Following months of meticulous planning, 6th July 2019 was an early start for many Cheshire members in anticipation of the first procession through the streets of Chester in regalia for many years. The reason – to celebrate 150 years of Royal Arch Freemasonry in Cheshire
The Provincial Grand Superintendent, Stephen Blank, led a procession of distinguished guests, partners, family, friends, uniformed organisations and well-wishers through the streets of Chester from the Town Hall to Chester famous 13th century Cathedral. More than 800 attendees sat together to recognise and celebrate the Province of Cheshire’s’ Royal Arch sesquicentenary. Remarkably, it was noted that the Town Hall at the heart of the City was also 150 years old this year, so it seems 1869 was a busy year for Chester all round.
Guests attending the event included the Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire David Briggs, The Lord Mayor of Chester Mark Williams (himself a member of Cheshire Craft and Royal Arch) and from their own Supreme Grand Chapter they were delighted to welcome their Second Grand Principal, Russell Race, alongside their own Provincial VIP’s, including Deputy Provincial Grand Master David Dyson and Deputy Grand Superintendent for the Royal Arch in Cheshire J. Robert Bramley.
The service was informed, interesting, light hearted in parts and poignant in others – the preparation and execution was fabulous and congratulations were made to all those who had worked so hard to organise the celebratory event.
At the end of the service a small contingent visited the Chapel of St Erasmus to unveil a plaque detailing the work funded by Cheshire Freemasons to support the restoration of the famous mosaics originally produced by the prodigious railwayman Thomas Brassey – sadly water damaged over previous years, it will take an investment of almost £35,000 to secure these valuable works for future years, which Cheshire Freemasons have agreed to fund entirely.
Following the service, photos were taken of the brand new minibus provided by Cheshire Freemasons to local Scouts as well as an opportunity to meet the rider of the newly funded Blood Bike and his motorcycle proudly branded with the Square and Compasses.
Following a sumptuous lunch, it was announced that for the celebration of 150 years of the Royal Arch in Cheshire, Companions of the Province had committed a total in excess of £150,000 in order to support projects for the communities of Cheshire and beyond.
Later this year, on 26th October 2019, the Provincial Grand Chapter of Cheshire is 150 years old and will be celebrated at that time with the consecration of a brand new Royal Arch Chapter at Hulme Hall in Port Sunlight – the village created by none other than William Hesketh Lever, the First Viscount Leverhulme and himself a prominent Cheshire Freemason. 2019 will certainly be a year to remember and so far the celebrations are being thoroughly enjoyed by all concerned.
Last year, Cheshire’s Provincial Grand Master Stephen Blank set a challenge to members to organise an event promoting awareness and building support for the Cheshire Freemasons Charity
John Miller was first to step forward and so developed the idea of organising a sponsored bike ride from Chester to London, utilising only the intricate canal network and towpaths that weave between Cheshire’s’ county town and capital city.
The route was agreed from the Masonic Hall in Queen Street, Chester, to Freemasons’ Hall at Great Queen Street following the Shropshire Union Canal to Wolverhampton, then the routes through Birmingham, picking up the Grand Union Canal near Solihull and following that into the heart of London, some 230 miles and crossing several masonic Provinces.
The team consisted of 16 riders with a support team of two and given the rough terrain and general riding conditions it was agreed to limit each day to between 40 and 50 miles allowing the challenge to be completed within five or six days. Riders were tasked with raising sponsorship and several Cheshire businesses sponsored the exclusive team shirts produced in order to support logistical costs such as travel, accommodation and food.
A black tie benefit event was also held within the Province which greatly contributed to the costs of the task ahead. To make the most of the fine English weather, the departure date was set for 6th June and the Deputy Provincial Grand Master David Dyson was present to see the team off safely from the Chester start point, and the Provincial Grand Master put a date in his diary to meet the exhausted riders outside the doors of Great Queen Street on the 11th June, what could possibly go wrong? The answer is Storm Miguel – which for three days of the journey tested each and every rider for their tenacity, and for how waterproof their kit truly was.
In the main the team discovered that waterproofs aren’t that effective in the face of a tropical storm, and indeed for two of the riders who managed to fall in to the canal, and are now affectionately referred to as the ‘Cheshire Splash Masters’. Cheshire’s Provincial Office reached out to Provinces that the riders would pass through en route.
Shropshire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire were all kind enough to offer a warm welcome and kind words of encouragement, as well as contributions, a true reflection of communication, commitment and teamwork by Freemasons. It is noteworthy that during the ride, many conversations with members of the public took place, lifting the profile of Freemasonry in general, and additional contributions were made by many of these non-Masons met along the way in support of the rider’s objectives.
A joint effort between the riders and HQ meant the Communications team were able to promote the event on social media platforms, using the dynamic mapping of GPS, daily blogs and great pictures sent by the riders each day.
Followers loved watching the daily progress made by the cyclists. The event organiser, John Miller, was keen to ensure the fundraising aims were kept clearly in the spotlight throughout the event via the online donation link and ‘interviewed’ members of the team at each overnight stay so this could be broadcast. The ride ended with the entire team completing the journey.
The total fundraising was then announced that over £22,000, which this was increased at Quarterly Communications the following day when the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes made a donation to the Cheshire Freemasons Charity of a further £1,000.
‘Suicide is the major cause of death in all people under 35 years of age’. That alarming statistic is one that will probably come as a major shock to many people. It certainly was to the group of West Lancashire Freemasons who were visiting the Warrington headquarters of the charity Papyrus, who have received a grant from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) of £65,342
The MCF has made the grant on behalf of the Province of West Lancashire, but on this occasion the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison was accompanied by his colleague from the neighbouring Province of Cheshire, Stephen Blank.
Papyrus, which was formed in 1997 in Lancashire, has three simple aims: provide confidential help and advice to young people and anyone worried about a young person; help others to prevent young suicide by working with and training professionals; and campaign and influence national policy. They summarise this as: Support, Equip and Influence.
The visitors were welcomed by CEO Ged Flynn, who explained the work that the charity does and also outlined the problems that are being faced nationally, as they try to de-stigmatise suicide and raise awareness of this tragic loss of young people. Ged stressed that the charity has values that it strongly promotes.
He said: 'We believe that many young suicides are preventable, and that no young person should suffer alone with thoughts or feelings of hopelessness. We believe that everyone can play a role in preventing young suicide.'
Stephen Habgood, who is the Chairman of Papyrus, then very movingly related his own story of the loss of his only child, Christopher 26, to suicide in 2009. Sarah Fitchett, a trustee of the charity, also shared her own tragic experience in speaking of the death of her 14-year-old son, Ben by suicide in 2013.
Their openness in speaking so frankly about their emotional experiences was a very moving revelation to the visitors but also cause for admiration, as they explained how they are working to try and prevent others having to experience the same trauma.
The £65,000 grant will enable the charity to engage another advisor to work on their HOPELineUK helpline (0800 068 4141), which is there to provide confidential support and advice to young people struggling with thoughts of suicide, and anyone worried about a young person.
Cheshire Masters’ and Masons’ Forum (MMF) recently ‘took over’ Freemasons Hall in an initiative bringing Freemasons, their families and non-Masonic friends together for a unique gathering in the iconic home of the United Grand Lodge of England
It was June 2017 when Paul Massie, Assistant Provincial Grand Master with responsibility for overseeing the MMF, first approached the Provincial Grand Master Stephen Blank with the idea of inviting Masonic and non-Masonic guests from around the country to take part in a day that would be remembered by all involved. The event would consist of a Masonic Lecture and a Masonic ceremony performed by a team of MMF members from lodges across the Province of Cheshire plus a tour of Freemasons Hall for friends and family during the day – a real family occasion. With the Provincial Grand Master's enthusiastic approval, the date was set for Saturday 18 August 2018.
Invitations were sent to all 1,600 members of the MMF, inviting them to be part of a 22 strong team of light blue masons. From applications received the team was selected, its memberships ranging from one to 10 years, each keen to play their part in this unique opportunity.
The ceremony work was divided up so that all team members could play an active part, the initial challenge being the differences in ritual the members were used to performing. Director of Ceremonies Mike Christian (Preceptor of the 100 of Wirral Emulation Lodge of Instruction, No. 39) was tasked to use his experience to train the members in Emulation Ritual and create a well-rehearsed team fitting of the big occasion.
Whilst the team worked hard to perfect the ceremony, the organising committee were busy building a special website, arranging finances and the logistics necessary to put on such an event so far from Cheshire. Tony Harvey was delighted to be invited to present his 2012 Prestonian Lecture ‘Scouting and Freemasonry: two parallel organisations?’ as part of the day’s events. Harvey, a renowned Scouter and Freemason, had recently attended a meeting of West Cheshire Lodge No. 2977, the newly appointed Scouting Lodge in Cheshire, where he and Massie gave presentations on Scouting and Freemasonry and updated those present regarding the MMF event. Tony adapted his lecture to make it suitable for his Masonic and non-Masonic audience.
By midday on Saturday, guests had arrived from 17 Provinces including the District of South Africa (Western Division) and were escorted through the North doors leading up to the beautiful marbled mezzanine area in front of the main temple. Here they were able to view the temple itself as the doors were open to allow full access. The guests then moved to Lodge Room 10 and Tony Harvey delivered his Lecture and answered questions.
It was then time for the non-masonic guests to enjoy the pre-arranged tour of the Hall, the members remained to watch the delivery of the second degree ceremony – this would be a one off display by the 22 members who had come together and worked so hard for this moment. The ceremony started with the entrance of the Provincial Grand Master to music played by David Roberts-Jones. What followed was an exemplary example of teamwork with the brethren performing a faultless ceremony and tracing board.
The changes of personnel was seamless and a fine example of how ceremonies can be shared. Towards the end, the Provincial Grand Master addressed the meeting, highlighting the aims of the event and his pride at witnessing the excellent ceremony which had been performed by relatively inexperienced Freemasons from his Province. He thanked the organising committee for the work which had been done and Manor Lodge No. 4202 for allowing the ceremony to be conducted under their banner.
This event, sponsored by the Cheshire Masters’ and Masons’ Forum, is the first by any Province where a Provincial Light Blue Masons Club has invited and encouraged members from other Provinces and their New Young Masons Club (NYMC), together with their non-masonic guests, to attend and enjoy a day of social and Masonic activity together.
It is hoped this flagship Freemasons Hall event will encourage similar ones to be held in the future, where both Freemasons and non-masons can meet to enjoy a day of suitably arranged activities, possibly sponsored by different clubs around the country.
In the future, the Cheshire MMF will be hosting a range of events including team competitions amongst its members with questions on Masonic and General Knowledge, various local and provincial social events, Masonic lectures, visits to Lodges both within and outside of the Province of Cheshire and more ceremonies performed by MMF volunteers. The efforts and success of the Masters’ and Masons’ Forum will play an important part in the growth of Freemasonry within Cheshire over the years to come.
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.’
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.
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.
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.’
The University Lodge of Chester No. 4477 and the Association of Medical, University & Legal Lodges (AMULL) have recognised Connor Elliman for his outstanding contribution and commitment to Performing Arts over his three years of study at the University of Chester
Connor was delighted to receive an award for academic and artistic excellence at level 6 and equally pleased to learn that the award is complimented with a cheque to support his progression and help him through his Masters year.
The award was presented by Professor Andrew Thomas, Worshipful Master of the University Lodge of Chester, at the University’s Valedictory Prize-Giving held on 9th June 2018.
Professor Thomas said: 'It was a fabulous evening and Connor is a worthy recipient of the award. During his time at the University he has shown complete dedication to do well and it’s great to see this is paying off.'
Stephen Blank, Provincial Grand Master for the Province of Cheshire, said: 'The AMULL’s Student Prize-Giving programme is a great example of Freemasonry working hard for the wider community, in this case in higher education. I would like to congratulate Connor for his achievements to date and wish him well with his future studies.'
The President of AMULL, David Williamson, said: 'We congratulate Connor on his outstanding achievements and are thrilled that the University Lodge of Chester has awarded him this prize in recognition of this.'
Supported by AMULL, this activity is part of a five year commitment to support excellence in achievement by outstanding individuals.
Enough is Enough
With the misconceptions surrounding the nature of Freemasonry commonplace, one particular news story in 2018 proved the catalyst for a nationwide campaign that would confront these beliefs head on, as Dean Simmons discovers
The doors to Freemasons’ Hall in London may be open to the public, but this hasn’t stopped rumours, myths and conspiracy theories from grabbing the headlines over the decades. However, it was a news story in The Guardian at the beginning of 2018, which was subsequently covered by other national newspapers, accusing the Freemasons of blocking policing reforms, that proved to be a turning point for the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).
Dr David Staples, Chief Executive Officer of UGLE, rejected the claims as laughable in a letter to the newspapers. With the accusations following a well-trodden path of inaccurate and misleading information about Freemasonry, he called for an end to the discrimination against its members, citing the 2001 and 2007 European Court of Human Rights rulings that Freemasonry was not a secret or unlawful organisation.
Reflecting on the decision to respond, David says, ‘It’s something that has been building up over the past 20 years, as we haven’t argued our case or countered the increasingly ridiculous claims of our critics. I think the trouble, as we’ve seen in the past, is that if we don’t answer those critics, the vacuum is then filled by further ludicrous accusations.’
More was to come. In February 2018, The Guardian alleged that two masonic lodges were operating secretly at Westminster. ‘This was on the front page of an award-winning national newspaper and it was complete nonsense,’ David says. ‘Every aspect of that story was deliberately designed to give a false impression of Freemasonry and its influence.’ David again wrote to the newspaper, drawing attention to several inaccuracies, including the fact that the lodges did not operate in Westminster and that their existence is not secret – all of which could have been verified by a quick search on Wikipedia. While the letter led to corrections being made, there was clearly an appetite for these types of stories, and therefore a pressing need for Freemasonry to debunk the myths.
ON THE OFFENSIVE
‘In light of a new approach towards how we manage the media and how we represent ourselves and our members, we needed to go on the offensive – it was a good one to put the gloves on for,’ says David.
Contesting accusations is one thing, putting a stop to them in the first place is another. It was to this end that UGLE responded with a letter from David, titled ‘Enough is Enough’, which ran as a full-page advert in both The Times and Daily Telegraph newspapers. The letter called for an end to the ongoing gross misrepresentation of its 200,000-plus members.
‘We need to open up and talk about what we do; we needn’t be afraid of being both proud of who we are and our membership,’ David says. ‘We are the only organisation that faces repeated calls to publish our membership lists. We are the only organisation linked to a whole host of rumours and conspiracy theories, despite there being no substantial evidence to any of it. It’s important to not allow these myths to perpetuate in the public eye, and take on the critics with the facts.’
In the spirit of transparency, David embarked on a series of interviews with the press. Whether it was laying to rest myths, highlighting community work and charity fundraising or outlining what it means to be a Freemason, no stone was left unturned. ‘I did 24 interviews in one day,’ he recalls. ‘But if you’re portraying yourselves as an open organisation, you need to make yourself available in order to demonstrate that openness.’
With Freemasonry thrust into the spotlight, David believes the ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign provides a strong communication platform going forward. ‘We need to be out there, as we have been for the last few months, taking journalists around our masonic centres, introducing journalists to Freemasons and letting them make their own minds up, according to what they see and what they find.
‘The Open Days being held in our Provinces are also important, as they allow us to engage not just with potential members, but also with our critics,’ continues David. ‘We shouldn’t shy away from that – we won’t convince everybody and we certainly won’t change everybody’s mind, but we want to give a true impression of who we are and what we do, and allow people to make up their own minds. Ultimately, we need to be in the public space for the things we should be known for.’
Opening up, inviting in
Freemasons’ Hall in London may have initially taken centre stage, but Provinces up and down the country have now embraced the campaign. Open evenings and interactive Q&A events have been taking place in masonic halls, inviting members of the public to find out more about Freemasonry and ask any questions.
Demonstrating the effectiveness of the campaign, there has been a rise in membership enquiries as people seek to find out more. Philip Bullock, Wiltshire Provincial Grand Master, says, ‘It’s had an effect in raising our profile, which has had a positive effect on the number of enquiries made to our Provincial office and website. Our Sarsen Club for younger members is also proving extremely popular and is growing in terms of membership and activities.’
‘Enough is Enough’ has been an opportunity to further highlight the ongoing efforts of many Provinces. ‘For the past four years we’ve taken a very proactive approach in making ourselves more visible,’ says Philip. ‘At the end of last year, we acquired a new display trailer that will be out and about appearing at county fairs, shows and marketplaces. This will allow us to expand our visible presence in the community.’
Further north, in West Lancashire, the Province has been busy giving the media guided tours of its masonic halls. ‘The reaction across the Province has been positive,’ says Tony Harrison, West Lancashire Provincial Grand Master, ‘and most agree that it’s about time we answered back.’
Cheshire Provincial Grand Master Stephen Blank, who also faced the cameras in an interview with the BBC, echoes those sentiments: ‘The reaction from my members has been overwhelmingly positive,’ he says. ‘We’ve always been proactive with our open evenings at masonic halls. We’ll continue to publicise these across the county, alongside our charitable and community activities. I think it’s very important that we continue to react swiftly and positively to any future attacks on Freemasonry.’