job at Grand Lodge. I came down and was interviewed, and despite the fact that I wasn’t going to be available for another nine months, they decided to appoint me.
That was in 1971, and I thought that I would probably have an interest for five or six years before moving off to some other sort of research library. But the interest never flagged, and I got hooked. Having said that, I thought I would have a quiet, academic life at the Library and Museum. If anybody had told me then about some of the things that I would be involved in over the next 45-odd years, I would have probably ordered the men in white coats.
I was the library assistant when I joined. In those days, we had a much smaller staff in the Library and Museum, but I hadn’t realised at the time that it was a very dynastic set-up. The then-librarian and curator was retiring 15 months after I joined, the assistant librarian would be taking over, and they were looking for somebody who was a potential successor to him. I had a wonderful 12 years where I could just open cupboards and drawers, look at files and read up on subjects. Then, in 1983, my mentor retired and I was appointed as the librarian and curator.
How did your job evolve in the 1980s?
As things began to change in Freemasonry, particularly changing public attitudes and growing interest by the press, we quickly realised that if we were going to better inform the public about Freemasonry, then the Library and Museum needed to have a key role. We opened up to the public in 1985 and held an exhibition in 1986. We went from being a very small group that maybe saw 7,000 or 8,000 visitors a year to managing about 28,000 to 30,000 visitors a year.
We are now regarded as a major cultural asset, as we have been roughly on this same site since 1776 – and there has been a reluctance to throw things out. We have probably got the best continuous archive in the country, and that is a huge resource for people who are interested in the history of ideas, social history and cultural history.
‘I’ve been lucky. As a retiree, I can say now that I have been one of those very fortunate people who has been paid a salary for doing a hobby’
Why did the Library and Museum decide to open up to the public?
The publication of The Brotherhood by Stephen Knight in 1984 was a real watershed moment for us. Up to that point, from the start of the Second World War, we had gradually withdrawn from society and didn’t engage with the media. In a sense, we shot ourselves in the foot; we allowed a mythology to grow, which hadn’t really been an issue before in this country. We had a pretty heavy time in the 1980s and right into the 1990s, when we were oftentimes a general whipping boy for the ills of society.
Because of the fact that I had gone out to communicate on behalf of the library, I suddenly found I was being drawn more into what is now called the Openness Policy, and I was made Grand Lodge spokesman, along with the Grand Secretary, in 1985. My introduction into the world of communication was an interview with John Humphrys, who wanted to interview somebody from Freemasonry on the Today programme. I remember it was at 7:05 in the morning, which is not my best time. I think it was something to do with the police, and I was really pushed into the deep end – there was so much going on at that time.
Does communicating with the press require a different skill set to that of a historian?
Yes and no. I was able to communicate as a result of things that happened to me during my life. I attended choir school, where we were taught how to use the voice and how to get as much out of the voice as possible. When I got involved in communications at Grand Lodge, I started to go out talking. It’s not exactly a skill – you can’t learn it. It’s something that you have inside you and that is brought out. When dealing with the media and being a spokesman, I just regarded it as being another way of telling people what we are doing.
In the late 1990s, we had a change of Grand Secretary, and it was an opportunity to do something that hadn’t been done for a couple of generations, which was to look at how the office was structured. I was doing more and more of what I would now call the communications side, and I didn’t want the Library and Museum to suffer. When I was asked if I would formally set up a communications department I said yes, but added that I couldn’t run the Library and Museum as well.
We advertised for somebody to come in for the position at the Library and Museum, with the title changed to ‘director’. We were fortunate to get Diane Clements, who did a fantastic job establishing the systems as they are now. I set up the communications department and was its director for 10 years from 1999.
By 2008, we had changed Grand Secretary and I was getting a bit stale in the role. Nigel Brown, who came in as Grand Secretary, had some expertise in communications and took it back into the private office, which I was very happy about.
‘The Pro Grand Master said at the end of 2017 that we have rebuilt confidence and pride in masonry at the grass-roots level over the past 30 years. That is a huge transformation’
What came after the communications department?
I think it was realised that I was an asset, so it was determined that I should have a job that would keep me around for when they needed to tap into my brain. In 2008, I became Director of Special Projects. I basically was the corporate memory at Grand Lodge. It is one of those roles that myself and the Deputy Grand Secretary Graham Redman do. We complement each other – there are areas I don’t know much about and he does, and vice versa. I formally dropped off the paid staff at the end of April, and Graham is continuing, but they’re still going to be benefiting from what’s in my brain after I cease formal employment.
As well as getting involved in whatever projects happen to turn up from time to time, I have been running the Grand Chancellor’s office. I had been involved with the External Relations Committee since the late 1980s and have done a lot of travelling abroad. People very kindly invited me over to talk about masonic groups, so I built up a network of contacts. The Grand Chancellor needed a staff member, so they introduced the office of Assistant Grand Chancellor, of which I was the first. Two years ago, I was promoted to Deputy Grand Chancellor, which I will continue to be, although I won’t be in the office.
As you retire, what state do you feel you’ve left Freemasonry in?
One of the most difficult parts of the Openness Policy, from back in its early days in 1984, was firstly persuading members that they could talk about Freemasonry, and secondly giving them the tools to talk about it. We had been quiet for so long, people had lost the habit of talking about it. There was a huge educational process that had to go on within the organisation to say, ‘yes, it is all right to talk about Freemasonry, but make sure you are sending out the right messages.’
I think the dividends of that approach came through last year in the Tercentenary celebrations – local media and local people were very positive about Freemasonry because members were very happy to talk about it. The Pro Grand Master said at the end of 2017 that we have rebuilt confidence and pride in masonry at the grass-roots level over the past 30 years. That is a huge transformation, and it has been fascinating to be involved in the process. Freemasonry has a far more positive future now than in, say, 1999 or 2000. If you’d asked me then, I would have been fairly pessimistic, but the things that have been done since then have really made a difference.
What is your proudest achievement?
As well as being part of the Openness Policy, I’m most proud of transforming the Library and Museum into a charitable trust, combined with working with academia to rebuild our connections there. I’ve been lucky. As a retiree, I can say now that I have been one of those very fortunate people who has been paid a salary for doing a hobby. I’ve had the most extraordinary opportunities to meet people who I couldn’t imagine meeting in other circumstances. I’ve been able to travel. I’ve made some very good friendships around the world. It’s just been fun.
14 March 2018
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
Brethren, it is always a pleasure to see this magnificent temple as full as it is today, although it is hardly surprising bearing in mind the special nature of today’s meeting. Our Provinces and Districts, as well as those involved here at the centre, have taken a great deal of trouble in identifying those brethren most deserving of the honour that they have received today. I hope it has been a very special day for them and I really do congratulate and thank them. As always brethren, whilst congratulations are very much in order for all that you have done, particularly during the Tercentenary year, it also raises great expectations for your endeavours in the future.
We also have the Soane Ark back with us today. As those of you who were at the Tercentenary celebration at the Royal Albert Hall, (or those of you who read Freemasonry Today) will know, the original of this beautiful mahogany piece, the “Ark of the Masonic Covenant”, was made by Bro Sir John Soane in 1813. It was dedicated at the great celebration marking the Union of the Ancient and Modern Grand Lodges in 1813 and the Articles of Union were deposited inside.
It was tragically destroyed by fire in 1883, but UGLE commissioned an exact replica for our Tercentenary, which was dedicated at the Royal Albert Hall in October. Then, as in 1813, we placed a facsimile of the Articles of Union inside it, as well as the “Three Great Lights”.
It was on public display at the Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields for the months after the Royal Albert Hall celebration, but now it has returned to its intended place in Grand Lodge. Triangular in form, it has at each corner a column of the Ionic, Doric and Corinthian order representing Wisdom, Strength and Beauty, the three great pillars on which our lodges, including this Grand Lodge, are said to stand.
I am sure that it will grace our Grand Lodge meetings for centuries to come.
We have become only too well aware of the term 'fake news' in recent times and we began this year with our own encounter with 'fake news'. Many of you will have seen the coverage generated by the outgoing Chairman of the Police Federation and the Guardian newspaper and I trust you will have also seen our responses. Let me assure you that UGLE will always stand up for its members, their integrity and their care for the communities from which they are drawn. It is my firm belief that policemen are better policemen for their membership of our proud organisation. However, it is not just policemen who can benefit from membership – lawyers, public servants and indeed all men benefit from the teaching our ceremonies have to offer, and the time has come for the organisation to stand up and make these points loudly and clearly. Enough, brethren is enough.
I have said it before and I say again I strongly believe that the future is bright for Freemasonry. We created a bow wave of optimism last year which produced a surge of interest in the Craft. We must now ensure that we maintain the momentum created and build on that legacy, and we will.
This year is very much a year of change, particular of key personalities both here and in the Provinces and Districts. On your behalf I welcome Geoffrey Dearing to his first Quarterly Communication as President of the Board of General Purposes and, in April, David Staples, our CEO will become our new youthful and dynamic Grand Secretary, bringing together all the activities here in Freemasons’ Hall. Already this year we have installed two new PGMs as well as new DGMs in New Zealand South Island and SA Western Division. Both John Clark from Buckinghamshire and Anthony Howlett-Bolton from Berkshire are able to be present and I welcome them to their first Quarterly Communication as Provincial Grand Masters. We now start a steady stream of installations: nine Provincial Grand Masters and ten District Grand Masters, plus many Grand Superintendents in the Royal Arch. This will keep the Rulers in both the Craft and Royal Arch busy this year as we catch up on the backlog.
Although we have plenty of ceremonial work to do, I am also keen that we continue to visit Provinces and Districts in a less formal way. We are here to provide help and support and we must show it.
This year, as you know, is the 100th Anniversary of the end of the First World War – 'The Great War'. I have no doubt that many of you will be commemorating this, as appropriate in your area. This building was built to commemorate those masons who lost their lives in that war. It was called the Masonic Peace Memorial Building, but changed its name at the outbreak of the Second World War to Freemasons’ Hall. We shall commemorate the end of the First World War on 10th November 2018 under the auspices of Victoria Rifles Lodge and I am sure it will be an impressive occasion.
Brethren, I hope that today has been a memorable event for those I have invested. Many congratulations, once again, and remember there is no resting on your laurels.
Alan Wright, Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies, received a certificate after reaching the milestone of 70 years service in Freemasonry
Alan was initiated into Bordesley Abbey Lodge No. 4495 on 24th October 1946, and was the first initiate after the ending of the Second World War.
Until recently, and at the age of 97, he was a very active member of his own lodge within the Province of Worcestershire and now lives in Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire.