The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) has unveiled a new film capturing behind the scenes footage of a Lodge meeting and interviews with Freemasons, as well as delving into Freemasonry’s unique history and symbolism, including the famous handshake
The film provides unique insight into what happens in a Lodge meeting, who the Freemasons are and what it means to be a Freemason, as well as stunning new footage of Freemasons’ Hall in London.
Dr David Staples, UGLE’s Chief Executive, said: 'We wanted to create a film which not only explains our history, but showcases modern Freemasonry and reflects our status as one of the oldest social and charitable organisations in the world.
'I’m often asked what it’s like to be a Freemason and I hope this video will go some way to answering that question and provide insight into who we are, what we do, our history and our relevance in today’s society.'
The roots of modern Freemasonry lie with the medieval stonemasons that built our castles and cathedrals, yet it is as relevant today as it was hundreds of years ago. In 2017, UGLE celebrated its Tercentenary – 300 years since the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge – with a spectacular event at the Royal Albert Hall.
The new film will also form part of the redesigned public tours of Freemasons’ Hall and the Museum of Freemasonry and will be seen by over 40,000 visitors to the building each year.
You can view the full film alongside a series of short videos here.
The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) is delighted to be taking part in the world’s largest architecture festival Open House London on 21st and 22nd September 2019 at its headquarters Freemasons’ Hall – offering visitors architectural tours, fun family activities and access to the Museum of Freemasonry
Open House London gives free public access to over 800 buildings, walks, talks and tours over one weekend in September each year. The event started 25 years ago with the first Open House London in 1992 and gives free access to London’s best buildings as a way of inspiring the public about the benefits of great design.
Freemasons’ Hall, in Covent Garden, is renowned as one of the finest Art Deco buildings in London still used for its original purpose and will be opening on both days of the event this year from 10am to 5pm.
Some of the many highlights will be Bright Bricks models, with lots of opportunities for children to get creative and design miniatures of their own, and an exciting kids’ trail featuring a make-an-apron station. There will be Freemasons in regalia in the magnificent Grand Temple to answer any questions the public have about Freemasonry, whilst the Masonic Charitable Foundation will have a stand to provide an overview of the support given to communities and deserving causes throughout the country.
The Museum of Freemasonry will be also open, displaying one of the world’s largest collections associated with Freemasonry, including Winston Churchill’s apron and the large throne made for the future King George IV, who was Royal Grand Master from 1790-1813.
Dr David Staples, UGLE’s Chief Executive, said: 'We’re excited once again to be taking part in Open House London this autumn and offering thousands of visitors the opportunity to see the stunning Art Deco interior of our building.
'Freemasons’ Hall is always free to the public, but for this event we are putting on some extra attractions, with Freemasons in regalia to answer all your questions, a Bright Bricks ‘Make and Take’ activity for children and guided tours every 90 minutes, which showcase the architecture and history of the building and will include a newly commissioned 10-minute film.'
You can find out more about what’s on at Freemasons’ Hall during Open House London here.
In honour of all English Freemasons awarded the prestigious Victoria Cross (VC), the United Grand Lodge of England’s (UGLE) Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, unveiled a unique Victoria Cross Remembrance Stone at Freemasons’ Hall on 27th June 2019
The Remembrance Stone was commissioned in 2016 by Granville Angell to commemorate all English Freemasons who were awarded the Victoria Cross. The VC is the highest award for gallantry that can be conferred on a member of the British Armed Forces and since its introduction in 1856, more than 200 Freemasons have been awarded the Victoria Cross – making up an astonishing 14% of all recipients.
The Remembrance Stone was carved by Emily Draper, who was Worcester Cathedral’s first female Stonemason apprentice, having been sponsored by local Freemasons. During the preparation stage of the stone, Emily also found out that her Great Uncle was a Freemason VC recipient.
The event was opened by Dr David Staples, UGLE’s Chief Executive and Grand Secretary, followed by readings from Robert Vaughan, Provincial Grand Master of Worcestershire (My Boy Jack by Rudyard Kipling) and Brigadier Peter Sharpe, President of the Circuit of Service Lodges (The Soldier by Rupert Chawner Brooke).
Over 130 guests were in attendance including serving military personnel, a group of Chelsea Pensioners and Sea Cadets, as well as Sergeant Johnson Beharry, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for saving the lives of his unit – Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment – while serving in Iraq in 2004. Johnson is also a Freemason and a member of Queensman Lodge No. 2694 in London.
Music was provided by Jon Yates from the Royal Marines Association Concert Band, who performed the ‘Last Post’, a minute’s silence and the ‘Reveille’.
This was proceeded by the grand Unveiling and Dedication of the Remembrance Stone by The Duke of Kent, as a fitting tribute to the service and sacrifice of those Freemasons awarded the VC. The Duke of Kent also presented Emily with a stone carving toolset to aid her future projects.
The event was concluded with a speech by Brigadier Willie Shackell CBE, Past Grand Secretary of UGLE and Past President of the Masonic Samaritan Fund.
Dr David Staples, UGLE’s Chief Executive and Grand Secretary, said: “It’s been a huge honour to mark the dedication of this wonderful Victoria Cross Remembrance Stone and another significant milestone in our longstanding history.
“It is even more remarkable in the context that 14% of all recipients of the Victoria Cross have been Freemasons and I can think of no more fitting home than for it to be placed here at Freemasons’ Hall – a memorial to the thousands of English Freemasons who lost their lives during the Great War.”
Victoria Cross Remembrance Stone
27 June 2019
Introduction and welcome, Dr David Staples, UGLE's Chief Executive and Grand Secretary
Your Royal Highness, my Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen, Brethren.
Welcome to Freemasons’ Hall. Each year over 40,000 members of the public visit this building to learn a little more about the values and purpose of Freemasonry, and to marvel at this art deco masterpiece, one of the finest art deco buildings in London still used for its original purpose. It was conceived and built out of great conflict, as a lasting memorial to Peace, and to those thousands of Freemasons who lost their lives in the Great War.
Those Lodges that contributed to the building of this great memorial are carved for posterity into the stones of its very walls, and the scroll of honour, the centrepiece of our building, just there, lists the names of our fallen. A closer look at those names shows that many Lodges held, amongst their memberships, NCOs, enlisted men and officers who would have met, and dined together, revealing something quite revolutionary at that time – that Freemasonry broke down the deeply ingrained barriers of class within British society. Those scholars of Kipling amongst you and those who are familiar with his poem ‘The Mother Lodge’ will recognise the same sentiments expressed within; that irrespective of the prevailing political and social climate, those of all races, classes, of differing religions, creeds and backgrounds have, for centuries, found a welcome within our Lodges. They are spaces where people could forget their differences and celebrate their common humanity with that most basic of human gestures – a handshake. They would be there for each other, through births and deaths, marriages, the good times and the bad as alluded to by the black and white squares of the floor carpet in every lodge room throughout the world. How ironic then that since that Great War, so many more lives have been lost, and so many more battles fought over those things which are seen, not as bringing people together, but as setting them apart.
Within our ritual, every Lodge listed on the walls around us has the right to bestow upon their Master a ‘Hall Stone Jewel’ to be worn during his period in office. I would like to read to you the part of our ritual pertaining to that presentation:
“The Hall Stone Jewel was conferred on this Lodge by the MWGM. Its form is symbolic, for on the side squares are inscribed the dates 1914-1918; four years of supreme sacrifice. In the centre is a winged figure, representing Peace, supporting a temple in memory of those Brethren who made the supreme sacrifice in the cause of King and their country. It should ever provide an inspiration to every Brother to put service before self.”
On this, the eve of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles which consigned to history the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers, we gather here to remember and honour those, our members, who were awarded the Victoria Cross. The Treaty of Versailles serves, as every student of history will tell you, as a potent reminder that our leaders’ best intentions can lead to events never conceived without the benefit of hindsight.
The Victoria Cross is awarded for “most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy”. It may be awarded to a person of any military rank in any service and to civilians under military command. It was introduced on 29 January 1856 by Queen Victoria to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War. Since then, the medal has been awarded 1,358 times. The metal from which the medals are struck is traditionally believed to be derived from Russian cannon captured at the Siege of Sevastopol and latterly from two cannons captured from the Chinese during the first Opium War.
More than 200 Freemasons worldwide have been awarded the Victoria Cross since its creation, making up an astonishing 14% of all recipients and some of their citations may be read in your leaflets.
Freemasonry offers a simple philosophical message to its members – that within each of us is a thoughtful, kind, tolerant and respectful individual. The purpose is not only to promote virtue, but also to promote a thoughtful approach to being virtuous. It is centred around an analogy of building, or creating, and thus by chipping away our rough edges, much as Emily has done to the rough quarried stone to reveal this within; Freemasonry teaches us to chip away at our inadequacies revealing the better person we can be, one more fit to serve those less fortunate than ourselves, those who have fared less well in life than us, and those communities from which we are drawn.
As Herman Hesse said ‘What we can and should change is ourselves: our impatience, our egoism, our sense of injury, our lack of love and forbearance. Every other attempt to change the world, even if it springs from the best intentions, is futile”.
That sounds very dry and serious, but Freemasonry is anything but. We have an enormous amount of fun along the journey, meeting people we would never have otherwise met, making friends the world over, and raising £48m for charity last year and donating and estimated 5 million hours of our time to community voluntary service
It is no wonder that so many servicemen, and women, through their two Grand Lodges, find a parallel between the lives they have led in uniform and the camaraderie, support and friendship they find within lodge.
It is for those men and women, and those still serving, and in recognition of the very high regard that the members of the United Grand Lodge of England have always had for our Armed Forces, that I am delighted to welcome you all to the dedication of this Remembrance Stone. After today’s ceremony it will be carried to its permanent home in the South West staircase of our main ceremonial entrance (just over there), under the watchful gaze of a bronze bust of Bro Sir Winston Churchill, thereby aptly filling a space that has lain empty since this building was first conceived over a century ago. It will serve as a mark of our deep respect and gratitude to those who, for their comrades, their friends, their Regiments and Ships and their country, have put service before self. May we have the courage, in our lives, and in our own little ways, to follow their example.
Seeing the light
Freemasons’ Hall welcomed more than 100 guests for a special event on 16 May, with renowned war artist Arabella Dorman the guest speaker for the Anthony Wilson Memorial Lecture
The event was opened by Dr David Staples, the United Grand Lodge of England’s Grand Secretary and CEO, as he introduced Arabella to the stage and announced the two charities it was in aid of – Beyond Conflict and Age Unlimited.
The lecture was in honour of Anthony Wilson, who served as the President of the Board of General Purposes at UGLE from 2004 to 2017. Anthony’s widow, Vicky, was also in attendance, as well as Peter Lowndes, Pro Grand Master, and Geoffrey Dearing, the current President of the Board of General Purposes.
Dorman opened by paying tribute to the great man that Anthony was and telling the audience what a pleasure it had been to paint his portrait, which was placed at the front of the stage throughout the event. She has also been commissioned to paint a scene from UGLE’s Tercentenary celebrations in 2017, and this will soon be displayed in Freemasons’ Hall.
Dorman gave a vivid and insightful talk, opening with a poem and asking the audience to ‘think about our one life’, as she spoke in detail about her journeys across a number of war-torn countries.
Displayed behind her were images both harrowing and beautiful, including a bombed mosque in Syria, as Dorman argued that the destruction of ancient sites had only added to the tragedy that has befallen that country. The artist also explained how her belief in the idea of permanence was changed by her visit, telling the audience that history can be rebuilt, but that the past is lost to this present.
Dorman said the voices she had heard in Syria were not broken, but full of defiance and longing. This was even more inspiring when she recalled how one woman had told her that she had lost her car and carried on; she had lost her house and carried on; and she’d then lost her family and thought that she couldn’t carry on, but still did.
This was one of many real-life examples Dorman detailed throughout the night, as she shared her hope that even though art couldn’t change the world, it might help people feel a calling to resist corruption and war. In conclusion, she asked that her own work be seen as a salute to the power of peace, courage, faith and hope – as well as a call to reach out to others with compassion.
Freemasons’ Hall – the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) – has received a TripAdvisor® Certificate of Excellence for the fifth year running
Now in its ninth year, the achievement celebrates businesses that are consistently excellent, having earned great traveller reviews on the TripAdvisor website over the past year. As a result of earning a Certificate of Excellence every year for the past five years, Freemasons’ Hall has also qualified for the Certificate of Excellence Hall of Fame.
Freemasons’ Hall is a stunning Grade II listed Art Deco building in the heart of London’s West End and welcomes over 200,000 visitors from across the world every year. The building was originally built as a peace memorial between 1927 and 1933 to honour the 3,000 English Freemasons who fought and died during the First World War.
Dr David Staples, Chief Executive of UGLE, said: ‘This is a wonderful accolade to receive five Certificates of Excellence in a row for Freemasons’ Hall. The architecture and history of the building have made us an iconic landmark and we’re delighted with the many positive comments we’ve received.
‘We’re now busy working hard on a number of projects to enhance the experience for visitors – including taking part in the world’s largest architecture festival Open House this September – and continue to make us a popular tourist destination in London.’
The Certificate of Excellence accounts for the quality, quantity and timeliness of reviews submitted by travellers on TripAdvisor over a 12-month period. To qualify, a business must maintain an overall TripAdvisor bubble rating of at least four out of five, have a minimum number of reviews and must have been listed on TripAdvisor for at least 12 months.
Freemasons’ Hall is open to the public Monday to Saturday and includes free guided tours of the building, which incorporates the Museum of Freemasonry and the magnificent Grand Temple.
Read all the reviews of Freemasons’ Hall on TripAdvisor here.
United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) is delighted to announce that it has been awarded Investors in People accreditation
Investors in People is the Standard for people management and UGLE has been accredited at ‘Developed Level’ until 2021, which is based on a tried and tested framework and a rigorous process of assessment.
Work has gone on throughout the year to implement a number of strategies to improve communication and consistency in the way people are led, managed and developed at UGLE.
In part, accreditation has been awarded as a result of a wholesale restructure at UGLE centred on delivering for its members, alongside new organisational values, appraisal system and pay structure, recognition and reward scheme and improved internal communications.
Dr David Staples, Chief Executive of UGLE, said: ‘When I was appointed Chief Executive last year, I was charged with making UGLE a fit for purpose and efficient central headquarters, and this is a significant milestone towards achieving that overall goal. We have worked hard to create a positive working environment where people enjoy coming to work, driving excellence and enhancing the support we give to our 200,000 members – being awarded this accreditation underpins that commitment.
‘This is an enormous achievement in such a short space of time, and I am rightly proud of all those who have played a part in achieving it.’
Investors in People works with thousands of top businesses across the country. With a community of thousands of organisations across 58 countries, successful accreditation against the Standard is the sign of a great employer, an outperforming place to work and a clear commitment to sustained success.
12 December 2018
A presentation by VW Bro Dr David Staples, Grand Secretary
Brethren, good morning. It is my great pleasure to be speaking to you here today.
As many of you will know, I used to work as a doctor. My clinical job was to work out why people were horizontal and try to get them vertical again. I shall try my hardest over the next 15 minutes or so not to reverse that process.
I left Derby Hospital four years ago to become Clinical Director for Medicine at Peterborough where I managed a whole host of awkward people and there, to my astonishment, I discovered that I rather enjoyed this thing called ‘management’. In fact, I found that I enjoyed it much more than medicine.
People were usually pleased to see me which made a change, and as someone who had always enjoyed solving problems I found that I was deluged with problems. It was not a great leap for me to move into another organisation with problems to solve.
I still practice medicine for half a day a week – it seemed foolish to burn all my clinical bridges in this particular role. The Board and Rulers hired me as Chief Executive with two main outcomes in mind. First, I was to bring the Corporate and Masonic sides of Freemasons’ Hall together – to meld 60 Great Queen Street into a purpose and values driven organisation which services the needs of the United Grand Lodge of England, Supreme Grand Chapter and of course you, our members.
Secondly, I was tasked with helping to formulate, coordinate and ensure the delivery of the United Grand Lodge of England’s strategies for the future as defined by the Rulers and the Board.
To my mind, the most important of these is rapidly becoming to ‘Normalise the perception of Freemasonry in the public consciousness’ – to make it as acceptable to say that one is going to a lodge meeting as it would be to say that one is going shopping, out for a meal, or to the golf course; and to make it a genuine choice for all of our members as to whether they wish to disclose their membership or not – rather than one mandated by the attitudes and prejudices of their colleagues.
Today I would like to try to give you a flavour for some of the challenges UGLE faces along that journey, and some of the things that we are doing to meet them. We are always, however, mindful of the need to respect the independence of individual lodges and Provinces, and only to mandate those things which are absolutely essential to the future of the Craft.
Things are not all rosy. In 1920, Grand Lodge issued around 30,000 Grand Lodge certificates each year. By 2015 this had dropped to 7,000 which equates to less than one new member per lodge per year. 20% of our members resign or never come back prior to receiving their Grand Lodge certificate. 60% of our membership is over 60 years of age. Membership remains one of our greatest challenges.
As an organisation, we are shrinking by 1% a year, although interestingly our districts are growing at 10% per year on average.
Attracting new members and engaging our membership so that they remain members is therefore of paramount importance, but the pool of candidates eligible to join Freemasonry is a fraction of what it was 50 years ago.
We can do little to change whether a person believes in a Supreme Being, or whether they have a criminal record, but UGLE has done a great deal to try to influence the opportunity that eligible members have to join us successfully; this has occurred most visibly through the Membership Pathway which was launched earlier this year – an initiative that seeks to ensure that potential members know what to expect, and to minimise the chances of them leaving.
What used to be ‘invitation only’ is now much more open. Lodges regularly exhibit at universities Freshers’ Fairs and all Provincial websites and the United Grand Lodge of England welcome online membership enquiries. We also seek to influence what is ‘findable’ on Google by engaging with the media. By having sensible stories which reflect what WE want about Freemasonry on the top three pages of a Google search, we are able to significantly alter our public footprint.
Before the Second World War, Freemasons would have been openly known and respected in their communities. Public parades of masons were common place. Masons were often asked to perform ceremonies around the laying of foundation stones for public buildings.
Then, Hitler murdered 200,000 Freemasons on the continent and looked as though he were poised to invade England. Suddenly, it didn’t seem quite such a good idea to be so open about our membership and we collectively retreated into a position of privacy that we have only just, with the Tercentenary celebrations last year, started to retreat from in a coordinated fashion.
The third factor which influences whether we attract new members is the environment – by which I primarily mean the court of public opinion. What do the public think of us? How likely is it that our members are happy to ‘come out’ as Freemasons? How likely or acceptable is it that an organisation or employer decides to discriminate against Freemasons? What is the political climate? What is the religious climate? – All of these issues form the environment from which our members are drawn.
The national press is obsessed with handshakes, trouser legs, nepotism, corruption and with events that may have happened 50 years ago in a then corrupt police force. Not a media interview has gone by over the last year when I have not been asked about one of these issues – yet only 4% of young people under 25 ever read the national press, and only 9% get their news from television. By far the predominant source for news in the under 30s is the internet. We need to ensure our media presence reflects this.
In centuries past, however, Freemasons and Freemasonry was enormously respected. Before the times of professional organisations and trade bodies such as the British Medical Associate, the Bar Association, The Law Society etc., if you wanted to employ the services of someone who wasn’t going to rip you off, a Freemason represented someone who openly ‘met people on the level’ and ‘treated them squarely’. It was the closest one could get at the time to a kite mark of decent and moral professional behaviour, and, for tradesmen, membership was a likely to result in both increased respect and increased business.
Unfortunately, how Freemasonry is explained to us as Entered Apprentices is not necessarily an easy and straightforward concept to grasp. We are told that Freemasonry is a ‘peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols’ . That its system of morality forms of a set of values and principles of conduct. Freemasons are the custodians of a way of behaving which takes good people and makes them better, doing so by acting out ancient myths and encouraging a study of the deeper meaning of symbols, so it is both a philosophical and philanthropic society. One can see how it might prove very difficult for us to explain what Freemasonry is to those who might be curious. And, of course, Freemasonry means many different things to different members.
If we talk about charity, we are no different to hundreds of other organisations who fight for space in a very crowded sector. If we talk about friendship or camaraderie then similarly we do not capture the unique aspects of Freemasonry which set us aside from a club or society.
We will never be able to, nor should we, reinvent ourselves to please the public, but we do need to nuance our message so that it can have the greatest effect on those who we might be able to influence, and what you will see over the next 18 months or so is a coordinated media and communications strategy that starts to deploy these messages. We started this year with ‘Enough is Enough’ and there is a great deal more to come.
We need to find something that communicates the unique nature of Freemasonry in a friendly, accessible fashion, and in a way which makes us an attractive use of our potential members’ precious time. So how do we achieve, in the minds of the public, a favourable opinion preconceived of the institution? We must define ourselves clearly and positively to the outside world. We must regain control of our own narrative, we need to promulgate the timeless principles of brotherly love and self-improvement. We need to inspire people to lead better lives and be a values driven, professional organisation.
So Communications and Membership are two of my top priorities as mandated by the Board, the Rulers and the various committees and groups that have a care for Freemasonry.
These priorities are clearly reflected in the restructuring of the United Grand Lodge of England communications apparatus, and by the creation of a new Membership Services Department, which will encompass a new department for the Districts which, in the past, have not perhaps received the attention that they deserve; the Chancellery which manages foreign masonic affairs and also all of your enquiries should you want to visit a lodge abroad as well as the membership and registration functions.
When I came to UGLE, the headquarters had been split along masonic and non-masonic lines, and it was fair to say that there was a degree of civil war existing between the two. What I found was a headquarters crying out for modernisation. I am pleased to say that following considerable effort by all the staff over the last year, UGLE has just been awarded Investors in People Accreditation – something that will help dispel our reputation as operating from a secret volcano base somewhere off the West Coast of Sumatra.
Bringing about change within UGLE is not a simple task. I have entitled my talk 'Risk Takers, Caretakers and Undertakers' which broadly explains the mindsets which govern all of us here today in some part. Some aspects of the organisation need curating – they are precious to us and to our members and should be preserved as part of our responsibility as the de facto caretakers of a three-hundred-year-old institution, other parts need to be allowed to run their course and die, for an organisation which never renews itself is unlikely to survive. We see this often in the lives of individual lodges, which come together to serve a need for their members, but as times change, or that need changes, some lodges pass away whilst others invigorate themselves and thrive. In order to thrive, we need to be prepared perhaps to take risks and to change in order to remain, or perhaps regain a relevance in the modern world. If we aren’t prepared to do this, we become undertakers and bury something enormously precious to us all.
Another key priority for us at UGLE is to modernise the processes by which the organisation is administered. This year, we will have performed 24 Installations of Provincial and District Rulers all of those, coordinated from this building. We are recognised the world over for our pre-eminent ceremonial. It is my intention to ensure that this excellence shows itself in all that we do. We have moved the Masonic Year Book and the Directory of Lodges and Chapters to living online documents, and now have a thriving members’ area on our website. For the first time, some of you will have booked your place here today online and made payment for the lunch that follows electronically – something you will no doubt have been doing in other areas of life for well over a decade.
Astonishingly this change will save over 1,800 man hours of work each year. Those of you who are Secretaries will be pleased to hear that we are aiming to ensure that Installation Returns are pre-printed, meaning that you will never again have to write out the names and numbers of all your past masters – something which has been done and remained unchanged for over 175 years.
But that is just the start. The Book of Constitutions lays out guidance on how a modern membership organisation should be run, but the problem is that its current iteration was written in the nineteenth century.
Imagine now an organisation where the Lodge Secretary could access the central database of their members’ information and keep it updated. Why should secretaries have to write clearance certificates when we already know who is paid up and who is in arrears? Why not just run a real time Masonic credit check when you want to join a new lodge? Why are forms needed in order to get a Grand Lodge certificate, when we already know all the information on those forms?
To start to modernise these internal processes is an enormous piece of work, but I know it will bring real benefits to our members and those who administer lodges and Provinces.
And these changes will alter the experiences of the everyday mason too. Can you imagine a system that sends links to articles that explains the ceremony of initiation to an initiate the day after he is brought in? Or a system that sends information about the Royal Arch to a newly made Master Mason? What about a system that flags to the Lodge Almoner when a member has missed three meetings in a row – a strongly correlated marker for poor engagement and retention. In this way we can start to influence how we engage our membership at a whole new level with that peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
The Craft has an old, established teaching system, which uses role-playing, memory work and public speaking to enshrine its principles in the hearts of Masons. These techniques have evolved over many centuries and even more generations of Brethren, to pass on our traditions to benefit our members by making them better people, at peace with themselves and with the society in which they live.
We have recently launched ‘SOLOMON’, an online learning resource covering the three degrees and the Royal Arch which you are able to register for, access and read as you progress through your masonic journey. It has over 350 articles, graded for the correct degree which augment these established teaching methods within the Craft and make each candidate’s journey through Masonry a much more fulfilling experience.
So, Brethren, there is a huge amount going on in your organisation, and that is not counting the numerous happenings at Provincial and individual lodge level. UGLE is building an efficient and effective organisation. An organisation which provides a structure able to support and engage our members, attract new people to the Craft and Royal Arch, normalize Freemasonry in the public consciousness and stand up for our members whenever they are unfairly discriminated against or collectively attacked.
The United Grand Lodge of England is here to act as a custodian of the values and traditions of Freemasonry which inspire people to Lead Better Lives for the benefit of society, valuing Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. We should be a straightforward organisation that is supportive, self-confident, welcoming, member focused, friendly and fun because that is an organisation that good men will want to join and even better men will want to remain members of. It is the duty of all of us to make this an organisation we are proud to be a part of.
From the Grand Secretary
The Grand Secretary’s column is, of course, also the Chief Executive’s column and I would like to give you a feel for what we have been implementing over the past year, and our hopes for the future. As Chief Executive, one of the reasons I was hired was to oversee the modernisation of the organisation in terms of its administration. The Chief Executive and the 90 or so staff at 60 Great Queen Street are responsible for the 180,000 members in England and Wales and some 20,000 members in our Districts overseas, for the upkeep and commercial realisation of the headquarters – a Grade 2* art deco masterpiece – and for supporting the committees which give direction and strategy to the membership organisation.
Some of the most important changes will not be obvious to you but will help build an organisation capable of delivering the will of the Rulers and the Board and Committee of General Purposes in a manner which serves and supports you, the members. There have been changes in roles and staff as is inevitable with any change management process, but we are moving, at pace, towards becoming a more transparent headquarters whose purpose is understood and appreciated.
Investors in People has advised us on some of these changes as we transform the way we do things, and we have just learnt that we have been awarded Investors in People accreditation. We are at the tail end of a wholesale restructure to ensure that ‘delivering for our members’ is at the heart of everything we do. The Directory of Lodges and Chapters and Masonic Year Book are now living online documents, and you may now book in, and pay for Quarterly Communications and Supreme Grand Chapter online (saving 1,800 man hours for the Secretariat a year). We have also increased the commercial hire of our wonderful building by 30 per cent year on year, without affecting our masonic hires, thereby offsetting the costs we have to pass on to you. New video conferencing suites enable members up and down the country to participate in the decisions being made here in London and we are training more people than ever before – from Provincial Grand Masters to Media Ambassadors, Provincial Grand Secretaries to Almoners and Communications Officers.
From January we will have a Member Services Department incorporating Registration, the Chancellery, and a Department for the Districts to support the Provinces and Districts as well as delivering our renewed focus on attracting new members and engaging our current membership. A new communications structure will focus on getting the positive messages of Freemasonry known, and ensuring the Court of Public Opinion is firmly on our side. Imagine an organisation ‘normalised’ in the public consciousness. Where going to a lodge meeting was regarded in the same manner as going out for a meal, going to watch the rugby or going to the cinema.
Imagine an organisation where writing the same details on different forms every step of your masonic journey was a thing of the past; where clearance Certificates could be obtained at the click of a button; where you could update your personal details in a few seconds and where candidates received information on the ceremonies they had just been through the following morning. Imagine lodges being visible in the community – volunteering to help with what matters to them – and being regarded as an outward expression of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth; where lodge secretaries didn’t spend hours on installation returns, and where Grand Lodge certificates were dispatched with the merest twitch of Bro Secretary’s index finger. These are some of the things the Executive and staff, the various committees, working groups and volunteers are looking at realising over the coming 18 months as we seek to improve how we administer your organisation.
These changes are not, of course, about altering our character or our essence. They are not about changing our rituals or outlook, or imposing faddish political correctness or unnecessary change for change’s sake. The United Grand Lodge of England will always be here to act as a custodian of the values and traditions of Freemasonry that inspire men to lead better lives for the benefit of society. We are here to curate those areas that are precious to us while promoting a straightforward organisation that is supportive, self-confident, welcoming, member focused, friendly and fun, because that is an organisation so many people would want to join, and would never dream of leaving.
Dr David Staples
‘Imagine an organisation where going to a lodge meeting was regarded by the public in the same manner as going out for a meal, going to watch the rugby or going to the cinema’
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.