Actions speak loudest
At a special roundtable held at Freemasons’ Hall, members of the newly launched Improvement Delivery Group explained how they intend to support lodges and chapters as they build a strong and sustainable future for Freemasonry
What is the Membership Focus Group’s legacy?
DW: The reasoning behind the Membership Focus Group [MFG] lay in the words ‘membership’ and ‘focus’, with the realisation that membership was declining and that there was a need to address that. What the MFG has done is communicate very well that there is an issue and then develop a strategy by collecting information. Now there is a need to put those ideas into action.
GJ: We thought we knew what the issues were, but we needed to gather evidence that this was the case. The surveys have been very important to ensure that the membership had the opportunity to provide input into the thinking around what the strategy should be and how we should address the challenges that we face over the next few years.
SH: I’ve detected a concern from some members that the focus is about what Grand Lodge wants, but I think our surveys have demonstrated very clearly that we want to be driven by the needs and expectations of members. We’ve had some valuable information, which has helped us define the various projects that the MFG’s put into action.
SC: Having visited Provinces it’s apparent how enthused people are with the consultative approach the MFG has taken, which may not have happened as much in the past. The MFG has also done an incredible job of fostering collaboration and an environment where UGLE; Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Lodges; and, importantly, individual lodges and members are all working together for the common good of the fraternity. Looking at how we attract into and select new members for the Craft, I know that Membership Officers, introduced through the MFG, will play a very important role.
What contribution does the Royal Arch make to the Improvement Delivery Group (IDG)?
DW: The MFG was established by the Board of General Purposes and it sits underneath that. The IDG has a more formal constitutional place in that it’s headed by a Craft Ruler, me, and deputy chaired by a Royal Arch Grand Principal, Gareth, who also happens to be a Provincial Grand Master. The IDG reports to the Grand Master’s Council and has on it one member from each of the regional communications groups in England and Wales. To make sure the Royal Arch is very much part of it, the IDG includes Provincial Grand Masters, Grand Superintendents, those who are one and those who are both.
GJ: With the Royal Arch being such a key step in pure and ancient Freemasonry, it’s very important that members of the Craft are made aware of its importance at an early stage. What we also know from the surveys is that being a member of the Royal Arch is a very important factor in the context of retaining members. By and large, if people join the Royal Arch, they enjoy their masonry more, learn more about masonry and want to stay in it.
‘I think our surveys have demonstrated that we want to be driven by the needs and expectations of members.’ Stuart Hadler
To what extent is the IDG about implementation?
GJ: The next stage from gathering evidence and evaluating options is delivering on what we have decided the priorities are, in conjunction with the membership, to deliver a sustainable Craft for the future.
SH: I believe the launch of the Improvement Delivery Group is a very important demonstration that there’s real ownership by UGLE of the work that the MFG’s done, as well as an intent to take that work forward with the widest possible buy-in from all Provinces, be they Royal Arch or Craft.
GJ: As we take this forward, we also need to make sure that all of the geographical areas in England and Wales are properly represented. We know that by and large our members are hungry for learning. They want to know more about what Freemasonry can give them. They want to know more about the meaning of Freemasonry.
DW: One thing that we’ve already done is to write a document and give it to new Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents to explain their roles and responsibilities – from financial controls through to understanding that being a mason is supposed to be fun. We’re not doing this so that we can negatively mark people down but to encourage them to think positively about what they’re going to do with our support.
SH: There’s a greater willingness and intent to help Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents be successful, to be effective and take their Province forward. It wasn’t too many years ago when you were expected, perhaps tacitly, to maintain a tidy ship, not rock the boat, and hopefully hand your Province on in a better shape than you inherited. We already have a much clearer agenda, evolving to deliver quality Freemasonry for our members and indeed their families, which is quite a challenging agenda, of course.
How important is sharing best practice?
SH: It’s a key piece of work because this is not just about organisational change, it’s cultural change within lodges themselves, identifying what makes for successful attitudes, culture, opportunities and engagement with the community. Some lodges are very good at that and others struggle.
GJ: Our work will be in providing what you might call a toolkit for Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents when they’ve identified what the particular challenges are in their Provinces. Be it supplying written documentation or examples of best practice around England and Wales, we want to empower Provincial Rulers to make decisions about how to drive their Province forward by providing them with the right information and support. What we’re not trying to do is to say we have all the answers.
SC: One of the key roles of Provincial Membership Officers is to facilitate the sharing of best practice. They’re looking at lodges that are successful in their own Provinces and then trying to find the best way of sharing that information with lodges that might need support.
DW: There are some Provinces that have done very well in particular areas. The Metropolitan area, for example, has done well in recruitment. So where there is something that works, we want to know about it.
SC: It is one thing for UGLE or a Metropolitan, Provincial or District Grand Lodge to say to a lodge, ‘we suggest you do this, this and this,’ and present them with a formula. In practice, it is a lot better if they hear first-hand what has worked direct from another lodge. We have countless examples of formerly struggling lodges that came up with a plan, took action and are now thriving. This success can be replicated.
GJ: And we also want to get Freemasons better connected and more involved with delivering good things in their communities. That’s a responsibility upon us all as Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents to make sure that we do, in part, enhance our reputation by being positive forces for good in our communities and therefore, as a spin-off, attract more good men into our ranks.
‘We want to empower Provincial Rulers to make decisions about how to drive their Province forward.’ Gareth Jones
What changes will be made at the centre?
DW: We’re looking at whether we’ve got the right structures, making sure that people know what their roles are and what they are not. I think it’s important to be looking at things like visits by Rulers. We could arrange their visits so they see and meet more people – going to some Provincial annual meetings, for example, so that more people see them, which can give members a stronger feeling of belonging and also give Rulers a better idea of the talent to watch for the future.
GJ: We should also say a word about the Pathway – a key membership programme being developed. One of the principal aims of the IDG will be to ensure that we become better at looking after people from the time they express an interest in joining Freemasonry, through managing their expectations and then, to being initiated, passed, raised and exalted into the Holy Royal Arch. The whole journey needs to be better managed so that people are better looked after throughout that process.
We know that far too many resign from Freemasonry very quickly after joining and that’s simply not good enough. It can only be down to two reasons – either we’ve chosen the wrong people or we’re not properly looking after them.
I rather think that it’s the latter category that we really need to give attention to.
SH: Some lodges may find this challenging because they’re perhaps too focused on a routine of ceremonies, making these the focus rather than the brethren who need to be enthused in order to become active members and future leaders.
What’s the IDG’s biggest challenge?
DW: The first challenge is maintaining the momentum of the MFG and the other is the agenda – we’ve got to deliver, which means making sure that we’re carrying people with us. The easiest thing in the world would be to produce lengthy documents and just send them out to the membership.
GJ: We have to deliver some early wins for the IDG to show people that we’re making a difference and we have to respond to the points that brethren are making in their survey responses. People are giving up their time to fill in surveys.
If they don’t think that we’re responding positively to the points they’re making, they’ll stop responding to us.
SH: We also need to recognise the capacity of Provinces to respond. Some are well-equipped but others will benefit from support and time to move forward.
GJ: This is why we’re currently running pilots in a number of Provinces, such as interviewing techniques, in order to iron out any problems before we roll them out to everyone.
SC: Another challenge is that people are pressed for time. Masons have a lot to do between their personal lives, work and just running a regular lodge without bringing in extra things for them to do. So it’s finding individuals to help who have the right skills and the time to contribute.
DW: As well as a force enabling good men to be better, we want Freemasonry to be fun and valued by all, where young and old together can develop friendships for themselves and their families, and be themselves in a happy, compatible and pleasant environment.