Celebrating 300 years

Annual General Meeting of The Freemasons' Grand Charity

9 September 2015 
An address by Richard Hone, QC, President of The Freemasons' Grand Charity

The main change is to reduce the membership from the present 180,000 members to a single charitable company whose own 124 members – comprising the trustees of the new charity, plus members appointed by the 47 Provinces and the Metropolitan Grand Lodge. Experience has shown that 180,000 members are too many and the vast majority do not even know that they are members! Good governance is better achieved by a smaller number. The present members of the Grand Charity will become Supporters of the new charity and, in the rare case of dissent, can either contact their Provincial or London representatives, alternatively they can attend a general meeting and make their views known.

I want to inject a note of enthusiasm here because I am delighted to report that we have made significant progress in our overall aim to have the new, fifth, overarching charity up and running by 1 April 2016. As you will all know by now, over the past five years the four Presidents and Chief Executives of the central masonic charities have been meeting regularly with a view to making masonic charity a more coherent operation.

The present division between the four charities has become illogical and inefficient in the sense that there is now considerable overlap and duplication of function. Over the five year period of the review much has already been achieved.

There is unanimous agreement between the Presidents, the Chief Executives and all four trustee boards that the best way forward for masonic charity is to incorporate a new overarching charity with the widest charitable objects. This will optimise the resources of the four existing charities and ensure an improved service to our masonic and non-masonic beneficiaries.

This has been the most detailed review of masonic charity since the Bagnall Report in 1973 and builds on recommendations endorsed by the Provincial Grand Masters’ Forum in 2008. We have consulted widely.

At a meeting in October 2014 the PGMs supported the changes. My letters to members in March and July 2015 explaining the changes to Grand Charity have been distributed through Provincial and Lodge Secretaries. I have had half-a-dozen letters from individuals and lodges raising questions which I hope I have answered to their satisfaction. In general the response has been overwhelmingly supportive.

At the General Meeting in Norfolk on 15 November I was able to seek the views of those attending, and they indicated approval. In July 2015 there was a large meeting of Metropolitan and Provincial Grand Charity Stewards in Manchester with almost every Province represented and they were positive and enthusiastic. These proposals have been accepted by the Grand Master’s Council, the Grand Master’s Council Charity Committee and the Grand Master himself, in his capacity as Grand President of the four central masonic charities.

Although significant, this change is neither rocket science nor revolutionary. The four existing charities will remain in name and will hold their restricted funds, but their functions will be assumed by the new charity administered by a single Trustee Board of 20 members with a single Chief Executive, rather than the four existing Trustee Boards with their separate committees and administrations. Masonic charity is an extraordinary, but largely untold, story and truly is a terrific force for good. The four charities collectively distribute over £25 million each year and we are expecting to improve on that.

I am delighted to announce that the new charity has now been incorporated with agreed Articles of Association. This has been quite a complicated task and we are all extremely grateful to the Grand Registrar who has mediated differences of views with consummate forensic skill and tact. There is now in place a shadow Board of Trustees for the new charity, drawn from the existing trustees of the four charities and working alongside the existing trustee boards. It is a most impressive group and I have no doubt that it will be ensure a smooth transition and a first rate administration from its operational date which is 1 April 2016.

All that remains is for the new charity to be registered with the Charity Commission and for an agreed Memorandum of Understanding between the existing charities and the new charity.

But we do need you, the members, to support this exciting work and vote in favour of this resolution. I now have great pleasure in proposing that the amendments to the Trust Deed and the Regulations of Grand Charity, subject to meeting the conditions specified, be ratified and that the Report of the Council be approved.

[The amendments were approved]

Thank you. As this is the last AGM of Grand Charity, I would like to pay tribute to the 139 trustees who have served over the 35 years of Grand Charity’s existence. I am delighted to see over 20 Council members present today. Also present are three former Presidents, Sir John Welch, Raymond Lye and Grahame Elliott, who have done so much to bring about the changes you have just approved. I mention the late Iain Ross Bryce who as Deputy Grand Master started this whole process moving and was a driving force. He is greatly missed. 

Published in Speeches

Annual General Meeting of The Freemasons' Grand Charity 

9 September 2015 
An address by Laura Chapman, Chief Executive of The Freemasons' Grand Charity

Deputy Grand President and members. Those of you who attend Quarterly Communications and the AGM of the Grand Charity will know that typically I speak about the Charity’s non-masonic grant making. Today’s AGM is, however, not a typical one and if members approve the resolutions set out in agenda item 5, these will pave the way for a total restructuring of the management and administration of all four of the central masonic charities. The Grand Charity will cease to operate as it has in the past, although the vital support it gives will continue.

I hope I may, therefore, take this opportunity to comment outside the normal script of an AGM as there will not be another opportunity to remind you of the critical role that the Grand Charity has played in the development and organization of the Craft’s charitable activities and of the excellence of its work. 

As a non-mason, an outsider to the Craft, I believe that I can speak more dispassionately and objectively about the Grand Charity than others. It is indisputable that the Grand Charity has made a vital contribution across a wide range of charitable activity – support for masons, for non-masons and for masonic charity overall, through grants to other masonic charities and the services of the Relief Chest Scheme which has done so much to encourage charitable giving throughout the Craft. The Grand Charity has donated approximately £70m to masonic causes and approximately £60m to non-masonic charities since it was established in 1981. Significantly, the Grand Charity has filled the gap identified by the Bagnall Report, to contribute to the wider community in a manner befitting the importance and scale of English Freemasonry. It has made groundbreaking and extensive contributions to wider society, demonstrating that Freemasonry is both a philanthropic leader and an outward facing, inclusive organization and it has received national public acclaim for its work.

I have been enormously privileged to work with you, who have supported the Grand Charity so generously, and to assist the trustees as they have honed the Grand Charity to achieve the tremendous positive impact that it has. I regularly debated with one of the past presidents of the charity as to which were the best jobs in Freemasonry, and we were both convinced that we were amongst those who held them.

Change is, however, inevitable and the planning for the new world of one central masonic charity is well advanced. As the president will emphasize in a few moments, the creation of the proposed overarching charity will deliver a greatly enhanced level of service to our beneficiaries, more efficiently and more cost-effectively. This new central charity will embody the very best principles of Freemasonry and will be one of which the Craft will be extremely proud. The success of the future depends very much on the strength of the past, and the new charity will build on the firm and carefully crafted foundations laid by the Grand Charity, and the legacies brought by the other central masonic charities, in some cases over many more years, as Freemasonry moves to the next era in its very long and proud tradition of charitable support.

Deputy Grand President and members of the Grand Charity, thank you for allowing me to say these few words – and thank you for all the support that the Charity’s staff and I have received from you over the years.

Published in Speeches

Quarterly Communication

10 June 2015 
An announcement by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren, I have to announce that the MW The Grand Master has made the following appointments:

In his capacity as First Grand Principal, he has appointed E Comp Russell Race, Metropolitan Grand Superintendent in and over London, to succeed ME Comp George Francis, who will retire as Second Grand Principal on 10 November. Comp Race will be installed at the Convocation of Grand Chapter the following day.

In consequence, Bro Race will retire as Metropolitan Grand Master and Metropolitan Grand Superintendent on 20 October. To succeed him as Metropolitan Grand Master, the Grand Master has appointed RW Bro Sir Michael Snyder, who was last year's Junior Grand Warden. Bro Snyder will be installed on 21 October.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 10 June 2015 10:42

Pro Grand Master's address - June 2015

Quarterly Communication

10 June 2015 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren, in the middle of May I was at the Grand Charity Festival in West Wales and, as you have heard, what a great success it was. It exemplified how good we, as masons, are at raising money and, dare I say, also at celebrating the achievement at the end of the road. A wonderful evening was had by all. However, I have said many times in the past that charity is not our raison d'être, but it is certainly a most important by product of how we are all taught to live our lives.

In this regard I have always thought that the Charge after Initiation is the best possible rule to guide us through life. It lays out quite clearly the duties that we owe to God, our neighbours and ourselves, how we should respect the laws of the country in which we live, whether the country of our birth or the country where we currently reside, how we should behave as individuals and then points out the other excellencies of character that we should adhere to.

Whenever I deliver this Charge it never fails to strike home to me the important message that it contains. At a personal level, I find the piece 'by paying due obedience to the laws of any State which may for a time become the place of your residence or afford you its protection' extremely pertinent. This is as a result of having delivered this Charge on the evening of 9/11 and I have to admit to having stumbled a bit when I got to that section and I am still always reminded of those dreadful events every time I hear this Charge delivered.

Brethren, as we all know, any member of the public can acquire a copy of our ritual simply by going into a shop and making the purchase. We have no concerns in that regard, as there is nothing therein that we are not happy for them to know about. I would go further. I believe there are certain passages that we should be proud to show to non-members, most particularly members of our families, and top of my list would be the Charge to the Initiate, with a close second being the Charity Charge, although that, perhaps, needs a bit of explanation.

Brethren, 2017 is fast approaching and the run up to it, as well as the celebrations during the year, are surely the right time to show our pride in being a member of our wonderful Order. We have improved our public image immeasurably over the last 20 years and now is the time to really push this aspect hard. We have so much to shout about – our history, our charity, our enjoyment and our code of conduct being just a few. Of course any organisation with 200,000 members is going to have a few rotten apples, but we most certainly have no more than our fair share and I suspect we have a great many fewer than most equivalent sized organisations.

Brethren let’s approach our tercentenary with both pride and confidence.

Letters to the Editor - No. 33 Spring 2016

Increased perceptions

Sir,

Further to Bob Needham’s letter in the last issue, I too read the recent article by the Pro Grand Master with great interest as I have thought for many years that the Charge to the Initiate is one of the best pieces of our ritual, so much so that during my year as Master I asked for Provincial approval to give each new member a copy on their first night. My reasons were firstly, I was aware that on going home after initiation candidates get asked what went on and can find it difficult to properly convey, whereas if we give them the Charge to take home specifically for this purpose, they feel much happier. Also, as most of us remember very little about our initiation, it gives each new member a chance to read and reflect on our principles. 

So, I had the Charge printed on vellum-type paper and from then on each new mason was presented with one, duly signed by the Master and the two Wardens. This practice proved to be a great success and I commend it to other lodges.

Roger Foulds, Lodge of Agriculture, No. 1199, Yatton, Somerset

Sir,

I read with great interest the letters headed ‘Changing Perceptions’ in the winter edition of the magazine. It led me to reflect on how many readers appreciate the enormous breadth of the Craft.

Three weeks after being initiated into Rhyddings Lodge, No. 5205, in East Lancashire I arrived in Aden to join my first operational squadron as a co-pilot on Beverley transport aircraft. I there quickly discovered the existence of Lodge Light in Arabia, No. 3870. There was also a Scottish lodge on the other side of the harbour in Little Aden. 

Arrangements were eventually made for me to be Passed and Raised there, as a visitor, in Light in Arabia. The regular membership was made up of both European and local brethren who lived and worked in Aden. There were also a number of transitory service people like me. 

But it was the range of religions and cultures that made Light in Arabia truly remarkable. Sitting down in the lodge, besides we Christians, there would be Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and Parsee Indians. 

To witness all these brethren enjoying the masonic ritual together and afterwards sitting down together at the Festive Board was really quite something and made plain the true universality of Freemasonry: something I will never forget.

Bryan Lamb, Old Blackburnian Lodge, No. 7933, Blackburn, East Lancashire


Letters to the Editor - No. 32 Winter 2015

Changing perceptions

Sir,

I have always enjoyed reading Freemasonry Today and I found the latest edition aligns to my views on how we should depict Freemasonry. I read the comments by Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, where he comments that any member of the public can purchase a copy of the Charge after Initiation, adding that ‘there is nothing therein that we are not happy for them to know about’. 

I hold a view that we as Freemasons are far too modest about our society. 

As we approach the celebration of 300 years of modern Freemasonry, shouldn’t we make a point of removing the doubts and speculation at large with regard to Freemasonry by taking it upon ourselves to replace them with knowledge and truth?

Bob Needham, Colne Lodge, No. 2477, Wivenhoe, Essex

Published in Speeches

Quarterly Communication

10 June 2015 
An address on The Freemasons' Fund for Surgical Research by RW Bro JAH West, PJGW

MW Pro Grand Master and brethren, thank you MW Pro Grand Master for allowing me to speak about the history and achievements of the Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research, of which I am the Chairman of Trustees.

I have some hesitancy in speaking of the fund under its new title as it was formerly known as the Grand Lodge 250th Anniversary Fund and this is where its origins lie.

In 1967, in partial commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the foundation of Grand Lodge, every Freemason in England and Wales was invited to contribute at least £1 to create an endowment for the fund. The members of all bar four lodges did contribute and a sum in excess of £580,000 was raised. This money was used to create the first masonic charity, with exclusively non-masonic objectives. The objects of the charity were (and remain) 'to further, in conjunction with the Royal College of Surgeons, research in the science of surgery.'

The MW Grand Master is the Patron of the fund and has the power of appointing the trustees. 

The longer serving brethren amongst you may be interested to know that the first trustees, all eminent Freemasons of their day, were Sir Arthur Porritt (as he then was), Sir Reginald Goff, Alexander Frere, Frank Douglas, Jeremy Pemberton, Peter Studd and Alan Hunt, two of whom were surgeons and it is this balance of medical expertise that we try to preserve today.

I was appointed a trustee in 1984 (over 30 years ago), by which time Jeremy Pemberton was Chairman and Lord Porritt was still a trustee. 

The fund’s trust deed stipulates that there shall be no more than seven trustees, the majority of whom must be Freemasons. In practice no non-mason has ever been appointed a trustee

In the first years, 1967/8, the fund contributed £25,000 to the Royal College of Surgeons and this funded the first three Freemasons’ surgical research fellowships, one dental research fellowship and a grant towards the library, to assist in the research process. Annual grants were made in all subsequent years and, by last year, total grants of over £4.4m had been made, that for 2014 being in the sum of £135,000, which was credited to 3 Freemasons’ fellowships. Year in, year out, the fund is the largest contributor towards fellowships, although, occasionally, the college receives a larger one off donation.

Again, by 2014, the capital value of the fund had grown to around £3.5m but, as the original trust deed had specifically excluded the spending of capital, and as income had not grown at the same rate as capital appreciation, the trustees requested the Charity Commission to authorise the adoption of a total return policy, thus allowing present research fellows to enjoy the benefit of increased grants. The total return policy now allows the trustees to augment the income but subject to strict limits, permitting no more than 5% per annum, of the capital value of the fund to be distributed, whether by way of income or capital appreciation. In practice, over the past two years, no more than 3.5% has been distributed and this is well within the permitted figure. In all these matters, the trustees are advised by Cazenoves, as investment managers and by Dixon Wilson, as accountants.

Since the formation of the fund, it has been tacitly understood that the trustees would not engage in fundraising, as this was seen to conflict with the fundraising efforts of the four major masonic charities and the festival system.

However, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the formation of Supreme Grand Chapter in 2013, an appeal had been launched by the Royal Arch, with the object of 'helping to fund the Royal College of Surgeons research fellowship scheme.' The appeal literature specified a target of raising a minimum of £10 plus gift aid from every Royal Arch companion of whom there are 86,000 in England and Wales, thus anticipating a minimum of around £1m to be raised.

In support of the Royal Arch appeal, the college mounted a road show, visiting many Provinces and individual chapters, where one or more research fellows would speak in support of the appeal, in general, and of their individual research projects in particular.

This involved a huge amount of work by the college and I must express my thanks, in particular, to Martyn Coomer, whose task it is to ensure that the highly qualified research fellows can deliver a talk in non-medical English, sufficient to be understood by the layman. He achieves this feat with consummate skill. To illustrate his expertise, a presentation was made to a meeting of Freemasons, under the heading of 'Delineating the role of integrins in the repair and regeneration of the human vestibular system'. Apart from any medics present, I defy most of you to recognize that this was research into dizziness!

More about the Fellowship Scheme, shortly, except to say that Freemasonry has been the beneficiary of the road shows, in that at least two research fellows have been initiated into the Craft, having previously had no knowledge of it, but, having met with members, had formed 'a favourable opinion preconceived of the institution.'

When the appeal concluded, the staggering amount of £2.5m had been raised and I had previously suggested that, as the objects of the appeal were identical to those of the 1967 fund, it would be sensible for the appeal monies to be transferred to the fund and to be managed as one. I am delighted to say that Supreme Grand Chapter agreed to this course and, in future, the fund trustees will award fellowships on behalf of Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter in the proportion of 3:2.

During the appeal, the Province of Northumberland raised about £50,000 which they donated directly to the college and this, together with other direct donations from individual chapters, has funded the first Royal Arch Fellowship. This was awarded to a research fellow at the Medical School, in Newcastle, to undertake a urology project, in connection with the narrowing of the urinary channel and looking at corrective treatments.

At the conclusion of the appeal, it was decided to change the name of the fund from 'the Grand Lodge 250th Anniversary Fund' to 'The Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research' as this more accurately reflected the nature of the fund, going forward.

At a very recent meeting of the trustees, it was noted that the investment portfolio of the enlarged fund was valued at £6.5m (up from £6.25m, when the new money was introduced in January 2014) and the estimated annual income would be £186,000, a yield of 2.9%. It was agreed that the current year’s grant to the college should be £220,000 (a total return yield of under 3.5%), sufficient to be allocated four fellowships to be attributed equally between Grand Lodge and the Royal Arch. 

So much for history and finance. What is the process for selecting Freemason Research Fellows.

Prior to 1993, the college had a number of basic science departments, onsite, at their headquarter building in Lincoln's Inn Fields and, whilst research grants were awarded, there was no formal scheme in place. Our annual grant would be applied not only towards fellowships, but also in the purchase of essential pieces of medical equipment and the library.

In 1993 the college established its formal Surgical Research Fellowship Scheme, to which our fund has been contributing annually. Currently, the college receives applications from some 120 prospective, one-year, research fellows. The applicants are all qualified doctors who have elected to become surgeons. They will be members of the college, having passed the membership exams, for which the current pass rate is only 36%.

Ultimately the research fellows will hope to become consultants and their fellowship will be especially helpful for those who wish to become academic surgeons. Typically, academic surgeons will become professors or senior lecturers in medical schools, attached to National Health Service hospitals, where they will operate and run clinics, whilst teaching and continuing their research.

The amount of fellowships awarded depends on the funds available from all the supporters of the scheme (of whom there are about 15) but, typically about 20 are awarded each year. The process for the applicants is rigorous, consisting of a written application, setting out details of the proposed project and justifying, in medical terms, the reason for the research to be undertaken.

In particular, patient benefit is a key criteria. This aims to ensure that the research is not light years away from having a translational application for the benefit of patients.

Note is also taken of the potential of each applicant and the environment in which the research will take place. All applications are considered by a committee of the college, which reduces the number of possible researchers to be funded by about two thirds. The remaining one third (typically between 40 and 50) are called to attend a poster viva, at which each is asked to show that he or she is fully conversant with their project, work on which they may well have already been engaged in their overall medical training.

At the end of the assessment process, the college matches potential awards within the funds available. At this stage about 20 research projects will certainly be funded and the sponsors are then invited to choose those projects which particularly resonate with them. In the case of the Freemasons fund, our trustees have an annual meeting with representatives of the college, at which we are presented with a choice of about six projects, from which to select three (or, going forward, four). The trustees seek to select projects in different specialties, but it has to be said that male dominant conditions usually receive favourable consideration.

The following gives a flavour of the research projects funded, by Freemasons, in recent years:

Neurosurgery

Cancer, whether pancreatic, prostate, colorectal or oral and laryngeal, selecting viruses to infect and destroy tumour cells, using fiber optics to detect precancerous lesions in the oesophagus, developing a novel visualisation technique using magnetic resonance imaging to detect brain tumours

Kidney failure in patients undergoing heart surgery, looking to improve the long term outcomes of transplanted organs and, although in early stages, to build a kidney for transplantation in a laboratory, using stem cells.

Improving the outcomes of extremely premature babies who suffer brain hemorrhages.

From the above sample, you will understand that it is essential to have medical expertise amongst the trustees. Currently we have RW Bro Lord Ribeiro, PJGW, a Past President of the College and, subject to approval by the Grand Master, we are hoping, very shortly, to appoint another former member of the Council of the College, to replace W Bro David Rosin, who is now permanently based abroad.

At the annual meeting with the college the trustees not only decide on the prospective fellows, but also receive oral reports from those of the previous year, outlining, in plain English(!), the stage which has been reached by their research and whether it is ongoing, with funding outside the college. 

The 2013 Royal Arch Appeal has highlighted the work of the fund and it is hoped shortly to create a website, further to educate both Freemasons and others as to what the fund has, and hopes to, achieve.

I hope, MW Pro Grand Master and brethren, that this has given you some insight into the valuable research facilitated by the college and the significant role played by Freemasonry. In a very recent letter to me, from the President of the College, thanking for the current year’s grant, she says: 'This significantly increased grant is very much appreciated and can only enhance the very real friendship and bonds that exist between our respective organisations.'

Published in Speeches

Annual Investiture of Supreme Grand Chapter

30 April 2015 
An address by the ME The First Grand Principal HRH The Duke of Kent, KG

Companions, I know that you would want me to congratulate the Grand Officers whom I have appointed to or promoted in Grand Rank. Whilst thanking them for their efforts which have earned them recognition, I remind them, and other Grand officers, that with advancement comes added responsibility and wider opportunities for service to Royal Arch Masonry.

You will remember the generous £2.4 million raised for the two hundredth anniversary appeal to support the research work of the Royal College of Surgeons. A fundamental decision was needed as to how this sum should be invested and administered. It was decided that this would best be done together with the existing Grand Lodge Fund, launched for the Royal College in 1967, to celebrate the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Grand Lodge.

It has been agreed that the fellowships will be allocated to both the Craft and the Royal Arch in proportion to the contribution of funds. So, this will mean that there will be two Royal Arch Fellows in every five fellowships supported. 

As Patron of the Fund, I confirm that in order to reflect these important changes – notably that the funding for these fellowships has come from both the Craft and the Royal Arch – the name of the Fund has been changed from January 2015 to, ‘the Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research’.

Companions, you will see behind me on the east wall the new case for the fine Willis organ, which has been renovated and greatly improved during the past year. You will be aware that Supreme Grand Chapter has funded this initiative from their reserves as the Royal Arch’s contribution towards the Tercentenary of the United Grand Lodge of England. In recognition of this contribution, the new case bears a triple tau at its top as well as on the front of the renovated console.

I am sure you would want me to congratulate all concerned with this project, which not only enhances this magnificent room, both audibly and visually, but also adds to the heritage of this building and the memory of those many Freemasons who died in the First World War.

I also thank the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team for the excellence of the ceremony and the Grand Scribe Ezra and his staff for the detailed planning and organisation that has gone into ensuring today’s success.

Finally, Companions, I again congratulate those of you that I have invested and promoted on this memorable occasion and I wish you all well.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 29 April 2015 01:00

Pro Grand Master's address - April 2015

Craft Annual Investiture

29 April 2015 
An address by the MW Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren, I welcome you all to this Annual Investiture and I congratulate those of you I have had the pleasure of investing with their various ranks. Grand Rank has been awarded for your contribution to English Freemasonry, here and in our Districts. I take this opportunity to remind you that further great things are expected of you and you will be required to shoulder greater responsibilities, particularly with helping to implement initiatives for improving our freemasonry which may be brought in by the Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters.

At my Annual Briefing meeting yesterday, the Metropolitan Grand Master, Provincial Grand Masters, District Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents were brought up to date on the various initiatives that have been taken to make Freemasonry fit to celebrate its Tercentenary with confidence in its future. This confidence will show that Freemasonry is as relevant today as it has been over all of the last 300 years.

To achieve this, we will continue to work closely with Provincial and District hierarchy to develop a clear strategy on sound leadership, the involvement of the membership with clear focus on future needs, all backed up by sufficient factual information. I am determined that this level of involvement and cooperation, which is already showing great benefit, continues to succeed.

As I have indicated earlier, it is essential that Grand Officers set good examples in their Lodges and help with the training of the next generation. They should be expected to carry out any duties for which they may be called upon to support the strategy.

I am sure we would all like to thank the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his Deputies for the usual immaculate way this memorable ceremony has been conducted and the Grand Secretary and his Staff, all of whom have devoted an enormous amount of time and experience to organising this happy occasion.

Finally, I again congratulate those that I have invested and also say how pleased I am to see so many of you here today to witness your friends receiving Masonic honours.

Thank you brethren.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 11 March 2015 12:45

Pro Grand Master's address - March 2015

Quarterly Communication

11 March 2015 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren, the March issue of Freemasonry Today covers the results of the latest Membership Focus Group survey seeking members’ views on many aspects of Freemasonry including friendship, masonic ceremony and charity work.

5,265 members took part in the survey.

I will let you read the full results but I wanted to highlight the following four areas that scored highly. Having respect for others came first, closely followed by being with people who respected others, then meeting people with integrity followed by the ethical and moral ethos of Freemasonry. I have said often in the past that it is no surprise that Freemasonry is such a remarkable fundraiser for charity, because of our code of conduct. I suggest, brethren, that these responses simply endorse that view.

This and future surveys support the Group’s aim of ensuring that any decision about Freemasonry draws upon the views, talents and ideas of members at all levels – not least at lodge level. Talking of lodge level leads me to remind you that the next annual Mentoring Conference is to be held next week and I take this opportunity to stress the continued importance of the Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Mentors’ role.

I know that the majority of lodges have now appointed a Mentoring Coordinator but I still remain concerned that, in many cases, no personal mentors have been selected. Here there is a skill in matching the right personal mentor – that is to say, with the best personality characteristics and appropriate knowledge - with each candidate. This relationship will be ever changing as the candidate develops his understanding.

There can be no doubt that the early days of a candidate’s membership are the most impressionable and so it is important that the right personal mentor is assigned as early as possible after the interview stage and, at any rate, from initiation onwards. Pastoral care will always be a vital part of this relationship and it is at this early stage that the candidate should be told that it is perfectly acceptable to talk about Freemasonry and, indeed, be encouraged to do so, particularly as he becomes more experienced. In addition they should demonstrate pride in their membership to their family, friends and acquaintances.

The Metropolitan, Provincial and District Mentors have played a significant role in the running the Mentoring Scheme and I look to the lodges to support them in their important task of helping develop and retain membership at lodge level.

Published in Speeches

Quarterly Communication

11 March 2015 
Order of Service to Masonry citation for VW Bro Charles Raymond Grace, PGSwdB

Bro Charles Grace was made a mason in October, 1966, at the age of 27, in his old school lodge, Old Marlburian Lodge, No. 3533, in London and became its Master in 1983. In the meantime he had joined, and in 1981 served in the Chair of, St. George's Lodge of Harmony, No. 32 in Liverpool, where he was at the time working in shipping. He is a member and Past Master of three other lodges in London. He was exalted into the Royal Arch in Jerusalem Chapter, No. 32 in 1978, and ten years later joined Old Union Chapter, No. 46 in London, becoming its First Principal in 1997. He is a member of two other London chapters.

Bro Grace was appointed to the office of Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies in the Craft in 1997 and that of Grand Standard Bearer in the Royal Arch in 2000. With the evolving reorganisation of London masonry he was promoted, as one of over twenty Group Chairmen under "London Management", to Junior Grand Deacon in 2000. On the formation of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge (and Chapter) of London in October 2003, he became the Metropolitan Group Chairman for the Ripon Group, and following a further reorganisation of London he was appointed as one of the first batch of Assistant Metropolitan Grand Masters and Assistant Metropolitan Grand Superintendents in 2007 until his appointment as Deputy Metropolitan Grand Superintendent from 2009 to 2011. He currently holds the rank of Past Grand Sword Bearer in the Craft and Past Grand Scribe Nehemiah in the Royal Arch.

Bro Grace's service to Freemasonry, however, has by no means been confined to London. He served from 1995 to 2003 as Deputy Chairman of the Public School Lodges' Council and for a further year as its Chairman. He has also been a member of the Committee of General Purposes of Grand Chapter since 2005, and in that capacity has been a strong contributor to the Committee's deliberations, including those in relation to the arrangements for the Royal Arch bicentenary, which took place in October 2013. Most notably, however, he has acted as the unpaid project manager for the refurbishment and extension of the Henry Willis Organ in the Grand Temple at Freemasons' Hall, which has been in progress since the beginning of 2014 and is due to be finished later in the spring. Although the Organ cannot be heard in all its glory today, much – but not yet all – of its glistening pipework is already enhancing the visual impact of the Grand Temple.

It is gratifying to know that, at the age of seventy-five, he is active enough to continue to be able to give us the benefit of his counsel and experience for many years to come.

Published in Speeches

Quarterly Communication

11 March 2015 
An address by W Bro Martin Clarke PSGD

MW Pro Grand Master and brethren, I am here today to give a brief presentation on one of the Masonic success stories of the last 40 years. It gives practical assistance to both those with Masonic connections and those without, and therefore combines our undertaking to help Freemasons in need and to make a contribution to the good of freemasonry in general, demonstrating again that Freemasons’ generosity extends outside immediate self interest. I refer to the work of the Masonic Housing Association where tangible results can be seen in the happy faces of those living in its properties.

Its beginnings were charitable in nature. When the 1974 Housing Act provided grants towards the construction of social housing schemes the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution saw an opportunity to extend its provision of services to encompass what became known as sheltered housing. However the rules prevented RMBI from participation in grants because of its charitable status. It was necessary to create a separate entity. This was done in 1975, alongside the RMBI, but as an independent body and was then called Masonic Charitable Housing. Technically it is not a charity but is registered under the Industrial and Provident Society legislation. However it is also an exempt charity and able to receive and dispense charitable donations. So in one sense it is our fifth – or soon to become our second –charity, but it is financially self supporting and apart from initial donations, has had no call on central charitable funds.

Masonic donations were made – some in cash and some in land – and grants were raised to build 5 properties. Under the Chairmanship of Lord Burnham the first property was built in 1980 in Aylesbury, in the Province of Buckinghamshire, and thereafter 4 more were built between then and 1992 in South Woodham Ferrers in the Province of Essex, Wellingborough in Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire, Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire, and Rugeley in Staffordshire, being located in those Provinces which had agreed to be party to the initial objectives. Last year we enlarged the property in Wellingborough with additional accommodation, spending £1 million from accumulated reserves.

I have stressed the Provinces in which the properties are located because the involvement of the Provinces is perhaps the most important aspect of this whole initiative, as I shall describe later.

In round figures the investment in the 5 schemes amounted to £6m in land and buildings financed by Masonic donations of £600k, £4.5m in grants and £900,000 in loans from the Housing Corporation, since repaid. Although we have no formal valuation of the estate, to give a sense of proportion of the investment in today’s money, the properties are worth between £15 and £20 million. We have only £300,000 of borrowings.

What is sheltered housing?

You must forgive me if you already know a lot about Housing Associations and Sheltered Housing in particular, but some may be less familiar.

A Housing Association is a non profit making organisation which provides and manages homes for people who cannot afford to buy a suitable home on the open market. Any surplus is ploughed back into the organisation to maintain existing homes and build new ones. Renting from a housing association remains a cheaper option than renting an equivalent standard of accommodation in the private sector – at least 20% less – and tenants can still receive housing and other benefits if they qualify.

Sheltered housing provides independent living in a smaller and easier to manage home with the opportunity to call on a warden or a call service if there is an emergency, and the provision of facilities for social interaction.

Rents are regulated by Government and are set according to a valuation of each property increased annually by a formula of RPI plus one half of one percent. The weekly rent including a service charge for management of the property, heating and lighting, and the warden, currently ranges from £129 to £164.

This is what Masonic Housing Association is – a housing association providing sheltered accommodation for over 240 people at a modest cost.

What do we provide by way of accommodation?

All accommodation is in self-contained one- or two-person flats under one roof, with a protected main entrance for security. Each tenant has their own front door to their flat. All units have a bedroom, a living room, bathroom and kitchen.

Personal safety and security is of paramount importance to elderly people. It is our policy to provide a warden, in contrast to many sheltered housing schemes that only provide an emergency call system. We provide both.

There is a residents’ lounge and adjoining kitchen, used extensively by the tenants and the local house committees for social functions, well equipped laundries, and guest rooms where friends or relatives can stay for a nominal charge.

We are emphatically not a care home. Care, when needed, is provided by various agencies within each home. We have an understanding with the next of kin that where care cannot be provided satisfactorily in the home, for example with Alzheimer’s, then the tenant needs to go to a care home. In many cases we can use our good connections with RMBI to make a practical transfer but it depends on the geographical location of the next of kin.

Where do our tenants come from?

Grants came with certain obligations which require a proportion of the lettings to nominees of the local housing authority, so we are prevented from letting solely to those with Masonic connections. Broadly speaking the nominations are split 50/50, half from the local authority and half from an open waiting list from direct applications. Those with Masonic connections form a large part of this waiting list.

Local authorities cannot impose nominations as selection of tenants includes an interview to ensure, as far as possible, compatibility within what is quite a close community, with the final decision remaining with local committee. The local authorities understand this and so more often than not we can fill the vacancy from our waiting list.

Currently our tenants range in age from 53 to 103. Their average age on entry is 77 and their average length of tenure is about 7 years.

How it is managed?

As you would expect, MHA has a Board with a range of useful skills drawn from Masons and includes the widow of a Mason. The Board selects new members itself, but the Chief Executive of the Grand Charity keeps an occasional eye on us as an Observer. Members tend to be senior Masons and in recent times we have had 2RW and 2VW Brethren, a number of Grand Officers from both Grand Lodge and MetGL and 4 Past Grand Stewards.

There are two parts to our business model which makes MHA unique.

First, at the local level, apart from one employed warden at each property, the schemes are managed by voluntary house committees of local Freemasons assisted by their wives. The Provincial Grand Master appoints the local chairman, usually a Grand Officer or Provincial Grand Officer, who then appoints other committee members with the approval of the PGM. The Chairmen are ex officio members of the MHA Board.

Each scheme has a surveyor or architect on the committee, usually a Mason, who is responsible for refurbishment, maintenance and long term repairs. We take every opportunity when tenants move out or on to redecorate accommodation. We keep abreast of technological developments in energy supplies, insulation or television, and we build up reserves for long term repair to roofs and boilers.

Secondly, we manage the overall organisation centrally. We have outsourced routine administration to another Housing Association, based in Croydon, which runs its own schemes and performs administrative work for other housing associations. This means we do not have to reinvent the wheel when dealing with regulation, can gain the benefit of scale from common systems, and have up to date expertise. The cost is less than half what it was when we had our own administration here in Great Queen Street and gives us the peace of mind that is required when confronted with regulations, particularly for the elderly like those on disability, health and safety, legionnaires disease, fire risk and evacuation procedures and so on.

The result is a very lean operation financially. As I said earlier rents are regulated, but they are set for housing associations that have to employ a number of people. We get huge financial benefit from the local Masonic volunteers who carry out functions that would otherwise require paid hands.

We have a healthy free cash flow of £450,000 per annum out of which we can replace time expired assets and keep the properties to a high standard. Additionally close contact with local lodges produces donations which are used to enhance the lifestyle of the residents, ranging from social functions to the provision of additional amenities and services.

But of course it is not just financial. The Provinces in which our schemes are based regard them as a jewel in their crown and I know how much enjoyment and satisfaction is derived by the volunteers. And, of course, this transfers itself to the community they serve.

What are our risks and priorities?

1. We need to keep the properties full

Generally we have been very successful in achieving 95% occupancy, the 5% in voids being the time required to refurbish vacated properties for new tenants. There are a number of factors to which we pay attention. Applicants are coming to us later in life. There is an increasing demand from married couples. Increased longevity, better facilities for care in the home, depressed house prices causing a delay in downsizing - they all contribute to this shift in demand. However much we are all likely to live longer, anno domini does have its effect on health, particularly in disease like Alzheimer’s, so as we cannot provide care in such cases, the average length of a tenancy is also likely to be shorter.

Competition is apparent. There are many newer properties built to the higher standard of accommodation now required. We are also looking to see where we can make alterations to the properties to accommodate more couples.

On the plus side the elderly population is growing and the accommodation for them is not growing that fast. Secondly, because of our business model, there is a useful cushion between what we can earn and what we need to earn to keep the properties paying their way.

But this is where you can all help through your communications officers and lodge almoners becoming familiar with what we offer. The Board feels that we have been “under the radar”, except in the Provinces where the properties are located. Hence my gratitude for being given the opportunity to speak to you today. Details of all our properties are on the websites of the Provinces concerned and on Porchway. Shortly we shall be launching our own website. It would be very useful if you could link us to your own Provincial website. This way all Masons can be kept up to date with any developments.

2. Keeping our properties fit for purpose

All of our properties were built to standards applicable at the time. In the older ones the flats are smaller than the current standard ; not that that in itself has deterred applicants, but those flats are not suitable for people with disabilities requiring, for example, the use of a wheelchair. Wherever possible we are refurbishing the flats to make better use of the space available but there are limitations. Currently we are half way through a complete refurbishment of the Wellingborough property.

We are considering building a new property to replace our oldest which is now becoming less suitable for the older tenant and cannot be modified. This would be a very complex transaction possibly requiring us effectively to swap our existing property to avoid repayment of grant and to secure new grants and loans for the new build to the latest standards. We are in early discussions.

3. Donations

We always welcome donations from Lodges. Lodges have supported their local property and we have received donations from unconnected lodges in the past, particularly Grand Stewards’ Lodge, which were put to good use and for which we are grateful.

4. Volunteers for the Board

We need to refresh the Board from time to time. So if you would like to help please get in touch. The address is in the Year Book. These are the matters presently occupying the Board. Other thoughts for the future are;

5. New developments in the Provinces

We are always interested in discussing the possibility of building additional properties in other Masonic Provinces but this is dependent on local interest and land, whether by gift or purchase. Provincial support is essential as our model requires substantial cooperation and enthusiasm from local Masons. The financing would have to be by donations, grant and loans as rents alone are insufficient to finance a project. At present the supply of government finance is limited but our cover for loans is excellent

6. Merger with another Housing Association

Rather than develop afresh there may be possibilities for merger at minimal cost. Again we would look for Provincial support. But above all, we wish to retain our independence.

Conclusion

In its 40 years of life Masonic Housing Association has operated successfully and has sheltered housing of which we can all be very proud. That is a good thing in its own right. It has also shown in practical terms how Freemasons are involved in their local communities providing security, comfort and independence for the elderly. It is a splendid way also in which the Craft reaches out to provide benefits for non-Masons. We face the future with confidence. I am grateful for the opportunity to present to you.

 

Published in Speeches
Page 4 of 17

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