The grand total - vastly exceeding the initial £1.5 million target - was announced at a dinner at Ascot Racecourse to mark the end of the 2011 Festival. The event was attended by 520 guests, including Assistant Grand Master David Williamson and Festival President Michael Hooton. The RMBI is immensely grateful for the support of the Festival, which will enable it to continue and develop its important work.
As Letchworth marks its one-hundredth year, John Hamill reports on the centenary of a very special lodge
On 28 March 2011 in Lodge Room No. 10 at Freemasons’ Hall in London, almost 150 brethren gathered for an emergency meeting. Nothing unusual in that – until you look at the signature book and discover that those present included the Pro, Deputy and Assistant Grand Masters, the Metropolitan Grand Master for London, the President and Deputy President of the Board of General Purposes, the Grand Chaplain, Grand Secretary, Grand Director of Ceremonies, Presidents of the Grand Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund, and other senior brethren.
What, you might wonder, other than a Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge, would bring such illustrious company together in one tyled meeting? The reason is a joyous one – to take part in the centenary celebrations of Letchworth Lodge, No. 3505. But why such eminent brethren for a Hertfordshire lodge? The answer, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is all in a name. The ‘Letchworth’ after which the lodge was called is not the delightful Hertfordshire town, but Sir Edward Letchworth who was Grand Secretary from 1892 to 1917. As for why the celebrations were in London, when the membership of the lodge was formed in 1911, it was restricted to the permanent clerks in the Grand Secretary’s Office. And even today is limited to those employed in the capital’s masonic headquarters.
Although a Secretary to the Grand Lodge was appointed in 1723 (becoming Grand Secretary in 1734) and the premier Grand Lodge had a permanent building in Great Queen Street from 1775, it was not until 1838 that the Grand Secretary’s Office came into being. From the of the two Grand Lodges in 1813 until 1838, the Grand Secretaryship was a joint office shared by William White, who had held the same office in the premier Grand Lodge, and Edward Harper, who had been Deputy Grand Secretary of the Antients.
In 1838, Harper ‘retired’ and White was asked to take on the role of Grand Secretary. He agreed but on one condition: that Grand Lodge employed two full-time clerks to assist with paperwork. As a result of the expansion in members and lodges in the Victorian period, by the time Letchworth became Grand Secretary in 1892 the office had grown to seven clerks. As they had to be Master Masons it was suggested they should have a lodge. There was one problem: nine was the minimum number of petitioners and there were only seven clerks.
By 1911, there had been an expansion of the Craft and clerk numbers grew to 15. They approached Letchworth to petition for a lodge, and the consecration took place on 28 March 1911. Sir Edward himself was the Consecrating Officer, assisted by the President of the Board of General Purposes, the President of the Board of Benevolence (now the Grand Charity), the Grand Chaplain and Grand Director of Ceremonies and the Chairman of the Board’s Officers and Clerks Committee.
Sir Edward stated that the lodge’s purpose was ‘to meld the clerks into greater harmony’. It would also assist Grand Lodge by bringing into Freemasonry suitable candidates that might become clerks in the office; and get brethren through the Chair in a reasonable time for additional duties. The latter was important, as many lodges had more than 100 members and it could take 15 or more years to reach the Chair.
The lodge’s first year was a busy one with two candidates and three installations. The Master designate had been installed at the consecration and at the July and November meetings two of the senior clerks were installed. In 1913, the lodge began a practice that was to continue until the 1970s – that of initiating as serving brethren members of the portering and maintenance staff of the Hall. They were to assist the Grand Tyler by laying up the lodge rooms and acting as Assistant Tylers whenever Grand Lodge met.
The First World War halted progress of the lodge and office, as half the staff were on active service. Only one did not return, Ponsonby Cox, and another, Guy Mercer, was awarded the Military Cross. Those too old for military service kept the lodge and office going. To help in the office, the rule requiring clerks to be Master Masons was put into abeyance and three lady clerks and two ‘lady typewriters’ were taken on. The latter, Miss Haigh and Miss Winter, proved far from temporary, spending the rest of their working lives as private secretaries to Grand and Deputy Grand Secretaries.
The huge increase in the Craft four years after the war, and the plan to rebuild Freemasons’ Hall as a permanent war memorial, led to an increase in office size. Between 1925 and 1927, five boy clerks were taken on as ‘temporary’ staff ; each of them eventually becoming members of the lodge. There were similar problems during the Second World War, when again the rule on clerks being Master Masons was set aside and women were taken on. They proved so popular and useful that in 1949 the rule (No. 33 in the current Book of Constitutions) was put into abeyance. The lodge had difficulties meeting and reduced its wartime gatherings to two per year. The only ceremonial work was the annual installation of the Master.
The immediate post-war years saw an enormous growth in the Craft. This led to expansion of the office and an increase in the membership of the lodge. Much of the work was in making serving brethren, as the portering and maintenance staff had also grown, and many took on additional work as Tylers for lodges meeting at Freemasons’ Hall.
By the late 1960s, however, things were slowing down and doubts were expressed about the future of Letchworth Lodge. Membership had been limited to Permanent Clerks, but in 1977, Grand Secretary James Stubbs was approached about opening the lodge to the full office, to which he agreed. In the early 1980s, under Grand Secretary Michael Higham, the lodge was opened to the whole of the male staff at Freemasons’ Hall and the staff of other masonic headquarters in London. This has resulted in a vibrant lodge with a steady stream of candidates. The changes have also brought the staff of the various masonic offices in London closer together. Sir Edward Letchworth’s hopes at the consecration can truly be said to have been achieved.
As the Grand Secretary’s lodge, Letchworth has had great support from Sir Edward and his successors. Sir Philip Colville Smith became an honorary member when he became Grand Secretary in 1917. (Sir) Sydney White joined the lodge when he was appointed Chief Clerk in 1918, was its Master in 1920, and was a regular attendee even after election as an Honorary Member when he became Grand Secretary in 1937. (Sir) James Stubbs was elected an Honorary Member when he was appointed Assistant Grand Secretary in 1948, while Michael Higham became a joining member when appointed Deputy Grand Secretary in 1978, and is still active. Nigel Brown joined when he was appointed Grand Secretary in 2007 and members are delighted to have him as their Centenary Master. He was thrilled to have been installed by Michael Higham.
Being involved in central masonic administration, the members of the lodge were only too aware of the privilege extended to them to have the Pro Grand Master present the Centenary Warrant. The happy occasion was followed by a reception and banquet in the Grand Temple vestibules.
Burlington Lodge, No. 3975, hosted a momentous event at Bridlington in the Province of Yorkshire North & East Ridings in November, when Past Deputy Grand Master Iain Ross Bryce celebrated his 50 years as a mason. Joining him for the event were Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence, Assistant Grand Master David Williamson and Past Pro Grand Master Lord Northampton.
This was followed by the Installation meeting of Lancaster Lodge, No. 9413, in the evening and a festive board enjoyed by about 70 brethren. The lodges in Portugal had all been consecrated within the District of Gibraltar 20 years ago, and a strong contingent, led by District Grand Master Alfred Ryan, was in attendance, as was the Grand Inspector of the Grande Loja Regular de Portugal (Legal).
The following evening, at a meeting of Lancaster Chapter, Robert Levitt was confi rmed as Grand Inspector of the Group of Chapters in Portugal.
English masons in Portugal have three lodges: Prince Henry the Navigator Lodge, No. 9360, Lodge of Discoveries, No. 9409, in the Algarve and Lancaster Lodge, No. 9413, in Estoril, as well as a roving lodge, Britannia Masters Lodge, No. 9575, which has one meeting a year in each of the homes of the three other lodges.
The first three lodges each have a Royal Arch Chapter attached to them. Estoril Lodge is nearly 350km away from the Algarve, so visiting is no easy matter. However, all lodges and chapters extend a very warm welcome to any brethren visiting from England or any other constitutions recognised by UGLE.
Lancaster Lodge recently passed and raised a brother from the Grand Lodge of Texas, on instruction from UGLE, via the usual channels, and he is to join the lodge. Scottish and German masons have also been recent visitors. Anyone interested in visiting any of the lodges or chapters in Portugal should check details on the Group website: www.freemasonryinportugal.com
1972 Initiated, Barnard Lodge, No. 5100
1980 Master, Barnard Lodge, No. 5100
1987 PProvDGDC (Warks)
1990 Founding Secretary, Prince Henry the Navigator Lodge, No. 9360
1992 PDistGSuptWks (Gib)
1993 Joined Lancaster Lodge, No. 9413
1993 First Exaltee, Prince Henry the Navigator Chapter, No. 9360
1995 Founder, Britannia Master Lodge, No. 9575
1996 Master, Lancaster Lodge, No. 9413, and 2008 & 2009
1996 Overseas Grand Rank
2000 First Principal, Prince Henry the Navigator Chapter, No. 9360
2002 Founder, Lancaster Chapter, No. 9413
2003 Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies
2004 & 2005 First Principal, Lancaster Chapter
2005 Master, Britannia Masters Lodge, No. 9575
2007 Perfected, Bayard Chapter, No. 70, Rose Croix
Ostrea Lodge No. 8209 has become the designated lodge for the Masonic University Scheme in the Province of Essex in a ceremony held in the presence of the Assistant Grand Master David Williamson, Provincial Grand Master John Webb and regional co-ordinator for the scheme, Dr Richard Lewin.
Ostrea Lodge is the 37th lodge to become part of the scheme and experience in other areas showed that membership was gained from students, whether graduate, undergraduate or postgraduate. The Alumni Society at Essex University was showing interest in the scheme and two possible applications had been received through the provincial website. The scheme itself would have a website in the near future.
Provincial Grand Master John Webb said that other local lodges could assist with the scheme in due course and long term it might become possible to form a university lodge. The lodge was reminded that, under the scheme, members under the age of 25 paid only half the Grand Lodge and Charity dues.
David Williamson, Assistant Grand Master, discusses Freemasonry with Michael Baigent
Our new Assistant Grand Master, RW Bro. David Williamson, cares deeply about Freemasonry and one of his major tasks is to help plan its role in 21st century society: it cannot simply roll into the future without change. But that change must emerge from Freemasonry itself, for many of the challenges facing the Craft today derive from within: the lack of commitment, for example, demonstrated by many modern masons. It is important, he believes, for Freemasonry to be so revitalised in the future that it again plays a significant part in every mason’s life.
But how might this sense of value be instilled? Especially in those who, through apathy or dissatisfaction, are drifting away? David Williamson mentioned a phrase used by his predecessor, Lord Northampton, that aptly addressed the solution, "to bring back the enchantment of Freemasonry". An enchantment which masons felt when they first entered but which some have since allowed fade. He urges masons "to revisit the feelings they had at their initiation" in order to rekindle that sense of mystery and commitment which will draw masonry’s moral and spiritual precepts into their lives.
He is keen that all Freemasons should benefit from the wisdom in the rituals but explains that this demands positive action. "We must look at what the words in our rituals mean." While he is aware that not every Freemason is going to have the same level of appreciation, all need to be encouraged to seek meaning. And what of those who enter seeking the spiritual aspects of Freemasonry? And who get disenchanted with the rather rigid system they find? It is true, he regretted, that "there is an over-emphasis on the letter of the ritual, rather than the spirit."
I asked whether he remembered his own initiation? He clearly did, and it still meant a lot to him. It was in 1972; his mother had just died. At the time, his father was Junior Warden of Andover Combined Services Lodge. It was a difficult period and they often spent time together. On one occasion his father began discussing Freemasonry: he explained that he had been asked to accept the office of Master but he was apprehensive about accepting such an advance.
As the conversation progressed David Williamson became so intrigued about Freemasonry that he asked his father, "would I like it?" With the result that his father, "went into the Chair a year early and initiated me." He remembers being blindfolded, he remembers entering the lodge, and he remembers that the first voice he heard was his father’s. The evening proved a very moving experience, particularly so, he recalls, when, in a voice highly charged with emotion, his father called him, "Brother, and son…".
At the time David Williamson was flying VC10 aircraft for BOAC. This was a demanding career requiring a complicated personal schedule. I alluded to the difficulties which many modern Freemasons have with the separate demands on their time of career, family, and Freemasonry. He understood: as a long-haul pilot, he had to confront that problem right from the beginning. His response was to re-organise his life in order to accommodate Freemasonry, which, once he took office in his lodge, meant being present fourteen times a year. But he felt that regular attendance was important. All Freemasons, he believes, should take the commitments they have made seriously; all should demonstrate their "fidelity to the lodge."
Following his initiation he entered the Royal Arch in Sir Francis Burdett Chapter in Middlesex; he also joined the Mark, Royal Ark Mariner and Rose Croix degrees. From 1995 to 1998 he served as Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies for Middlesex, when he was appointed a Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies: his recent promotion took him by surprise.
The Assistant Grand Master
The post of Assistant Grand Master was created in 1937 specifically to look after London, which now has 1600 lodges and 55,000 Freemasons. At present, this primary role remains David Williamson’s main focus. Lord Northampton changed the face of London Freemasonry by setting up an executive structure, London Management, which looks after the day to day running of London masonry thus allowing the Assistant Grand Master more time to focus upon its future development, a vital task in this time of internal reflection and change. He chairs an important committee which is looking into all aspects of the future of London Freemasonry: its recommendations are to be presented to the Board of General Purposes next year. This is a task of immense responsibility for its findings will affect London Freemasonry for the century to come.
Among the Assistant Grand Master’s other major tasks is to undertake some of the Rulers’ official visits in England, Wales and overseas. While there are only three rulers of the Craft, there are 47 provinces in England and Wales, and 33 districts overseas, for which they have responsibility. In addition there are fraternal visits to the other Grand Lodges with whom United Grand Lodge of England maintains a cordial relationship. He recently returned from the 220th annual meeting of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York, the first representative of the United Grand Lodge of England to do so for some twenty years. "The United Grand Lodge of England is the Mother Grand Lodge of the world," he explains, and "we should be playing our part in world Freemasonry as well as learning from other jurisdictions."
Masonry in the 21st Century
"We have to aim at being accepted in the community. We must start this from within Freemasonry; we must change the manner in which we involve our families." He is grateful to his wife, Margaret, who has always supported his masonic activities while pursuing her own full-time career in education, latterly as a secondary headteacher and school inspector.
He considers that Freemasonry must modify its orientation as a strictly male association, because in the modern world, with its changes in social behaviour, this is no longer possible. Our wives, sons and daughters, and our non-masonic friends, need to be more involved. We must try to get them interested and demonstrate that we are not a "bunch of old fogeys".
He is impressed by the support given by American freemasonry to women’s organisations such as the Order of the Eastern Star, and youth organisations, such as the Order of DeMolay for boys and the Order of Job’s Daughters for girls and thinks that there could be a case for building bridges between such organisations and English Freemasonry.
Of course, he points out, Freemasonry can only change as fast as those inside and outside allow. But, "we must be imaginative – look at ways of positive change. Many of our practices are becoming seen as obstacles to young people who might otherwise join. We must look at our lodge working and see if it can be improved: the time of the meeting, the length of speeches, the type of festive board, and even dress." Freemasons must also address some basic questions: can they afford the time for masonry? Can they afford to spend their family money on a purely male pursuit?
David Williamson is determined to seek those changes which might be necessary for Freemasonry to remain relevant and to flourish throughout the 21st century and beyond. Changes which render it fit for modern life but which continue to draw upon the tradition of wisdom, morality and charity which has characterised Freemasonry through the centuries.
Planting an idea: how Staffordshire masons planted a special garden at the National Memorial Arboretum is outlined by Peter Atkins
The simple, yet symbolic Masonic Garden at the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas in Staffordshire is a permanent memorial to all brethren who gave their lives for peace and freedom.
Masonic involvement in the Arboretum started when Staffordshire’s former Information Officer, Roger Manning, realised the significance of Freemasonry supporting the concept and talked to members of his Lodge, St John’s of Lichfield No. 1039.
The Masonic Garden was adopted by the Lodge, which made the initial financial contribution and introduced the concept to the leaders in the Province. The then Assistant Provincial Grand Master, Thomas D C Lloyd, now Provincial Grand Master, committed his support and it was soon adopted.
By early 2002 sufficient money had been contributed by Lodges across the Province for a substantial plot to be bought. The site was dedicated in June that year, during Freemasonry in the Community week.
The Assistant Grand Master, David Williamson, assisted by the then Provincial Grand Master, Kevin Chawner, cut and turned the first sod in the presence of some 400 Freemasons, their families and friends together with local civic leaders and the Lord Lieutenant of the County.
Six months later a yew tree hedge was planted around the plot. Sadly it did not survive, and a second planting took place the following winter.
Around £20,000 has been spent so far and Staffordshire Masons gratefully acknowledge the contributions from the neighbouring Provinces of Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire and Cheshire.
More funding is needed to complete the garden which, in plans drawn up by retired architect and Deputy Provincial Grand Master John E Griffiths, includes a stone arch at the entrance.
Bro Griffiths, explaining his thoughts on the design, said: “It is a very open and exposed site and I wanted the ashlars to be protected as if they were in a forest glade, enclosed by a hedge, with one entrance.
When the hedge is fully grown, and we have the arch in place at the entrance, it will beckon people, draw them in, to see what I call the pearl within.”
The costs of the garden have been kept down by the contribution of Eddie Ford, a builder by trade from nearby Burton and a truly operative Mason, who laid the chequered paving and supervised the positioning of the two ashlars, each weighing three and half tons.
Bro Lloyd was on hand to welcome the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, when he made a detour to see the garden during an official engagement at another area of the Arboretum last October.
Peter Atkins is Information Officer for the Province of Staffordshire
National Memorial Arboretum
The National Memorial Arboretum was conceived by the founder director, David Childs, after visiting the USA and seeing the Arlington Cemetery and the National Arboretum in Washington DC. He thought the concepts could be merged into a meaningful living tribute in the UK, which would acknowledge the sacrifice made by the whole nation so that people could live in peace and freedom. Today, it pays tribute to those who died in war and also reminds people of the 80 million lives lost in conflicts in the 20th and 21st centuries. Warwickshire Royal Air Force Lodge No. 9456 created Masonic history when they held the first Lodge meeting at the National Memorial Arboretum on November 1, last year (2006). More than 40 members spent the day at the Arboretum, which began with a visit to the Masonic Garden and included a Lodge meeting in the Visitor Centre during which the Master, W Bro Paul Brennan, initiated his son Gary Stephen. The day ended with a Festive Board provided by catering staff at the Arboretum. The National Memorial Arboretum is open every day, except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, from 10am. Admission is free, and a visit is highly recommended.
A scheme to encourage undergraduates into Freemasonry is outlined by Oliver Lodge
It is said that young men have no interest in Freemasonry, that such formality is alien to youth and that the minimum age for initiation is ‘the full age of 21 years’. The trouble with generalisations such as these is that, generally, they are misleading.
We need to challenge the mantra; if we don’t, we are ignoring our own history and missing an important opportunity.
My hypothesis is that young men come in all shapes and sizes and that, perhaps surprisingly, large numbers are indeed interested in Freemasonry.
Those Masons lucky enough to have come across either Apollo University Lodge or Isaac Newton University Lodge will know very well that these two hugely successful Lodges attract substantial numbers of initiates every year from undergraduates at their two great universities. Both Apollo at Oxford and Isaac Newton at Cambridge have, in their own very different ways, proved to the Masonic world that young men can and do make exceptional Freemasons, producing many of the leaders of the English Craft today. And there is nothing hypothetical about that.
Likewise, age itself is not a barrier. Provincial Grand Masters have the authority to dispense with the traditional minimum age for initiation, as they have been doing for many years. This is no longer the rarity that it once was, and may well one day beg the question of the need for the continued existence of the regulation.
That may make clear why the Assistant Grand Master, David Williamson, has set up the Universities Scheme. That, and the fact that at present less than 800 of the many thousands of English Masons are under 25.
We live in a time of an aging population, but in the Craft our population is aging faster than most.
While one might be tempted to suppose that this arises because we Masons live life to the full and survive well, in reality it has rather more to do with our reluctance to make Freemasonry properly accessible to those who have not yet established their professional careers. The Universities Scheme is about to change all that.
In essence, the scheme is setting out to enable specified Lodges to appeal to undergraduates. More formally, the scheme’s objective is 'To establish and/or enhance arrangements and opportunities for undergraduates and other university members to join and enjoy freemasonry.'
To this end, the AGM has established a group of Masons, well below average age, but with vast experience of university Masonry, to promote the scheme. With the enthusiastic support of the Provinces in question, as well as the members of the scheme group, he has visited Lodges in Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, Oxford and Sheffield to invite them to participate in the scheme.
He also plans to visit Manchester in the autumn. Each of these visits has resulted in a Lodge devoted to becoming or firmly remaining open to undergraduates from that city’s university. In some cases that is a commitment amounting to a very real challenge for the Lodge in question.
It would, however, be a mistake to give the impression that Apollo and Isaac Newton are the only undergraduate Lodges in the country. At Durham, the Universities Lodge has been actively welcoming undergraduates to its fold over recent years. Likewise, St Vincent Lodge in Bristol and, to varying degrees, in other universities too. On all of this, the scheme intends to build.
Who can doubt that momentum is a wonderful thing? Apollo has been fortunate to have existed for nearly 200 years (indeed, there existed, even in the 18th century, a University Lodge in Oxford). Blessed with critical mass, established undergraduate Lodges just free-wheel, picking up initiates effortlessly as they go. Or so it seems.
In fact, while they may appear on the surface to glide like swans, they achieve it by paddling like fury under the surface.
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that their existing undergraduate membership exerts a gravitational pull, reinforcing their daily efforts to ensure a healthy future. For those setting out on this path for the first time, the biggest hurdle is the first one. How are the first few undergraduates to be found?
A typical initiation path is that a chum will suggest that Masonry might interest the individual; he will be introduced early-on to other young members; he will meet the secretary and be given a fairly frank outline of what he can expect and what is expected of him. Very few do not proceed to initiation.
In seeking to answer that question more broadly, each participating Lodge is setting up a committee to determine its own unique approach. If that looks like successive wheel re-inventions, it is not quite so. The function of the scheme group is to provide to participating Lodges the benefit of the group’s collective experience and ideas.
But, more importantly, it is fundamental that each Lodge should resolve the question in the way that suits its own circumstances and customs. The AGM’s scheme has no intention of seeking to create clones across the country; rather the focus is that the objective should be achieved in a range of different ways, further enriching the diversity of Freemasonry and fully respecting the individuality of each Lodge.
Let me nevertheless offer a little of the thinking of the group. Recent experience has shown that a fair proportion of young initiates first made contact with Freemasonry through the internet. To some that will come as quite a surprise; others will have known or guessed that it was so.
But the conclusion must be that a website is a valuable thing. University Lodges must be prepared to be fairly public affairs; they must advertise without shame, to freshmen each year, using opportunities to promote Masonry in general. University Lodges should support undergraduate charities and ensure that such benevolence is known to the public. Another, probably unsurprising, feature of successful experience is the opportunity for undergraduates to meet the Lodge either over drinks or dinner, in order to acquire an impression of the people and, even more importantly, of Freemasonry itself.
The avoidance of un-undergraduatefriendly features is also significant. Careful consideration has to be given to costs, to dates and times, to early involvement of new joiners and many similar details of the Lodge’s administration.
In addition to all of this activity within the university Lodges, a valuable contribution to this theme is the recent pair of reductions in dues agreed by Grand Lodge, both for its own levy and for that of the Grand Charity.
All costs for undergraduates and other young men are magnified in their significance, whether they be subscriptions, dining fees or the price of regalia. With initiative and determination, ways can be found to ameliorate the burden.
It is also to be hoped that the profile of the scheme itself will result in an enhancement to the usual paternal or family-based encouragement. Where such suggestion might typically have awaited the initiate’s 30th birthday, it might now instead relate to establishing contact with the Lodge of an undergraduate’s university, ten years earlier.
Although the focus of the scheme is squarely on universities, everyone involved is very well aware of the relevance of it to young men outside university life. To them, Freemasonry should extend a similar welcome whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. Universities may represent merely the start to the process of Masonic involvement of a materially wider age-group.
There is no doubt that the scheme represents a project that will take many years to achieve its full potential. The challenge will be to continue to innovate, to continue to drive the programme in the face of occasional set-back and disappointment.
But with momentum, the scheme will deliver.
Oliver Lodge is chairman of The Universities Scheme Group