Here to serve

From continuing modernisation to clearer communication, Grand Secretary Dr David Staples reveals some of the major improvements being made to the United Grand Lodge of England

You spoke in the Winter 2018 issue about the ongoing modernisation of UGLE. What improvements were made in 2018?

The biggest change has been bringing together masonic and commercial staff at Freemasons’ Hall, which started with the Board’s appointment of a CEO. This meant that for the first time in a number of years a single person would be in charge of and responsible for delivering for the organisation as a whole. 

Staff have taken part in a number of workshops to understand what we stand for and why; what our values are as the ‘headquarters’ – a distinct organisation separate from UGLE or Supreme Grand Chapter. They have agreed a set of organisational values and goals which have resulted in the introduction of new appraisal processes, mandatory training, pay scales and benefits. Alongside this, regular communication with our staff through ‘Town Hall’ and departmental meetings has ensured people know what is going on and how this fits in to the bigger picture, all of which will help us attract and retain the best possible staff. A restructuring of the organisation and of the various business functions held within the building has allowed me to establish clear lines of accountability and allowed the new directors to facilitate change and improvement in their respective areas. This work has resulted in us being awarded Investors in People accreditation – a ‘kitemark’ not only of excellent people management, but also of normality for how a professional organisation is expected to run.

All of this may sound like management speak, but what it means in reality is that we have ensured the ‘Centre’ is up to the task of both serving our members and representing them effectively in the modern world.

In addition to these changes affecting staff, there have been many other smaller projects aimed at improving how professional we are, and enhancing what we can do and how we deliver. These have touched virtually every aspect of our operations. For example, an archiving project has examined the kilometres of shelving and paperwork stored in Freemasons’ Hall and helped us to develop a document retention policy. Clearing shelving from the main office has allowed us to consider exciting new options for the space that has been created. 

A web-based booking and payment system has gone live for those attending Supreme Grand Chapter and Quarterly Communications, drastically reducing the number of cheques we need to process and bringing us in line with the modern-day expectations of our members.

In preparation for an increased focus on communications, we have brought FMT in-house and appointed a new editorial team, while the Directory of Lodges and the Masonic Yearbook are now online living documents. We have trained a number of members as media ambassadors to represent us at events and in the press. We have commissioned a communications capability assessment and have undertaken polling of the general public to find out what people really think of us, and what opportunities might present themselves to improve their understanding of who we are and what we’re about.

We now have new phone systems and video conferencing suites to improve communications across our worldwide organisation, and these are saving both time and money while improving engagement with our members. The new Events Management Team has been tasked with engaging with our members and encouraging them to use and visit Freemasons’ Hall – a home for all English Freemasons, and we are starting a programme of community engagement projects to broaden our public footprint.

We have converted disused flats into three new lodge rooms in response to an ever-increasing demand for temples, and supported the Improvement Delivery Group in the creation of Operational Membership Dashboards, the Solomon online learning resource and the Members’ Pathway. All of these will directly inform our drive to improve our attraction to potential members and our retention of existing ones.

We have anticipated changes in the legal framework and have issued guidance on transgender members and data protection. We have blended the Grand Ranks system into ADelphi, thereby saving both our Provinces and Districts days of back-and-forth letter writing. 

A huge amount happened in 2018 and has continued to do so in 2019 to ensure that we are a professional, fit-for-purpose and efficient central organisation which is held in high esteem by the membership and the public and which communicates an appealing, confident, relevant and consistent message to the outside world.

What are the key objectives of this process of modernisation?

Simply put, to better serve the members of both UGLE and Supreme Grand Chapter. UGLE needs to be ready for the challenges set by the Rulers and the Board, but also needs to meet the expectations of our members. When I was a lodge Secretary a few years ago, I wanted my Grand Lodge membership fees to be wisely spent, and I wanted to see some tangible benefit for what I pay for in terms of a confident organisation ready to represent itself on the public stage and to stand up for its members. I also wanted to interact with it in a modern and accessible way. That principle still holds true now that I am the CEO. 

You also spoke about making the headquarters more ‘transparent’. How is this being done and why?

More open communication between the Provinces, our members and UGLE allows us to ensure an aligned approach to our common challenges – how people perceive us; how we represent ourselves to the outside world; how we normalise Freemasonry in the eyes of the public; how we attract and retain members. We are developing a new communications strategy with an appropriately resourced department to deliver it. We have a new Member Services Department to help streamline the relationship between our members and their organisation, and to implement the various initiatives being carried out by those groups with a care for Freemasonry. 

What methods will the organisation be using to put a greater focus on attracting new members?

I see this very much in terms of normalising the environment from which our members are drawn in terms of public opinion. I’m a scientist by training and I like to see the evidence for something before we invest resources in it. We know that 87 per cent of the public know of our organisation, and 49 per cent of the public have a firm opinion of us. We also know that the majority of those do not necessarily hold an opinion that we might like! That is despite all the good works we do, despite all the money we raise for charity and despite everything else we are doing to rehabilitate ourselves in the public eye. We recognise that the majority of new members join after personal conversations with those who already enjoy Freemasonry, but we must make sure that those to whom we speak already have a fair opinion of us. To these ends we will be embarking on a focused series of interventions to bring about just that – an understanding of what Freemasonry is, what its values are, what we stand for and why we are relevant in today’s society. In conjunction with the newly rolled-out Members’ Pathway, we hope to ensure that no opportunity is wasted.

What are some of the more important changes planned for 2019?

We want to find new ways to open up our headquarters to as many people as we can, and to ensure that every one of those contact moments affords those individuals a greater understanding of Freemasonry. Staff will be moving out of the old central office space, which we hope to develop into a public area containing a temporary exhibition space, a café and a very public-facing office for Metropolitan Grand Lodge.

The introduction of an expenses policy, travel policy and purchase order system will improve our financial controls, but the most important change will be our ability to deliver an overarching communications strategy aimed at taking back control of the public narrative on Freemasonry.

In terms of day-to-day processes, you will have already read about our ambition to revolutionise how we administer the organisation. Changes being planned through Project Hermes aim to replace paper forms with web-based systems, removing the need for endless form-filling and drastically reducing turnaround times. In short, we want to make the lives of lodge, Provincial and District Secretaries much easier. We want to streamline our ability to collect dues and improve our ability to analyse and spot trends in membership data, which will help us to identify and propagate best practice wherever it arises. I truly believe we have exciting times ahead.

‘Simply put, to better serve the members of both UGLE and Supreme Grand Chapter, UGLE needs to be ready for the challenges set by the Rulers and the Board, but also needs to meet the expectations of our members’

Published in UGLE
Thursday, 21 June 2018 00:00

Reviewers wanted for Freemasonry Today

Freemasonry Today, the official journal of the United Grand Lodge of England, will soon be featuring book, theatre, exhibition, cinema, music and other cultural reviews – and we're looking to build a pool of reviewers

The reviews will cover anything with a masonic connection, or anything else that may be of interest to readers. The aim is to provide a wide variety of reviews that will engage and entertain.

If you would like to put yourself forward to be a reviewer, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Please indicate in your email what you’re happy to review. We’re keen to know if you want to review books, exhibitions, films, concerts, music, theatre, or anything else.

We also want to know if you have a particular interest. For example, you may want to write about history, fiction, militaria, gardening, contemporary cinema, art, or any other field. You do not need previous experience, just a willingness to write an honest and lively review that our readers will enjoy. Most reviews will be half a page, at around 300 words.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Published in More News

Loudly and clearly

As Freemasonry builds on the success of the Tercentenary celebrations, Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes says there is still much work to be done in promoting its values

We now have the Soane Ark back with us in the Grand Temple. As those of you who were at the Tercentenary celebration at the Royal Albert Hall, or those of you who read Freemasonry Today, will know, the original of this beautiful mahogany piece, the Ark of the Masonic Covenant, was made by Sir John Soane in 1813. It was dedicated at the great celebration marking the union of the Antient and Modern Grand Lodges in 1813, and the Articles of Union were deposited inside.

The Ark was tragically destroyed by fire in 1883, but the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) commissioned an exact replica for our Tercentenary, which was dedicated at the Royal Albert Hall in October. Then, as in 1813, we placed a facsimile of the Articles of Union inside it, as well as the three Great Lights.

It was on public display at Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields for the months after the Royal Albert Hall celebration, but now it has returned to its intended place in Grand Lodge. Triangular in form, it has at each corner a column of the Ionic, Doric and Corinthian order representing wisdom, strength and beauty, the three great pillars on which our lodges, including this Grand Lodge, are said to stand. I am sure that it will grace our Grand Lodge meetings for centuries to come.

STANDING UP FOR THE CRAFT

We have become only too well aware of the term ‘fake news’ in recent times, and we began this year with our own encounter with fake news. Many of you will have seen the coverage generated by the outgoing chairman of the Police Federation and The Guardian newspaper, and I trust you will have also seen our responses.

Let me assure you that UGLE will always stand up for its members, their integrity and their care for the communities from which they are drawn. It is my firm belief that policemen are better policemen for their membership of our proud organisation. However, it is not just policemen who can benefit from membership – lawyers, public servants and indeed all men benefit from the teaching our ceremonies have to offer. The time has come for the organisation to stand up and make these points loudly and clearly. Enough, brethren, is enough.

I have said it before and I say it again: I strongly believe that the future is bright for Freemasonry. We created a bow wave of optimism last year that produced a surge of interest in the Craft. We must now ensure that we maintain the momentum created and build on that legacy, and we will.

AN IMPORTANT ANNIVERSARY 

This year, as you know, is the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. I have no doubt that many of you will be commemorating this as appropriate in your area.

The current Freemasons’ Hall was built to commemorate those masons who lost their lives in that war. It was called the Masonic Peace Memorial but changed its name at the outbreak of the Second World War to Freemasons’ Hall. We shall commemorate the end of the First World War on 10 November 2018 under the auspices of Victoria Rifles Lodge, No. 822, and I am sure it will be an impressive occasion.

‘We must now ensure that we  maintain the momentum created’

Published in UGLE

Grand Lodge regularly receives special visitors, and none were more welcome than a group of Chelsea Pensioners who were greeted by then-Grand Secretary Willie Shackell and Junior Grand Warden Sir Tony Baldry

On their tour of Freemasons’ Hall, the Chelsea Pensioners were taken around the Grand Temple, saw Winston Churchill’s masonic apron in The Library and Museum of Freemasonry and visited several lodge rooms.

Each was given the latest copy of Freemasonry Today, with some taking the opportunity to have a look around Letchworth’s, the masonic shop within the hall.

Published in More News
Wednesday, 14 September 2016 01:00

Grand Secretary's column - Autumn 2016

From the Grand Secretary

Since emerging from the basement of Freemasons’ Hall, where I have been a charity president for the past nine years, to assume the appointment as Grand Secretary, I have felt very humbled by the numerous letters, emails and tweets of support and encouragement that I have received. I am most fortunate in having taken over a splendid team who are doing their best to train me and get me up to speed so that we can continue to provide you all with the help and support you both need and deserve.

As you will see in this issue of Freemasonry Today, preparations for our 300th anniversary are gathering momentum. The in-depth and extensive work of the Membership Focus Group will soon be rolled out under the guidance of the Improvement Delivery Group. This is all producing a real feeling of excitement and anticipation that bodes well for our future – it is a great opportunity for us and I feel most privileged to be involved at this important time in our history. 

In the build-up to 2017, it is crucial also that we recognise and celebrate the contribution being made by masons at a local level. Our feature on London’s Air Ambulance describes how Metropolitan masons have helped to put a second air ambulance in the air with a £2 million pledge. Able to reach any location in the city within 10 minutes, London’s Air Ambulance says that the masonic donation has completely changed the scale and resilience of its service. 

With Londoners of every age and in every borough benefiting, Metropolitan Grand Charity Steward Tony Shields explains that the decision to help the service was a ‘no-brainer’ in the run-up to the Tercentenary. But it’s not just organisations who are getting our help. When Julian Elcock’s business hit problems, Freemasonry was on hand for advice and support. Thanks to funding from the masonic charities, his daughter Jasmine was able to continue music lessons and reached the final of Britain’s Got Talent. We interview Jasmine about realising her ambitions and find out from Julian why his decision to join the masons in 2008 was one of the best he ever made. 

Over in Somerset, Sean Gaffney’s story reveals a Freemason who, after losing his lower left leg, pushed himself to compete at the 2016 Invictus Games and brought home two golds, one silver and a bronze. While he was initially drawn to the Craft by the fundraising aspects, it was the camaraderie and strong moral standards of conduct that were to prove a winning combination. I think Sean speaks for us all when he says that being a mason is not just about being a good man today but having the desire to be a better man tomorrow. 

Willie Shackell
Grand Secretary

‘I feel most privileged to be involved at this important time in our history.’

Published in UGLE

Lifelites charity announces youngest celebrity Patron

Lifelites has announced their latest and youngest Patron, Britain’s Got Talent 2016 finalist and Golden Buzzer winner, Jasmine Elcock. Jasmine, 14, is the daughter of a London Freemason

Lifelites – recently recognised for their good work with technology as a 2015 Nominet Trust 100 winner – is the only charity to provide assistive and inclusive technology packages for terminally ill and disabled children in every baby and children’s hospice across the British Isles. The package of technologies is both donated and maintained by the charity and includes items like special iPad communication packages, Eyegaze eye-operated computers and interactive magic carpets.

Talented young singer Jasmine Elcock, who is from Dagenham, Essex, was a favourite amongst this year’s Britain’s Got Talent viewers and especially with presenters Ant and Dec who chose Jasmine as their Golden Buzzer winner. She wowed the judges with her beautiful performances and her charm and likeability shone through, even impressing BGT boss Simon Cowell.

Jasmine visited Lifelites with her father Julian Elcock at their offices to learn more about their work with children’s hospices. Jasmine’s father is a member of Fortis Green Lodge No. 5145 and has been a Freemason for over eight years. He has had some involvement with Lifelites some years ago representing the charity in the Lord Mayor’s Parade. As a new Patron, Jasmine will help to raise awareness of Lifelites’ work in children’s hospices. She will support the charity in a variety of ways, including visiting children’s hospices and backing their fundraising campaigns. Lifelites is extremely grateful for her support and is delighted to welcome young Jasmine as their newest advocate.

Jasmine said: 'My life has been transformed through music making and it is a great joy to be able to express myself through singing; I’m delighted to see the magical technology that Lifelites provides can offer similar transformational experiences for terminally ill and disabled children in hospices. I am proud and privileged to help raise awareness of the work of Lifelites and am looking forward to being a Patron of the charity.'

Simone Enefer-Doy, Chief Executive of Lifelites, said: 'We are so excited that this lovely young woman has agreed to lend Lifelites her support. Jasmine will be a great advocate for Lifelites. She is likeable and has won the nation’s hearts through Britain’s Got Talent so she’ll be good at attracting attention to our great cause. We’re really looking forward to working with Jasmine in the near future and welcoming her on board #TeamLifelites.'

Jasmine Elcock joins a star studded line-up of Lifelites Patrons which includes Dame Esther Rantzen, Rick Wakeman, Peter Bowles, Joe Pasquale, Anita Dobson and Lord Cadogan (among others).

Published in Freemasonry Cares

Regular Convocation 

12 November 2014 
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes 

Companions, the Second Grand Principal has just completed a series of meetings with Grand Superintendents. One of the topics of conversation was the relationship between the Royal Arch and the Craft – specifically covering two issues. First, the selection of Royal Arch representatives in Craft Lodges and secondly, the taking of wine with Royal Arch members at Craft Festive Boards.

The appointment and monitoring of the Royal Arch Representative in a Craft Lodge needs careful consideration. There has been debate as to who is responsible for this important appointment. In Provinces where the Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent are the same, there should be no issue. However, where the heads of the two orders are different I believe it essential that the Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent liaise. The appointment should never be a ‘tick in the box’ exercise.

As a member of the Royal Arch, the Representative will need to know sufficient about the merits of joining the Order and be able to work closely with the Lodge Mentor. In many instances it could be best judged that a member should be approached at the same time that he receives his Grand Lodge Certificate. I know from experience that there is a balance between judging whether someone will enjoy the Royal Arch with the right time for that individual to join. This timing is also pressurised by the concern that an individual will be approached to join one of the side orders first if there is any delay in recruitment. I continue to believe that there is a good stage to brief Master Masons on the merits of the Royal Arch, but that the actual timing of joining should be linked to each individual’s appetite for Masonic advancement and personal circumstances.

For those of you who are very involved with the side orders, please do not think that I am in any way against Craft members joining them, far from it. However I do firmly believe that the Royal Arch should be the first priority. 

As for wine taking with Royal Arch members at Craft Festive Boards – I believe that this custom should be treated sensitively – if ever used. I will also be mentioning this at the Craft Quarterly Communication in December. In any event the decision should lie in the hands of each Provincial Grand Master. I can see a case for this where a Chapter is linked to a Craft Lodge – but, even so, it is recommended that this wine taking is conducted with everyone sitting down so that those who are not members of the Order are not embarrassed or – worst still – pounced on with a joining form!

Companions you will have read in the last issue of Freemasonry Today about the Membership Focus Group and their mission to stop the bleed in membership. It is clearly of the greatest importance to Royal Arch recruitment that this bleed is halted whilst recruiting and retaining men of quality and integrity. You will have read that members were asked to participate in a series of short surveys so that the Membership Focus Group could seek grass roots’ ideas about the future of Freemasonry. I would ask as many of you as possible to take this opportunity and register and so be able to give your views.

 

Published in Speeches
Thursday, 04 September 2014 01:00

Grand Secretary's column - Autumn 2014

 From the Grand Secretary

We have recently completed another readership survey about Freemasonry Today, which shows encouraging results supporting its editorial approach and philosophy. Let me give you some examples of those interesting results. Three quarters of readers think the magazine is excellent, with seventy-five per cent believing that Freemasonry Today is a forward-looking publication, and seventy-three per cent agreeing that it helps change perceptions about Freemasons for the better. Eighty-four per cent say the magazine shows us in a modern light and portrays the openness of the United Grand Lodge of England. 

More than half our readers have encouraged friends and family to read the magazine, while three quarters have discussed an article with them. Forty-four per cent of readers say their wives and partners read Freemasonry Today with eighty-nine per cent being more positive about the Craft after doing so.

We have had fantastic feedback from our new DVD, What’s It All About? The film has been shown successfully at county shows and received more than 30,000 views on YouTube.

In this issue of the magazine, you will find myriad examples of what our members enjoy about the Craft – for some it’s supporting charity, while others are looking to find a greater understanding of themselves. 

We follow a group of Welsh lodges as they trek around the coastline to support a local charity. While the money raised will help fund a state-of-the-art children’s hospital in Cardiff, one of the masons on the walk admits that the reward of making lifelong friendships is what drives him to take part in these activities.

For Frank Lee, a volunteer at a local RMBI care home, his Freemasonry is about looking after the elderly and doing what he can to help them. Our report on the Association of Friends scheme explains why Frank counts many of the James Terry Court residents as friends, as they see him as one of the family.

Our feature on Ian Mcilquham profiles a Freemason who received crucial assistance when he needed it most. His local lodge and the MSF were on hand to give financial and pastoral support following Ian’s diagnosis with prostate cancer. His story is not unique. Since 2005, local masonic lodges have raised £476,000 for Prostate Cancer UK in a bid not only to raise awareness, but also to improve ways of treating the condition.

The fact that Freemasonry can encompass all these things (and more) reveals an organisation that has a great deal to offer to both existing members and potential recruits.

Nigel Brown
Grand Secretary

‘Eighty-four per cent of readers say the magazine shows Freemasons in a modern light and portrays the openness of the United Grand Lodge of England.’

Published in UGLE

Royal naval celebrates master

The spring edition of Freemasonry Today contained an article about the inventor of the life preserver, Francis Columbine Daniel. Shortly before its publication, a talk on the same topic was given in Royal Naval Lodge, No. 59, by Senior Warden Forbes Cutler.  

The talk was part of the celebrations held to mark the 275th anniversary of the lodge, of which Daniel was master for many years. The Metropolitan Grand Stewards Demonstration Team also performed, and a cheque to honour the anniversary was received on behalf of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution by Dr John Reuther.

Thursday, 05 September 2013 01:00

Michael Baigent obituary from John Hamill

Independent voice

Past editor of Freemasonry Today, Michael Baigent was a successful author and influential mason whose writing sparked debate and created a loyal following. John Hamill looks back at his career

It is with real regret that we have to announce the death of Michael Baigent who was editor of Freemasonry Today from the spring of 2001 until the summer of 2011, when increasing ill health forced him into partial retirement. He continued as consultant editor until his untimely death from a brain haemorrhage on 17 June 2013 at a Brighton hospital.

Born in Nelson, New Zealand, in 1948, he was educated at Nelson College and the University of Canterbury, at Christchurch, reading comparative religion and psychology and graduating in 1972 with a BA. In later life he earned an MA in the Study of Mysticism and Religious Experience from the University of Kent.

After graduating, Michael spent four years as a photographer in India, Laos, Bolivia and Spain. Coming to London in 1976, he worked for a time in the photographic department at the BBC, which brought him into contact with Henry Lincoln and Richard Leigh, who were filming a documentary about the medieval Knights Templar. Their mutual interests and enthusiasm ultimately led to the publication in 1982 of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, a controversial bestseller and still in print after more than thirty years.

Embracing the craft

The success of the book enabled Michael to concentrate on research, writing and lecturing. Writing with Leigh, he produced works on such diverse topics as Freemasonry, the Dead Sea Scrolls, magic and alchemy, the Stauffenberg plot to kill Hitler and the Inquisition. His solo works covered the ancient mysteries, the early Christian church and the influence of religion in modern life. 

Michael’s interest in the history of ideas and the esoteric tradition led him to the Craft, becoming a Freemason in the Lodge of Economy, No. 76, Winchester, near his then home. He later joined the Prince of Wales’s Lodge, No. 259, London, and was nominated by them as a Grand Steward and appointed a Grand Officer in 2005. 

Freemasonry brought Michael to the notice of Lord Northampton, who invited him to become a trustee of the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre, which he was setting up as a focus for research into the more esoteric aspects of Freemasonry. Equally, Michael became involved in and greatly shaped the early years of the Cornerstone Society, which Lord Northampton had established as a forum for those interested in exploring the deeper meanings of the ritual. When the Orator Scheme was being discussed in 2006, Michael was the obvious candidate to draft the early Orations.

Leading from the front

When Michael became editor of Freemasonry Today it was still ‘the independent voice of Freemasonry’. He greatly extended its coverage beyond the Craft and Royal Arch and attracted a new audience to the magazine, including a growing number of non-masons. He not only sought out contributors and edited their pieces but was responsible for the page design and seeing the magazine through the presses. He employed his old talents and provided many of the photographs that illustrated the content. It was something of a departure for him when in 2007 the magazine merged with Grand Lodge’s then house organ, MQ Magazine, to become the Craft’s official journal. Yet he rose to the occasion and continued to produce a magazine that combined news with interesting, and sometimes challenging, articles.

Michael would have been the first to acknowledge that his work fell outside the normal run of academic historical research, but he believed completely in what he did. He was not writing for other academics but for the general reader, and he had a loyal following. Whether he worked on his own or with Lincoln and Leigh, Michael’s writing was never ignored and always provoked discussion – which is all any writer seeks.

His last years were, sadly, marked by increasing ill health, including an initially successful liver transplant, and financial problems caused by the unsuccessful case he and Leigh took against the novelist Dan Brown’s publisher, claiming that Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code was both a plagiarism and infringed the copyright of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. A gentle, courteous man, Michael was always a pleasure to meet and talk to and will be greatly missed by many. Our thoughts go out to his wife, daughters and stepson and stepdaughter.

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