The United Grand Lodge of England celebrated its epic Tercentenary celebration at the Royal Albert Hall in 2017 – and a DVD to mark the occasion is now available from Freemasons' Hall
Over 4,000 Freemasons from Provinces and Districts were joined by representatives from over 130 sovereign Grand Lodges from around the world to mark 300 years since the founding of the world’s first Grand Lodge for Freemasons.
The audience witnessed a theatrical extravaganza which embraced the rich history and heritage of Freemasonry and featured a cast of renowned actors including Sir Derek Jacobi, Samantha Bond and Sanjeev Bhaskar.
The DVD is free and available to anyone who visits Freemasons’ Hall – please ask for a copy at the front desk of the building. The DVDs were also distributed to Provincial Offices for all UGLE members.
The success of the Classic 300, a nationwide series of classic car runs supporting UGLE’s Tercentenary celebrations in 2017, has given rise to Square Wheels Lodge, No. 9966, consecrated in the British Motor Museum in Warwickshire. Edwin Smith meets the lodge that’s making a lot of noise
You have to be a certain sort of person to have a love for classic cars,’ says Peter Manning, Primus Master of Square Wheels Lodge. ‘And there’s an affinity between classic cars and Freemasonry.’
If the early days of the lodge are anything to go by, he’s not wrong. The lodge was only consecrated a few months ago, but already it has 90 members and a calendar brimming with events.
The genesis of the lodge, Peter explains, can be traced back to the Classic 300 – a series of 17 classic car rallies that took place across the country during the Tercentenary year, under the auspices of what was then the Masonic Classic Vehicle Club. When chairman John Cole chose to retire, the decision was taken to move the club from its base in Reading. ‘We settled on Warwick,’ says founding Secretary, now Senior Warden Peter Hughes, ‘because it’s at the centre of the country, it’s close to a lot of motor production, and it’s got a lovely masonic hall.’
The name of the classic car club was also changed to Square Wheels. It’s not necessary to be a Freemason in order to be a member of the car club but, Peter says, ‘the consensus was that the club could easily give birth to a lodge. We created a petition and David Macey, the Warwickshire Provincial Grand Master, who’s a petrolhead himself, supported it wholeheartedly.’
With the two Peters on the case, along with Lodge Secretary Bernard Foad tinkering under the bonnet, preparations accelerated. The warrant was secured in July last year and the consecration took place in October at the British Motor Museum in Gaydon – a ‘brilliant venue, full of classic cars,’ says Peter Manning. Some 253 people attended, including three Provincial Grand Masters: David Macey was the Consecrating Officer, Mike Wilkes of Hampshire & the Isle of Wight was the Consecrating Senior Warden, and Bob Vaughan of Worcestershire was the Consecrating Junior Warden.
The oil used during the ceremony was, appropriately, ‘Castrol R’ motor oil. ‘I wanted to burn it by putting a few drops in the censer,’ says Peter. ‘You really get the smell when it’s burning, but our Provincial Grand Chaplain suffers from asthma, so it wasn’t a good idea.’
'We'll take our wives and partners with us. They'll have the morning off while we have our meeting and then we'll go for a run around the Cotswolds and head home.’
The lodge has 75 founding members, 20 honorary members and welcomed a further 15 members early this year. It will primarily be based at Alderson House, a handsome Grade-II-listed Georgian building on the High Street in Warwick. Some of the lodge’s meetings in 2019, however, will take place elsewhere.
‘We’ll have four meetings a year,’ says Peter Manning. ‘Two in Warwick and the other two will be peripatetic – we’re taking the lodge to the members around the country.’ On 4 May, the lodge will meet in Bristol. ‘We will be taking wives and partners down with us. They can have the morning off while we have our meeting. After lunch, we will go for a run around the Cotswolds, have afternoon tea, and then head home.’
Another meeting is planned for Burton-on-Trent in July. ‘We want to spread the word around the country,’ says Peter Manning. ‘That’s one of the principal aims: for the lodge to visit its members rather than waiting for them to come to us.
‘I hope it’s going to be an extremely active lodge,’ he adds, ‘both masonically and socially. We want to make sure that partners get involved. At a lot of lodges, I think a problem can be that wives occasionally feel alienated, or at least not a part of it. But, clearly, we don’t want that to be the case.’ To that end, Peter Manning and others have also planned to organise an informal picnic every six weeks at a beauty spot or a National Trust venue.
There’s a need to keep ‘clear water’ between the car club and the lodge itself, but it is hoped that by touring around the country and remaining open to non-Freemasons, the club will fuel the future of the lodge. ‘The idea is to promote Freemasonry to the public through the club,’ he says. ‘We’re hoping it will be a feeder for initiates into the lodge.’
The cars themselves may prove to be a draw as well, with a huge range of vehicles in the club, from legendary marques to cute vintage runabouts. ‘There are some fairly heavy motors in the club,’ says Peter Hughes, but it’s his 1970 Fiat 500 that he describes as his ‘pride and joy’. ‘The biggest problem with my Fiat is keeping it away from my daughters,’ he says. It’s a far cry from the challenges he came up against in his early motoring life. He raced in Formula 3, and even shared a grid with the late, great Ayrton Senna. ‘I emphasise “shared a grid with”,’ he says, laughing. ‘It wasn’t “racing”. He went one way while I seemed to go backwards by comparison.’
Peter Manning is also very keen to emphasise that the club isn’t all about luxury or high-powered sports cars. On the contrary, ‘there’s a huge cross-section of vehicles,’ he says. ‘We’ve got loads of members who have MGBs and Austin 7s and goodness knows what. We’ve also got some beautiful pre-war Bentleys, but the nice thing is that it’s reflective of Freemasonry.’ What does he mean by that? ‘It might sound a bit poetic,’ Peter says, ‘but I mean it in the sense that everybody here has got the same passions: motoring and Freemasonry. It doesn’t really matter what you drive – we all enjoy it for what it is. It’s a great atmosphere we’ve created.’
Looking to the future, Peter Hughes is adamant that Square Wheels Lodge has the pulling power needed for further growth. Some of his back-of-the-envelope calculations based on research carried out by the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs suggest that there might be as many as 10,000 Freemasons who own classic cars. ‘It’s predominantly a hobby for males over the age of 40,’ he says. ‘Which sounds a bit like Freemasonry.’
Other specialist motoring lodges are also beginning to spring up. ‘There’s a new one at the Mini factory in Oxfordshire, as well as Derbyshire, Cheshire and West Wales. I think a lot of Provinces are looking at this.’ He points to the Widows Sons, the association of Freemason motorcyclists, as an example of a community that can be built around a special interest. ‘They are huge on the charity side of things and everybody knows them – they have done very well. I think it’s a pattern we could follow.’
In fact, Peter Hughes sees no reason why there couldn’t be a national Freemasons’ association for classic vehicle enthusiasts. ‘I’d quite like us to take a lead; it would encourage people to visit other Provinces and build ties through meetings and cross-visiting. That’s got to be the next project.’
Seeing the light
The Anthony Wilson Memorial Lecture ‘The Possibility of Light’ is being given by renowned portrait and war artist Arabella Dorman at Freemasons' Hall on 16th May 2019, in aid of the charities Beyond Conflict and Age Unlimited
Tickets are £60 per person, which includes a drinks reception and private curated tour of the photographic exhibition Brothers in Alms.
Arabella will speak about the journey that led her from Iraq and Afghanistan as a war artist, to her work with refugees in Lesvos, Calais, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. The lecture will explore universal themes of childhood, loss, exile and hope as she takes us on her search for light in the darkest corners of existence.
Her work for the United Grand Lodge of England includes a portrait of Anthony Wilson, past President of the Board of General Purposes, and a commission to paint a scene from the 2017 Tercentenary celebrations.
Tickets can be booked by visiting the Age Unlimited website, sending a cheque made out to ‘Age Unlimited’ to 28 Westmoreland Place, London, SW1V 4AE, or by calling 07774 164243.
The Anthony Wilson Memorial Lecture is at 7pm on Thursday 16th May at Freemasons’ Hall, 60 Great Queen Street, London, WC2B 5AZ.
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.
Today is the first anniversary of the United Grand Lodge of England’s epic Tercentenary celebration at the Royal Albert Hall – and to mark the occasion a DVD has been released
Over 4,000 Freemasons from Provinces and Districts were joined by representatives from over 130 sovereign Grand Lodges from around the world for this Especial Meeting to mark 300 years since the founding of the world’s first Grand Lodge for Freemasons.
The event started with the procession of Grand Officers entering the Hall, before the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, took his place in the Queens’s Box, accompanied by the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence and Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton. The audience then witnessed a theatrical extravaganza which embraced the rich history and heritage of Freemasonry and featured a cast of renowned actors including Sir Derek Jacobi, Samantha Bond and Sanjeev Bhaskar.
The DVD is available to all UGLE members and has been distributed to Provincial Offices – please contact them if you have not received your DVD.
The Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, spoke about the historic event, which you can view below.
Following the successful Tercentenary exhibition at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell, Norfolk Freemasons have now opened their own museum
With a lot of hard work and help by the curators from the Norwich Museum Services, a brand new museum has been created. Situated in the centre of the city at their headquarters at 47 St Giles Street, Norwich, it’s easily accessible to members and the public alike.
Its highlights include the Provincial Grand Master’s chair and the Provincial sword with a flame shaped blade and a 17th century portrait of a Freemason wearing a long operative apron in lodge. With new cabinets and lighting installed, visitors can learn about jewels, aprons, rare books, regalia, glassware, pottery and other masonic items mostly associated with Norfolk Freemasonry.
There is also a rolling TV screen with pictures showing recent local masonic events and the work of Freemasons in the community.
Provincial Grand Master Stephen Allen said: 'We hold regular open days, 'Introduction to Freemasonry' evenings and our information trailer attends many and varied events, all with the aim of widening the understanding of Freemasonry's role in the community.
'What we now have is a permanent facility allowing us to showcase informative displays on local and national masonic history, presented through a variety of media, artefacts and collections.'
The museum is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 10am until 2pm.
A Blue Plaque has been unveiled in Treorchy in Wales to commemorate the involvement of Freemasonry in the community
Locla Freemason Phil Hanney was invited to join South Wales Provincial Grand Master Gareth Jones OBE in the task of unveiling the Blue Plaque.
The plaque is now secured proudly on the RAFA Pub in Bute Street for all to see, as a long standing reminder to the community of the fine Masonic heritage and contribution established in the valley.
Cwm Rhondda Lodge No. 9692, which meets at the the RAFA Pub, was established in February 1999 and meets on the third Monday in September and March, and the first Monday in December and June.
Phil Hanney, who is a member of Cwm Rhondda Lodge, said: 'Our Blue Plaque will be a constant reminder to us of our heritage and our future. We are very proud to be a part of our local community and providing charitable assistance where we can.
'We welcome any enquiries from the public and from anyone interested in becoming a Freemason.'
South Wales Freemasons have been celebrating the Tercentenary to mark 300 years since four London Lodges met to establish the world’s first Grand Lodge for Freemasons, and are affixing Blue Plaques to many of its Masonic Halls across South Wales. Early records exist of Freemasonry within the current South Wales region being established in Cardiff & Cowbridge in 1754.
The Provincial Grand Lodge of Middlesex held their first ‘Discover Freemasonry’ open evening at their headquarters in Twickenham on 19th September 2018, giving members of the public a unique insight into Freemasonry
Middlesex decided to attract the attention of potential members using social media, which led to a total of 164 members of the public registering for the event. Simultaneously, it was promoted within the Province, particularly to Secretaries of lodges in Twickenham, which led to another 21 people registering to attend.
The evening was designed to be engaging and inspiring, to present Middlesex’s message in a relevant and appealing way. Attendees were greeted and registered by a group of Provincial Stewards – in their collars. The evening took place in the lodge room and was introduced by Nigel Codron – the Chairman of the Provincial Communications Committee. He welcomed the attendees, shared his journey into Freemasonry, explained how the order is structured in England and Wales and introduced the Leaders.
Omaid Hiwaizi, Provincial Communications Officer, then took on the baton and led an interactive session asking the audience ‘What is Freemasonry?’ – gaining a few interesting responses. The attendees were well-informed, the wild descriptions only being those shared by Omaid as comments which had been made on social media. He then went on to ask if a series of famous historical and current characters were Freemasons – or not. Finally, he shared insights into what happens when a member joins and described the journey – alluding to the metaphor of the rough and smooth ashlars, which he pointed out in the lodge room, much to the interest of the audience.
Then followed seven Master Masons who each briefly described why and how they joined and their initial experiences. Amongst these was Vishakha Jain who is a member of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF), who was particularly inspiring. The broad selection of different voices, backgrounds and stories was particularly engaging and inspiring and attracted loud applause.
Prestonian Lecturer 2019 Michael Karn then delivered a spirited canter through the history of Freemasonry, alluding to the ancient Egyptians, the medieval cathedral builders and concluding on the wonderful Tercentenary event at the Royal Albert Hall last year. It complimented the very real and personal stories which had proceeded. Provincial Membership Officer Nigel Harris-Cooksley also described what those interested needed to do now and what would happen next.
Lastly, the HFAF Grand Master Christine Chapman took to the stage and presented a passionate and inspiring description of Women’s Freemasonry, which again was greeted with wild applause.
The feedback given verbally and through the anonymous forms was universally positive. However, the best feedback was that 18 men filled out enquiry forms on the evening, implying that the content shared very much served its purpose in describing Freemasonry in terms the audience would relate to.
As a result, Middlesex are already planning to hold their next event at Harrow’s masonic centre on 19th November 2018.
A new £250,000 high and low rope activity centre complete with aerial runway – the result of more than two years of fund raising, planning and construction to deliver what will be a major community project for young people across the county – was officially opened by Rodney Bass, Provincial Grand Master for Essex Freemasons, and Stuart Gibson, County Commissioner for Essex Scouts, on Saturday September 15th 2018
The Ropes Course, the first facility of its kind anywhere in the country, is open to both able bodied and wheel chair users and in places, is the height of a four storey building. It's a joint project built for the Essex County Scouts at Skreens Park, Chelmsford, to celebrate 300 years of modern Freemasonry.
The High Ropes and Linear Courses, including the zip wire equipment were funded by a £145,000 donation from Essex Freemasons. Essex Scouts added to this by funding a further £120,000 to build Low Rope and Wheelchair Courses to ensure that access is provided to those of any age, including anyone with mobility issues. This has ensured that the facility will be open to all and also serves to raise awareness in the able bodied community of the issues faced by wheelchair users in everyday life.
For Essex Freemasons, who donated the money to build the runway, it will be a lasting legacy in support of young people who live in the area. It also once again confirms the organisation's ongoing commitment to the community.
'Our 10,000 members across Essex were in full support of funding a project that would be a fitting legacy in celebration of our Tercentenary year,' said Rodney Bass. “In less than 12 months they raised more than £161,000 which we decided to donate to the Scout Movement.
'Essex Scouts told us that they needed funding for a new rope activity centre that could be used by all organisations that use Skreens Park and we agreed. We immediately donated £145,000 to cover the cost of the work and decided that the balance will be used to support local Scouts across county.
'This activity centre is a wonderful facility of which my members can feel proud and one which I hope delivers many hours of challenge and enjoyment for the young people of Essex.'
Essex Scouts is one of the three largest Scout Counties in the Country, with nearly 22,000 members. Each year its adult members contribute over one million voluntary person hours in providing skills for life for young people across the county, which translated into financial terms equates to an injection into the Essex economy of nearly £8 million per annum.
Stuart Gibson, County Commissioner for Essex Scouts, commented: 'Essex Scouts are delighted and grateful to have received this generous donation from Essex Freemasons, which has enabled us to design and build an integrated Ropes Course comprising High Ropes, including a zip wire, Linear, Low Ropes and Wheelchair courses, to ensure that we have a facility that is accessible to as many people as possible. This will truly be a lasting legacy for the young people of the county.
'Skreens Park is a very busy site used by Scouts and Guides from across the country and the rest of the world. In addition, the facility is used by many local schools and other youth organisations. The Ropes courses will be an excellent facility to develop team building and group working whilst also challenging individuals in a safe environment.'
Installation of the High Ropes Courses at Skreens Park is one of dozens of projects across the county involving Essex Freemasons who regularly donate more than £1 million every year to local charities and good causes. More than 300 lodges meet in Essex from 27 different Centres and continue to play an active role in the community – Skreens Park being the latest.
Instrumental in shaping the way that Freemasonry is now run, Anthony Wilson embraced modernisation with a focus on teamwork
Anthony Wilson, a long-time Freemason, died on 14 May this year after a long battle with cancer fought with great dignity. Anthony was born in 1950, educated at Eton, and subsequently qualified as a chartered accountant. One of the first audits he conducted was for the Grand Lodge 250th Anniversary Fund. Some 20 years later he became a Trustee of the charity, which is now known as The Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research.
Initiated into Tuscan Lodge, No. 14, in March 1976, Anthony was appointed Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies in 1997 and served as President of the Committee of General Purposes from 2001 to 2004. He subsequently became President of the Board of General Purposes in March 2004.
Anthony was instrumental in reducing the Board to a more manageable size and making it more effective, efficient and fit for purpose. ‘My background is in chartered accountancy, and I’ve always been interested in business and how you can improve it,’ Anthony told Freemasonry Today 10 years after becoming Board President. ‘Working on the Board was a way of helping the running of Freemasonry that wasn’t purely ceremonial but rather administrative. It’s very much a collegiate affair – we’re a team and I’m very fortunate with the support and counsel I get.’
Promoted to Past Senior Grand Warden in April 2012, Anthony played a prominent role during the Tercentenary celebrations, including unveiling the memorial stones to Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War, through to the Especial meeting of Grand Lodge at the Royal Albert Hall, where he was seated in the Royal Box with the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent.
He retired as President of the Board of General Purposes at the end of 2017. Following his death, the United Grand Lodge of England sent condolences on behalf of all members of Grand Lodge to his widow, Vicky, and family.
Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes paid tribute to Anthony’s work: ‘I don’t often mention individuals in this context, but Anthony Wilson was a very special mason and a very special friend to so many of us. He carried out his duties in a very understated way, but he presided over the Board during a very busy period including, of course, the 300th celebrations.
‘He was an incredibly hard-working and efficient President who managed to carry out his role without falling out with anyone – quite a feat! And all this despite his illness, which was with him for far too many years. But he never, ever complained, and many would not have known how ill he was. He is sorely missed by all who knew him.’
Looking back on why he first became a Freemason, Anthony told Freemasonry Today: ‘Initially, what attracted me was the intrigue of finding out what Freemasonry was about, but once I’d been through the ceremonies, my whole view of it changed. It was relaxed, but there was also a formality – it wasn’t an easy ride. Don’t just expect to get things out of it; put things into it and you’ll get enjoyment. I realised that there was a lot of knowledge, that it was telling you a story linked to your values and that it gelled with what I stood for in life.’