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.
It’s the journey that matters
Via Rolls-Royce, camper van, horse and cart, speedboat and tandem bicycle, Lifelites chief executive Simone Enefer-Doy travelled 2,500 miles in two weeks to raise the profile of this hard-working charity
Providing life-changing assistive technology, Lifelites helps the 10,000 children and young people in hospices across the British Isles live their short lives to the full. On 25 May 2018, the charity’s chief executive, Simone Enefer-Doy, set off on an epic road, air and river trip to spread the word and raise funds.
The 2,500-mile challenge, called Lift for Lifelites, was to take in 47 famous landmarks in England and Wales in just 14 days. For each leg of the journey, Simone received a lift from Provincial supporters in an eclectic mix of transportation. After setting an initial target of raising £50,000 for Lifelites, the total now stands at over £104,000. Simone says she has been astounded at the support and generosity she encountered as she travelled around the country.
‘Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that so many people would come out to meet me on my journey and support my challenge. We have received a terrific welcome wherever we have gone, and it really spurred me on to continue whenever I felt myself flagging. I would like to thank everyone – drivers, donors and venues – for helping to make Lift for Lifelites happen. We couldn’t have done it without you.’
At the Craft and Royal Arch meetings of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Yorkshire, North & East Ridings, it was announced that the Festival had raised £1,881,413
Provincial Grand Master Jeffrey Gillyon and Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton addressed the gathering at York Racecourse, where the news that the Province had exceeded its target of £1.6 million was revealed.
A boxing club in Alnwick, Northumberland, has purchased essential equipment following a £1,500 gift from local masons via the Richard Henry Holmes Masonic Benevolent Fund
Northumberland PGM Ian Craigs presented the cheque, while members of Coquetdale Lodge, No. 5122, who had originally appealed to the fund for a donation for the club, were also present.
The masons were shown around the club’s facilities and tried some of the equipment, with the weigh-in machine proving popular.
A plaque has been unveiled at Warrington Hospital thanking Cheshire masons for donating nearly 6,000 teddies over the past 14 years to the children’s A&E department as part of its Teddies for Loving Care appeal
Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Mel Pickup said: ‘The teddies are a valuable tool to the staff, bringing comfort to children in distress.’
Stephen Blank, PGM for Cheshire, and Kevin Poynton, AGM for West Lancashire, represented their respective Provinces at the event.
Young people in Leicester not in employment, education or training (NEETS) are to be helped into work thanks to a £35,000 grant from Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons
Around 250 young NEETs between the ages of 11-24, many of whom are also homeless, involved in substance misuse and crime, will be helped by TwentyTwenty through their Journey to Work programme over three years.
These are young disadvantaged people who have failed at school, through being excluded or not being able to engage with mainstream education. They exist in a demoralised state, feeling neglected and without a meaningful future. Being able to come to TwentyTwenty they will gain not only the maths, English and employability skills they need to find and keep a good job but also the vision and confidence to go out and get one.
Young people who come to TwentyTwenty face a wide range of personal and social needs: poor physical and mental health, learning disabilities (many on the autistic spectrum), caring responsibilities (including teenage motherhood), lack of decent housing, family criminality, gross economic disadvantage, low level drug addiction and a complete lack of societal or family support.
Through intensive one-to-one support from a Journey to Work Coach and Tutor, the young people will undergo an eight-month programme of education, life and work skills, work experience and counselling. These will prepare them for either work or further education, during which they will be supported by volunteer mentors.
Mark Vyner, CEO from TwentyTwenty said: 'We’re very grateful for this generous grant from Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons, which will allow us to help hundreds of young people to turn their lives around and see a real reduction in the numbers of local people without jobs.'
The grant from Leicestershire and Rutland Freemasons comes through the Masonic Charitable Foundation.
David Hagger, Provincial Grand Master of Leicestershire and Rutland, said: 'We’re very pleased to be able to help TwentyTwenty who are doing outstanding work giving hope and practical help to young people who have had a terrible start in life, by breaking the cycle of worklessness.'
'We have to get out there and tell the general public all about Freemasonry', is the constant theme hammered home by Robert Vaughan, Provincial Grand Master of Worcestershire – and it inspired the Lodge of St Michael No. 1097 to set up a stand at the Annual Countryside Show in their home town of Tenbury Wells
The result was a healthy interest among visitors of the Masonic items on show and six potential new lodge members.
'We are delighted,' said Past Master John Rawlings, 'we were able to show Freemasonry in its true light and destroy some of the myths surrounding the Craft.'
The venture also threw up two remarkable coincidencies. A member of the Tenbury Show from the off in 1858 – and almost certainly one of the founders – was John Barber, who was also a founder of the St Michael Lodge in 1866. John Barber was a prominent dignitary in those Victorian times – a Master of Arts, a justice of the peace (JP), and from, 1866 to 1871, Deputy Grand Master of Worcestershire.
There is even a stained glass window dedicated to him at a church in nearby Knighton-on-Teme. It bears the square and compasses and was presented to the church by the Province of Worcestershire and the members of St Michael’s Lodge.
Earlier this summer the South Cheshire Masonic Golf Society (SCMGS) took part in a golfing day designed to have fun, raise funds but most importantly, donate more specialist wheelchairs and buggies to grateful recipients and their families
The day was well-attended and the hard work carried out by members and supporters of the SCMGS was given the recognition it deserved by the presence of not one, but two Provincial Grand Masters, Stephen Blank of Cheshire and John Lockley of Staffordshire.
The SCMGS event, held on 21st June 2018, is one of six run each year to raise much-needed funds that are then put towards specialised wheelchairs, ranging in price from £4,000 to £10,000. During its 40 year existence, the society has raised in excess of £270,000 and the recent meeting was a very special occasion as it marked the presentation of their 50th wheelchair – as well as their 51st and 52nd.
Accompanying the PGM's from Cheshire and Staffordshire were Harry Wright and John Skellern, Provincial Grand Charity Stewards for the two Provinces, as well as a number of dignitaries and invited guests.
Stephen Blank said: ‘It is incredible to witness how the members and supporters of the SCMGS quietly yet tirelessly raise money to help people whose lives are changed by the provision of these specialist pieces of equipment. The stories I have heard about the difference they have made really is humbling. I know I speak for John when I say how delighted to hear first-hand about the human impact Freemasons charitable giving makes.’
Noel Martin, Secretary of the SCMGS, said: ‘It may only seems a small thing, but giving a child a powered wheelchair not only changes the life of that child, it opens up the world for the whole family. I would like to thank everyone who has donated and supported us over the years, enabling a child to enjoy their life just that little bit more.’
Jack Woodfin from Deeside loves his wheelchair. Jacks mum, Cheryl, said: ‘I want to say how incredibly grateful we are for what you have done for our boy. He rides around like the coolest kid on the block and in total comfort. I am so happy and proud to walk beside him.’
Sophia Ketting, mother of Roman, another recipient, was ‘blown away’ when she heard a buggy was going to be provided for her son. Roman was admitted to the children's intensive care unit at Royal Stoke University Hospital on 15 November 2017. He was diagnosed with Myotubular myopathy, a condition that primarily affects the muscles for movement. People with this condition have muscle weakness and decreased muscle tone, a condition usually evident at birth.
Their specalised buggy offers postural support which reduces Romans risk of developing scoliosis and enables mum to transport Roman with ease. Since its provision, the buggy has supported Roman’s family complete daily activities that many of us take for granted and has dramatically increased the quality of family life.
Following a successful racing event held at Lingfield Park by Surrey Freemasons, children in Surrey hospitals are continuing to receive teddy bears for comfort and support
Teddies for Loving Care (TLC) is a registered charity distributing around 500 teddies a week to children in a number of A&E units across Surrey regardless of their background, challenge or need. Every child who attends their A&E Units is given a teddy bear for comfort and support thanks to TLC and Surrey Freemasons.
The teddy bears handed out to children in Surrey hospitals are part of a much larger Teddies for Loving Care project which is being led by Masonic Provinces across England and Wales.
‘It’s really heart-tugging to see a distressed child almost immediately calmed when a bear is presented to them and children get to keep the teddy bear too and take it home,’ said Ian Chandler, Surrey’s Provincial Grand Master, following a recent visit to a Surrey hospital.
With TLC now firmly in place, Surrey Freemasons were faced with a new dilemma. Do they stop funding TLC in the hope that hospitals will continue by finding new sponsors, or do they find new and innovative ways to raise funds to continue to support this valuable service? The members of Surrey chose the latter.
Ian Chandler, plus many members with their families and friends, attended a fundraising race meeting at Lingfield Park on Saturday 23 June 2018 to support TLC. All seven races were sponsored by Surrey masons, making this evening event unprecedented in the history of Lingfield Park.
Racegoers enjoyed a fabulous evening of racing, bathed in the Surrey sunshine around the racecourse. Guests were entertained by former Drifters singer Jason Nembhard and tapped their feet to the music of a Michael Jackson tribute band. One lucky guest even won a holiday to the Algarve in the raffle.
Ian Chandler added: ‘This was Surrey Freemasons’ first venture into organising such a high profile public event. Our thanks go to Lingfield Racecourse and all of the racegoers for supporting us on such an enjoyable evening.’
David Toulson-Burk, Executive Director of Lingfield Park, added: ‘We’ve been delighted to welcome Surrey masons to our race meeting. It’s heart-warming to see so many local business people here supporting their local community and we were thrilled to play our part in their fundraising.’
Thanks to the fundraising, every child attending Surrey A&E units continue to receive teddies.
A delegation of Cheshire Freemasons, led by Provincial Grand Master Stephen Blank, attended the official opening of the ‘Better Lives Centre’ at the Bridge Wellness Gardens on 27th July 2018
The Wellness Gardens in Ellesmere Port, which opened in 2015, have needed a permanent structure at its ‘heart’ for some time. To turn what was a dream into a reality required the support and donations from a number of organisations including Cheshire Freemasons, who donated £25,000.
The charity’s main purpose is to support those with mental health and learning difficulties and to create jobs for the long-term unemployed by growing and selling fruit, vegetables, salads and herbs to the local community. Bridge Wellness Gardens provides a therapeutic environment for people suffering from a range of mental health conditions, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as those with mental and physical learning disabilities.
It offers support and activities for young people struggling at school, older clients suffering loneliness and social isolation and people who just want to come and hang out on the farm. The charity is a working horticulture farm which first began operating in 2015.
Francis Ball, Chairman of Bridge Community Wellness Gardens and Farm, said: ‘The opening of the Better Lives Centre would not have been possible without the hugely generous support of a number of major benefactors as well as smaller donations from many other people in our community. It would also not have been possible without the tireless support of our dedicated team.
‘Since we opened in 2015, we have worked with hundreds of people of all ages, from school children to the long-term unemployed, helping them through what are often extremely difficult times. The Better Lives Centre will enable us to increase the amount of people we can support and the variety of work we can do to help them literally grow their lives.”
Cheshire’s Provincial Grand Master Stephen Blank said: ‘It is inspirational to see the work carried out at the Gardens. The fact it provides both a tranquil place to relax and also operates as a working farm, makes the project invaluable to the community it supports.
‘I have seen the garden project evolve over the years and it is incredible to see how much has been achieved in such a short time. The Better Lives Centre is the icing on the cake and I know I join with many in wishing Francis and his team all the best for the future – long may they make a difference to the lives of those they help.’