As part of the Tercentenary celebrations, 300 masons and civic dignitaries came together for the dedication of the Masonic Memorial Garden in Staffordshire
In late 2001, Lichfield mason Roger Manning suggested the creation of a masonic memorial to be sited at the newly created National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Burton-on-Trent.
It was agreed that the masonic garden should serve in the remembrance of all Freemasons, whether they had died in the service of their country or through sickness, accident or old age. There would be no reference on the site to specific lodges, groups or individuals.
Over the next 16 years, following four different Provincial Grand Masters, two architects, more than a dozen designs, planting failures, floods, dozens of detailed reports and many meetings, the Masonic Memorial Garden was finally unveiled on 18 April 2017 to over 300 brethren and civic dignitaries.
The service was witnessed by Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence, Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton, President of the Board of General Purposes Anthony Wilson and Grand Secretary Willie Shackell.
A welcome to all in attendance was given by local builder and brother Eddie Ford, who had been responsible for the garden’s development over the entire 16-year period. The dedication service was undertaken by the Provincial Grand Chaplain, the Reverend Bernard Buttery.
Civic leaders at the event included the Lord-Lieutenant of Staffordshire, Ian Dudson; the Mayor of East Staffordshire, Cllr Beryl Toon; and the Mayor of Tamworth, Cllr Ken Norchi. Provincial Grand Masters from many neighbouring Provinces, together with representatives from all of the 96 Staffordshire lodges, were also present.
From the Grand Secretary
We have been fortunate in recent months with extensive coverage across many media outlets. The Sky 1 documentary series has now finished and the DVD will be available for purchase in Letchworth’s Shop. Viewing figures have been excellent, comments from our members supportive and reports indicate a significant interest in Freemasonry from non-masons and potential recruits.
Interest in our organisation has also been enhanced by the coverage given to the unveiling ceremony of the commemorative paving stones that honour those Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War. The event is covered in detail in this edition of Freemasonry Today.
This has been a splendid first half of our Tercentenary year as we approach 24 June, our founding date. Our new Grand Officers for the year have been invested and many have already been involved in various duties. They will clearly become increasingly busy in the run-up to the main event at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 31 October, which promises to be an impressive and memorable occasion.
In this issue, we report on some of the remarkable events and initiatives that are helping to mark our Tercentenary around the country. In Staffordshire, 300 masons and civic dignitaries came together for the dedication of the Masonic Memorial Garden, which has been 16 years in the making. In Canterbury, a Tercentenary Thanksgiving service was held in recognition of the cathedral’s long-standing relationship with Freemasonry. And over in the Isle of Man, six stamps have been issued that are filled with masonic references and – intriguingly – hide a surprise that is only revealed under ultraviolet light.
PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE
The Tercentenary is not just about celebrating our rich history, it is also an opportunity to look forward. Grand Superintendent of Works John Pagella sets out his objectives for UGLE’s property portfolio, as well as a broader agenda to help anyone involved in the management of a masonic building or centre. For John, while Freemasonry is a craft, managing a masonic property is a business. He is keen to encourage masons at Provincial level to ask themselves whether their buildings are not only fit for purpose today but will continue to be so in 10 or 20 years’ time.
In Yorkshire, we meet Jeffrey Long, an 85-year-old army veteran and unstoppable fundraiser who has walked 127 miles between Liverpool and Leeds, undertaken a 90-mile route that included climbing three Yorkshire peaks, and completed the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall in his 84th year. In Leicester, martial artist and cooking sensation Kwoklyn Wan shares his passion for teaching. For Kwoklyn, joining the Craft has been the perfect progression, as it echoes the values he acquired growing up: ‘You learn from a young age to respect your elders; you treat people how you want to be treated. And with the Freemasons I felt that immediately.’
'Remarkable events are helping to mark our Tercentenary around the country’
Brethen of Valour
Special paving stones outside Freemasons’ Hall pay tribute to English Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross in World War I
A set of paving stones commemorating the 64 English Freemasons who were awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) during World War I was unveiled outside Freemasons’ Hall on 25 April.
The VC is the highest award for gallantry that can be conferred on a member of the Armed Forces regardless of rank or status – and almost one in six of the 633 VC recipients during the First World War were Freemasons.
Of these, 64 were under UGLE and 43 were under other Grand Lodges in the British Empire. Freemasons’ Hall itself is a memorial to the 3,000-plus English Freemasons who gave their lives in World War I.
The Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, attended the ceremony for the stones’ unveiling and blessing, together with Lord Dannatt, a Deputy Lieutenant for Greater London; the Mayor of Camden; senior officers from the military services; a group of Chelsea Pensioners; and representatives from the VC and George Cross Association as well as some of the regiments in which the VC holders had served. Specially invited were the families of those who were being commemorated.
The event was open to the public, with Great Queen Street and Wild Street closed to traffic. The crowd included representatives from many of the service lodges as well as passers-by.
Music was provided by the Band of the Grenadier Guards and the North London Military Wives Choir. Radio and television presenter Katie Derham narrated the first part of the ceremony, which opened with Chelsea Pensioner Ray Pearson reading an extract from AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, followed by the President of the Board of General Purposes, Anthony Wilson, welcoming those attending.
Derham set the scene at the outbreak of war in 1914 with the aid of archive film showing how young men ‘flocked to the flag’ in the expectation that the war would be over by Christmas – and how the reality set in that it was not to be a short war but one that would affect every community in the country.
Simon Dean OBE paid tribute to his grandfather Donald John Dean, who, at the age of 21, was awarded the VC in 1918. Col Brian Lees LVO OBE, chairman of the Rifles, Light Infantry and KOYLI Regimental Association, and Lt Col Matt Baker, Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion, The Rifles, paid tribute to Oliver Watson, who was posthumously awarded a VC in 1918.
The horrors of the war were brought vividly to life by Sebastian Cator, a pupil at Harrow School. He read extracts from the diaries of Major Richard Willis, who had also been a pupil at Harrow, in which he described the carnage resulting from landing his men on W Beach at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. For his part in that action he was one of the famous ‘six VCs before breakfast’ of the Gallipoli landings.
The Grand Secretary, Brigadier Willie Shackell CBE, gave an exhortation that was followed by the last post, a one-minute silence and reveille. The memorial stones were then unveiled and blessed by the Grand Chaplain, Canon Michael Wilson. The Grand Master and Lord Dannatt then inspected the stones, after which family members and other invited guests had an opportunity to view them before entering Freemasons’ Hall for a reception in the Grand Temple vestibule area.
You can watch highlights of the unveiling of the memorial to Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross during the Great War here
A special commemorative programme for the ceremony, including portraits and brief details of the 64 brethren of valour, can also be viewed here
Letters to the Editor - NO. 38 SUMMER 2017
We will remember
I wasn’t really sure who to address my comments to regarding the Victoria Cross memorial paving stones unveiling ceremony at Freemasons’ Hall, except Grand Lodge, brethren and friends. Freemasonry stood tall and exemplified what we are about in the unveiling of the wonderful memorial to those gentlemen who were Freemasons, and who paid the final sacrifice. This was a wonderful day for Freemasonry and a day of pride for Freemasons. Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of it.
Lou Myer, Ubique Lodge, No. 1789, London
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 39 AUTUMN 2017
Valour and gallantry
Your recent article on the honouring of World War I Victoria Cross recipients was inspiring and fascinating. Brave men indeed! I write to enquire if any similar research has been done on gallantry medals awarded relating to World War II?
A past member, Vivian Hollowday, of my own lodge, Old Worksopian, No. 6963, was awarded the George Cross in January 1941. The George Cross is the highest award that can be made for gallantry ‘not in the face of the enemy’. Viv was the first non-commissioned member of the RAF to receive the extremely high and rare honour. He was the eighth initiate into the lodge in 1958. A convivial and friendly brother, he remained a member until his death in 1977 aged 60. Living in Bedfordshire, I believe he also joined a lodge in that Province.
For good measure, Old Worksopian Lodge at the time also included two recipients of the Military Cross, George Rees and Arnold Slaney.
John Taylor, Old Worksopian Lodge, No. 6963, Worksop, Nottinghamshire
The Isle of Man Post Office is marking the Tercentenary with a set of six stamps hiding a surprise that can only be revealed under a special light
As English Freemasonry celebrates 300 years of Grand Lodge, a collection of six stamps has been issued, with illustrative designs that feature badges of office for senior lodge members, as well as architectural elements inspired by the lodges of England and the Isle of Man.
Filled with masonic references, the stamps were designed by Freemason Ben Glazier of Barbican Lodge, No. 8494, which meets in London. Paying respect to the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, now in his 50th year in office, was key: a subtle ribbon of the repeating letters ‘HRHDOKGM50’ runs around the edge of each stamp, commemorating the milestone.
The designs also include GPS references to places that are important to Freemasonry, and the official logo of the Tercentenary – only visible under ultraviolet light. Officially approved for use, the logo becomes visible during the postal system process, as items are scanned.
Commenting on the collection, UGLE Grand Secretary Willie Shackell said: ‘The United Grand Lodge of England is delighted to be celebrating its Tercentenary by working with the Isle of Man Post Office and the Province of the Isle of Man to present this very special set of stamps.’
While proud of its 300 years of history, Shackell explained that UGLE is now looking forward to the next three centuries, which is symbolically reflected in this innovative stamp issue. ‘Freemasonry is rightly proud of its contribution to family and in the community over the centuries. It is this very same contribution to the community which United Grand Lodge of England shares with Isle of Man Post Office.’
Isle of Man Stamps and Coins general manager Maxine Cannon saluted the efforts of the United Grand Lodge of England, in particular Mike Baker, Director of Communications, and on the Isle of Man, Keith Dalrymple and Alex Downie, who provided a wealth of material: ‘We thank them for their time, knowledge and assistance in making this such an interesting project.’
View the Freemasonry stamp issue here
Appointment of Chief Executive Officer
We are pleased to announce that we have appointed Doctor David Staples, FRCP, DepGDC, to the newly created role of Chief Executive Officer of the United Grand Lodge of England.
David will join in September in this role and it is expected that he will also be appointed Grand Secretary at the 2018 Annual Investiture.
Although we are devoting much energy this year to celebrating our Tercentenary, this appointment clearly demonstrates that we are also focused on the future. We intend that, by bringing all staff and managerial functions together under an empowered CEO, we will ensure that UGLE goes forward as an organisation equipped for the modern age, providing strategic clarity, operational excellence, strong leadership and the highest standards of corporate governance for all our members.
David Staples is 42 years old and is currently Clinical Director of Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Trust, where he is responsible for managing 1,100 staff and an income and expenditure budget of over £100 million. He trained initially as a doctor at the University of Oxford and has held a series of senior clinical roles across the UK before moving into the management of clinical services.
President, Board of General Purposes
From the Grand Secretary
By the time you receive this issue, our Tercentenary year will be well under way and our Rulers will have already attended overseas events in Denmark, Mumbai, India, and Zakynthos, Greece, at our unattached Star of the East Lodge, No. 880. His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent has also attended a church service at Canterbury Cathedral for the Provinces of East and West Kent, Sussex and Surrey. We now await the broadcast in April of the long-anticipated Sky TV documentary Inside The Freemasons.
It is an exciting year as we build towards our showpiece event at the end of October. So far, it is likely that we will welcome around 160 Grand Lodges from around the world to celebrate with us at the Royal Albert Hall and look forward to our next 300 years. We now need to build on our successes and use this year to show ourselves as the vibrant and relevant organisation which is Freemasonry.
Looking forward to the Tercentenary in this issue of Freemasonry Today, Keith Gilbert highlights the planning and organisation of celebratory events taking place across not just the UK but the entire world. As Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes notes in his Senior Insights column, these are exciting times, so we should celebrate in style by showing our pride in being Freemasons.
When it comes to showing the best in Freemasonry, Spinnaker Lodge in the Province of Hampshire & Isle of Wight is a shining beacon. We find out how its members are encouraging younger Freemasons into the Craft with a shared interest in all things sailing. The sixth specialist lodge in the Province to be consecrated in the past four years, Spinnaker will be visiting new marinas and hosting social events at sailing clubs to raise both its own profile and that of Freemasonry in 2017.
Best foot forward
In the north-west of England, we meet a 54-strong group of Freemasons, their families and friends who trekked across Morecambe Bay. Cumberland & Westmorland Provincial Grand Master Norman Thompson and his intrepid travellers not only raised money to help victims of the Cumbria floods, but also showed how Freemasonry is connecting with local communities. The team joined some 1,000 walkers at Arnside Promenade to brave the wet and puddled sands for a memorable day that is now an annual event in the Provincial calendar.
The opportunities for Freemasonry are not just in the face we show the world, but are also in our governance, our leadership, our retention and our management of masonic halls. The Chairman of the Improvement Delivery Group, David Wootton, reports on how he and his team are leading the implementation and delivery of our agreed strategy for Freemasonry to 2020. As David notes, there is much to do but also much to enjoy.
‘We need to use this year to show ourselves as vibrant and relevant’
Down to work
At the start of a momentous period, Chairman of the Improvement Delivery Group David Wootton reports on the initiative that is propelling Freemasonry forward
The Improvement Delivery Group (IDG) was set up last summer to take forward the initiatives begun by the Membership Focus Group (MFG), most capably chaired and led by Ray Reed, which held its final meeting in August. The IDG will develop new initiatives as well as lead the implementation and delivery of our strategy for Freemasonry to 2020.
Politicians like to say that ‘the time for talking is over, now is the time for action’. Of course, the time for talking is never really over – you can only achieve things by talking to people. But the time for just talking is over and I want to tell you what we’ve done in the IDG and what we will be doing.
Communication is key. We will only succeed if members know and agree with what we’re doing, and follow the leads we take. The IDG reports to the Grand Master’s Council (GMC), and we will not only do that annually in September but also whenever else is appropriate. We will make a progress report to Grand Lodge at Quarterly Communication in September this year.
The IDG will also make recommendations to and seek agreement from the Board of General Purposes (BGP) and the Committee of General Purposes (CGP) on matters within their respective management remits for the Craft and Royal Arch.
But we will be doing much more than this. We will send short newsletter updates to Provincial Grand Masters and to Grand Superintendents for distribution within their Provinces. This will likely be on a quarterly basis and whenever else there’s something significant we want people to know.
Individual members of the IDG will also be taking every opportunity to spread the word and convey the message at regional, Provincial and lodge meetings. So, if you would like someone to come to you to talk about what is being done, do ask.
Alongside the core IDG team – see ‘Who are we?’ for details – we are very ably supported by Ray Reed, MFG Chairman and Past Deputy President of the BGP; Willie Shackell, Grand Secretary; and Shawn Christie, Assistant Grand Secretary, and his Executive Assistant, Alexandra Fuller.
‘We want to show that both Craft and Royal Arch, and all parts of the country, matter’
With co-ordination and joined-up thinking key, we have also invited the President of the BGP, Anthony Wilson, or his Deputy, James Long, and the President of the CGP, Malcolm Aish, to join us at meetings, or send a nominee. Completing the line-up is Mike Baker, Director of Communications. In assembling a strong team, we want to show that both Craft and Royal Arch, and all parts of the country, matter.
Individual members of the IDG will communicate to the Regional Communications Groups (RCGs), gatherings of Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents in the same area, and through them to individual lodges and members. This is because messages exchanged between people who know each other are much more effective than those coming down from the top. This is not about giving orders; it is a collective effort to develop better ways of doing things.
In terms of what we seek to achieve, we keep in our minds the 2020 Strategic Objectives:
- Effective governance at all levels; a Leadership Development programme; reviewing and revising the governance arrangements of Grand Lodge.
- Improved attraction and retention of members, so that membership remains above 200,000; resignations before receipt of Grand Lodge certificate to reduce from 20 per cent to less than 10 per cent; and local media coverage to have incremental year-on-year growth of more than 20 per cent.
- Developing the financial sustainability of our masonic halls.
With this in mind, the IDG has formed six working groups, namely Governance, Leadership, Membership, Education, Masonic Halls and Image.
The Governance Group
The Governance Group, chaired by Gareth Jones, looks at how the various parts of Freemasonry work within themselves and with each other, so that everyone knows what they are doing and not doing. We have already put into circulation a written statement of the roles and responsibilities of Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents.
The Leadership Group
The Leadership Group, which Michael Ward chairs, helps office holders learn how to do the job and what it entails. Michael has already organised two successful workshops for Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, and one for Deputy PGMs. At our last IDG meeting we approved recommendations to devote more resources, human and financial, to training programmes for a wide range of other officers, from Registrars to Treasurers to Membership Officers, so that those new to these roles know what is expected and those with experience can refresh their knowledge.
The Membership Group
The Membership Group, chaired by Peter Taylor, brings together recruitment and retention of members. Why do some members stay and progress and others leave? What is our members’ experience? Does their experience differ from their expectation? The Membership Group will have custody of membership surveys already carried out and will commission new ones, as well as managing and applying all the information we have already gathered. In particular, the group will manage the Pathway project, a series of guides to best practice in all the steps in the masonic journey, currently being piloted in a number of Provinces.
The Education Group
The Education Group, which Stuart Hadler chairs, has a programme for education, learning and personal development, and will produce a central repository of learning materials for brethren who wish to develop a greater understanding and appreciation of masonic ritual, history and tradition.
The Masonic Halls Group
The Masonic Halls Group, chaired by Jeff Gillyon, has produced a substantial guide to all aspects of the management and development of masonic halls, critical to the future of Freemasonry, which is being circulated to PGMs and Grand Superintendents via the RCGs and will be introduced in the spring.
The Image Group
The Image Group, chaired by Gordon Robertson, tucks in behind the BGP’s Communications Committee, chaired by James Long. Its brief is to look at ways of enhancing the image of Freemasonry, both to masons and to non-masons. Our image of Freemasonry is key to our enjoyment of it and our willingness to recruit the right people to join us. The group will work in close conjunction with the Communications Committee.
The IDG will be actively pushing forward the work of these groups. We’ll look at better ways of communicating with members, make better use of the membership information we have, and collect the information we don’t. We’ll also look at ways of supporting those who might benefit from ‘central help’ – the rapidly developing new and young masons clubs spring to mind. In this Tercentenary year, there’s lots to do, but we’ll enjoy doing it.
Who are we?
I am the Chairman of the IDG and the Deputy Chairman is Gareth Jones, Third Grand Principal and Provincial Grand Master in the Craft for South Wales. Gareth and I work very closely together. We are joined by Michael Ward, one of the three Deputy Metropolitan Grand Masters. Then we have one member from each of the geographical areas of England and Wales:
- Jeff Gillyon, PGM and Grand Superintendent, Yorkshire, North & East Ridings
- Stephen Blank, PGM and Grand Superintendent, Cheshire
- Peter Taylor, PGM and Grand Superintendent, Shropshire
- Tim Henderson-Ross, PGM, Gloucestershire
- Gordon Robertson, PGM, Buckinghamshire
- Charles Cunnington, Grand Superintendent, Derbyshire
- Ian Yeldham, PGM Suffolk
- Mark Estaugh, PGM and Grand Superintendent, West Kent
- Stuart Hadler, PGM, Somerset
From the Grand Secretary
It does not seem possible that I have already completed my first six months as Grand Secretary. I am extremely grateful for the first-rate support I have received from all the staff at the United Grand Lodge of England and the encouragement I have been given from all those who provide such tremendous support in their own time to make Freemasonry such a vibrant and relevant organisation.
We are in the process of preparing a comprehensive Communications Plan to ensure that we capitalise on the unique opportunity presented by our Tercentenary celebrations.
We start 2017 with the five-part Sky television documentary Inside The Freemasons. We then have a vast number of events planned throughout the Metropolitan, Provincial and District areas, indicating the tremendous enthusiasm that this milestone has generated.
Sense of continuity
In this issue of Freemasonry Today, Keith Gilbert discusses the precision planning going into the Royal Albert Hall and Battersea events that will be part of the central Tercentenary celebrations, with a 2017 calendar giving a flavour of the many activities taking place at a local level. Also marking our 300th year, we report on the opening of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry’s newest gallery, which explores three centuries of masonic history to show how our values of sociability, inclusivity, charity and integrity have stood the test of time.
With Sir Thomas Lipton best known as the man who brought tea to the British masses, our piece on this famous Freemason explores how he improved the lives of the tea blenders and pickers with increased wages. We find out why Lipton set sail in his steam yacht during World War I to report on the devastation wrought by the typhus epidemic in Serbia and how he helped to set up
a trust to provide meals to the poor of London.
Our profile of Wayne Ingram illustrates how the core masonic values typified by the likes of Sir Thomas Lipton are still alive and well. From organising charity football matches in a war zone through to a 13-year crusade to give a boy life-changing facial surgery, Wayne is a serial fundraiser who thinks nothing of putting other people’s welfare before his own. ‘I don’t really think about my involvement,’ he says of the many causes he’s supported. ‘I’m just glad it happened.’
As a new generation takes Freemasonry forward, we meet 26-year-old Alex Rhys, who has just conducted his first initiation. While keen to explore new ways of recruiting and retaining members, Alex believes that it is the sense of continuity found in Freemasonry that appeals to younger masons, who enjoy tapping into a tradition that stretches back to 1717.
I hope you enjoy our winter edition and wish you and your families a wonderful festive season.
‘I am extremely grateful for the first-rate support I have received from staff at UGLE.’
Here to help
Having had a career in the army and charities that has focused on safeguarding the welfare of others, Willie Shackell, new UGLE Grand Secretary, wants to ensure that Freemasons have all the support they need
Did you always want to be in the army?
Well, the first thing one has to decide is what career best suits you. In my early days, I couldn’t make up my mind whether I wanted to be a vicar or be in the army, but I ended up joining the latter.
I went off to Sandhurst in 1960, was commissioned into the Royal Engineers in 1962, then went to the University of Cambridge from 1963 to 1966, which was paid for by the army. What a lucky chap. I came out as a young officer, having been a student for three years. It took me some time to settle back into army life, but fortunately I had a very persuasive Commanding Officer.
I then went off to the Naval Staff College and did a couple of tours in Germany as a Major before getting promoted and going off to Nigeria to the staff college in Jaji. I was 39 and the placement was an indication for me that I wasn’t in the top flight of Lieutenant Colonels. Throughout one’s career, one’s got to accept that there are people better than you and it’s a great lesson in life.
I got promoted in 1988 to Colonel and was made responsible for the army’s Welfare, Conditions of Service and Casualties Procedures. The Gulf War took place during that period and it was the first time in my army career that I’d had a large degree of autonomy. I brought in computer networks and extra staff and we ran a very successful operation. I was appointed CBE for this work, promoted to Brigadier and went to command a brigade up in York, before becoming the first Director of Reserve Forces and Cadets. Realising I wasn’t going to be a General, I retired at the age of 52 having had a great career and absolutely no regrets – I would recommend it to anyone.
What did you do after leaving the army?
My attention was directed towards charities when I came to leave the armed forces. I felt I had an empathy with that side of life, having dealt with service welfare and enjoyed that aspect of work.
I moved on to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) and my first job was to set up a contract for SSAFA to run the community health services in Germany. We had a very successful partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital and the Army Medical Service. I ran the department for three years, then supported the volunteer network and managed the housing assets for five years. My last five years on the staff were spent as Company Secretary, and I finished as the Vice Chairman of Trustees. During this time, I also held a number of posts in the voluntary sector.
When I retired from SSAFA, I applied to become the UGLE Grand Secretary. I was interviewed, but got a letter saying I hadn’t got that particular job.
I was, however, rung up a little bit later and asked if I would be the President of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI). It was a total surprise, I can tell you, but I said yes and what a marvellous experience it was.
What was your agenda coming into the RMBI?
I suppose it’s rather like my agenda on joining any organisation. I go in, look at it for three months, and then decide what my goals are. There were a lot of plans for rebuilding care homes to bring us into the 21st century – I took the opportunity to go to all the care homes because I believed I couldn’t discuss change unless I’d visited them all.
I then looked at the trustee board. My feeling was that we needed to have more people with the right skills and I wasn’t bothered whether they were Freemasons or what gender they were. It was a culture change for the RMBI, but my reasoning was accepted and we brought our first lady on to the board. We put more emphasis on accommodating those with dementia, improved fire safety and updated the homes. It was a major undertaking costing about £35 million, but we had tremendous staff support and it all needed to be done.
After six years, I felt that I had achieved what I set out to do and when asked to do another four years I said no. I was then made President of the Masonic Samaritan Fund, taking over from Hugh Stubbs, who had been a quite outstanding president. I just had to keep the ship ticking along, which gave me time with my fellow charity presidents to start work on planning the formation of the Masonic Charitable Foundation. My task was to coordinate the governance and then bring together the grant-making activities of the four charities.
Having retired as President of the Masonic Samaritan Fund on the formation of the Masonic Charitable Foundation at the end of April, I then got a phone call asking if I would take on the position of Grand Secretary on an interim basis. I spent a weekend chewing it over with my wife before accepting it on a three-day-a-week basis and on the understanding that I was fully accountable to the board. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
What is your approach as Grand Secretary?
Communication is the key to most things. Certainly at the United Grand Lodge of England, one of the first things I’m trying to do is to improve the internal communications. We’ve got a good team; we’ve just got to talk among ourselves a bit more.
My first goal is to get the trust and respect of the people here. Until you’ve got that, you’re not going to achieve a great deal. And probably the second most important thing I’ve tried to do is to make sure everyone understands that we’re all here as servants of Freemasonry. We’re here to support the many volunteers working in Provincial and District offices as well as any other Freemason with a problem – we’re the paid staff and our job is to help members promote the values of masonry out in the field, to understand it, to enjoy it and to have fun.
‘I’m in the comfortable position of not doing the job for a career... but because I love Freemasonry.’ Willie Shackell
A lot of the administration of the building is done by the Chief Operating Officer, whereas I’m involved in the administration between the Provinces, the lodges and Great Queen Street. Freemasons should see me as the person they contact and I’m very content in that role. I’m in the comfortable position of not doing the job for a career or because I need to be employed but because I love Freemasonry and believe I can contribute to our future.
Why did you become a Freemason?
I joined Freemasonry back in 1963. My dear old dad had been a mason for many years; he became one before the war. Dad was in the Infantry, which hadn’t been very pleasant, and there were no counselling services for people like him. You just had to get on with life and re-establish yourself. After the war, life wasn’t easy. Dad was a teacher, which wasn’t particularly well paid, and as a child I could feel the tension. But whenever he went off to one of his masonic meetings with his little brown bag, he’d come back relaxed. It was noticeable.
I joined my father’s lodge at 22 in 1963. I found that wherever I was in the world, there was masonry. I joined the Grand Lodge of British Freemasons in Germany and went through the Chair; in Nigeria I joined the Northern Nigeria Lodge in Kaduna; when I went to Northern Ireland with my Territorial Army regiment, I attended the Belfast Volunteers Lodge; and in the Netherlands I joined a French Constitution Lodge.
What do you want to have achieved by the time you leave?
I’d like to have improved the systems and internal communications and to have run a happy ship. We know people will grumble at us because we’re the headquarters, but we’re here to support them.
An American at the Naval Staff College once said to me, ‘You appear a really laid-back guy, but I can tell you’re paddling like mad underneath that water!’ Maybe he was right. I think I always want to do the best I can. I’ve never had a problem with accepting responsibility – I think I’m better at that than the fine detail. I’ve always had a vision as to what I want to achieve, and I’m a believer that as you aim for a goal the detail will get sorted as you get nearer to it.
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.
‘I feel most privileged to be involved at this important time in our history.’