Last year, Cheshire’s Provincial Grand Master Stephen Blank set a challenge to members to organise an event promoting awareness and building support for the Cheshire Freemasons Charity
John Miller was first to step forward and so developed the idea of organising a sponsored bike ride from Chester to London, utilising only the intricate canal network and towpaths that weave between Cheshire’s’ county town and capital city.
The route was agreed from the Masonic Hall in Queen Street, Chester, to Freemasons’ Hall at Great Queen Street following the Shropshire Union Canal to Wolverhampton, then the routes through Birmingham, picking up the Grand Union Canal near Solihull and following that into the heart of London, some 230 miles and crossing several masonic Provinces.
The team consisted of 16 riders with a support team of two and given the rough terrain and general riding conditions it was agreed to limit each day to between 40 and 50 miles allowing the challenge to be completed within five or six days. Riders were tasked with raising sponsorship and several Cheshire businesses sponsored the exclusive team shirts produced in order to support logistical costs such as travel, accommodation and food.
A black tie benefit event was also held within the Province which greatly contributed to the costs of the task ahead. To make the most of the fine English weather, the departure date was set for 6th June and the Deputy Provincial Grand Master David Dyson was present to see the team off safely from the Chester start point, and the Provincial Grand Master put a date in his diary to meet the exhausted riders outside the doors of Great Queen Street on the 11th June, what could possibly go wrong? The answer is Storm Miguel – which for three days of the journey tested each and every rider for their tenacity, and for how waterproof their kit truly was.
In the main the team discovered that waterproofs aren’t that effective in the face of a tropical storm, and indeed for two of the riders who managed to fall in to the canal, and are now affectionately referred to as the ‘Cheshire Splash Masters’. Cheshire’s Provincial Office reached out to Provinces that the riders would pass through en route.
Shropshire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire were all kind enough to offer a warm welcome and kind words of encouragement, as well as contributions, a true reflection of communication, commitment and teamwork by Freemasons. It is noteworthy that during the ride, many conversations with members of the public took place, lifting the profile of Freemasonry in general, and additional contributions were made by many of these non-Masons met along the way in support of the rider’s objectives.
A joint effort between the riders and HQ meant the Communications team were able to promote the event on social media platforms, using the dynamic mapping of GPS, daily blogs and great pictures sent by the riders each day.
Followers loved watching the daily progress made by the cyclists. The event organiser, John Miller, was keen to ensure the fundraising aims were kept clearly in the spotlight throughout the event via the online donation link and ‘interviewed’ members of the team at each overnight stay so this could be broadcast. The ride ended with the entire team completing the journey.
The total fundraising was then announced that over £22,000, which this was increased at Quarterly Communications the following day when the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes made a donation to the Cheshire Freemasons Charity of a further £1,000.
In honour of all English Freemasons awarded the prestigious Victoria Cross (VC), the United Grand Lodge of England’s (UGLE) Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, unveiled a unique Victoria Cross Remembrance Stone at Freemasons’ Hall on 27th June 2019
The Remembrance Stone was commissioned in 2016 by Granville Angell to commemorate all English Freemasons who were awarded the Victoria Cross. The VC is the highest award for gallantry that can be conferred on a member of the British Armed Forces and since its introduction in 1856, more than 200 Freemasons have been awarded the Victoria Cross – making up an astonishing 14% of all recipients.
The Remembrance Stone was carved by Emily Draper, who was Worcester Cathedral’s first female Stonemason apprentice, having been sponsored by local Freemasons. During the preparation stage of the stone, Emily also found out that her Great Uncle was a Freemason VC recipient.
The event was opened by Dr David Staples, UGLE’s Chief Executive and Grand Secretary, followed by readings from Robert Vaughan, Provincial Grand Master of Worcestershire (My Boy Jack by Rudyard Kipling) and Brigadier Peter Sharpe, President of the Circuit of Service Lodges (The Soldier by Rupert Chawner Brooke).
Over 130 guests were in attendance including serving military personnel, a group of Chelsea Pensioners and Sea Cadets, as well as Sergeant Johnson Beharry, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for saving the lives of his unit – Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment – while serving in Iraq in 2004. Johnson is also a Freemason and a member of Queensman Lodge No. 2694 in London.
Music was provided by Jon Yates from the Royal Marines Association Concert Band, who performed the ‘Last Post’, a minute’s silence and the ‘Reveille’.
This was proceeded by the grand Unveiling and Dedication of the Remembrance Stone by The Duke of Kent, as a fitting tribute to the service and sacrifice of those Freemasons awarded the VC. The Duke of Kent also presented Emily with a stone carving toolset to aid her future projects.
The event was concluded with a speech by Brigadier Willie Shackell CBE, Past Grand Secretary of UGLE and Past President of the Masonic Samaritan Fund.
Dr David Staples, UGLE’s Chief Executive and Grand Secretary, said: “It’s been a huge honour to mark the dedication of this wonderful Victoria Cross Remembrance Stone and another significant milestone in our longstanding history.
“It is even more remarkable in the context that 14% of all recipients of the Victoria Cross have been Freemasons and I can think of no more fitting home than for it to be placed here at Freemasons’ Hall – a memorial to the thousands of English Freemasons who lost their lives during the Great War.”
Victoria Cross Remembrance Stone
27 June 2019
Conclusion, Brigadier Willie Shackell CBE, Past Grand Secretary of UGLE and Past President of the Masonic Samaritan Fund
Your Royal Highness, my Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen and Brethren.
Sir may I thank you for unveiling this superb memorial dedicated to all those English Freemasons who have been recognised with this country’s highest award for courage and valour in the face of the enemy and also to say how privileged we are that it has been dedicated and unveiled in the presence of one of those valiant men, Brother Sergeant Johnson Beharry VC.
Sir, two years ago you unveiled our splendid memorial to those 65 English Freemasons who received the award during WW1, which was part of our Country’s remembrance that it was 100 years since the Great War. At the time I did receive mail from the odd “Brother Angry and disgusted” saying what about the rest! Today we recognise them all. Also at this time Brother Granville Angell told me he was having a stone made in the form of a VC for our memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum, a garden that had been opened earlier in the year. I politely told him that I thought it would be inappropriate and I thought that was that but I had reckoned without the determination and persistence of Brother Granville who then waited for the new Grand Secretary.
How wise he was and I can think of no more fitting place for it to be than here in Freemason’s Hall, the Masonic Peace Memorial Building, where I suspect far more Masons will see it and which is the spiritual home of Freemasonry.
May I thank you again, Sir, for graciously unveiling this fine memorial, thank you Brother Johnson for being here to represent all those brave men who have been awarded the VC, congratulate you Brother Granville on your persistence and generosity, our thanks to Emily Draper the splendid stone mason who produced it, to all those who have taken part in or helped to organise today’s dedication and finally to all of you for attending and witnessing another milestone in our proud history.
Victoria Cross Remembrance Stone
27 June 2019
Unveiling and Dedication, The Grand Master HRH The Duke of Kent
Ladies, Gentlemen and Brethren,
It is an enormous pleasure for me to be here today to unveil the Victoria Cross Remembrance Stone at Freemasons’ Hall.
One of the oldest social and charitable organisations in the world, Freemasonry’s roots lie in the traditions of the medieval stonemasons who built our castles and cathedrals. Which is why it is so fitting that this stone – commissioned by Granville Angell, Past Assistant Grand Sword Bearer – has been carved by Worcester Cathedral’s first female stonemason, Emily Draper. She beat forty-five other applicants to win this apprenticeship, which was jointly funded by the Worcestershire Freemasons and the Masonic Charitable Foundation.
Emily’s grandfather was a Freemason at a Lodge in Devon, whilst her Great Uncle was one of the Freemason Victoria Cross recipients we are honouring here today. I would like to express our thanks to Emily for all her dedication and hard work that went into creating the Remembrance Stone.
We would also like to show our appreciation of the expertise that went into producing this work by presenting you with this set of stonemasons’ tools to aid you in your future projects.
I have recently returned from visiting my cousin, Princess Elisabeth, in Belgrade. Whilst there I attended the 100th Anniversary gala for the foundation of the Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia – a region whose troubled legacy extends back through the centuries, as well as our own military involvement in the recent past.
Serbs, Croats and Slovenians were well represented and this is just one example of how Freemasonry brings peoples together and provides a safe space for those with very different outlooks to support and learn from each other.
Having served in the Armed Forces for more than 20 years I understand the common values shared by Freemasonry and the Services – camaraderie, respect, integrity – and the ideals of service and tradition.
It is an extraordinary fact that 14% of all Victoria Cross recipients have been Freemasons.
It is now time to unveil this splendid stone. It will stand as a tangible reminder of those Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross. I am sure you will agree that this Remembrance Stone is a fitting tribute to their service and sacrifice.
Victoria Cross Remembrance Stone
27 June 2019
Introduction and welcome, Dr David Staples, UGLE's Chief Executive and Grand Secretary
Your Royal Highness, my Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen, Brethren.
Welcome to Freemasons’ Hall. Each year over 40,000 members of the public visit this building to learn a little more about the values and purpose of Freemasonry, and to marvel at this art deco masterpiece, one of the finest art deco buildings in London still used for its original purpose. It was conceived and built out of great conflict, as a lasting memorial to Peace, and to those thousands of Freemasons who lost their lives in the Great War.
Those Lodges that contributed to the building of this great memorial are carved for posterity into the stones of its very walls, and the scroll of honour, the centrepiece of our building, just there, lists the names of our fallen. A closer look at those names shows that many Lodges held, amongst their memberships, NCOs, enlisted men and officers who would have met, and dined together, revealing something quite revolutionary at that time – that Freemasonry broke down the deeply ingrained barriers of class within British society. Those scholars of Kipling amongst you and those who are familiar with his poem ‘The Mother Lodge’ will recognise the same sentiments expressed within; that irrespective of the prevailing political and social climate, those of all races, classes, of differing religions, creeds and backgrounds have, for centuries, found a welcome within our Lodges. They are spaces where people could forget their differences and celebrate their common humanity with that most basic of human gestures – a handshake. They would be there for each other, through births and deaths, marriages, the good times and the bad as alluded to by the black and white squares of the floor carpet in every lodge room throughout the world. How ironic then that since that Great War, so many more lives have been lost, and so many more battles fought over those things which are seen, not as bringing people together, but as setting them apart.
Within our ritual, every Lodge listed on the walls around us has the right to bestow upon their Master a ‘Hall Stone Jewel’ to be worn during his period in office. I would like to read to you the part of our ritual pertaining to that presentation:
“The Hall Stone Jewel was conferred on this Lodge by the MWGM. Its form is symbolic, for on the side squares are inscribed the dates 1914-1918; four years of supreme sacrifice. In the centre is a winged figure, representing Peace, supporting a temple in memory of those Brethren who made the supreme sacrifice in the cause of King and their country. It should ever provide an inspiration to every Brother to put service before self.”
On this, the eve of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles which consigned to history the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers, we gather here to remember and honour those, our members, who were awarded the Victoria Cross. The Treaty of Versailles serves, as every student of history will tell you, as a potent reminder that our leaders’ best intentions can lead to events never conceived without the benefit of hindsight.
The Victoria Cross is awarded for “most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy”. It may be awarded to a person of any military rank in any service and to civilians under military command. It was introduced on 29 January 1856 by Queen Victoria to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War. Since then, the medal has been awarded 1,358 times. The metal from which the medals are struck is traditionally believed to be derived from Russian cannon captured at the Siege of Sevastopol and latterly from two cannons captured from the Chinese during the first Opium War.
More than 200 Freemasons worldwide have been awarded the Victoria Cross since its creation, making up an astonishing 14% of all recipients and some of their citations may be read in your leaflets.
Freemasonry offers a simple philosophical message to its members – that within each of us is a thoughtful, kind, tolerant and respectful individual. The purpose is not only to promote virtue, but also to promote a thoughtful approach to being virtuous. It is centred around an analogy of building, or creating, and thus by chipping away our rough edges, much as Emily has done to the rough quarried stone to reveal this within; Freemasonry teaches us to chip away at our inadequacies revealing the better person we can be, one more fit to serve those less fortunate than ourselves, those who have fared less well in life than us, and those communities from which we are drawn.
As Herman Hesse said ‘What we can and should change is ourselves: our impatience, our egoism, our sense of injury, our lack of love and forbearance. Every other attempt to change the world, even if it springs from the best intentions, is futile”.
That sounds very dry and serious, but Freemasonry is anything but. We have an enormous amount of fun along the journey, meeting people we would never have otherwise met, making friends the world over, and raising £48m for charity last year and donating and estimated 5 million hours of our time to community voluntary service
It is no wonder that so many servicemen, and women, through their two Grand Lodges, find a parallel between the lives they have led in uniform and the camaraderie, support and friendship they find within lodge.
It is for those men and women, and those still serving, and in recognition of the very high regard that the members of the United Grand Lodge of England have always had for our Armed Forces, that I am delighted to welcome you all to the dedication of this Remembrance Stone. After today’s ceremony it will be carried to its permanent home in the South West staircase of our main ceremonial entrance (just over there), under the watchful gaze of a bronze bust of Bro Sir Winston Churchill, thereby aptly filling a space that has lain empty since this building was first conceived over a century ago. It will serve as a mark of our deep respect and gratitude to those who, for their comrades, their friends, their Regiments and Ships and their country, have put service before self. May we have the courage, in our lives, and in our own little ways, to follow their example.
Following several months of building work, the new refurbished Berkshire Library and Museum of Freemasonry has been opened by their Provincial Grand Master Anthony Howlett-Bolton, in the presence of the United Grand Lodge of England’s Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton
Also in attendance for the opening was Dr Vicky Carroll, Director of the Museum of Freemasonry at Freemasons’ Hall in London, the Mayor of Wokingham and a number of invited guests.
The Library and Museum was started in 1896 at the Masonic Hall in Reading. It was created by the members of Grey Friars Lodge No. 1101 with assistance from members of other lodges in Reading. It was moved to the Berkshire Masonic Centre in Sindlesham in 1969, but space was not available, so all the contents were put into storage.
By 2002, a small, somewhat pokey, room was found and part of the contents were put on display, however, space was still at a premium, so the majority of the contents were kept in storage. This has all now been consolidated into two rooms in Sindlesham with state of the art display and racking with additional modern storage space developed elsewhere in the building.
When the Library and Museum moved to Sindlesham, it was funded by the sale of regalia donated to the Province and donations from individual masons and lodges. The then Librarian and Curator, Roger White, was still purchasing artefacts as when they became available so add to the collection.
The museum collections contain items of ceramics, glassware, regalia, jewels and a lot of other items such as horse brass, gavels, watches, paperweights, cufflinks and similar memorabilia. There is even have an American casket handle. There are about 3,500 items altogether some of which are more than 200 years old.
The library itself houses over 20,000 books on Freemasonry, including many rare editions – making the collection one of the largest in England. In addition to books, there are over 3,000 certificates, prints, postcards, photographs and other archival items, as well as a reference database in excess of 90,000 records. These collections continue to increase in size and provide a very valuable resource for reference and research by masons and non-masons alike.
Although the library was primarily established for the interest, education and information of its own members, it is also used by members of the general public wanting information on Freemasonry, or those researching the masonic membership of their ancestors. Equally, over the years, they have had a number of students using their resources to research materials for their academic degrees.
Anthony Howlett-Bolton, Berkshire’s Provincial Grand Master, said: ‘Whilst it has been something of a rollercoaster challenge to bring this project to fruition over several years, I am delighted that we have now succeeded in establishing this new facility and indeed as a consequence the provision of disabled access throughout the whole building.
‘All of this is a direct result of a very generous bequest from a former stalwart librarian Robin White whose unbounded enthusiasm resulted in the increase of the number of books from a few hundred to the sizeable number we hold today.’
Sir David Wootton, UGLE’s Assistant Grand Master, said: ‘In London, we are also of the firm view that it is important that we ensure that the history of Freemasonry and its rationale is more widely understood both by Freemasons and the wider community alike. To this end, we are taking significant steps to ensure that we play our part in raising the positive profile of Freemasonry with the full understanding that we have, have always had and will continue to have an important role to play in civil society as a whole.
‘With this in mind, it is pleasing to see that you have taken the opportunity to rationalise and fresh these facilities so as to make them more accessible to all. I understand that you have firm plans in mind to ensure that the inter-connected Library and Museum are open on a regular basis for much wider use and that whilst your library catalogue is already online, you intend to explore further the use of modern technology to enhance the users experience.’
A different view
In the first of our photo series revealing Freemasons’ Hall through a lens, John Revelle speaks to photographer Kenji Kudo about his passion for this iconic building
What inspired you to start taking photos?
As a boy, I had a toy pinhole camera that had been given away with a photography magazine. I was also developing and printing my own photos from a very young age, I think around five years old. It was a wonderful experience – and one which sparked my lifelong love of photography. It’s difficult to believe that was almost half a century ago now.
What do you like to photograph and why?
We get used to seeing the things around us, the familiar objects of the everyday. I try to make those things strange and unusual. Renew them.
When did you first come to Freemasons’ Hall and why did you want to photograph it?
My first visit was in 2011 when I was shooting for a book to be published in Japan. At the time, masonic buildings there were largely inaccessible to the public. But when I asked if I could shoot here I was told that, although it was an unusual request, it would be no problem and the friendly staff let me do my work.
What made you come back last summer to take this second batch of photos?
After that first shoot I was hooked. Some time later, I was looking back over all my photos and Freemasons’ Hall stood out as the most exciting subject I’d ever worked on.
And then Jody at UGLE found some of my photos on Instagram and got in touch, asking if he could repost them on social media. I of course agreed. He also said that if I was ever in London he would personally take me round the building for another shoot and give me full access to all the lodge rooms. I was on a plane the next month.
The photos have been so popular, even gracing the cover of the last issue of this magazine. I’m very thankful to him for taking such an interest. I think Freemasons’ Hall is special because it’s not been ruined by changes or renovation. It has that majestic air of years ago.
Any advice for members wanting to take their own photos of lodge rooms or masonic architecture?
Use a wide-angle lens that lets in lots of light and work lightly and quickly to capture the emotion of what you see in your mind’s eye.
What projects do you have coming up in the future?
I would love to publish a glossy coffee table book of my photos of Freemasons’ Hall. Something permanent and high quality to truly honour the building for years to come.
Membership & modernisation
At the heart of UGLE’s membership system is the new Director of Member Services. Prity Lad takes us on a tour of Freemasons’ Hall and reveals UGLE’s forward-thinking support programme for current and future members
Prity Lad has just finished her photoshoot for FMT, which saw her leading the photographer around Freemasons’ Hall looking for the perfect location to sum up the welcoming nature of her new position, while being careful not to lose us in its labyrinthine interior. She’s worked in the building since 2007, but notes, ‘It’s rare that I have time to look around this amazing place. It’s vast.’
Prity’s time has been particularly precious recently, having taken up her new position as Director for Member Services. The role was created as part of the internal restructure of UGLE under Grand Secretary and Chief Executive Officer Dr David Staples.
‘There’s been a shift in the way we operate here at UGLE,’ explains Prity. ‘Departments originally reported directly into the Grand Secretary. Dr Staples has brought in a new level of senior management to develop a professional, fit-for-purpose headquarters for the benefit of our members and staff. I work closely with the Director of Masonic Services with whom I share an office. It works well, as there is a need for cooperation internally and communication externally to look after our members’ interests.’
Before taking up her new position, Prity had worked for UGLE as a software training consultant, focused on ADelphi, UGLE’s internal membership system. She had read law at university, after which there was a period of working in education and training, during which time she obtained a post-graduate certificate in education. In 2000, she changed tack and moved into the IT sector. Her role as a training manager for a software house involved implementing training and managing change for the Ministry of Defence, NHS and cruise sectors, both in the in the UK and overseas. She started working at Freemasons’ Hall in 2007, but left after a year to raise her family, before returning in 2012.
‘I had no prior knowledge of the world of Freemasonry,’ Prity says. ‘The attraction for me was working in IT in a unique business setting,’ she says. ‘I’ve learnt a lot about the Craft since then and I find it fascinating – the traditions, the values, things that don’t feature prominently in most working environments, and things that I have come to respect – I’m happy to be part of it.’
Prity’s role allows her to draw on her admiration for Freemasonry as she helps to develop new ideas and methods. Her department oversees three primary components: Registration, External Relations and District support. Part of this involves reaching out to people interested in Freemasonry. ‘Areas we want to focus on include attracting new members, but also finding better ways to engage with our existing membership. In order to do this, we want to identify and promote what Freemasonry represents and the values the organisation has,’ says Prity. ‘Respect, integrity and charity are core to Freemasonry and are the reasons many people join in the first place. We want to emphasise that, and show the inclusive nature of the organisation.’
That is only one element of Prity’s job. An overarching goal across the three departments is to streamline, simplify and modernise processes without making them inaccessible to Freemasons who might be less comfortable with technology. The registration team deal with all aspects of membership, enabling them to build a complete picture of somebody’s masonic record, ensuring it remains updated with the relevant degrees, offices and certificates. ‘The intention is to modernise the process,’ says Prity. ‘We want to eliminate paper and repetition, reduce delays and make it easier for the lodge Secretaries and, ultimately, the members themselves.’
When it comes to Districts, part of the focus recently has been on improving the administrative support supplied by UGLE. The Districts are experiencing annual growth of 10 per cent, and UGLE wants to support and amplify the work they do within their communities. As regards external relations, process and protocols must be followed to ensure UGLE’s polices are adhered to correctly. And this is one area where Prity’s IT background comes in handy.
‘We receive a lot of enquires from people around the world interested in Freemasonry, and the external relations team is looking at modernising that interface so people can get the information they need online,’ she says. ‘We are always here to support potential members, and want to make information accessible, such as automating some processes in a secure environment. That way, if somebody is interested in becoming a Freemason, they can visit the website, put in their information and we can advise them which Grand Lodge to contact depending on where they are located. We want to make the website more informative and easier to use. We don’t just want to modernise, we want to enhance what we offer without excluding any of our existing membership.’
Prity then turns to two initiatives that Grand Lodge would like to roll out to the Districts to help with learning and development. Solomon is a collection of online material facilitating the members’ learning – it contains presentations, essays and ‘nuggets’ of knowledge and information from a variety of sources that will help in any stage of a masonic career. ‘This has already been rolled out across our Provinces. It is our intention to introduce Solomon and The Members’ Pathway to the Districts,’ she says.
‘The Members’ Pathway was launched in 2017 and provides a series of steps that lodges and chapters can follow to attract, encourage and introduce new members. An important element of both initiatives is keeping current members engaged and adding value to help with their journey, to keep it relevant to them as they continue. It’s a different way of working and can help in the way they liaise with their members.’
That commitment to the members is central to everything Prity is doing, just as it is at the heart of what Dr David Staples and UGLE are working towards. ‘There’s a refreshing change taking place,’ she says. ‘There are so many ways to move forward and the senior team is bringing together a skill set with fresh ideas from which the members will ultimately benefit. That’s the long-term goal. It’s about our current members, what we can do for them to improve our services, but also for those who want to learn more about Freemasonry. There’s a vast amount of good work done in the Provinces that benefits the communities around them and we want to make potential members aware of that when they visit the website and read our literature. We want to raise the profile of the incredible work that members are engaged in – at all levels.’
‘We want to eliminate paper and repetition, reduce delays and make it easier for the lodge Secretaries and, ultimately, the members themselves’
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’
Seeing the light
Freemasons’ Hall welcomed more than 100 guests for a special event on 16 May, with renowned war artist Arabella Dorman the guest speaker for the Anthony Wilson Memorial Lecture
The event was opened by Dr David Staples, the United Grand Lodge of England’s Grand Secretary and CEO, as he introduced Arabella to the stage and announced the two charities it was in aid of – Beyond Conflict and Age Unlimited.
The lecture was in honour of Anthony Wilson, who served as the President of the Board of General Purposes at UGLE from 2004 to 2017. Anthony’s widow, Vicky, was also in attendance, as well as Peter Lowndes, Pro Grand Master, and Geoffrey Dearing, the current President of the Board of General Purposes.
Dorman opened by paying tribute to the great man that Anthony was and telling the audience what a pleasure it had been to paint his portrait, which was placed at the front of the stage throughout the event. She has also been commissioned to paint a scene from UGLE’s Tercentenary celebrations in 2017, and this will soon be displayed in Freemasons’ Hall.
Dorman gave a vivid and insightful talk, opening with a poem and asking the audience to ‘think about our one life’, as she spoke in detail about her journeys across a number of war-torn countries.
Displayed behind her were images both harrowing and beautiful, including a bombed mosque in Syria, as Dorman argued that the destruction of ancient sites had only added to the tragedy that has befallen that country. The artist also explained how her belief in the idea of permanence was changed by her visit, telling the audience that history can be rebuilt, but that the past is lost to this present.
Dorman said the voices she had heard in Syria were not broken, but full of defiance and longing. This was even more inspiring when she recalled how one woman had told her that she had lost her car and carried on; she had lost her house and carried on; and she’d then lost her family and thought that she couldn’t carry on, but still did.
This was one of many real-life examples Dorman detailed throughout the night, as she shared her hope that even though art couldn’t change the world, it might help people feel a calling to resist corruption and war. In conclusion, she asked that her own work be seen as a salute to the power of peace, courage, faith and hope – as well as a call to reach out to others with compassion.