Wednesday, 11 September 2019 00:00

Project Hermes talk - Stephen Blank

Quarterly Communication

11 September 2019
A talk by RW Bro Stephen Blank, Provincial Grand Master for Cheshire and Chairman of the Hermes ‘To Be’ working party

I am grateful to have the opportunity to say a few words about Project Hermes which will revolutionise the work of the Lodge Sec and Chapter Scribe Ezra. From now on I will just refer to the Lodge Sec but please understand this applies to Chapters as well. I will also lapse occasionally and only say ‘Provincial’ when I mean ‘Metropolitan’ and ‘District’ as well!

It is perhaps a little strange that I find myself involved with the workings of the Lodge Sec. In my 40+ years as a Freemason, I have been Lodge Treasurer, Lodge DC – actually I still am – Provincial DC, DepGDC, APGM, DGS and now Provincial Grand Master - but never Lodge Sec.  However, all my various jobs have served to make it clear to me that the most important job is that of Lodge Secretary; it is very rare to find a good and successful Lodge that does not have a good Secretary.

After that flattery, and as a matter of interest, would those of you who are or have been Lodge Secretaries put their hands up? Okay, so for the benefit of those who are not, a little bit of explanation may be helpful.

UGLE maintains all of our details, including those of past members, on a database system called ADelphi, which is Greek for brother. This records our Lodges and Chapters, the offices we have held within them and, if relevant, our Provincial and grand rank. It records your passing and raising dates and the number of your grand Lodge certificate. Of course, it also records your contact details and your Lodge’s details, such as Lodge officers and where and when the Lodge meets.

It is a web-based system available to MetGL, Provinces and Districts. Typically, only the ProvGSec, PGM and designated Met / Prov / District leaders have access plus Prov office staff or volunteers.

ADelphi is ‘fed’ by all the various forms which the Lodge Secretary has to prepare; the form M/P/A for new candidates, the Annual Return, the Installation Return. The Annual Return is created by ADelphi and is the basis for the request for payment of dues that UGLE - and many Provs / Dists - make every year to every Lodge and Chapter. The Secretary also has to create the summons for each meeting. 

In doing all of these tasks, the Sec has to ensure all of his work complies with the Book of Constitutions. And when it doesn’t, he gets an email from his Provincial office – or Prov office gets an email from Registrations dept here at GQS and then Prov office emails Lodge Sec telling him to put it right. 

Two examples of problems that the Lodge Sec can encounter.  Rule 158: if someone applies to join a Lodge but doesn’t live or work in that Province, the Lodge Sec has to make enquiries of that person’s local Province.  How the other Province responds – and when – is out of his control. 

Let’s look at rule 163 specifically rule 163(c). When an existing member wants to join a new Lodge, the joiner must obtain clearance certificates to show to the Lodge Sec that he doesn’t owe subs to another Lodge because, if he does, rule 163(d) says that the new Lodge is liable. 

That means the Sec must be told all the Lodges of which he is and has been a member, whether within the same Province or not. Some of those Lodges may have closed.  And for some of us, remembering all the Lodges we are and have been members of can be a problem.  When I applied to join my first Cheshire Lodge, I forgot one and started life in trouble with my Prov office!  But this information is all on ADelphi; the catch being that the Lodge Sec does not have access to ADelphi and, thanks to GDPR, even ProvGSecs don’t have access to other Provinces’ data.

Last year, the process whereby PGMs apply for grand ranks for their members was automated via ADelphi. There are, as you might imagine, rules as to who is eligible which are very convoluted.  In the original system, emails and forms went in to GQS and if you transgressed, as I did - accidentally - in one year, I received a polite letter two weeks later suggesting that I rethink.  Then I had to revisit my plans in a hurry. In the new system, the PGM does it online and his request to the mw the gm is validated as he enters it.  This saved me and those who manage the process within UGLE a huge amount of time.

The GSec wants the same ability for Lodge Secs when it comes to creating their summons, at least for matters covered by the BoC.  When the Sec enters a potential joining member, any decent modern computer system should instantly look him up and flag him as ‘clear’ i.e. not in arrears anywhere in the constitution.  It should ‘talk’ the Sec through the application process.  Rather than relying on the Prov office to key in a candidate’s name and address or date of birth from a handwritten form, the candidate himself should do it and have it validated by the Lodge Sec. 

We should do the standard id checks to protect ourselves and our members and capture photos while we’re at it as well.  Updating Lodge records should be made easy and flow straight from the summons – so if a resignation is on the summons, the resignation process is triggered – copy to Prov retrieval officer - and once confirmed after the meeting, the member doesn’t appear erroneously on the next annual return.  So, the annual return will be accurate.

My Province’s reported exaltation numbers for 2018 changed only last month as a form relating to an exaltation in 2018 was finally submitted correctly by the se in July!  This makes monitoring progress in anything like real time very hard.  Hermes will make this virtually impossible and, perhaps more importantly, there will be no reason any more for the Lodge Sec to delay.

So, I hope you are all convinced this is worthwhile; how are we going about it?

The present version of ADelphi went live in the summer of 2015 which is more or less when I became PGM of Cheshire.  It is fair to say that the launch did not go well.  As I have been involved in trying to make computers work in organisations for over forty years – although always from the business perspective rather than the technical side – I found myself becoming very voluble about its shortcomings.  When you do that in freemasonry you usually find yourself on a committee charged with sorting matters out and that is exactly what happened to me.

That committee, the ADelphi senior user group was set up at the end of 2016 by RWBro David Macey and is now chaired by RWBro Ian Chandler.  It records and prioritises developments of new features and bug-fixes requested by Provinces or UGLE and has been bringing about improvements to ADelphi ever since. 

In 2018, the GSec presented his proposal to the BGP, to extend ADelphi’s availability to Lodge Secs where, I am told, it was readily accepted.  But we had learnt the lesson from the ADelphi launch and did not rush into coding.  Instead UGLE formed a steering group and recruited two people to work exclusively on Hermes: tony Keating, a project manager, and Nigel Codron, a business analyst and senior Middx freemason.

One early decision was that we would not, in fact, extend ADelphi itself to Lodge Secs.  ADelphi was designed as a tool for Provinces, aimed at people who would work with it all day every day.  Instead we would commission a new web-based system designed to be intuitive for Lodge Secs, we call it the Hermes front-end or just Hermes. 

We will provide on-line training, but the expectation is that this will be as easy to use as amazon or your on-line banking system.  The two systems, Hermes and ADelphi, will talk to each other so updates by Lodge Secs will require validation by UGLE or Prov offices before they actually update ADelphi.  But if we get the summons creation right, there won’t be a need for too much validation.

A second early decision was that, before we started creating new digital processes, we should make sure we understood the existing paper processes, especially who does what and where interactions with BoC take place. 

Well, I said ‘paper processes’, but that implies they existed on paper.  In fact, they exist in a bio-computer running on the oxford classics operating system – UGLE’s Deputy Grand Secretary Graham Redman! –  so, we have spent many months carefully documenting the ‘as-is’ processes as we call them by talking at length to brother Redman himself, bro Andy Croci in registrations and a sample of Provincial, Lodge, and Chapter Secretaries. 

A third early decision was that we could not engage simultaneously with every one of the forty-seven Provinces and MetGL not to mention the Districts overseas.  So, we formed a small group termed the pilot Provinces consisting of MetGL, Hampshire and the isle of Wight, Cheshire and Bristol plus the Districts of Cyprus and eastern archipelago who in turn formed their own little consulting groups of selected Lodge Secretaries and Chapter Scribes E.  These are the ones we consult on a regular basis to keep us ‘real’, as they say. 

The results of documenting the ‘as-is’ processes can be viewed on flowcharts with swim-lanes for each relevant department.

The complexity of all of this meant that we were only ready to start thinking about the new way forward at the end of June at which point a working party was formed, known as the 2b working party and, since I was out of the room at the time, I was designated its chairman.  As well as Tony, Nigel and myself, the members of the working party are: Richard Gardiner, Neil Tomkinson, Prity lad and David bell. 

Richard fulfils a dual role; he is a pivotal member of the ADelphi senior user group, designated the Provincial and metropolitan user representative, but he is also a senior member of MetGL and an experienced met Lodge and Chapter Secretary.  I will come back to the position of MetGL in a minute.  Neil Tomkinson is the ADelphi guru from UGLE’s ICT department; Mrs Prity lad is director of member services and David Bell is the interim finance director of UGLE.

What became clear very quickly is that significant changes will also be required to ADelphi itself which is why Neil Tomkinson’s presence on the 2bwp is critical. He regards it as so important that he put on a tie especially for this photo – the first time he’s worn one in 20 years, he said.  Many of the changes needed were already logged as feature requests with the ADelphi senior users’ group and have been passed over to form part of the Hermes requirements catalogue.

UGLE’s overall strategic imperative is to start our membership growing again and Hermes has to contribute to this, and more directly than just by making the Lodge Secretary’s life easier, important though that is.  This is Prity’s department.  More and more new members are finding us via the internet rather than traditional routes and we must be able to track what works and what doesn’t.  We also have to retain them.  We want to capture more information such as where the candidate heard about us, members’ attendance or, more significantly, non-attendances at meetings, a key indicator of problems building up. 

Many Provinces send particular letters to candidates at certain stages of their masonic journey; the updated ADelphi system will be ‘told’ by Hermes when it has happened and then do this automatically or at least prompt the Province to action. 

For the first time ADelphi will interface with UGLE finance by creating requests for payment for dues, registration fees and dispensations together with bacs references for each as they are generated. 

On an opt-in basis, it will interface with Provinces’ finances as well. Mentioning that, can I give a big thankyou to my colleague PGMs up here?  I sent out a questionnaire via bUGLE on 19 July with a series of questions about how they charge their Lodges, asking for a reply by 31 July.  Every single craft Province responded within the time scale.   This was greatly appreciated and enabled the 48 responses to be analysed by my office manager, Liz wright, so they could be discussed in detail at the 2bwp meeting on 6 august last.

When those of us in the Provinces consider the changes that Hermes will bring, it’s easy to overlook the effect on MetGL.  Yes, it’s a lot bigger than any of us with 30,000 + members.  But it is MetGL that will see the biggest change brought about by Hermes.  Once upon a time, London’s Lodges were dealt with by UGLE itself and that of course included all their registration processes i.e. feeding ADelphi.  When ‘London’ was devolved into MetGL these processes were left with UGLE – where they remain today.  When Hermes is launched, MetGL will govern all of its own processes just like the Provinces – only bigger. 

This working party has been tasked by our GSec and CEO with thinking outside of our current boxes.  Our ideas and plans will of course be discussed with and validated by the DepGSec, the registrations department and the pilot Provinces before any coding starts.  When we have obtained a consensus on the ways forward from that relatively small group, a process that is well under way, they will be exposed to all Provinces for their comments. 

We anticipate that changes to the book of constitutions will be required and a separate committee has been set up to consider and draft them; I will leave you to guess who the chair of that committee is!   Of course, the final decisions will rest with BGP and this, the grand Lodge

Let me finish with two examples of the new approach we are planning.  Rule 158 may be tricky to administer but can flush out timewasters.  There are people who start applying but then go radio silent.  A few years later they decide to have another go and apply to a different Province.  There are even people who are initiated in one Province, stop attending, then try and get initiated again somewhere else.  GDPR prevents one Province from having access to the records of another Province.

We propose to have a database of enquiries available nationally, so anyone expressing interest via a website or open day will have his basic details captured and held for, say, 10 years.  If the PMO assigns him to a Lodge those details form the basis of his application form.  If it goes nowhere, it will be noted but he will remain on the database and if he approaches another Province or Lodge, those details will appear.

Clearance certificates are a little tricky because neither ADelphi nor Provinces record details of payments within Lodges; they only deal with payments by Lodges.  So, we propose that as part of each attendance register that the Lodge Sec populates after each meeting – using a dropdown list of members – he also marks any members who are in arrears according to his Lodge’s bylaws.  The existence of this flag will be picked up by any other Lodge he applies to join and the applicant invited to ‘check his records’.

Those are only two examples; I hope I have given you a flavour of what’s to come with a target date of mid-2020 to commence the roll-out. Maybe those of you put off from becoming a Lodge Sec will now consider it?  Any questions, comments, observations please send to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; they will all be considered.

Published in Speeches
Friday, 06 September 2019 00:00

Grand Secretary's column - Autumn 2019

From the Grand Secretary

I trust you have all had an enjoyable summer and are looking forward to the new Masonic season. September marks the start of my third year in post, and how time flies when you’re busy! UGLE thankfully quietens down in August, giving staff and the Organisation time to take stock of what we have achieved over the last year, and where we want the next 12-18 months to take us. 

Undoubtedly one of the major highlights this year was the dedication of a memorial stone to those, our members, awarded the Victoria Cross. The Most Worshipful Grand Master commented that, having served in the armed forces for more than 20 years, he understood 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 per cent of all Victoria Cross recipients have been Freemasons and we were proud to be able to recognise and celebrate this at Freemasons’ Hall in London. Perhaps we should be mindful of that part of our ritual, delivered on the presentation of a Hall Stone Jewel to a new Worshipful Master, which tells us that it should ‘ever provide an inspiration to every Brother to put service before self’. 

Freemasons’ Hall was, of course, built as a peace memorial to those brethren who lost their lives in the Great War and we have been thinking hard about how we can use our fabulous Grade II-listed building to help inform and educate people about Freemasonry. By the time you read this, having worked closely with the Museum of Freemasonry, the first members of the public will have undertaken a redesigned tour of Freemasons’ Hall. It sets out to explain not only our history, but also our contemporary relevance, and includes a newly commissioned 10-minute film, which will be seen by our 40,000-plus visitors a year. It helps us launch a new approach as to how we define and regard ourselves. We are less apologetic for the misguided views of others, and instead talk about the positives of membership, both in terms of the benefits for the individual member and for society at large. What other organisation can boast charitable donations of more than £45 million a year? What other boasts an annual delivery of over five million hours of unpaid community and voluntary service? What other seeks to make people better individuals through philosophical and philanthropic engagement? 

Freemasonry offers a simple philosophical message to its members and one that we should all be proud of: that within each of us is a thoughtful, kind, tolerant and respectful individual. Our 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, 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. Of course, all Freemasons will know and appreciate these points, but it is now our aim and intention to share these messages with the public, starting with the new public tour and closely followed by other supportive material.

We have an amazing history, often at the forefront of monumental social and economic change, as anyone who has watched the DVD of our Tercentenary celebrations cannot fail to appreciate. We have such a story to tell and intend to be confident and committed when speaking about our many strengths and the reasons why we are just as relevant today as we have been in decades and centuries past. Watch this space, and let us know how you think we are doing!

In other developments, we intend to produce, for the first time in our history, an annual report explaining to you, our membership, how your fees and dues are spent, while explaining to both you and the public what it is that UGLE does and how well we do it. Many of you will be involved in helping us collate the information we need, so look out for this over the coming months as we work towards a publication date of March 2020.

‘Project Hermes’ is in full swing, looking at how we can update our processes to modernise the management of our membership, ensuring that some of the more laborious and outdated demands placed upon Lodge and Provincial Secretaries concerning collecting data, paying dues and keeping up-to-date records are simplified and made more accessible to those who need to see, use and work with them. We hope to be able to have a much fuller article explaining this in our next edition. 

In short, as ever, there is plenty going on to keep us all busy, but if you find yourself in London with an hour or so to spare, please do book into our new tour via the Museum of Freemasonry website – we can guarantee an enjoyable way to make that all-important daily advancement in Masonic knowledge!

Dr David Staples
Grand Secretary

‘Our redesigned tour of Freemasons’ Hall sets out to explain not only our history, but also our contemporary relevance, and includes a newly commissioned 10-minute film, which will be seen by our 40,000-plus visitors a year’

Published in UGLE

Here to serve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the key objectives of this process of modernisation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in UGLE

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