Over 700 Freemasons packed the magnificent Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall to witness a world first creation of a new lodge for young Freemasons – Essex Cornerstone Lodge No. 9968
A number of years ago, the Essex Cornerstone Club committee started to think about the formation of a new lodge, specifically for young Freemasons. They had a dream of what its purpose would be and what it might achieve. There followed a long period of planning and preparation and as time went by and progress was made, the realisation dawned that the lodge really would become a reality.
From then on, the excitement and anticipation built and reached their peak on Saturday 2nd March 2019 – the day Essex Cornerstone Lodge was Consecrated. The Grand Temple was the stage for this special occasion with over 700 Freemasons from across the English Constitution travelling to witness the ceremony.
The sponsoring lodge, Essex Provincial Grand Stewards' Lodge No. 8665, started the proceedings by opening the meeting. UGLE’s Assistant Grand Master, Sir David Wootton, and the Provincial Grand Master of Essex, Rodney Bass OBE, were then welcomed into the Grand Temple to rapturous applause.
The main event, the Consecration ceremony, was beautifully and memorably delivered by Rodney Bass, who commented: ‘This new lodge will encourage and support young Freemasons in their journey, providing a gathering place for young masons to increase their masonic knowledge and experience, and enabling Cornerstone Club Members to maintain strong relationships.’
The Founders of the lodge were presented to the Provincial Grand Master and reminded of their obligation to support and nurture their new lodge and uphold the values of Freemasonry for future generations.
Following this, those below the rank of Installed Master retired from the Temple which amounted to over 300 members. That included many from over 15 new and young masons’ clubs across England, who came to show their support and demonstrate the very essence of new and young Freemasons.
The Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Essex, Paul Reeves, then installed the Primus Master, Elliott Chevin, who went on to invest his officers. The Address to members was delivered by Sir David Wootton.
The Essex Cornerstone Lodge then presented a cheque for £2,022 to the Essex Festival 2022, making them Vice Patrons of the Festival.
The Provincial Grand Master then presented the lodge with a set of gavels, commissioned from an acacia tree from his own grounds. Following the meeting, a spectacular Festive Board was held for nearly 600 Freemasons where they experienced a musical treat including trumpeters, a string quartet playing modern music, and a unique performance of the Masters’ Song performed by a female singer acapella.
The members were also able to interact with a live photo mosaic display by uploading photos from the day and evening. The photos came alive culminating in a large mosaic of the Cornerstone Lodge crest, which provided a magnificent background to the banquet capturing memories of the historic event.
Perhaps the most unexpected part of the evening was when the waiters pouring coffee began to bang on the tables, then their coffee pots and they miraculously turned into a most impressive drumming act. Not only that, all 600 diners were given their own drum kit and in unison, joined together and delighted in a memorable and incredibly fun act.
By Morwenna Brett
Editor, StopPress, the RCO’s online magazine for organists and choral directors
Even in a big city like London, it can be difficult to find organ practice facilities, particularly if you are trying to fit organ practice around the day job. The United Grand Lodge of England have recently restored and enlarged the 1933 Henry Willis organ in the Grand Temple at Freemasons' Hall, and also installed a new three-manual and pedal Viscount Classic digital organ in one of their meeting rooms there. They are generously offering practice time on these organs free of charge to RCO Members.
Freemasons' Hall is in Great Queen Street, WC2, and is well-staffed – so you can book your practice from 7am in the morning if you like, or up to 9pm in the evening, subject to availability.
I booked a session on both organs. The Willis is a joy to play, though it took some getting used to, after my small, bright, mechanical action parish machine. Plenty of warm 8' options all round as you would expect, with a pretty Cor de Nuit and Sylvestrina on the Choir. The reeds are mellow, and blend rather than stick out – apart from the 8' Grand Tuba (with its own blower in the basement) which would awaken the dead. The Crescendo pedal will take you by surprise if you confuse it with the Swell – Choir and Swell are both enclosed (though as with many English instruments, the action only really happens on the top third of pedal travel), and there is an abundance of couplers and accessories to explore.
I began with playing Bach, and of course it lacked the snap and sparkle that we have come to expect from modern organs. But try repertoire contemporary with the instrument and all makes sense. After years of trying to coax Stanford and Parry out of my own church instrument, suddenly I was doing their music justice: cruising over the keyboards in an easy legato, with loads of appropriate registration possibilities.
Freemasons' Hall is one of the finest Art Deco buildings in London, and the Willis fits the solemn and opulent surroundings – note that the gilded case above your head is new, designed for the Grade 2* listed interior by Harrison & Harrison when they enlarged the instrument in 2015.
There are regular public tours of the Grand Temple, so organists are asked to play quietly while these are on. If you want no disturbance, then book the 2017 three-manual Viscount Regent Classic which has everything you might need for a peaceful practice session.
It’s in a meeting room, but don’t be fooled – this is a large space (and the instrument is voiced accordingly), and it's warm and comfortable too! Just watch the roll top as it comes back down with a snap that could end your organ-playing career if you’re not careful.
13 March 2019
A talk by RW Bro John Pagella, Grand Superintendent of Works
Most Worshipful Pro Grand Master and Brethren
If you want to understand the responsibilities which you have as a Grand Lodge Officer you can do one of two things. Consult the Book of Constitutions, or speak to Graham Redman.
Rule 35 states – ‘The Grand Superintendent of Works shall advise the Board of General Purposes when required on any matter in connection with the building and the works. He shall furnish reports on the state of repair of the properties of the Grand Lodge when required’.
When I asked Graham if this meant that I simply had to submit periodic reports on necessary works we intended to carry out to keep this building in repair his reply was to the effect that ‘well - you may find that in practice it is rather more than that’
He was right.
I will start with Freemasons’ Hall.
You are surrounded in the Grand Temple by the centrepiece of one of this country’s foremost art deco buildings with a heritage value sustained by the fact that it remains today in use for the purpose for which it was originally designed and built. We are in the middle of a Conservation Area, and the building itself is Listed Grade 11*. What this means in practice is that anything which we do which affects the exterior of the building requires planning permission, and anything other than very minor like for like repairs to both the interior and the exterior must be notified to, and approved by, the Conservation Officer.
Planning Officers have to work within National Planning Policy Guidelines, and they are required to implement Local Plan Policies. Conservation Officers on the other hand have responsibility for protecting the heritage value of buildings of architectural and historic interest which, by their nature, are individual. They have wide ranging powers, which frequently involve subjective judgements which, even with professional advice, can be hard to predict.
Carrying out work to a listed building which requires, but does not have, Listed Building consent is a criminal offence. As I have no wish to return to address Grand Lodge on my experience as Grand Superintendent of Works after 12 months in Ford Prison I treat the need for works in this building to be approved by the Conservation Officer with the utmost care and respect.
Late and unexpected interventions by the Conservation Officer can be a very real problem, as we discovered when we renewed the West Door steps. To avoid this in the future we are at an early stage in negotiations with the Conservation Officer and Historic England for an HPA, a Heritage Partnership Agreement, which will give pre-approval in principle to specified works which we are likely to carry out, often repeatedly. Examples range from future phases of repairs to the building’s steel frame ( Regents Street Disease ), through work to repair and refurbish the many original toilets in the building ( not very glamorous, but nevertheless necessary ) down to the specification of the paint to be used when redecorating some of the more elaborately embellished Lodge Rooms.
HPAs are complex, time consuming, and costly, but the prize is securing for UGLE ownership and control of the timing and phasing of major works of repair which we need to carry out.
Keeping a building in repair can require reacting to the unexpected, but for the most part it can be anticipated through planned property maintenance. We are working to a ten-year time horizon in implementing recommended works within this building so that, for example, phased repairs to deal with RSD will include routine maintenance and general repairs within the same area. As far as possible once we have access to any hard to reach area within this building, or for that matter any area, our aim is to complete all necessary work properly and to a high standard so that an early return is not needed.
I have concentrated up to this point on repair, but the more interesting challenge is working to deliver changes to the way in which Freemasonry needs to use Freemasons’ Hall to support the vision of the Craft’s place in society today which the Grand Secretary outlined at the Quarterly Communication in December.
Freemasons’ Hall is and will remain a Masonic building, but our needs are changing. Many of you will know from personal experience that most of the Lodge Rooms here in Freemasons’ Hall, with the notable exception of Lodge Room No 10, were designed to accommodate meetings with an attendance of between 70 and 80. Today average attendance is in the mid 20s.
We cannot subdivide Lodge Rooms in response to this. Their scale and proportions were an important element within the original design of the building, and we know that any attempt to change this would meet with strong opposition from the Conservation Officer.
We can, however, adapt space to form smaller Lodge Rooms from accommodation in the building designed for other uses. Examples of where this has been achieved are the conversion of two committee rooms on the Sussex Corridor to provide two Chapter Rooms, and the three Lodge Rooms created on the third floor in what was originally two caretaker’s flats.
While these changes take place we are also looking at how this building can play its part in encouraging a wider understanding of Freemasonry in society. This means improving public access, both generally and through supporting outside hire events. Both encourage improved awareness, while providing the opportunity for education through community engagement.
Improving public access, while at the same time meeting the continuing needs of UGLE as well as those of MetGL, the Library & Museum and the Masonic Charitable Foundation is far from straightforward, and we always have to keep in mind that our ideas and ambitions may not always meet with approval from the Conservation Officer if work is involved requiring Listed Building Consent.
I don’t want to overstate the problem. There are projects which receive immediate support, at least in principle.
Freemasons’ Hall, like many public buildings, fails to provide enough female toilets. The building was designed to provide toilets for the convenience of members, and the paid employees of Grand Lodge were thought unlikely to include women. How the world has changed.
We have legal obligations to provide facilities for both men and women who work in the building, and if we are serious in wanting to host events such as Letters Live and London Fashion Week we must provide facilities which are as good, if not better, than competing venues. The unisex toilets off the vestibule and those on the floor below meet this need, and as we approach the refurbishment of the Gallery Suite to improve the facilities available for Masonic use and outside hire in what was Lodge Room 1 and its ante room, we will be restoring to their original use nearby toilets on the lower ground floor. These will, however, be designed with flexible male / female use use in mind.
As I and others on the Hall Committee oversee these projects I do so in the knowledge that my responsibilities as Grand Superintendent of Works do not end at the front door.
From the very early years of Freemasonry, Grand Lodge has owned a number of buildings in Great Queen Street. These include the Grand Connaught Rooms and the Sway nightclub, together with most of the buildings opposite on the north side of Great Queen Street. They are in the same Conservation Area as Freemasons’ Hall, and many of them are listed, including several which are Grade 11 *.
A diverse property portfolio such as this is by its nature management intensive, and just over 10 years ago the Board of General Purposes received a report from the then Grand Superintendent of Works John Edgcumbe drawing attention to the possibility of selling the properties to reinvest in a modern, well let commercial property which might provide better growth prospects without the need for continuous oversight, and periodic investment in refurbishment and repair.
Mindful of the importance which heritage has to Freemasonry, and the fact that ownership provides control over the setting of Freemasons’ Hall, the decision was taken by the Board that the buildings should be retained.
Maximising value by improving tenant mix, and income quality, while refurbishing and modernising the properties where necessary, became a long-term objective of the Property Investment Committee chaired by the Grand Treasurer, Quentin Humberstone. As well as being Grand Superintendent of Works I am a Chartered Surveyor with practical experience of property investment and asset management, and the valuation of commercial properties. With this background I should perhaps have expected that my work would extend beyond looking after Freemasons’ Hall to include contributing to the work of the Property Investment Committee.
Pausing at this point it is perhaps worth drawing attention to the fact that the Property Investment Committee’s investment objectives have served Grand Lodge well.
The accounts of Grand Lodge are not exactly bedtime reading, but in 2006 the north side of Great Queen Street had a book value in the region of £14.5m. By 2011 an external independent valuation confirmed that the value of the whole portfolio including the Grand Connaught Rooms, and with the benefit of investment in the refurbishment of several of the properties, had risen to £31.1m, and as at 31st December 2017 the figure in the UGLE accounts was just over £56.5m. You must wait for publication of the 2018 accounts for the corresponding value as at December last year, but I can reveal that a further increase in value will be reported.
Given the long-term commitment of Grand Lodge to holding this portfolio improvements in capital value, while reassuring, are perhaps less important than rental income. This is currently just over £2.5m pa. which contributes to the investment income which is available for Grand Lodge to maintain, repair and improve Freemasons’ Hall without making a call on individual members’ Grand Lodge dues.
Masonic ownership of land and building extends well beyond Great Queen Street to the many Masonic Halls and Centres throughout the country. These are the responsibility of their owners. Whilst Freemasonry is a Craft, running and managing Masonic Halls and Centres is a business. Over the years there have been many successes, but occasionally things have gone wrong, and the accompanying adverse publicity compromises years of hard work in promoting the reputation of Freemasonry for the better.
We have within our membership valuable knowledge and experience of how to manage a Masonic Hall and Centre in a way which is both sustainable, and financially viable. What we did not have until recently was a reference resource which brought together in one place experience and best practice. This gap was recognised by the Membership Focus Group in 2015 which set up a Masonic Halls Working Group tasked with creating a Guidance Manual to share knowledge of best practise.
Unlike the Book of Constitutions compliance with the Guidance Manual is not mandatory, although ignoring advice inevitably leaves room for criticism if things go wrong.
As Grand Superintendent of Works I am now responsible for issuing updates to the Masonic Halls Best Practise Guidance Manual. Working with a Steering Group we issue periodic updates – best practise is not static. It evolves in the light of new legislation, and widened experience. We hold annual seminars here at Freemasons’ Hall as a way of making sure that Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works and those looking after Masonic Halls and Centres can contribute their knowledge and experience to the Guidance Manual and its advice.
As Grand Superintendent of Works here at Grand Lodge I am as much a user of the Guidance Manual as my counterparts in MetGL and across the Provinces.
As you can see Graham Redman was correct when he explained to me that I would be spending my time doing rather more than simply submiting periodic reports to the Board of General Purposes on the condition of this building.
Bond of brothers
Featuring Freemasons who led and served on land, sea and air from the Second Boer War to the end of the Second World War, a new exhibition at Freemasons’ Hall showcases a photographic history of extraordinary spirit, humanity and comradeship, both in war and peace
While showing visitors around the Brothers in Alms exhibition of war photographs he’s curated at Freemasons’ Hall, curator Brian Deutsch was stopped in front of an image of No. 1 Squadron by a Freemason. ‘That’s my uncle!’ the man said, pointing to a figure in a group photograph. This is the sort of reaction Deutsch hopes to inspire. ‘You might see relatives or people who were in your lodge.’
The exhibition features more than 200 images covering the war and the home front. The masonic element comes through the presence of prominent military masons such as Haig, French, Kitchener, Jellicoe and Churchill, as well as lesser-known war heroes such as Bernard Freyberg VC. There are also female Freemasons, such as Dame Florence Leach, who founded the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and was a member of Golden Rule Lodge, No 1. Many American participants in World War I were Freemasons, including future generals Patton and MacArthur and a young Franklin D Roosevelt. The Duke of Connaught, who was Grand Master of UGLE during the war, is also featured. But the theme of Freemasonry goes beyond the personalities involved.‘
A lot of them have connections to Freemasonry, but the theme of the exhibition is humanity and caring, which is a banner of Freemasonry,’ explains Deutsch. ‘I wanted to show how the spirit of life will ultimately triumph. A lot of that is because the comradeship during the war carried on afterwards. A lot of soldiers actually became Freemasons following the war after seeing what it meant for their officers.’
'Lots of soldiers joined Freemasonry following the war after seeing what it meant for their officers'
The exhibition highlights the charitable work of Freemasons, as well as the importance of Freemasonry to leading wartime figures. Lord Haig espoused the principals of Freemasonry throughout his career, devoting his post-war life to improving the welfare of ex-servicemen.
While the connections to Freemasonry of the war’s leading soldiers are well known, others are more obscure. There are three airmen who were the first to down a German airship on British soil. ‘They had the gavel for their RAF lodge, Ad Astra Lodge, No. 3808, made from metal taken from the airship,’ says Deutsch. Another photo shows soldiers home from the front being treated to tea at the Connaught Rooms by the Freemasons.
Photographs were selected for a variety of reasons. Many are simply excellent pictures, either in terms of composition or because they capture something particularly interesting or unusual. There are photos of elephants ploughing the Surrey fields in place of the horses being used to serve the military; there are 18,000 US soldiers replicating the Statue of Liberty on a field in Iowa to promote the sale of war bonds; there’s a homesick soldier in his trench, painting street signs for King’s Cross, Love Lane and Devil’s Dyke on Scraps of wood; there are four members of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps enjoying a day at the beach. There are also cameos from Sir Ernest Shackleton, Douglas Fairbanks and TE Lawrence.
The royals are a significant presence. George V is seen visiting the front, while The Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, is shown on a postcard used to raise money for the war effort. As the heir, he was not allowed to serve at the front, whereas his brother Albert – the future George VI – served at the Battle of Jutland. He was the last king to take part in a battle. All three were Freemasons. As Deutsch explains, ‘the Royal Family’s role was transformed by the war.’
The exhibition runs until November 2019 and is on the second-floor corridor of Freemasons’ Hall. It’s open to the public from 10am to 1.30pm, Monday to Friday. Those unable to get to London can visit www.brothersinalms.org.uk to see the entire exhibition online.
Seeing the light
The Anthony Wilson Memorial Lecture ‘The Possibility of Light’ is being given by renowned portrait and war artist Arabella Dorman at Freemasons' Hall on 16th May 2019, in aid of the charities Beyond Conflict and Age Unlimited
Tickets are £60 per person, which includes a drinks reception and private curated tour of the photographic exhibition Brothers in Alms.
Arabella will speak about the journey that led her from Iraq and Afghanistan as a war artist, to her work with refugees in Lesvos, Calais, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. The lecture will explore universal themes of childhood, loss, exile and hope as she takes us on her search for light in the darkest corners of existence.
Her work for the United Grand Lodge of England includes a portrait of Anthony Wilson, past President of the Board of General Purposes, and a commission to paint a scene from the 2017 Tercentenary celebrations.
Tickets can be booked by visiting the Age Unlimited website, sending a cheque made out to ‘Age Unlimited’ to 28 Westmoreland Place, London, SW1V 4AE, or by calling 07774 164243.
The Anthony Wilson Memorial Lecture is at 7pm on Thursday 16th May at Freemasons’ Hall, 60 Great Queen Street, London, WC2B 5AZ.
Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes welcomed five recipients of the Grand Master’s Order of Service to Masonry (OSM) for a special lunch at Freemasons’ Hall on 21st February 2019
OSM recipients Sir John Welch, Charles Grace, Edward Ford, Professor Aubrey Newman and Keith Gilbert were in attendance for the first event of its kind. They were also joined by Dr David Staples, Grand Secretary, and Quentin Humberstone, Grand Treasurer.
Instituted in 1945, the OSM is an acknowledgement of exceptional service to Freemasonry and is the highest honour the Grand Master can confer on any member of the Craft.
The Order is a neck decoration in the form of a Garter blue ribbon from which hangs the jewel of the Order. The jewel is of silver-gilt, being a double-circle with a pair of compasses extended on the segment of a circle, and the letters O S M; beneath it is the motto In Solo Deo Salus “In God alone is our safety”.
Read the OSM citations of each of the recipients:
United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) is delighted to announce that it has been awarded Investors in People accreditation
Investors in People is the Standard for people management and UGLE has been accredited at ‘Developed Level’ until 2021, which is based on a tried and tested framework and a rigorous process of assessment.
Work has gone on throughout the year to implement a number of strategies to improve communication and consistency in the way people are led, managed and developed at UGLE.
In part, accreditation has been awarded as a result of a wholesale restructure at UGLE centred on delivering for its members, alongside new organisational values, appraisal system and pay structure, recognition and reward scheme and improved internal communications.
Dr David Staples, Chief Executive of UGLE, said: ‘When I was appointed Chief Executive last year, I was charged with making UGLE a fit for purpose and efficient central headquarters, and this is a significant milestone towards achieving that overall goal. We have worked hard to create a positive working environment where people enjoy coming to work, driving excellence and enhancing the support we give to our 200,000 members – being awarded this accreditation underpins that commitment.
‘This is an enormous achievement in such a short space of time, and I am rightly proud of all those who have played a part in achieving it.’
Investors in People works with thousands of top businesses across the country. With a community of thousands of organisations across 58 countries, successful accreditation against the Standard is the sign of a great employer, an outperforming place to work and a clear commitment to sustained success.
International concert organist Henry Fairs will be performing the first organ concert of 2019 at Freemasons’ Hall on Wednesday 12th June 2019, 6:15pm
Henry will be playing the splendid refurbished 1933 Willis III organ in the Grand Temple during an hour long performance.
Alongside his recital career, Henry Fairs combines positions at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, universities of Birmingham and St Andrews and the University of Music and Theatre Leipzig in Germany, and has won numerous prizes in international organ competitions.
The Organ Concert is free to attend, with doors opening one hour beforehand – to book your ticket, please click here.
The Organ Committee’s invitation to the Royal College of Organists (RCO) for their pupils to practice on the Grand Temple and Temple 10 organs has resulted in its first pupil, Camilla Allison, venturing to Freemasons’ Hall to take advantage of the offer
Camilla arrived to practice for her Colleague of the Royal College of Organists (CRCO) exam and, after a session on the Temple 10 organ, said: ‘I had a wonderful time and greatly appreciate the opportunity of the good acoustic, firm springs of the pedal-board and the three manuals of the instrument.’
Camilla is expected to be the first of many RCO pupils to visit Freemasons’ Hall and use the organs.
The Organ Committee expressed its gratitude to The Grand Stewards' Lodge for donating the new organ in Temple 10 as their contribution to the Tercentenary celebrations last year.
12 December 2018
A presentation by VW Bro Dr David Staples, Grand Secretary
Brethren, good morning. It is my great pleasure to be speaking to you here today.
As many of you will know, I used to work as a doctor. My clinical job was to work out why people were horizontal and try to get them vertical again. I shall try my hardest over the next 15 minutes or so not to reverse that process.
I left Derby Hospital four years ago to become Clinical Director for Medicine at Peterborough where I managed a whole host of awkward people and there, to my astonishment, I discovered that I rather enjoyed this thing called ‘management’. In fact, I found that I enjoyed it much more than medicine.
People were usually pleased to see me which made a change, and as someone who had always enjoyed solving problems I found that I was deluged with problems. It was not a great leap for me to move into another organisation with problems to solve.
I still practice medicine for half a day a week – it seemed foolish to burn all my clinical bridges in this particular role. The Board and Rulers hired me as Chief Executive with two main outcomes in mind. First, I was to bring the Corporate and Masonic sides of Freemasons’ Hall together – to meld 60 Great Queen Street into a purpose and values driven organisation which services the needs of the United Grand Lodge of England, Supreme Grand Chapter and of course you, our members.
Secondly, I was tasked with helping to formulate, coordinate and ensure the delivery of the United Grand Lodge of England’s strategies for the future as defined by the Rulers and the Board.
To my mind, the most important of these is rapidly becoming to ‘Normalise the perception of Freemasonry in the public consciousness’ – to make it as acceptable to say that one is going to a lodge meeting as it would be to say that one is going shopping, out for a meal, or to the golf course; and to make it a genuine choice for all of our members as to whether they wish to disclose their membership or not – rather than one mandated by the attitudes and prejudices of their colleagues.
Today I would like to try to give you a flavour for some of the challenges UGLE faces along that journey, and some of the things that we are doing to meet them. We are always, however, mindful of the need to respect the independence of individual lodges and Provinces, and only to mandate those things which are absolutely essential to the future of the Craft.
Things are not all rosy. In 1920, Grand Lodge issued around 30,000 Grand Lodge certificates each year. By 2015 this had dropped to 7,000 which equates to less than one new member per lodge per year. 20% of our members resign or never come back prior to receiving their Grand Lodge certificate. 60% of our membership is over 60 years of age. Membership remains one of our greatest challenges.
As an organisation, we are shrinking by 1% a year, although interestingly our districts are growing at 10% per year on average.
Attracting new members and engaging our membership so that they remain members is therefore of paramount importance, but the pool of candidates eligible to join Freemasonry is a fraction of what it was 50 years ago.
We can do little to change whether a person believes in a Supreme Being, or whether they have a criminal record, but UGLE has done a great deal to try to influence the opportunity that eligible members have to join us successfully; this has occurred most visibly through the Membership Pathway which was launched earlier this year – an initiative that seeks to ensure that potential members know what to expect, and to minimise the chances of them leaving.
What used to be ‘invitation only’ is now much more open. Lodges regularly exhibit at universities Freshers’ Fairs and all Provincial websites and the United Grand Lodge of England welcome online membership enquiries. We also seek to influence what is ‘findable’ on Google by engaging with the media. By having sensible stories which reflect what WE want about Freemasonry on the top three pages of a Google search, we are able to significantly alter our public footprint.
Before the Second World War, Freemasons would have been openly known and respected in their communities. Public parades of masons were common place. Masons were often asked to perform ceremonies around the laying of foundation stones for public buildings.
Then, Hitler murdered 200,000 Freemasons on the continent and looked as though he were poised to invade England. Suddenly, it didn’t seem quite such a good idea to be so open about our membership and we collectively retreated into a position of privacy that we have only just, with the Tercentenary celebrations last year, started to retreat from in a coordinated fashion.
The third factor which influences whether we attract new members is the environment – by which I primarily mean the court of public opinion. What do the public think of us? How likely is it that our members are happy to ‘come out’ as Freemasons? How likely or acceptable is it that an organisation or employer decides to discriminate against Freemasons? What is the political climate? What is the religious climate? – All of these issues form the environment from which our members are drawn.
The national press is obsessed with handshakes, trouser legs, nepotism, corruption and with events that may have happened 50 years ago in a then corrupt police force. Not a media interview has gone by over the last year when I have not been asked about one of these issues – yet only 4% of young people under 25 ever read the national press, and only 9% get their news from television. By far the predominant source for news in the under 30s is the internet. We need to ensure our media presence reflects this.
In centuries past, however, Freemasons and Freemasonry was enormously respected. Before the times of professional organisations and trade bodies such as the British Medical Associate, the Bar Association, The Law Society etc., if you wanted to employ the services of someone who wasn’t going to rip you off, a Freemason represented someone who openly ‘met people on the level’ and ‘treated them squarely’. It was the closest one could get at the time to a kite mark of decent and moral professional behaviour, and, for tradesmen, membership was a likely to result in both increased respect and increased business.
Unfortunately, how Freemasonry is explained to us as Entered Apprentices is not necessarily an easy and straightforward concept to grasp. We are told that Freemasonry is a ‘peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols’ . That its system of morality forms of a set of values and principles of conduct. Freemasons are the custodians of a way of behaving which takes good people and makes them better, doing so by acting out ancient myths and encouraging a study of the deeper meaning of symbols, so it is both a philosophical and philanthropic society. One can see how it might prove very difficult for us to explain what Freemasonry is to those who might be curious. And, of course, Freemasonry means many different things to different members.
If we talk about charity, we are no different to hundreds of other organisations who fight for space in a very crowded sector. If we talk about friendship or camaraderie then similarly we do not capture the unique aspects of Freemasonry which set us aside from a club or society.
We will never be able to, nor should we, reinvent ourselves to please the public, but we do need to nuance our message so that it can have the greatest effect on those who we might be able to influence, and what you will see over the next 18 months or so is a coordinated media and communications strategy that starts to deploy these messages. We started this year with ‘Enough is Enough’ and there is a great deal more to come.
We need to find something that communicates the unique nature of Freemasonry in a friendly, accessible fashion, and in a way which makes us an attractive use of our potential members’ precious time. So how do we achieve, in the minds of the public, a favourable opinion preconceived of the institution? We must define ourselves clearly and positively to the outside world. We must regain control of our own narrative, we need to promulgate the timeless principles of brotherly love and self-improvement. We need to inspire people to lead better lives and be a values driven, professional organisation.
So Communications and Membership are two of my top priorities as mandated by the Board, the Rulers and the various committees and groups that have a care for Freemasonry.
These priorities are clearly reflected in the restructuring of the United Grand Lodge of England communications apparatus, and by the creation of a new Membership Services Department, which will encompass a new department for the Districts which, in the past, have not perhaps received the attention that they deserve; the Chancellery which manages foreign masonic affairs and also all of your enquiries should you want to visit a lodge abroad as well as the membership and registration functions.
When I came to UGLE, the headquarters had been split along masonic and non-masonic lines, and it was fair to say that there was a degree of civil war existing between the two. What I found was a headquarters crying out for modernisation. I am pleased to say that following considerable effort by all the staff over the last year, UGLE has just been awarded Investors in People Accreditation – something that will help dispel our reputation as operating from a secret volcano base somewhere off the West Coast of Sumatra.
Bringing about change within UGLE is not a simple task. I have entitled my talk 'Risk Takers, Caretakers and Undertakers' which broadly explains the mindsets which govern all of us here today in some part. Some aspects of the organisation need curating – they are precious to us and to our members and should be preserved as part of our responsibility as the de facto caretakers of a three-hundred-year-old institution, other parts need to be allowed to run their course and die, for an organisation which never renews itself is unlikely to survive. We see this often in the lives of individual lodges, which come together to serve a need for their members, but as times change, or that need changes, some lodges pass away whilst others invigorate themselves and thrive. In order to thrive, we need to be prepared perhaps to take risks and to change in order to remain, or perhaps regain a relevance in the modern world. If we aren’t prepared to do this, we become undertakers and bury something enormously precious to us all.
Another key priority for us at UGLE is to modernise the processes by which the organisation is administered. This year, we will have performed 24 Installations of Provincial and District Rulers all of those, coordinated from this building. We are recognised the world over for our pre-eminent ceremonial. It is my intention to ensure that this excellence shows itself in all that we do. We have moved the Masonic Year Book and the Directory of Lodges and Chapters to living online documents, and now have a thriving members’ area on our website. For the first time, some of you will have booked your place here today online and made payment for the lunch that follows electronically – something you will no doubt have been doing in other areas of life for well over a decade.
Astonishingly this change will save over 1,800 man hours of work each year. Those of you who are Secretaries will be pleased to hear that we are aiming to ensure that Installation Returns are pre-printed, meaning that you will never again have to write out the names and numbers of all your past masters – something which has been done and remained unchanged for over 175 years.
But that is just the start. The Book of Constitutions lays out guidance on how a modern membership organisation should be run, but the problem is that its current iteration was written in the nineteenth century.
Imagine now an organisation where the Lodge Secretary could access the central database of their members’ information and keep it updated. Why should secretaries have to write clearance certificates when we already know who is paid up and who is in arrears? Why not just run a real time Masonic credit check when you want to join a new lodge? Why are forms needed in order to get a Grand Lodge certificate, when we already know all the information on those forms?
To start to modernise these internal processes is an enormous piece of work, but I know it will bring real benefits to our members and those who administer lodges and Provinces.
And these changes will alter the experiences of the everyday mason too. Can you imagine a system that sends links to articles that explains the ceremony of initiation to an initiate the day after he is brought in? Or a system that sends information about the Royal Arch to a newly made Master Mason? What about a system that flags to the Lodge Almoner when a member has missed three meetings in a row – a strongly correlated marker for poor engagement and retention. In this way we can start to influence how we engage our membership at a whole new level with that peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
The Craft has an old, established teaching system, which uses role-playing, memory work and public speaking to enshrine its principles in the hearts of Masons. These techniques have evolved over many centuries and even more generations of Brethren, to pass on our traditions to benefit our members by making them better people, at peace with themselves and with the society in which they live.
We have recently launched ‘SOLOMON’, an online learning resource covering the three degrees and the Royal Arch which you are able to register for, access and read as you progress through your masonic journey. It has over 350 articles, graded for the correct degree which augment these established teaching methods within the Craft and make each candidate’s journey through Masonry a much more fulfilling experience.
So, Brethren, there is a huge amount going on in your organisation, and that is not counting the numerous happenings at Provincial and individual lodge level. UGLE is building an efficient and effective organisation. An organisation which provides a structure able to support and engage our members, attract new people to the Craft and Royal Arch, normalize Freemasonry in the public consciousness and stand up for our members whenever they are unfairly discriminated against or collectively attacked.
The United Grand Lodge of England is here to act as a custodian of the values and traditions of Freemasonry which inspire people to Lead Better Lives for the benefit of society, valuing Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. We should be a straightforward organisation that is supportive, self-confident, welcoming, member focused, friendly and fun because that is an organisation that good men will want to join and even better men will want to remain members of. It is the duty of all of us to make this an organisation we are proud to be a part of.