Celebrating 300 years

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.’

Published in UGLE

West Lancashire Freemasons have donated two new BMW 'blood bikes' to charity North West Blood Bikes

The donation was in response to an appeal by North West Blood Bikes for help in replacing their ageing fleet of motorbikes, which led to two new bikes being purchased and equipped by the Freemasons at a cost of £40,000.

The Provincial Grand Master of West Lancashire Tony Harrison, along with two of his Assistant Provincial Grand Masters Kevin Poynton and David Winder, and Steve Kayne, the CEO of the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, formally handed over two new liveried BMW R1200RT-P motorbikes to the North West Blood Bikes team.

North West Blood Bikes Fleet Manager Simon Hanson said: 'Since my appointment I have been working with Honda, BMW and multiple charities and local businesses to replace the fleet of 12 liveried motorbikes, as they had mostly done over 80,000 miles and in some cases were over eight years old.

'This very generous donation by the Freemasons in West Lancashire completes my renewal plan and they, along with the other new motorbikes, will greatly reduce the number of breakdowns we have been having with our old fleet. It will also increase our ability to support the NHS out of normal hours (7pm to 2am) in the week and 24/7 at weekends.'

The motorbikes have been built to a specification that is, effectively, the same as that for police vehicles. The only difference is the blood bikes are fitted with a special carrying rack to transport medical items and the police blue paintwork is replaced with orange.

In officially handing over the two vehicles, Tony Harrison said: 'I am delighted to be able to present these motorbikes on behalf of the Freemasons in West Lancashire to North West Blood Bikes, as they will help them in the vital role they play in supporting the NHS in their work.'

On average, North West Blood Bikes respond to over 1,000 calls a month, which their 350 volunteers action using their own motorbikes and cars, and the liveried motorbikes. The 12 liveried motorbikes are used for calls that involve motorway journeys and long distances, as well as during rush hour and moving urgent blood samples and other lifesaving items.

The Province of West Lancashire was anxious to ensure that it celebrated the Tercentenary in style and with that in mind, two gala dinners took place within a few weeks of each other

At the main event, held at the Hilton Hotel, Blackpool, over 400 brethren and their partners gathered to attend the Provincial Tercentenary Gala Dinner. The evening began with the entrance of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison and his wife Maureen, who were accompanied by the principal guest, Assistant Grand Master Sir David Hugh Wootton. Also joining them was the chairman of the West Lancashire Tercentenary committee, Assistant Provincial Grand Master Tony Bent and his wife Lynda.

Following the dinner, the entertainment began in dramatic style when a waiter dropped a large tray of cutlery, apparently accidentally on to the dance floor. This got everyone’s attention but rather than a mishap, this was the start of a performance in which several theatrical ‘waiters’ performed a set of popular operatic arias to the delight of the audience.

As the customary toasts were made, Tony Harrison proposed the toast to the ‘Premier Grand Lodge’ on the occasion of its Tercentenary and then, following a brief synopsis of Sir David’s professional and Masonic career, offered a toast to the Assistant Grand Master. To further mark Sir David’s visit, Tony presented him with a cheque for £5,000 from the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity to pass on to the Lifelites charity, of which he is a patron.

He was also presented with a ‘Rail Atlas of Great Britain and Ireland’ and a special bottle of Martell Cognac which commemorated the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Martell Distillery. Sir David thanked Tony for his kind words and very generous gifts.

The evening’s raffle, which raised £1,920 in favour of the West Lancashire 2021 Masonic Charitable Foundation Festival, saw the lucky winners claiming a variety of prizes, including a coach holiday in the UK, flying lessons and a widescreen television.

At another event, held earlier in the north of the Province, over 200 Masons and their partners gathered at the Cumbria Grand Hotel to celebrate what was billed as ‘A Spectacular Banquet and Ball’, organised jointly by the Furness and Lancaster Masonic Groups. Once again, the revellers were joined by Tony and Maureen Harrison at a wonderful event that combined great food, marvellous entertainment and a spectacular firework finale.

Speeches were kept to a minimum with the emphasis firmly on having a relaxed and fun filled evening. The speech and double toast given by Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Grainger was so uncharacteristically short that it earned him rapturous applause!

Everyone pronounced both evenings to be a great success and a fitting way to celebrate such a memorable Masonic milestone in true West Lancashire style.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017 14:53

A celebration of 300 years in Widnes

To celebrate 300 years since the formation of the first Grand Lodge in June 1717, the Widnes Group of Lodges and Chapters held a church service in the magnificent St Luke’s Church – a Grade II listed building which dates back to the 12th century

As this was a special occasion, the Provincial Grand Master of West Lancashire Tony Harrison had granted a dispensation to allow the wearing of regalia, which added a lot of colour to the occasion. Tony also supported the occasion by attending with his wife Maureen, along with Assistant Provincial Grand Master Kevin Poynton and his wife Sue, Widnes Group Chairman Neil Pedder and his wife Liz, Widnes Group Vice Chairman John Gibbon and his wife Yvonne along with other officials and committee members of the Widnes Group.

Wider support for the occasion was given by neighbouring groups including Warrington Group Chairman Andy Barton, Woolton Group Chairman Andy Whittle and St Helens Group Vice Chairman Graham Williams along with members of their groups.

The service was conducted throughout by the Provincial Grand Chaplain Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst and commenced with the Provincial Grand Master processing into the church accompanied by the Provincial Team. This was followed by a very warm welcoming address to all attendees by Kevin Poynton who then mentioned that as part of the Halton Heritage Week at Widnes Masonic Hall and to continue the Tercentenary celebrations, the Hall will open to the public for viewing, with pop-up exhibitions, guided tours around the lodge rooms and explanations as to what Freemasonry is about.

Following Kevin’s address, the congregation then sang the first hymn of the service, ‘Praise, my soul, the King of heaven’. All the music throughout the service was provided by the Provincial Grand Organist Stephen Derringer, who in the words of Yvonne Horabin the church treasurer: 'brought our magnificent newly restored organ to life'.

There was then a Bidding Prayer from Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst which was followed by Tony Harrison giving a brief view of Freemasonry in the community.

Tony added that in 2015, the four main London charities donated £14,249,547 to charitable causes and their own West Lancashire Freemasons’ charity donates monies in the region of £500,000 per annum to deserving cases and causes throughout their Province. In conclusion Tony said: 'Brethren, as we celebrate the Tercentenary of Grand Lodge, there is a temptation merely to look back upon our history; however, this 300th anniversary, coinciding as it does with the start of our own 2021 Festival, affords us a glorious opportunity not only to show the world what we stand for and believe in, but also to look to the future, to continue the tradition of caring for those in need and to face the challenges of the future with that vigour, enthusiasm and commitment, which have ever been the defining characteristics of our Order.'

The offertory collection raised the grand sum of £367.57, with all proceeds going to St Luke’s Church. Prayers of thanksgiving were then given by Neil Pedder and then Rev Godfrey Hirst led the congregation in saying the Lord’s Prayer and a commitment to future endeavour.

The final hymn of the service was then sung, ‘I vow to thee. My country, all earthly things above’. After the Blessing by Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst, the National Anthem was sung and then Tony Harrison and the Provincial Team processed out.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017 00:00

West Lancashire deliver a knockout for charity

The lodges of the Furness and South Lakeland area in West Lancashire have come together to organise a fundraising boxing and dinner evening for the past 31 years

Held each January at the Cumbria Grand Hotel, Grange-over-Sands, with the support of Kendal Amateur Boxing Club, the event is always a sellout. This year, £9,500 was raised, bringing the total over the event’s lifetime to more than £190,000.

With the money distributed equally between masonic and local, non-masonic charities, the emphasis is on helping less well-known good causes that are often overlooked.

At a presentation evening at Barrow-in-Furness Masonic Hall, attended by Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison, £4,800 was presented to 11 recipients representing local, non-masonic charitable organisations.

Thursday, 22 June 2017 16:00

Sun shines on the Morecambe Bay walkers

The beneficiary of this years sponsored ‘Cross Bay Walk’ was, not surprisingly, the West Lancashire MCF 2021 Festival

What was surprising though, was that the event was blessed with one of those very rare gifts that is sometimes granted by the fickle British climate, a hot summers day! West Lancashire Freemasons, partners, family members, friends and an assortment of four legged, tail wagging companions assembled on the promenade at Arnside in preparation for the ‘crossing of the sands’.

The Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison was there to ‘wave the walkers off on their way’, being unable to join them himself due to another charity event commitment later in the day. However, the group were not destined to be without top level Masonic leadership, as the PrGM for the Province of Cumberland and Westmorland Norman Thompson was accompanying the group, along with many brethren from his own area. Providing the essential guidance on this perilous trek was the man who undoubtedly understands the quixotic nature of the sands of Morecambe Bay better than anyone - Cedric Robinson MBE is the official ‘Queen’s Guide to the Sands’, a post which he has held since 1963.

He is the 25th guide, the first was appointed in 1548 and the guide is paid a nominal salary but the holder of the post also has the use of the 700-year-old Guide’s Cottage at Kents Bank, which is owned by the Crown and managed by the Duchy of Lancaster. In the period between late spring and early autumn, many groups, sometimes up to 500 in number are guided at weekends by Cedric and his assistants across this ancient thoroughfare which was used in medieval times by the monks of Furness Abbey.

Almost all the groups undertaking these ‘passages’ are motivated by raising sponsorship for their efforts to benefit charitable causes. It was in the company of walkers supporting other diverse charities that the Masonic contingent left the promenade at Arnside to complete the initial stage of their journey along the coastal footpath to a point just past New Barns Bay where they were met by Cedric and his team.

From this point, many experienced ‘sand grown un’s’ will tell you that the objective, Kents Bank railway station on the far shore, looks deceptively close. However, wiser council will relate that you now have a steady two to three-hour trudge to endure as you ‘zigzag’ your way across the literally shifting sands and wade sometimes in waist high water through the estuary of the River Kent.

The vagaries of the quicksand pools, migrating channels and rapid and variable tide courses in Morecambe Bay are the very dangerous elements that make the guidance and knowledge of Cedric and his team such an essential ingredient for any group or individual venturing into this environment. Having safely navigated this challenging ‘marine Sahara’ of the Lancashire – Cumbria border under the relentless glare of the burning noonday sun, it was with a mixture of relief and sense of achievement that the walkers crossed the last few yards over the muddy saltmarshes at Kents Bank before they were able to seek rest and refreshment at the Abbot Hall Hotel.

It was here, in the shade and tranquillity of the hotel grounds that the weary but elated pilgrims were enabled to reflect on a memorable and safe passage of the sands and compare blisters. Phil Preston, Provincial Grand Charity Steward for the Province of West Lancashire, paid tribute to all who had taken part in the fund-raising endeavour and expressed particular thanks to John Wrennall who had organised and coordinated the event. The total raised will be announced a little later, once all the sponsorship money has been collected.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017 12:00

West Lancashire celebrates 300 years

Once again heavy rain did not deter the hundreds of attendees who packed into St Elphin’s Church, Warrington, to attend the second Provincial service of thanksgiving to celebrate 300 years since the formation of the first Grand Lodge in the world at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in St Paul’s Churchyard on 24 June 1717

St Elphin’s is the Parish Church for the town of Warrington, a place of worship has been present on the site of St Elphins Church since about 650AD, and the presence of a priest in Warrington was recorded in the Domesday Book. According to tradition the first church was built by Saint Oswald for his companion Elphin, who remained as the first priest there until his death in 679. The earliest fabric in the present church is in the chancel and the crypt, which survive from the church built in 1354 by Sir William Boteler. The church was badly damaged by the Parliamentary forces in the Civil War. Following this the tower was rebuilt in 1696 and the nave in 1770. The south aisle was added in the early 19th century. Most of the fabric of the present church is the result of an extensive restoration between 1859 and 1867 by Frederick and Horace Francis. It was during this restoration that the spire was added.

The Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison and his wife Maureen were joined by the Deputy Provincial Grand Master Philip Gunning and Assistant Provincial Grand Masters, Tony Bent, Mark Dimelow, Harry Cox, David Winder, John Hutton, Derek Parkinson, Kevin Poynton and Robert Wright, many of whom were accompanied by their ladies.

A broad range of Masons from grand officers to entered apprentices took part in the service that was a combination of celebration and thanks. The clergy processed into the church preceded by Mark Barton and Malcolm Bell both of whom are Provincial Deputy Grand Directors of Ceremonies, followed by the both Provincial wardens, the Assistant Provincial Grand Masters and the Provincial Grand Master who was preceded by the Provincial Grand Sword Bearer and followed the the Provincial Grand Standard Bearers. The processional hymn of ‘Praise my Soul the King of Heaven’ was sung with overwhelming gusto and provided a rousing start to the service.

The congregation were welcomed very warmly by the Lay Reader Lee Marsh who said how pleased he was to see so many Brethren and their families attending that service of thanksgiving.

Following the bidding prayer, the choir sang Psalm 150 which was followed by a reading from ‘Chronicles’ by Richard Clatworthy, a Fellowcraft which detailed the prayer by Solomon at the building of the Temple. Another inspiring and uplifting hymn, to the familiar tune of ‘Cwm Rhondda’ followed with the congregation rising superbly to the task in rendering, ‘Guide me O’ thou Great Redeemer’ with a passion that would have brought a tear to the eye of many a Welshman.

The second reading from ‘Luke’, concerning the story of the ‘Good Samaritan’ was given by Clive Smith, an Entered Apprentice. This reading was to be reflected on in greater detail during the Oration.

Tony Bent, who has been responsible for the organisation and promotion of the Tercentenary celebrations within the Province, then gave an inspiring and thought provoking presentation on the work of Freemasonry within the community.  He highlighted the ‘quiet and unassuming manner’ in which Freemasonry operated as a force for good and charitable works, reflecting that we had been, in the past perhaps ‘too quiet and self-effacing’ about our work. He further suggested that Masons were not just generous in their donations of financial assistance but were repeatedly as philanthropic in the gift of their time.

In his concluding remarks, he reminded the congregation that Freemasonry had always and should continue to be acutely aware of its roots in the local community and the role it can and should play in supporting that communal foundation. He ended by suggesting that although it was tempting and indeed understandable that we could reflect with pride on the past 300 years, it was equally important that we looked to the future and renewed our commitment to maintaining and promulgating the principles of Freemasonry.

Following a further appropriate and inspiring hymn led by the choir, the Provincial Grand Chaplain Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst ascended the pulpit to deliver his oration. Taking as the core of his text, both the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ and the very human need to ever be seeking ‘truth’, Godfrey delivered a resounding and uplifting homily in his inimitable and poignant style. He used many examples which highlighted the ‘principles and tenets’ of Freemasonry and reminded everyone that although the ‘Volume of the Sacred Law, would guide us to all truth’, we as ‘children of our Creator’ had a responsibility to ‘be diligent in determining fact from fake’ and implored that, ‘may the search for truth be the focus of our further endeavours’.

During the offertory, which was made to the benefit of St Elphin’s Church, Masonic stewards assisted and the congregation sang ‘For all the Saints, who from their labour’s rest’. This was followed by prayers of thanksgiving, led by Godfrey, and culminating with the singing of that quintessential celebratory hymn ‘Jerusalem’ accompanied by further stirring and profoundly moving accompaniment from Steven Derringer PrGOrg.

In a final act of avowal and reaffirmation, Godfrey invited all Freemasons to stand and join him in a pledge of ‘Dedication to future endeavour’ which they all exceeded to in response to each enquiry of ‘Will you?’ with the resounding reply of, ‘We will, the Most High being our helper’.

Very appropriately the final hymn of the service was ‘Now the evening’s shadows closing’ followed by ‘The National Anthem’, prior to the recession led by the Provincial team followed by the clergy.

Speaking after the service, Tony Harrison expressed his gratitude and thanks to the magnificent support shown by the brethren and their families: 'It has been a wonderful and historic occasion and I am really grateful to the brethren for their support this afternoon.' He also acknowledged the time and efforts employed in organising such a successful celebration that had been undertaken by Tony Bent and his team.

At a very special evening, over 80 members and guests of St Paul’s Lodge No. 5459 assembled in the McCausland Suite at Widnes Masonic Hall where they were honoured by the presence of the Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton at the initiation ceremony of Christopher (Chris) George Farley

Also present was Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison, Deputy Provincial Grand Master Philip Gunning and Assistant Provincial Grand Masters Kevin Poynton and Robert Wright.

The lodge was opened by the WM David Berrington and the usual administration undertaken. A ballot was then taken to admit the candidate, Mr Chris Fairley into Freemasonry, the ballot proved favourable to the candidate. The secretary and treasurer confirmed that the candidate had paid his dues and signed the necessary declaration.

There was then a report and the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies Keith Kemp entered the lodge to announce that the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison stood without and demanded admission. David said that he and the brethren would be pleased to receive him.

Tony processed into the lodge accompanied by Philip Gunning, Kevin Poynton, Robert Wright, Neil Pedder (Widnes Group Chairman) and other acting Provincial grand officers. David warmly welcomed Tony to the lodge and offered him the gavel of the lodge trusting that he would have an enjoyable evening. Tony returned the gavel thanking David for the warm welcome and was looking forward to the ceremony and the festive board.

DC Joe Stanners retired from the lodge and on his return, he announced that the Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton stood without and demanded admission. The WM said he and the brethren would be extremely pleased to receive him. Sir David processed into the lodge led by AGDC Barry McCormack with Ian Grindley and David Clews acting as Provincial deacons. Sir David was accompanied by grand officers Alan Locke, David Redhead, Derek Williams, Sam Robinson, Dennis Rudd and Andy Whittle.

David Berrington gave a very warm welcome to Sir David and thanked him for accepting his invitation. He was offered the gavel of the lodge which he returned saying that he would prefer to see the ceremony done the ‘Widnes way’.

At the appropriate time, Mr Chris Farley was admitted in due form and regularly initiated into Freemasonry by the WM David Berrington in an exemplary manner. Chris was guided on his journey through the ceremony by the junior deacon Ian Morris assisted by the senior deacon George Yarwood. David directed Chris to the senior warden Les Williams who gave a fine explanation of the working tools of the first degree. Excellent musical accompaniment throughout the ceremony was provided by the Provincial Grand Organist Stephen Derringer.

Following the explanation of the working tools, Chris retired from the lodge and on his return the charge after initiation was delivered by David Clews in a manner any thespian would have been proud of and gained him loud acclamation.

Sir David rose to congratulate the WM and the officers who participated in what was a memorable ceremony. He made special mention of David Clews, saying that he had never heard a better rendition of the charge of initiation. 

The lodge was closed in due form by the WM and the brethren processed out of the lodge and assembled in the Alan Locke Suite for a superb festive board supplied by the hall catering staff Sugar and Spice.

After receiving the principal guest Sir David Wootton and other distinguished guest to the festive board the brethren sat to enjoy a three course meal of fish cakes with seasonal salad, chicken breast in white wine and mushroom sauce and homemade sherry trifle accompanied with wine and followed by tea or coffee.

Once the brethren had been wined and dined they stood to sing the national anthem and raised their glasses to the Queen. Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison proposed the toast to the Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton thanking him for his attendance and making it a very special evening for St Paul’s Lodge and specially the candidate Chris.

Sir David responded to the toast to his health by again congratulated the WM David Berrington for an excellent ceremony and that he had now experienced the ‘Widnes way’, he would ensure that when he returned to Grand Lodge he would pass on that experience. He was pleased to see that Widnes Group was embracing the Tercentenary celebrations and was impressed by the plaque which had been commissioned for the event.

David Berrington, who proposed Chris into Freemasonry, proposed the toast to the initiate Chris and welcomed him as a member of St Paul’s Lodge. David said that by the way he had conducted himself in the ceremony he had no doubt he would make it as a Mason. He informed the brethren that Chris had two or three friends who wish to join, which is good news for the lodge and Widnes masonry in general. Chris responded by thanking everybody for making it a night to remember.

Provincial Senior Grand Warden John Lee responded to the toast to the guest with humour and sincerity. He complimented the WM on a faultless ceremony and also the senior warden Les Williams for the explanation of the working tools. John also agreed with the AGM Sir David that the charge by David Clews to the initiate was outstanding.

Unfortunately, the time came for the principal guests to retire, at which the AGM Sir David Wootton was presented with a bottle of whisky and the PrGM Tony Harrison presented with a bouquet of flowers for his wife Maureen. It was a delightful and memorable evening which was enjoyed by all present.

Tuesday, 07 June 2016 01:00

Community support on the streets

At the vanguard

When Ezra McGowan started handing out crisis packs to the homeless from a burger van, he knew he had found his calling. Imogen Beecroft discovers how it complements his Freemasonry

At 10pm on a cold February evening, a biting wind is rattling the windows of Ezra McGowan’s house. But while most of us would keep warm inside on a night like this, Ezra zips up his fleece and heads out to work. 

By day, Ezra runs a waste disposal company, but he spends his free time handing out food and other necessities to homeless people in London, Peterborough and Manchester. 

Ezra, who is a member of Hand and Heart Lodge, No. 4109, started The Forget Me Not Trust two years ago with his brother Nathan because, ‘We were seeing homeless people everywhere we went in these major cities. We realised this was an epidemic problem, so we thought we should try to do something about it. We’ve been blessed in our own way with business, so we’re in a fortunate position and wanted to give something back.’

The brothers acquired an old burger van, pitched up in Manchester city centre, and started giving out food and hot drinks to the local homeless population. Ezra and Nathan are both self-employed, which gives them a certain degree of flexibility with their working hours. However, Ezra explains, ‘If we finish work at 3pm, then we’ll go out for a few hours, but usually we like to go out late in the evening. Those are the hours when we’re really needed.’

Ezra is modest about what they can provide. ‘It’s not à la carte. We try to serve food that we can make go a long way – soup, coffee, tea, biscuits, sandwiches. If we can, we serve hot food, but it’s really about how far we can make it go.’ A meal or hot drink isn’t the only necessity on the menu, however. To those in particularly desperate circumstances, the brothers also provide vital crisis packs, which contain hats, gloves, socks, toothpaste, a toothbrush, toilet paper and sanitary products for women. 

‘We’ve been blessed in business, so we’re in a fortunate position and wanted to give something back.’ Ezra McGowan

Nowhere to turn

The Forget Me Not Trust mainly operates in Manchester, where Ezra lives, and Peterborough, where he owns property, but the brothers also travel down to London for weekends when they’ve raised enough money to do so. 

In London the van pitches up at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, just a stone’s throw from Freemasons’ Hall. 

Revisiting the same areas means Ezra has a few regulars who he gets to know over time, and he’s even met some people who have masonic connections in their families. 

He stresses that the homeless people he meets come from all walks of life. ‘Some people have been very successful businessmen and have just fallen on hard times. Maybe they’ve missed mortgage payments and things have got on top of them so they’ve been reduced to homelessness. It could be anyone. It could happen to each and every one of us.’

Just last month Ezra met a boy from Ireland who was living on the streets of Manchester with his dog. When Ezra spoke to him, the boy explained that he’d had an argument with his parents and, with no money and nowhere to turn, ended up homeless. 

‘We gave him some hot food and a crisis pack, but he had no one to turn to. I’m not an angel; I fell out with my parents as a child, but we always had family members I could have turned to,’ explains Ezra. ‘Some of the people we work with have no family at all. Others might have mental health problems, which makes it so much harder to get help.’ 

Luckily, he says, some people do get rehoused, but all too often these stories don’t have happy endings. ‘A few months ago a man was killed. He was beaten up by some youths because he was homeless and they burned him to death. The people we try to help are often neglected, abused and forgotten. That’s how we chose the name for the charity: we wanted to show them that they haven’t been forgotten by everyone.’

Ezra finds it particularly difficult when he encounters young women living on the street. ‘While the homeless population is mainly male, there are usually about three or four women for every 25 men coming to us for help. Women on the street are in a very vulnerable position and it’s heartbreaking to see. I have daughters myself and I’d like to think that if anything like this ever happened to them, there would be someone looking out for them.’

Ezra sees his work with the homeless as his calling, explaining: ‘Some people are blessed to be doctors or psychiatrists. My brother and I haven’t been able to do that, but we’ve always been hard workers and can help people by offering them food and support. We’re everyday lads, not multimillionaires, but this is what we were meant to do. It’s very satisfying and is a breath of fresh air.’

While helping people in this way is undoubtedly rewarding, it isn’t an easy ride. He says: ‘We do get some abuse, particularly on a Friday or Saturday night, when it’s busy in town. Some people call us “do-gooders” and “churchgoers” or swear at us. It’s not all rosy on the street.’

Despite these challenges, Ezra estimates that they can help 60-70 people every night. However, providing everyday essentials, food and drinks to this many people is a costly business, and he can only do so much of it on his own. 

Initially, Ezra and Nathan funded the project themselves, buying supplies in bulk from wholesalers. When it started to grow in scale and ambition, however, Ezra turned to his lodge for extra support. 

Tony Harrison, the Provincial Grand Master for West Lancashire, emphasises that the ideals behind The Forget Me Not Trust coincide wholly with those of Freemasonry. ‘Ezra told me of the work they do to support these individuals in need by providing warm food and clothing. This is a wonderful example of members of our fraternity working in the community to support others less fortunate than themselves.’

‘We’re everyday lads, not multimillionaires, but this is what we were meant to do.’ Ezra McGowan

Spreading the word

Since reaching out to other Freemasons, the response has been excellent. ‘The feedback we’re getting from brethren has been fantastic,’ says Ezra. ‘Hand on Heart Lodge has been wonderful – the brethren have given donations and arranged a raffle to raise money for The Forget Me Not Trust. I don’t think anything like this has really been heard of in Freemasonry before and now other lodges have started donating, which is great.’

In return, Ezra proudly displays the square and compasses wherever he can. He explains that he’d been a mason for 15 years when he had an accident and was offered help through the fraternity. ‘It was a wonderful, unexpected thing to have people knocking on your door offering to help you. I thought it would be nice to give something back, so now we try to promote Freemasonry in the community.’

Ezra is hoping to increase his fellow masons’ involvement with the charity, and has big plans for the future. ‘We’ve started small, but once we’ve got everything running perfectly in Manchester we’d like to branch out to other major cities. It’s our ambition to reach a point where we can advise other Provinces how best to run these events. Ultimately, we’d like to have one event a week run by Freemasons in every major city in the UK.’

Ezra enjoys engaging people in lively discussions about Freemasonry and challenging their existing preconceptions about the fraternity. ‘Lots of members of the public come over and talk to us when they see the badge displayed. Sometimes they might have a negative impression of Freemasonry, but we’re finding that we can open their eyes and change their perspective. Often we have people saying, “Oh, that’s fantastic – I never knew that about Freemasonry.” ’

Find out more about the charity’s work and how to lend your support at www.theforgetmenottrust.org.uk 

Milestone for Warrington Museum

The Warrington Museum of Freemasonry has come a long way since it was formally established under a Trust Deed in January 2014, with the trustees receiving confirmation that the museum had been accepted as a registered incorporated charity in January 2016.

Kevin Poynton, West Lancashire APGM, presented the certificate to the trustees. Museum curator Vic Charlesworth said that achieving charitable status underpinned the museum’s mission to provide a varied and high-quality heritage experience for all members of the community.

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