Friday, 16 September 2011 11:38

Building a reputation

From blockbuster launch parties to glitzy fashion shows, Karen Haigh has seen it all as Head of Events at Freemasons’ Hall. She talks about meeting Matt Damon, Antony Gormley statues on the rooftop and building a giant bathroom outside the Grand Temple

How did you find yourself working for the Freemasons?
My father was a Freemason and we saw this newsletter advertising the position, so I wrote in. The Deputy Grand Secretary Michael Higham invited me to an interview and I got the job. There were only five women when I joined in 1979 and the building wasn’t open to the public. Where I’m sitting now used to be like a Dickensian office, with 24 desks and men sitting behind them with big ledgers. On a Monday, the housekeeper to the Grand Secretary would give us our hand towel for the week and a carafe of water. Twice a day we’d have tea breaks. I remember after six weeks I was allowed to type a letter on the new electric typewriter.

What does Freemasonry mean to you?
It’s never been a big mystery to me because of my dad. I’ve gone to ladies’ nights from a young age and haven’t had any preconceptions. People I called ‘Uncle’ were from my dad’s lodge, so it didn’t seem weird and wonderful.

When did you start the events business?
I started as a Girl Friday [aide] in 1982, and when I was 21, I became the Deputy Grand Secretary’s secretary and began doing masonic events. I did that until 1999, then went into admin, doing things like purchase ordering, and in 2005 I started the events business. We’re averaging between 30,000 and 50,000 non-masons visiting every year now. The day I don’t enjoy it is the day I should leave.

Why host events at Freemasons’ Hall?
There’s the commercial contribution that the events make, which pays for the upkeep of the building, but the main reason is to get as many people as possible coming into the building.

The openness is so important and has made such a difference. In the 1980s, the TV series Poirot could only film in two or three areas within the building, so you’d see the same area being rebuilt as a sweet shop or a hotel lobby. The first time we were allowed to shoot in the Grand Temple was in 2003 for a Westlife video.

Who else comes through your doors?
Last Monday, we had a graduation for the Istituto Marangoni fashion school. Before that we had De Montfort University doing a student fashion show for lingerie. Next week we’ve got the Good Egg Awards, celebrating companies who only use cage-free eggs or egg products. The events have changed with the times. A couple of years ago, every American movie would have a big premiere followed by a major party. These days they don’t want to be seen to be throwing money around in a recession, so it tends to only be the really big Harry Potter-type films that get such launches.

What kind of event wouldn't you host?
We avoid contentious events – anything too political. Guy Ritchie wanted to shoot the film Revolver here, but when we looked at the plot we saw it was about drugs and gangs. This Hall is a peace memorial, built to commemorate the masons who died in World War I, and if members saw it in a gangland film they’d be upset.

Do you get nervous when celebrities walk in?
If you don’t have nerves you’re missing something. The very first event we did was for the film The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I was standing there wondering what I’d done when 1,200 people arrived. I thought, ‘You’ve got to go with it.’  When we did Spamalot we’d get Eric Idle visiting and I loved that. We had nine weeks of filming for and I loved that. We had nine weeks of filming for Green Zone with Matt Damon, and after a while we just got used to him walking around the building.

Are you a Freemasons' Hall fanatic?
I love the building but I don’t talk to it! ! There are others who probably know it a lot better than I do. Many of the building’s nooks and crannies are still a mystery to me so I have a lot more exploring to do. My favourite area is the vestibule, as I think it sums up the majestic feel of the building perfectly. ! ere’s so much tradition here.

What's the strangest request you've had?
The weirdest thing was when the director of Kevin & Perry Go Large asked us to make the area outside the Grand Temple into a bathroom. Then we were one of the locations for the Antony Gormley project, Event Horizon. When the statue arrived in the front hall, I didn’t realise that it was going to be so anatomically true to life, and I’ll never forget an old lady walking into the lodge and staring at it. When they approached us, I think they expected us to refuse – but it did us good taking part in the project, helping change perceptions of what Freemasonry is all about.

Published in Features
Sunday, 01 May 2011 16:23

Taking The Grand Tour

In 2010 the Library and Museum at Freemasons' Hall welcomed more than 30,000 visitors. For many visitors the highlight is the tour of the ceremonial rooms which is provided by Library and Museum staff. Freemasonry Today spent time with the team of tour guides to find out more

One of the longest serving guides is Mike Coleman. ‘The tour starts in the Museum with a brief history of the two eighteenth century Grand Lodges and the story of the Union. The route then goes through the Grand Officers’ Robing Room with its portraits of Royal Grand Masters, continues down the processional corridor, visits the Shrine and finishes in the Grand Temple. There we take the opportunity to answer visitors’ questions about the building and more generally about Freemasonry. We usually finish by reminding visitors to visit the shop.’
The tour takes about forty-five minutes. Guide Stephen Hoole likes to take time to point out items of interest in the Museum to his group at the end of the tour.
Trevor Lowman has recently joined the team of guides. One of the challenges he faced was learning all the information as there is a tradition that the guides do not use notes. ‘I hadn’t realised,’ he says, ‘just how much there was to know.’
Another new recruit, John Green, has enjoyed meeting visitors from all over the world. ‘I have met people from Israel, Canada, Brazil and Belgium – and that was just in my first week!’
Both of them have learnt a lot from the other guides, as Trevor admits, ‘I have also borrowed some of guide John Weightman’s jokes!’

Colin Gurnett, another guide, would like to see even more visitors from London lodges. ‘Many members come to the building for their meetings and just see where they are meeting. It would be great if they could take time to do the tour and learn more about one of London’s great buildings.’
The weekday tours are free of charge and take place at 11 am, 12 noon, 2 pm, 3 pm and 4 pm. There is no need to book for individuals or small groups but, as events can be arranged at short notice which can mean that tours are curtailed, anyone making a special journey is advised to telephone to check the availability of tours.
On Saturdays there is just one tour, starting at 10.30 am which has to be pre-booked. According to Melrose Eccleston, who looks after bookings, ‘the Saturday tours are very popular and get booked up quickly – please don’t leave your arrangements to the last minute as we can only handle limited numbers on Saturdays.’
Freemasons’ Hall is increasingly being used for events and filming. Sometimes tour groups get to experience what goes on behind the scenes on a film set. Guide Michael Rhodes remembers one tour he led which had among its number ex-James Bond Pierce Brosnan taking a break from a photography assignment in the building. ‘He was a charming man and was wearing one of the most stylish suits I have ever seen!’
The Library and Museum can’t promise James Bond on every tour but you will be assured of a friendly welcome and a fascinating experience.

Published in Features
Sunday, 01 May 2011 09:42

Catwalk Creations

As Freemasons' Hall plays host once again to events at London Fashion Week, Lucinda Weston talks to up-and-coming fashion designer Kirsty Ward

A feeling of serenity prevails as you walk through the Great Queen Street doors of Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden. With its sweeping marble staircases and ornate ceilings, this stunning Art Deco building has a refined elegance. Explore a little further, however, and you might be surprised to find a fashion show in full swing, with models marching down a catwalk to the accompaniment of a thousand flash bulbs.
A flurry of fashion darlings regularly descend upon the Grand Lodge in February to promote both new and seasoned designers to a global audience of media buyers, celebrities and style leaders as part of London Fashion Week. This year’s show saw Kirsty Ward showing her second collection from her own label. Kirsty is one of thirty designers to have taken part in the week-long Vauxhall Fashion Scout Autumn/Winter 2011 event, which showcases new and upcoming designers and runs alongside the main London Fashion Week events. Hosted at Freemasons’ Hall since 2006, the independent showcase also off ers support to new designers both through funding and mentoring, and has been described as a talent goldmine, launching the careers of Peter Pilotto, William Tempest and BodyAmr.
The Grand Lodge’s Old Board Room has been converted into the backstage area for the show and Kirsty is crouched in a corner, surrounded by rails of clothes hung next to the grandiose portraits on the walls. She is helping a model into monstrously high shoes, her petite frame cloaked in an azure kaftan and she looks calm despite the chaos around her. As makeup and hair artists speedily get to work on the models, assistants make last-minute adjustments to the clothes so that they will fit slender frames.
From over two hundred designers to apply, Kirsty was selected by a panel of industry insiders to be one of four womenswear designers to take part in the Ones to Watch show. This is a stage for new designers to gain exposure, with experts on hand to off er help at every step of the way – from creative input to production and promotion of the event.
Front of house, the Prince Regent Room is a vision in white – a long catwalk runs the length of the room with models making their entrance to pulsing music as an army of photographers clamber to get the best shot. Kirsty is the first to show her collection and the four hundred strong audience look on largely expressionless as they furiously scribble down notes.

Kirsty’s collection is a combination of sculptured sheer dresses constructed in voluminous layers to frame and flatter the female form, and statement jewellery made from plumbing materials. A selfconfessed B&Q addict, Kirsty sees jewellery as an extension of the clothes, and her pieces combine bright Perspex, copper hardware and beading in striking designs.
‘While I like to use a lot of volume and be bold, I also want my clothes to be wearable,’ explains Kirsty, believing that clothes should be approachable. ‘This season I experimented with putting jewellery in between the layers of fabric, as well as with the pattern cutting. I used a muted brown and yellow colour pallete and a lot of Aertex and mohair.’
As the Ones to Watch show comes to an end, Kirsty and her fellow designers walk hand in hand down the catwalk to rapturous applause, before rushing back stage. Catching her quickly she is in a state of elation, beaming at how well the show went, despite ‘a few shoe issues’. The journalists dash back to the media room to file copy, while the buyers are able to get up close to the collection and place orders in the Exhibition Room – Freemasons’ Hall’s very own temporary boutique for the week. The collection is a hit, getting a fantastic response from buyers.
Kirsty honed her style – or what’s known as ‘design handwriting’ in the industry – at London’s Central St Martins. This was followed by an internship at Preen London, which paid nothing but taught everything, and fifteen months designing for eminent designer Alberta Ferrettiin Rimini, Italy. Back in England and collaborating with boyfriend designer David Longshaw on a jewellery collection to much acclaim, Kirsty then decided to go it alone – for the first time giving herself completely free rein.
Despite having her own window at Selfridges’ flagship Oxford Street store in January, Kirsty is refreshingly down to earth and speaks of the many challenges in starting out in fashion: ‘I love what I do so much I would work for 24 hours a day if my body would let me, but being an up-and-coming designer there are always struggles, especially on the money side of things. My time costs nothing, but buying fabrics and producing the garments does.’
Kirsty has a family friend who sponsors her, as well as the funding she received from Vauxhall Fashion Scout, but admits she has the odd moment of doubt when she thinks about chucking it all in and running a sweet shop instead. However, spurred on by an overwhelming desire to make things and a passion for fashion design, Kirsty could be fast approaching a tipping point in her career where she is not just the one to watch but the one to wear.

Published in Features
Wednesday, 01 September 2010 17:06

Major Event For 2012 Olympics

In less than two years the Olympic flame will burn bright above London for the first time since 1948. Freemasonry was at the birth of the modern Olympic movement and masons were active in many of the world's earliest sporting organisations. To celebrate the London Olympic Games and these masonic sporting connections, two London lodges, Spencer Park Lodge, No. 6198 and Royal York Lodge of Perseverance, No. 7, are organising a masonic meeting immediately prior to the Games.
     It will be open to all regular Freemasons, including Brethren from overseas, and is particularly aimed at those who have an interest in sport. The proposed programme includes a reception in the Library and Museum at Freemasons’ Hall and a gala dinner.
     The event will raise funds for disadvantaged young people and Metropolitan Grand Lodge is supporting this initiative. Contact Mike Winch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information. Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Chapter have formed an external relations team and have launched a website aimed at nonmasons. Go to for more information.

A student-designed lingerie collection turned Freemasons’ Hall in London into a catwalk, which would have been eye-popping for brethren used to its more sedate environment. Chantal Vizard, who studies at De Montfort University, based her designs on erotic photos from the nineteenth century. Her final degree collection – entitled Promiscuous Pearl – livened up the art deco building, and brought in useful revenue for Grand Lodge.

Published in UGLE
Wednesday, 11 June 2008 01:00

Pro Grand Master's address - June 2008

11 JUNE 2008

On the nineteenth of July, this very fine building – created as a Masonic Peace Memorial – will be seventy-five years old. At the June Quarterly Communication in 1933, held seventy-five years ago last Saturday at the Central Hall Westminster, Lord Ampthill, the then Pro Grand Master, thanking Lodges for their generous response to the appeal for the erection of this building said that, “it would be an outward sign of our pious memory of the Brethren who fell in the Great War and, at the same time, a fulfilment of the duty we owe those who came after us.”

I believe that the building remains today as a fitting memorial for the Brethren who fell in the Great War. And a fitting fulfilment of the duty the planners and builders owed to those who came after them. I am confident that that fulfilment will continue for many generations of future Masons.

Referring to the building the then Pro Grand Master continued, “it is a duty we owe to the cause of Masonry, and to Freemasons all over the world, that the headquarters of the English Constitution should be worthy of the honour and reputation that we enjoy, and that the place of assembly of the Grand Lodge of England should be fully significant of our faith and cause, our confidence in the future, and our determination to make Freemasonry more and more a potent influence for the good in national life.”

Shortly afterwards, the Grand Master, His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn held an especial meeting in connection with the dedication of this Masonic Peace Memorial at the Royal Albert Hall, followed the next day – 19 July 1933 – by the dedication itself, here at Great Queen Street. So, the first Quarterly Communication was held here on 6 September 1933. To commemorate that, at our next Quarterly Communication in September, I have asked Brother John Hamill, Director of Communications, to talk about the history of the building.

Towards the end of last year I launched a survey of Lodge and Chapter records. This survey will be an important building block for the book on Masonic history which we are planning to publish in 2017 as part of the Tercentenary celebrations of the formation of the first Grand Lodge. Undertaking this survey within an organisation of this size and age is ambitious. But I am confident that, with your help, it will be successful and that the results will also be important in encouraging further research into our history.

I have been following the results very closely and I am pleased that the project has been enthusiastically supported. All our Provinces have now appointed a volunteer co-ordinator to organise the survey. Most of these co-ordinators have taken the opportunity to attend a briefing meeting here at Freemasons' Hall, and have already started the survey in their Provinces. We hope to have completed the survey by the summer of 2009.

At the end of May the Deputy Grand Master opened the Women and Freemasonry Exhibition in the Library and Museum. It covers the development of Freemasonry for Women in the early years of the last century. At the preview guests included lady representatives from the various women’s organisations including the Order of Women Freemasons and the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Freemasons. We maintain our independence from the women’s organisations and they are happy to maintain their independence from us. Apart from the historical interest, the Exhibition has a valuable public relations benefit. It will help to dispel the commonly held myth, among non-Masons, that there are no women in Freemasonry! I commend the Exhibition to you.

The Hampton Court Flower Show in July will feature a garden with a Masonic theme which I hope will encourage some of you to visit, if you have an interest in gardens. It is sponsored by the Metropolitan Grand Lodge and twelve Provinces in the south of England. I am looking forward to attending and the dates and details can be found on the UGLE website. Brethren, returning to the words of the Pro Grand Master in 1933, and comparing those words with the situation today: this fine building is fully significant of our faith and cause; we have confidence in the future and we remain determined to make Freemasons more and more a potent influence for good in our national life. In fact, I believe that the Craft is in a much stronger position now than it has been for many years, and I end my remarks by wishing you and your families a very happy summer.

Published in Speeches
Sunday, 01 April 2007 01:00

Freemasons' Hall: Refurbishment

New storage facilities for Lodges and Chapters at Grand Lodge are a big improvement, says Stuart Whitehead

Since 1933, when Freemasons’ Hall was completed, each Lodge and Chapter which uses the facilities have had their regalia and equipment stored in individual lockers. However, due to the requirements of health and safety (H & S) legislation, UGLE have undertaken a review of current working practices.

At present, Lodges and Chapters have their regalia and equipment stored in metal and wooden lockers which are in units up to 15 feet high. H & S requirement would these days state that fork lift trucks or specialised hydraulic equipment would have to be used to remove the locker and trays from the higher units when the UGLE porters transport each tray to the designated Lodge or Chapter room. 

Another problem the change of storage system encountered was the security aspect, because at present the individual Lodge and Chapter regalia and equipment, although stored in locked lockers in individual trays, over the years a number of these lockers have had their locks broken and not replaced.

As well as the trays being transported by the porter staff to each Lodge or Chapter room, these trays are left open and unattended for some time, while specific items are often 'borrowed' for a specific ceremony and not returned.

The new system that will replace the current practices, provides adequate security for each Lodge and Chapter and conforms to the H & S needs for UGLE porters to undertake their specific role. Each Lodge or Chapter will have their own metal drawer appropriately labelled, with their regalia sealed within a locked metal lid.

Three keys will be issued to the Secretary or Scribe, and these will be separately numbered with no duplication for other drawers. The individual drawer will be kept in a cabinet containing six drawers, which conforms to the H & S regulations as it will only be just over six feet high. These cabinets will be stored in a locked room environment with access only allowed to UGLE porter and security team. A new cabinet and drawers will be on display in the ante-room of Lodge Room No. 1 for Brethren to view.

This current review has also meant that a new racking system will be installed for the storage of banners, which will all be hung from rails. This was not the case previously, as several banners used to be rolled for storage, but this new method of hanging the banners will ensure longer life and less chance of damage to the delicate materials from which several of them are made.

Unfortunately, the cost of the Lodge drawers is being increased from £25 to £40 per annum. These are double the size of the Chapter drawers, which remain at the existing charge of £25 per annum. Likewise, the banner cost remains the same as before at £25. These charges for storage in central London are still very cheap, but with the added security for Lodges and Chapters.

The Lodge Liaison team, in particular John Vazquez, will be undertaking a role during the duration of the installation of this project and will be available on 020 7395 9283 to answer any queries. This will ensure that any disruption is kept to a minimum, and he will liaise with Lodges and Chapters regarding the issuing of keys by the UGLE security team. It is envisaged that this new format for Lodge and Chapter storage will last well into the 22nd century, providing an efficient and secure service to the users of the facilities at Freemasons’ Hall.

Stuart Whitehead is Facilities Manager at Grand Lodge

Published in UGLE
Monday, 01 January 2007 00:00

ADelphi System - A computer revolution

A new computer system called ADelphi that will eventually involve the whole Craft is unveiled by Roger Carter

ADelphi is the computer program that runs the membership system for all English Freemasonry at Freemasons’ Hall. It is a very significant program developed upon Oracle, the world’s leading database software. The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) system was called ADelphi after the Greek word for Brother and also, because it is a process to obtain information, it is a play on words of the Greek consultation of the Oracle at Delphi.

A programme of development funded by UGLE is now currently underway in conjunction with the Provinces, to extend the basic ADelphi program, which started primarily as a project just for the needs of Freemasons’ Hall, into a system for the benefit of all the Provinces and the membership as a whole. This exciting new system is to be called Provincial ADelphi.

Provincial ADelphi will be of major benefit, as it is likely in time to become the main system by which most Provinces communicate with Masons in their Provincial area, and by which these Provincial offices connect with the Freemasons’ Hall database.

As Masons become increasingly contactable through their use of the internet, their Provincial offices will be able to arrange membership renewal, subscriptions, meetings, Visiting officers and even seating plans through Provincial ADelphi.

The Annual and Installation Returns will be processed through this route, as will letters to Masons about Provincial matters. Soon the Masonic Year Book for each Province will be produced electronically, and then it may be possible for any Mason to quickly access the up-to-date information directly on the internet.

The potential for saving a great amount of time, especially in Provincial offices, and the consequent likely cost-saving is a significant benefit of introducing the system countrywide.

This whole process has been designed to be a collaborative programme in conjunction with the Provinces. Before any development work took place, the Director of Operations at UGLE and key members of the IT Team visited Provinces across the country to explain what was happening and ask them what features they wanted.

A series of workshops with many more Provinces then took place at Freemasons’ Hall to identify precisely the type of specification that was required for the system.

A Project Plan was created and approved by the Board of General Purposes. A set of three specially selected Provinces: Hertfordshire, Surrey and Somerset, were contacted and agreed to be ‘Pilot Provinces’ to test out the developments as they were created, and agree a standard approach on behalf of every Province.

A Project Team made up of the Head of IT, Stephen Fryer, supported by a small team of skilled Oracle developers commenced a programme of work in accordance with the Project Plan. Monthly meetings with the Pilot Provinces were scheduled to take place to ensure that the project progressed at a steady rate.

A module for submitting Annual Returns has now been tried and tested in the Province of Surrey, and subsequently is being tested in Hertfordshire and Somerset. A different module, a process for considering Provincial honours, has been tried in Hertfordshire, and is now being trialled in all three Provinces.

It is anticipated that the modules identified above will be completed, tested and ready by early 2007. A number of further Provinces have already volunteered to be the next to try and test the system.

A project programme is therefore being developed which will identify the next Provinces to join the system, starting with those who have already heard about the benefits of Provincial ADelphi and wish to volunteer.

It is anticipated that as more Provinces see how the system helps them, they will also wish to join. This process is designed to ensure that when the system is fully operational, there are not the same sorts of problems that have occurred in some other national IT systems when they have been introduced!

Keith Gilbert, Provincial Grand Secretary of Hertfordshire, following use of the first modules, commented: “Although we already had an effective database, the introduction of ADelphi has proved to be a first-class tool in enabling us to speed up communication with the Brethren and with Grand Lodge.”

Bryan Craddock, Provincial Grand Secretary of Surrey, said: “It is clear that Provincial ADelphi is the way ahead and it is good to be working together with UGLE on such a scheme”.

Graham Bowerman, Provincial Grand Secretary of Somerset added: “I am pleased to report that the ADelphi system is providing us with a firm basis for the administration of the Province with easy access to up-to-date and accurate details of all our members.”

In addition, Harry Barnes, Provincial Grand Master of Dorset, who has started to look at the way it works, commented: “I found the system very intuitive, flexible and comprehensive.” All responses to date have been very positive.

As well as work on Provincial Adelphi, the IT team have been carrying out associated work on a festivals and donations module for the Grand Charity on behalf of all the other Masonic charities. In addition, there are plans afoot to develop a system to allow payment of subscriptions and other monies by direct debit through ADelphi.

This would enable charity donations to be made directly to the Relief Chest and create a comprehensive system for the collection of charitable donations from brethren.

The Provincial ADelphi system could, in time, be used increasingly as a means of communication between individual Lodges and their Provincial office or direct with Grand Lodge. As the system develops and expands, the possibilities are huge.

With the prospect of individual brethren communicating direct with their Provincial leadership, and even Masonic message boards etc., only time will tell where this will go!

Roger Carter is Director of Operations at Freemasons’ Hall

Published in UGLE

Special events: the full 'Monty' at Grand Lodge

Freemasons' Hall continues to attract major commercial events, as Karen Haigh explains

Among recent star events that have taken place at Freemasons’ Hall (FMH) is Spamalot – the musical production of Monty Python’s famous Holy Grail and the Alternative Hair Show, the biggest show at Grand Lodge since opening its doors to events last year. 

After being approached by Laughalot, the production company for Spamalot in May 2006 it was with a sense of optimism that we entered into the planning of the event with the organisers. 

We knew from the beginning that the event was going to be fun, but we had no idea how wonderfully the building was going to be transformed for the West End hit musical, and how much the building would allow the parts of the show to come to life within its various areas assigned for the party. 

Its creator, Eric Idle, one of the original Monty Python team, visited the building and was very impressed and from his suggested ideas for the party great detail went into the event, even down to what menus were used by caterers ‘Create’ on the night. 

As the media interest began to build up for the opening night, there was great excitement that the Monty Python team would be re-united. On the night of the event many stars of the stage and TV came to Freemasons’ Hall, but the most memorable part of the evening was seeing the Monty Python team laughing and talking together within Grand Lodge. 

The Alternative Hair Show is an annual event to raise money for sufferers of leukaemia. Organiser Tony Rizzo decided to utilise his expertise in the hairdressing world after the death of his son, Valentino, from leukaemia and the Show was born at Camden Palace in 1983. 

In previous years the event has been held at the Royal Albert Hall and for the organisers to move the event to FMH was quite a challenge. It had taken months of preparation from them and FMH staff to make sure the event was a success. 

It took from the Friday until the Sunday to transform the Grand Temple for this 90-minute theatrical show. Behind the scenes there were 19 teams from all over the world who were performing, and many areas within the building became dressing and make-up rooms. 

During the Sunday evening there were three performances with an audience of 1,400 per show, and the final gala performance culminated with the appearance of Vidal Sassoon, who was heralded by a fanfare of trumpeters. 

The event raised £162,000 for Leukaemia Research.

Published in Features
Saturday, 01 April 2006 01:00

Public relations: hottest spot in town

Freemasonry is now receiving much better media coverage, as John Hamill reveals

In 1985, when Freemasonry seemed to be constantly under attack in the media, the writer and journalist Bernard Levin wrote two very supportive pieces on Freemasonry in his regular column in The Times. As he was not a Freemason he was invited to have lunch with a small group of senior Freemasons at Freemasons’ Hall. It proved a most valuable occasion.

He saw our problem as being that Freemasonry had been taken out of the public consciousness in the post-World War II period, resulting in the public not knowing what Freemasonry was.

As he put it – it is part of human nature to be suspicious of things we have no knowledge of, and suggested that the best way of altering public suspicion was a return to the openness of the pre-war period, to work with the media and to bring Freemasonry to the public’s notice – in a positive way – on a regular basis.

Grand Lodge took the advice to heart, but quickly realised that the centre could not deal with all the media. In the late 1980s, Provincial Grand Masters were invited to appoint Information Officers, who would have much better local knowledge than the centre, and could establish personal links with their local media.

As a result we now have a network of volunteer Information Officers who, with support from the centre and a great deal of hard work, have had an effect. In many Provinces, Freemasonry is now reported in the local press as interesting local social and charitable news.

The national media is a different game. National newspapers are only interested in stories with a 'that day news' content, which will give them an edge over their competitors. The Grand Lodge Communications Team regularly meets with journalists and have found that the Craft’s belief that there is a strong anti-Masonic element in the media is untrue.

Most journalists, like the public, have little knowledge of Freemasonry. Many of those we have met have become fascinated and keen to write, but hit the problem of their editor wanting a 'that day' news angle on which to hang the piece.

In that, Freemasonry is in a similar position to the many other voluntary organisations, such as Rotary, Round Table, Women’s Institute, Guides, Scouts etc, whose activities are rarely noticed in the national media.

That said, there have been references to Freemasonry in the national media over the last three years showing it in a positive light. As examples: The Guardian interviewed Anne Kent in the Grand Secretary’s office for their series 'Women in a man’s world'; The Independent did a two-page spread on Freemasons’ Hall as a gem of Art Deco architecture; The Times produced a half page on Freemasons’ Hall as a film location; The Daily Telegraph carries brief notices of the meetings of Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter; obituaries of major figures now include reference to their Masonic activities.

Activities with the national and local media all fulfil Bernard Levin’s advice of keeping Freemasonry in the public consciousness, but a more direct way of influencing public attitudes is by inviting them into, and to use for non-Masonic purposes, our Masonic buildings. 

In the last few issues of MQ we have reported on various non-Masonic events at Freemasons’ Hall. In addition to bringing income to Grand Lodge, these events are a major opportunity to let the public see our buildings and have an opportunity of asking questions.

Filming for television or feature films involves a lot of standing around for the actors and technicians. They get curious about the building, we are on hand to answer their questions and usually pass on to them the square booklets and copies of MQ Magazine.

When next somebody says anything to them about Freemasonry, they will have something positive to say about it. Some of the film shoots have even produced candidates.

The fashion shows, film premiere parties and other events have not only introduced a lot of people to Freemasons’ Hall who would not otherwise have visited, but have also generated press coverage.

The recent Julien Macdonald fashion show, which always gets heavy media attention, not only got Freemasons’ Hall mentioned on all the major television news channels, but also in all the reports in the next morning’s papers and in the fashion and gossip magazines.

The coverage by Sky and GMTV included stunning visuals of Freemasons’ Hall all clearly identified. Nothing was said about Freemasonry, but coverage like this gradually gets it over to the public that there is another side to what they have previously been told.

Bernard Levin warned that destroying myths and changing public opinion was a long term job. He was certainly right. But a lot of hard work has been done by a lot of people over the last 20 years and the signs are there that attitudes have changed.

The best example of that is in the local media where, on occasion, the Information Officer has not had to act when someone (usually a local politician) has had a go at Freemasonry in the local press because a local non-Mason (often one who has attended an open day) has written in to challenge what the detractor had said. That certainly is a change!

John Hamill is Director of Communications at the United Grand Lodge of England

A favourite location

Charlotte Clark, a director of Inca Productions, which staged the Julien Macdonald fashion event at Freemasons’ Hall, speaks about her love for the building as a spectacular venue:

Inca Productions has a very long history with Freemasons’ Hall. I first came through the doors to the Grand Temple in 1999 and apparently was the second woman through the doors after Princess Diana. I was instantly seduced, smitten and star struck by the space. Having worked in events for over 15 years now, it is very rare to be rendered speechless by a location, I was instantly star-struck.

The Grand Temple had the same effect on Julien Macdonald when we showed him the space for the first time. As creative director of Givenchy, he has had the opportunity to show his collections in some of the most beautiful venues in the world – he was the first designer to show in the Grand Palais after its refurbishment – in his opinion the Grand Temple is his favourite location to date.

Working in Freemasons’ Hall is a joy from beginning to end. From an event producer’s point of view it does not get much better. The space is never ending, your events team are a joy and nothing appears to be too much trouble. We were even allowed to use a glitter bomb that sent showers of gold into the air and tumbling down onto a sea of supermodels.

One of my favourite memories of Julien’s show was walking out of the Grand temple doors with Paris Hilton after the event. She climbed into her limo, rolled down the window and pointed to the building, smiled and drawled, ‘that’s hot.’ Freemasons’ Hall is now officially London’s hottest venue.

Published in Features
Page 20 of 21

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