Despite its small size, the Province of Shropshire knows how to punch well above its weight. Back in 2014 when the then Provincial Grand Master Peter Taylor launched a Festival for the Province (the fifth smallest of the 48 Provinces) its 1,200 members found themselves facing the challenge of raising no less than £1 million over the following five years
Undaunted, the then 34, although now 36, Lodges inspired their members to rise to that challenge magnificently.
Under the chairmanship of the Provincial Grand Charity Steward, Simon Aucott, a Festival Fundraising Committee organised, co-ordinated and supported the work of the Lodge Charity Stewards throughout the Province in finding ever more inventive ways by which they, their families and friends might go about raising the vital contribution to the work of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF). Events ranged across and beyond the usual spectrum.
Members of the Province, among many other events, jumped out of aircraft, held promise auctions, went on a group cycle ride from Telford to Rotterdam, held dinners, garden parties and wine tastings. There were Christmas Fairs and a spectacular concert to mark the end of the First World War. The Provincial Director of Ceremonies organised a competition for members to guess his annual mileage on masonic business during a single year; the answer was tens of thousands!
And just to prove that the having wheels is not the only way of fundraising, international walking champion Roger Michell walked between all the Lodges of the Province to present a travelling Maul which then accompanied him and his wife Linda on a walk from Freemasons' Hall in Shrewsbury to Freemasons' Hall in Great Queen Street for Quarterly Communicatiion in June 2019, where Roger's achievement in walking over 1,000 miles was recogised in Grand Lodge by the Pro Grand Master, Peter Lowndes, and UGLE donated £1,000 to the appeal.
Eventually, the appeal came to a close and at a spectacular Gala Celebration Event at the Telford International Centre, organised by the Festval Celebration Committee chaired by Melvin Gough, the final total was revealed: an astonishing £1,217,094! This, pointed out the current Provincial Grand Master Roger Pemberton is the second highest per capita contribution ever made to the MCF. The Provincial Grand Master went on to praise the efforts of everyone who had worked so hard over the period of the Festival, singling out in particular the committee Chairmen and the Festival Treasurer, Dennis Hill.
The Gala was a brilliant celebration of all the efforts of the many Freemasons, families and friends and was attended by 580 people, including HM Lord Lieutenant in Shropshire, Anna Turner, and civic dignitaries as well as other eminent guests including the Assistant Grand Master, Sir David Wootton, and the President of the MCF, Richard Hone, and Chief Operating Officer, Les Hutchinson. Shropshire Freemasons were proud to welcome them all and to showcase who they are and what they do in the community. In addition to the sumptuous dinner, guests were entertained by magicians and singing waiters to add to the special evening.
Shropshire won't be required to hold another Festival until 2030, but the fundraising efforts won't stop any time soon: the Province, Lodges and indivdual Freemasons will build on the experience gained over the period of the Festival to continue to raise funds for many local charities, as they have over many years. Although there may be fewer parachute jumps by the Provincial Grand Master!