Her Majesty The Queen received from His Royal Highness The Grand Master, on our behalf, a message of loyal greetings and congratulations on the occasion of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee. Sixty years is a fantastic achievement, equalling Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897 when His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales was Grand Master. Let us not forget that Her Majesty is the daughter of a famous Freemason and Past Grand Master, the late King George VI.
Freemasons have consistently remained devoted and loyal to her Majesty throughout her reign. A great example of this, for any one of you who has attended meetings in the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall, is when up to seventeen hundred members sing the National Anthem with gusto. You cannot fail to be deeply moved.
The Grand Master, in his speech at the Annual Investiture at the end of April, explained why transparency is critical for Freemasonry and urges an active spirit of openness. You can read the full speech in this issue and see where The Grand Master picks up the theme of our two recent firsts. One was the commissioning of the first ever report by an independent third party on the future of Freemasonry, which was the catalyst for the second of our two firsts, namely the first ever media tour that I was given the privilege of conducting.
The theme is continued in two more articles where our public relations adviser explains how we have gone about changing the minds of the mass of people who have deep-rooted misconceptions about the myths that still surround us. If we want our families to be proud of us being members and if we want to show we are a relevant organisation to join, every effort must be made for these misconceptions to be got rid of.
This is followed by an article on what it was like to be on the ‘front line’ with the media – the Grand Secretary being interviewed around the country. Interestingly, I was hugely encouraged by the positive reception I received.
These examples are a true reflection of our respected magazine being the official journal of the United Grand Lodge of England. Apart from the clear benefit of reading what our leaders are thinking and the initiatives we are undertaking to ensure our long-term survival, be assured that all editorial is selected by senior and experienced Freemasons, who are renowned experts in masonic matters and news editing. The only non-masons involved deal in the commissioning of articles – after they have been selected by the editorial panel – or involved in design, printing and distribution. They too have been chosen for their recognised expertise.
I hope you enjoy this issue of Freemasonry Today. With the London Olympic Games just around the corner, we look at how Spencer Park Lodge is carrying the torch for masons who have an interest in sport and enjoy the camaraderie that Freemasonry brings. We also look back at the role that Freemasons played in the 1908 London Olympics, not just on the track but also in helping run the event behind the scenes. And for anyone not totally fixated on athletics, we find out whether Christopher Wren really was part of the Craft and how we let a hundred young people loose on Freemasons’ Hall.
I wish you and your family happy reading and an enjoyable summer.
At the suggestion of Anthony West, Chairman of the Grand Lodge 250th Anniversary Fund, Tuscan Lodge, No. 14, arranged a Fellows Presentation at The Royal College of Surgeons of England in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, in the presence of The Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent.
The 250th Fund was set up in 1967 to support the college in making annual grants to support research Fellows, and currently there are three Freemasons’ research Fellows each year. In connection with the bicentenary of Supreme Grand Chapter in 2013, an appeal is in progress, the funds of which will be applied for a similar purpose.
Other distinguished guests included the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, Assistant Grand Master David Williamson, Grand Secretary Nigel Brown and the Grand Director of Ceremonies, Oliver Lodge.
The guests were welcomed by Professor Norman Williams, President of The Royal College of Surgeons, while plastic surgeon Professor Gus McGrouther expressed his gratitude to the masonic community for its support. Professor McGrouther explained that the college receives no NHS funding for research and that this all has to be paid for by voluntary contribution. The college supports 20 researchers annually chosen from 150 applications.
Three Freemasons’ Research Fellows gave talks. They were Vaibhav Sharma, on improving hearing through reducing scar tissue; Miss Ming He, on tissue engineering for transplantation; and Satoshi Hori of the Uro-Oncology, Hutchinson/MRC Research Centre, University of Cambridge. A member of Isaac Newton University Lodge No.859 also spoke on targeting growth factors in prostate cancer.
The Grand Secretary embarked on a nationwide media tour to dispel some myths and spark discussion about Freemasonry. Sophie Radice reports
Nigel Brown, Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England, has just been on a tour the length and breath of England – not forgetting an interview with BBC Wales – that would exhaust any electioneering politician or celebrity trying to promote a new book. Over just four days, Nigel gave 40 back-to-back interviews to national and local newspapers and radio stations.
The publication of a new independent report The Future Of Freemasonry was the catalyst to generate discussion about the role of Freemasonry in the twenty-first century, while at the same time debunking certain persistent myths about the organisation. Both the tour and the report are the first stages in the build up to the 300th anniversary of the Freemasons in 2017 and to promote a better understanding of what Freemasonry means.
Nigel found it exhausting but exhilarating, particularly enjoying the direct contact he had with the public in the regional radio phone-in discussions: ‘People still believe certain things about the Freemasons, and of course the deep-seated myth that it is a secret society with unique business networking opportunities came up many times. It was really good to be able to say: “Look, would I be doing a tour of England if it was a secret society?”
‘I was able to tell people that the only time the Freemasons ever went underground was during the Second World War when more than 200,000 Freemasons were sent to the gas chambers by Hitler because he saw Freemasonry as a threat. Seeing Hitler’s persecution of Freemasonry, particularly after he invaded the Channel Islands, and fearing the invasion of England, members became alarmed,’ continues Nigel. ‘Many of the people I spoke to on the tour were very surprised to hear this.’
Nigel goes on to explain that Freemasonry then played an important role post-war for troops returning home, many of whom wanted to be with other men who had been through the same experience. ‘Many lodges were formed during the immediate post-war period. Perhaps too many because there was such a strong need for camaraderie and because of what had happened during the war. As a result they naturally became inward looking.’
need for belonging
While the number of lodges has now levelled out almost to its pre-war period, the sense of brotherly support remains in the 250,000 members in England and Wales. Among its conclusions, The Future Of Freemasonry report states that ‘there is a timeless need for a sense of affiliation and belonging’. The report also emphasises the importance that Freemasons place on helping others.
‘The only requisite we have for joining the Freemasons is that they are people of integrity, honesty, fairness and kindness who believe in a supreme being,’ explains Nigel. ‘We welcome people of all races and religions with different social and economic backgrounds. This kind of openness, and the fact that Freemasonry is a non-religious and non-political organisation means that the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Israel is a Palestinian, and that is because the decency and morality of our members is of paramount importance.’
When Nigel told people he met on his tour that the Freemasons were the biggest charitable givers after The National Lottery, donating £30 million last year, he was met with incredulity. ‘These very large contributions come from Freemasons’ own efforts rather than from street collections or any other type of external fundraising. Because the Freemason does not ask for thanks or reward it means that very few people know about our charitable donations, even though they are on such a large scale. For instance, we are the main donors to The Royal College of Surgeons, funding much of their research and donate generously to the Red Cross. I know it seems a small thing but it is something that I am particularly proud of. We are the people that provide teddies for all children going into surgery, to comfort them in that difficult moment.’
Questions about Freemasonry rituals, rolled-up trouser legs and secret handshakes were well prepared for. Nigel explained that he had never come across the secret handshake but was glad to shed light on the rituals as a series of ‘one-act plays’ performed by members as they moved up the ranks of the Freemasons. ‘I was happy to tell interviewers and those ringing in to radio discussion programmes that there was nothing sinister about it. I think that rituals are very important to a sense of belonging and our members thoroughly enjoy taking part in these performances and memorising their lines. They provide a distinctive character to joining and moving through the ranks of the Freemasons – our aim isn’t to make Freemasonry bland but to make the public more aware of what we do.’
Even in recent memory, Freemasonry has had to deal with discrimination against members. ‘On some job application forms there was the question, “Are you a member of a secret society, e.g. the Freemasons?” We got that removed by the European Court of Human Rights, but we still have to work hard to make sure that our members are not wrongly judged, or feel that it is something they have to hide. As the report shows, our members really value the feeling of belonging to an organisation that contributes to society and is a part of their life that they can be proud of. Freemasonry is more relevant than ever – in a competitive and fragmented society it provides a combination of friendship and structure.’
HRH The Duke of Kent explains why transparency is critical for Freemasonry and urges an active spirit of openness
Our concern must be for the future, especially with the approach of our three-hundredth anniversary in 2017. In planning for this great anniversary, I believe these times demand innovation, and imaginative thinking, while retaining our principles.
In this I make no apology for again reminding everyone of the need truly to demonstrate transparency, and to work towards regaining our enviable reputation in society. To do this we have to show how and why we are relevant and to concentrate on the positive aspects of Freemasonry, in particular our generous tradition of giving to a wide variety of causes.
In regards to transparency, we still have some way to go in dispelling the myths that remain deep rooted in many people’s minds, not least the media. Very considerable progress has been made in this direction already, but challenges remain, and there is still work to do to overcome prejudices and misconception.
I am very pleased that we have already achieved two firsts of some importance in tackling this challenge. The first of these was the commissioning of the first ever independent, third party report, written by non-masons, on the Future of Freemasonry. This report has been highly successful and has itself acted as the catalyst for the second of our two innovations, namely the first media tour, conducted by the Grand Secretary.
I recommend that you all take advantage of this active spirit of openness to talk with equal frankness to your family and friends. I think that if you follow this advice, you may well be surprised by the positive reception you will gain.
I want to congratulate all those whom I had the pleasure of investing. To attain Grand Rank in the Craft is a very high accolade of which you can feel justly proud. This promotion does, however, come with an obligation always to set the highest example in standards of integrity, honesty and fairness wherever you are.
Among those I have appointed to acting office are the new Grand Chancellor, the president of the Grand Charity and the Deputy President of the Board of General Purposes, and I want to take this opportunity of thanking their predecessors.
First of all, Brother Alan Englefield, who as the first Grand Chancellor, has made an invaluable contribution to bringing us closer to other Grand Lodges around the world, as well as to maintaining our position as the Mother Grand Lodge. Secondly to Grahame Elliott, who as president of the Grand Charity, as well as presiding over the Grand Charity itself, was instrumental in the successful move of the four charities into this building and thirdly, to Michael Lawson who has given a long and dedicated period of service on the board since 1988. To all three brethren we owe a considerable debt of gratitude.
John Hamill looks back on the construction of Freemasons’ Hall from the perspective of those who worked there
Despite the economic problems, the 1920s was a period of great expansion for Freemasonry. It appealed to those coming back from the war – both as a means of continuing the camaraderie they had experienced on active service and giving them a sense of stability and tradition in a much changed world.
With the growing popularity of Freemasonry, the great project of building the present Freemasons’ Hall in London was undertaken as a memorial to those who had given their lives in the First World War. Changes of this magnitude and the increased work in raising money for the new building put enormous strains on the small office run by the Grand Secretary.
In 1919, the office consisted of the Grand Secretary, Assistant Grand Secretary, sixteen permanent clerks, four junior clerks and two ‘lady typewriters’, Miss Haig and Miss Winter. The two ladies had come in towards the end of the war as temporaries but were to spend the remainder of their careers in the Hall as secretaries to the Grand Secretary and his assistant.
The daily running of the building and the letting of lodge and committee rooms was under the charge of the Grand Tyler, who lived in the hall. He had an assistant, two porters, a night watchman, a ‘furnace man’ who looked after the primitive heating system and the open fires in the offices and committee rooms, and a floating number of cleaners.
Six of the boys taken on between 1925 and 1929 – some of whom came directly from the old Royal Masonic School for Boys – were each to spend forty-nine years in the service of the Grand Lodge: Gerry Winslade, Harold Brunton, Llew Hodges, Bill Browne, Derek Chanter and Bob Hawkins.
Dickensian is probably an overused adjective, but it aptly describes the conditions under which the clerks worked. Freemasons’ Hall had been extended in the 1860s and what were termed commodious offices had been provided for the Grand Secretary and his clerks. Even the provision in 1906 of two new rooms in a house attached to the west end of the old Hall did little to give proper working space.
As the steel work for the new building began to rise in 1927 it gradually became apparent that much would have to change in the future. It was to cover two and one quarter acres with four principal floors, a large basement area and mezzanine floors in various parts of the building. Routine maintenance would be of ‘Forth Bridge’ proportions, to say nothing of security.
Not surprisingly, many of those who had been involved in raising the building applied for jobs and spent the rest of their working lives caring for it, some of them working into their mid-seventies. Carpentry, electrical and engineering workshops were set up in the basement, together with a paint shop and upholstery department. When the time came to demolish the Victorian Hall, the office was transferred to temporary accommodation in what was to be one of the new lodge rooms so that the administration could continue. The conditions were far from ideal but they knew that before long they would be moving to what one of the clerks described as a ‘demi-paradise’.
The new office for the clerks was built in the undercroft of the Grand Temple and matched it in size. Unlike the Grand Temple, it had enormous windows allowing much natural light to come in from the light well which surrounds it. Unlike the cramped Victorian offices, it was open plan giving a great feeling of airy lightness and space. Visitors came in through large glazed bronze doors to find a long enquiries counter, always manned by a senior clerk who could deal with their enquiries or quickly fetch the appropriate clerk who dealt with the particular matter. While waiting to be served, the visitor had a view over the whole of the office.
At the back of the room was a mezzanine floor where the cashier and his clerks had their office. The sensitive nature of their work dealing with Grand Lodge finances and staff payroll was carried out without any fear of being overlooked by staff or visitors. In those halcyon days it was the only part of the office where the doors had locks, the rest of the office was always accessible even when the clerks had left for the evening.
In time, as the Craft continued to expand – particularly after the Second World War – the office again became crowded. In addition, areas had been partitioned off to provide small offices for individuals and the whole open-plan design had been submerged. When a major structural reorganisation of the Grand Secretary’s office took place in 1999 the old partitions were torn down and the feeling of light and space returned. Apart from the modern furniture and the computers, were one of the 1932 clerks to return to the office today they would find it little changed from that ‘demi-paradise’ they were the first to occupy.
CRAFT ANNUAL INVESTITURE
25 APRIL 2012
AN ADDRESS BY THE MW THE GRAND MASTER HRH THE DUKE OF KENT, KG
Brethren, I start by congratulating most warmly all those whom I have had the pleasure of investing today. To attain Grand Rank in the Craft is a very high accolade of which you can feel justly proud. This promotion does, however, come with an obligation always to set the highest example in standards of integrity, honesty, and fairness wherever you are.
Among those I have appointed to acting office are the new Grand Chancellor, the President of the Grand Charity and the Deputy President of the Board of General Purposes, and I want to take this opportunity of thanking their predecessors. First of all, Brother Alan Englefield, who as the first Grand Chancellor, has made an invaluable contribution to bringing us closer to other Grand Lodges around the world, as well as to maintaining our position as the Mother Grand Lodge. Secondly to Brother Grahame Elliott, who as President of the Grand Charity, as well as presiding over the Grand Charity itself, was instrumental in the successful move of the four Charities into this Building and thirdly, to Brother Michael Lawson who has given a long and dedicated period of service on the Board since 1988. To all three Brethren we owe a considerable debt of gratitude.
Brethren, today our concern must be for the future, especially with the approach of our three hundredth anniversary in 2017. In planning for this great anniversary, I believe these times demand innovation, and imaginative thinking, whilst retaining our principles. In this I make no apology for again reminding Brethren of the need truly to demonstrate transparency, and to work towards regaining our enviable reputation in society. To do this we have to show how and why we are relevant and to concentrate on the positive aspects of Freemasonry, in particular our generous tradition of giving to a wide variety of causes.
In regards to transparency we still have some way to go in dispelling the myths that remain 'deep rooted' in many people's minds, not least the media. Very considerable progress has been made in this direction already, but challenges remain, and there is still work to do to overcome prejudices and misconception.
I am very pleased that we have already achieved two firsts of some importance in tackling this challenge. The first of these was the commissioning of the first ever independent, third party report, written by non-Masons, on the future of Freemasonry. This Report has been highly successful and has itself acted as the catalyst for the second of our two innovations, namely the first media tour, conducted by the Grand Secretary, and which achieved a reach of more than 117 million people.
I recommend that you all take advantage of this active spirit of openness to talk with equal frankness to your family and friends. I think that if you follow this advice, you may well be surprised by the positive reception you will gain.
Today's has been a memorable gathering and its undoubted success has been achieved by a great deal of careful planning and hard work, so that on your behalf, I want first of all to thank the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his Deputies for the skill and precision with which the ceremony has been conducted, and secondly the Grand Secretary and his staff for their long hours of planning which have 'borne fruit' so excellently this afternoon.
This year started on a high note. As part of our communication strategy and as a build-up to our tercentenary in 2017, we commissioned an independent report on the future of Freemasonry. This report, specifically for the media, was produced by the respected Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford.
To launch the report I have just completed a successful regional media tour around the Provinces, talking to local radio and press, followed by national media activity. This is a classic example of our proactive approach. I plan to tell you about the report and the actual tour in the next issue, but let me give you a flavour of some of the important and encouraging findings.
The Future of Freemasonry report suggests that, contrary to much misleading commentary, Freemasonry does in fact demonstrate genuine openness and transparency. It concludes that Freemasonry is arguably more relevant today than ever before. In particular, the report highlights that Freemasonry acts as a ‘constant’ and provides members with a unique combination of friendship, belonging and structure, all of which can sometimes be absent in today’s fragmented society.
The report covers a fascinating range of topics including a section that highlights the importance Freemasonry places on the role of the family and the care of the less fortunate in society. It goes on to say that Freemasonry instils in its members a moral and ethical approach to life: it seeks to reinforce thoughtfulness for others, kindness in the community, honesty in business, courtesy in society and fairness in all things.
In this issue, you will find a fantastic collection of features and stories that clearly illustrate Freemasonry’s core values. On page 16 you can read about a Gravesend garage that is giving hope to unemployed young people by not just training them to be auto mechanics but also giving them the confidence to grow. Freemasons continue to support this and many other projects that are aimed at helping disadvantaged young people into employment or education.
Teddies For Loving Care donates teddy bears to comfort children in hospitals across the world. We talk to its founder, Freemason Ian Simpson, about how he started the project and the people whose lives it has touched. Later in the issue, we find out how Joshua Tonnar is rowing his way into Olympic contention with the support of a grant from the Freemasons. Meanwhile, a profile about the creation of the Royal Life Saving Lodge shows how the Craft brings together people from all walks of life, creating an environment where they not only discuss masonry but also share common interests, values and aspirations.
These stories all point to the sense of community, courtesy and honesty that are characteristic of the intrinsic strengths of Freemasonry today.
Specialist lodges offer the opportunity for members to combine their personal interests while learning about the principles of Freemasonry, as Terry Draycott shows in his history of the Royal Life Saving Lodge
At first glance you might be forgiven for thinking that ‘Quemcunque Miserum Videris Hominem Scias’ is a quote from a Roman Emperor’s tomb. However, you would be wrong. It is actually the motto of the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS), which was formed in 1891 by, among others, William Henry and Archibald Sinclair, and translates to: ‘Whomsoever you see in distress, see in him a fellow Man.’
Originally called the Swimmer’s Life Saving Society, the aims of the society were to try to reduce the significant numbers of fatalities caused by drowning, through teaching self-preservation and rescue skills. The title was subsequently changed to The Life Saving Society with members delivering lectures and demonstrations on life-saving techniques around not only the United Kingdom, but also the world. It is rumoured that William Henry visited almost every swimming pool in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden and several other countries, lecturing, teaching and promoting the work of the society. As a result, several life-saving organisations were formed within these countries.
In 1904, King Edward VI granted royal patronage and the Royal Life Saving Society was born. The society continued to flourish both within the UK and globally, and today there are RLSS clubs throughout the country. Its network of volunteers deliver instruction on water safety, life support and rescue. The society is a registered charity and a member of the RLSS Commonwealth as well as the International Life Saving Federation.
You may be asking, where is all this leading? Well, back in 1908, a group of RLSS members, finding themselves to also be masons, conceived the idea of forming their own lodge, which would be affiliated to the RLSS. Plans were made and a petition submitted to the Grand Master, and on 9 November 1908 a warrant was granted to the Royal Life Saving Lodge. The lodge was consecrated on 19 February 1909 at the Frascati restaurant on Oxford Street in London. The Grand Secretary, Sir Edward Letchworth, conducted the consecration, acting as Worshipful Master, assisted by Charles F Quicke, Senior Warden; James Stephen, Junior Warden; Rev H W Turner, Chaplain; Charles W Cole, Director of Ceremonies; and W J Songhurst, Inner Guard.
All these worthy brothers were elected honorary members of the lodge after the ceremony. The First Worshipful Master was Herbert Grimwade with Lord Desborough the first Immediate Past Master. All of the founders were active members of the RLSS, and included within the annual subscription was annual membership of the RLSS. William Henry became the first initiate into the lodge in April 1909 and rose to become Worshipful Master in 1917.
two societies, one bond
The connection between the lodge and the society remained strong for many years. When the society moved into premises in Devonshire Street, London, it immediately became Desborough House, with rehearsals and meetings regularly held there. Indeed, chairs for the Worshipful Master, Senior Warden and Junior Warden were still in use up to the move to the society’s present headquarters in Broom. The Master’s Collar is adorned with several enamelled pictures of early life-saving scenes and the loose chain box is wrought in the form of a lifebelt.
Until a few years ago, a toast was taken by the Worshipful Master to all holders of RLSS awards. However, the connection with the RLSS has been reinforced recently, with several members becoming joining members and no doubt the toast will soon be reintroduced. Some of you might remember being taught rescue skills and might have gone on to take the society’s flagship award, The Bronze Medallion, or indeed may still be members of the RLSS but never knew of its own lodge.
I have been a member of the RLSS for over forty years and a Freemason for seventeen but only discovered the existence of the lodge thanks to the wonders of modern technology – the internet, and more specifically, eBay. Back in 1992, while surfing (the dry type), I saw a founder’s jewel for sale for the Royal Life Saving Lodge, No. 3339. I investigated and subsequently made contact with the secretary – and the rest, as they say, is history.
I believe that the principles of Freemasonry are compatible with the aims of a great number of other organisations. The creation of a specialist lodge means we can discuss Freemasonry and share common interests and values. The union of two worthy causes helps to keep the memory of William Henry alive and encourages the next generation of Freemasons.
Letters to the Editor - FreemasonryToday No.18 - SUMMER 2012
14 March 2012
A speech by the VW The Grand Secretary Nigel Brown and Jessica Bondy
NB: Most Worshipful Pro Grand Master and Brethren,
I am delighted to introduce Jessica Bondy to those of you who do not already know her. She is our public relations adviser and has been working closely with us on our communications strategy. Put it another way: she probably knows more of what we are all about, and what our aims are, than any other non Mason!
The core, the heartbeat, of the strategy is to dispel myths. But why bother? After all, we know that as the oldest fraternal organisation in the world, our principles have never changed and our timeless values are as relevant today as they were three hundred years ago.
We suggest, as modern Freemasons, there are two reasons in particular why we should bother – you will have others. If we take as a given that we want good press, then the first reason is that, by dispelling the myths it will help with both retention and recruitment and secondly, it will reduce – potentially eradicate – discrimination against us, especially in the public sector.
To explain the determined progress of our communications strategy I use the analogy of Mount Everest. The expedition has started. And we have before us the long haul to the top which we must reach before 2017. I say long haul, because on the one side our members are going to have to be brought up to date with our thinking, which we have started to do with the Provincial Information Officers, and on the other side we must overcome the utter rubbish that has been written about us. I'll now handover. Jessica.
JB: For a communication strategy to work, it is essential to have support at the highest level in an organisation. We have that. So working closely with the Strategic Communications Committee and the Board of General Purposes we are at the first stage of our journey with a clear objective to both increase understanding of, and support for, Freemasonry - and to build a positive reputation for the Organisation. Critical to achieving this is by highlighting your openness and relevance in society today. And rather than just talking about it we have taken action to demonstrate change.
In your assets we have for example proper open websites, the newly highly acclaimed Freemasonry Today magazine, which is increasingly read by family members, a mentoring scheme which includes helping you to talk about Freemasonry openly and sensibly, so that as many of you as possible can become ambassadors for the organisation. All of this will be further helped by a new leaflet designed simply to give people a good feel about Freemasonry.
But more importantly, and for the first time ever, we approached a non-masonic body to produce a report for the media on the future of Freemasonry, written by an independent third party, with no connection to Freemasonry. This was a bold move, but it was essential for the media to both see this as a neutral and outsider's perspective for credibility's sake, and also to act as the catalyst for them to want to talk to us. The Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford, otherwise known as SIRC, was selected competitively. They offered not only anthropological expertise, which forms much of the backdrop of the report, but also their research criteria are based on evidence and not ideology. In their words: "We needed to test Freemasonry's claims for openness and transparency".
SIRC set about compiling the views and opinions of a cross-section of Freemasons and non-Masons alike, examining the presence of, or the need for, an element in ritual in all our lives, our need to belong, the ways we express our generosity to others, and the extent to which our everyday lives involve ritual behaviours. The result is a truly insightful and timely commentary, not just on this great Organisation, but also fascinatingly on the complex interactions, perceptions and values of modern society itself.
Just to give you a flavour: among their key findings, is that contrary to much misleading commentary, Freemasonry shows genuine openness and transparency. To quote a piece from the report, "One thing that immediately became apparent was that the notion of Freemasonry as a secret society was clearly inappropriate". More importantly the report ends by saying that it is arguably more relevant today than ever before. It also shows that Freemasonry acts as a 'constant', and by that I mean that it provides members with a unique combination of friendship, belonging and structure, with many Masons saying they have made lifelong friendships. Also, although I absolutely understand that Freemasonry is not a Charity the report also highlights the importance that Freemasonry places on giving – thinking of the needs of others.
For your interest we concurrently ran a survey among non-Masons which showed what a huge opportunity we have. Over half wanted to know more about us and a quarter would consider joining.
So with the report published and in our hands, and the knowledge that people really do want to know more, we took the Grand Secretary on a highly successful media tour, quite literally the length and breadth of the country, which was another first. We felt it important for the Grand Secretary to be on the road and truly show openness by meeting people face-to-face to show we have nothing to hide. So over the past two weeks he has visited twenty locations around the country with forty interviews with local press and radio stations. The response was very positive and he was given the opportunity to communicate a number of the key messages. I will share one headline from the Yorkshire Post written by one of the only women editors: "A Secret Society? No we're Freemasons because we enjoy friendships and fun", and the editor's opener: "For centuries Freemasonry has been known as a 'secret society' but we've got them all wrong".
Nationally, we have also made waves. At best we set off to generate balanced pieces and stimulate debate, with the view that we would be very pleased indeed if they were positive. BBC online was the third most popular story last Friday and generated an unprecedented number of comments running currently at over one thousand. The interview on one of the leading radio stations, LBC, quite literally jammed the switchboard.
You can now all see the report on your Freemasonry Today website. Combining all the media and press interviews, the reach has been to a potential audience of over fifty million!! Grand Secretary.
NB: Here is a brief feedback from the front line for your interest. I was pleasantly surprised by the reception I got from the press and media in the Provinces. Yes, all the questions were based on the typical myths which all of you are aware of, but they were receptive to my answers. National newspapers are very different, being much tougher, more liable to misquote, and going for sensational headlines, but just to get coverage is a further demonstration, very publically, of our openness and acceptance of debate. It is well worth the risk and we need to do this if we are ever to move forward. Let us be very clear: the myths are deeply set in people's minds. But as we move forward we want people to base their judgement on facts – not fantasy. As all of you can imagine, it is a very real challenge to change people's deeply rooted perceptions in a few minutes, but it is a challenge we relish. I leave the last word to Jessica.
JB: These firsts, the report and the media tour, have presented a major opportunity for your organisation. We have to harness and build on the interest now, in order to achieve the impact we deserve in 2017. If we can convert people from negative to neutral at the very least, I believe we will be making huge progress. The SIRC report ends as I do, "If Freemasonry is able successfully to conclude its quiet revolution, while at the same time ensuring that its central features are retained to preserve the true 'spirit' of Freemasonry, then its future may well be assured – for the next century or two at least".
"The Future of Freemasonry" report is the first ever independent study conducted by a non-Masonic body, and was commissioned as part of the build-up to the United Grand Lodge of England's tercentenary in 2017.