Quarterly Communication

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. 

Published in Speeches

Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge

13 March 2019 
Report of the Board of General Purposes

Minutes

The Minutes of the Quarterly Communication of 12 December 2018 were confirmed.

Election of the Grand Master

HRH The Duke of Kent was re-elected as Grand Master.

Grand Lodge Register 2009-2018

The tables below show the number of Lodges on the Register and of Certificates issued during the past ten years.

Lodges

Charges for warrants

In accordance with the provisions of Rule 270A, Book of Constitutions, the Board has considered the costs of preparing the actual documents specified in this Rule and recommends that for the year commencing 1 April 2019 the charges (exclusive of VAT) shall be as follows:

Charges

Installed Masters' Lodges

In December 2012 the wording of Rules 269 and 271 in relation to the definition of an Installed Masters’ Lodge was amended to include those Installed Masters’ Lodges serving a group of Lodges with a common affiliation. Because of the way the amendment was framed, the last sentence of each Rule was inadvertently omitted in the next and all subsequent reprints of the Book of Constitutions.

The Board, having considered the matter, is of the view that for the avoidance of doubt the lost wording should be restored by way of a formal amendment to the two Rules, and that for ease of reference the full wording of each Rule should be printed in the Paper of Business.

Amalgamation

The Board has received a report that Cleddau Lodge, No. 6952 has resolved to surrender its Warrant in order to amalgamate with Cambrian Lodge, No. 464 (West Wales).

The Board accordingly recommends that the Lodge be removed from the register in order to effect the amalgamation.

Erasure of lodges

The Board has received a report that 13 Lodges have closed and have surrendered their Warrants. The Lodges are:

Ellesmere Lodge, No. 3068 (West Lancashire), Hillingdon Lodge, No. 3174 (Middlesex), Ashfield Lodge, No. 4129 (Cheshire), Meridian Lodge, No. 5060 (Cheshire), Hadrian Lodge, No. 5216 (Cumberland and Westmorland), Byerley Lodge, No. 7853 (Durham), Lodge of Friendship, No. 7902 (Worcestershire), Ancient of Days Lodge, No. 9230 (West Kent), Caer Estyn Lodge, No. 9252 (North Wales), Southwood Lodge, No. 9293 (West Kent), Service above Self Lodge, No. 9537 (Durham), Black Country Heritage Lodge, No. 9702 (Staffordshire), and Essex Millennium Lodge, No. 9729 (Essex)

Over recent years, the Lodges have found themselves no longer viable. The Board is satisfied that further efforts to save them would be to no avail and therefore has no alternative but to recommend that they be erased. A Resolution to this effect was approved.

Amendments to the Book of Constitutions

For the next Quarterly Communication of the Grand Lodge, the President of the Board of General Purposes to move:

a. That Rule 269 be amended to read:

“269. There shall be payable to the Fund of General Purposes annual dues inrespect of each of its members by every Lodge

(i) in England and Wales that isunattached
(ii) in a Metropolitan Area or a Province
(iii) in a District and
(iv) abroad not in a District of such respective amounts as shall be fixed for each calendar year by resolution of the Grand Lodge in the preceding June.

Provided that any Lodge in a Metropolitan Area, Province, District or Group that is from time to time determined by the Board of General Purposes to be a Lodge the membership of which is restricted to Brethren who are Installed Masters but which is otherwise open without further restriction to all Brethren either within the relevant Metropolitan Area, Province, District or Group, or within a group of Lodges linked together by a common purpose or affiliation, shall pay annual dues in respect of those Brethren only who are not members of any other Lodge, and in the case of a Brother who is a member only of one or more such Lodges restricted to Installed Masters the Lodge of which he has been longest a member shall alone pay annual dues in respect of him. Such a Brother shall pay, by way of annual subscription, an additional amount equal to the dues payable in respect of him by such Lodge, but such additional amount shall be disregarded in determining for the purposes of Rule 145 whether all the members of the Lodge entitled to the same privileges pay the same subscription.”

b. That Rule 271 be amended to read:

“271. There shall be payable to The Masonic Charitable Foundation by every Lodge in a Metropolitan Area or a Province or in England and Wales that is unattached in respect of each of its members annual contributions of not less than such amount as shall be fixed for each calendar year by resolution of the Grand Lodge in the preceding June. (No payment is due in respect of members of Lodges Overseas).

Provided that any Lodge in a Metropolitan Area or Province that is from time to time determined by the Board of General Purposes to be a Lodge the membership of which is restricted to Brethren who are Installed Masters but which is otherwise open without further restriction to all Brethren either within the relevant Metropolitan Area or Province, or within a group of Lodges linked together by a common purpose or affiliation, shall pay annual contributions in respect of those Brethren only who are not members of anyother Lodge, and in the case of a Brother who is a member only of one or more such Lodges restricted to Installed Masters the Lodge of which he has been longest a member shall alone pay the annual contribution in respect of him. Such a Brother shall pay, by way of annual subscription, a further additional amount equal to the annual contribution payable in respect of him by such Lodge, but such additional amount shall be disregarded in determining for thepurposes of Rule 145 whether all the members of the Lodge entitled to the same privileges pay the same subscription.”

Presentatation to Grand Lodge

A talk on A year in the life of the Grand Superintendent of Works by RW Bro John Pagella, PJGW, Grand Superintendent of Works.

List of new lodges

List of new lodges for which warrants have been granted by The MW The Grand Master, showing the dates from which their Warrants became effective with date of Warrant, location area, number and name of lodge are:

14 November 2018

9972 Hinckley Lodge of Installed Masters, Hinckley, Leicestershire and Rutland
9973 Epicurean Lodge, Kingston, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands
9974 Ruck and Maul Lodge, Marsh Baldon, Oxfordshire

12 December 2018

9975 Fidelity Lodge, Avellaneda, South America, Southern Division
9976 Ferring Contemporary Lodge, Worthing, Sussex
9977 Aubrey Shervington Jacobs Lodge, Kingston, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands

Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge

A Quarterly Communication of the Grand Lodge is held on the second Wednesday in March, June, September and December. The next will be at noon on Wednesday, 13 June 2019. Subsequent Communications will be held on 11 September 2019, 11 December 2019, 11 March 2020 and 10 June 2020.

The Annual Investiture of Grand Officers takes place on the last Wednesday in April (the next is on 24 April 2019), and admission is by ticket only.

Supreme Grand Chapter

Convocations of Supreme Grand Chapter are held on the second Wednesday in November and the day following the Annual Investiture of Grand Lodge. Future Convocations will be held on 25 April 2019, 13 November 2019 and 30 April 2020.

Published in UGLE

Masonic Centres & the law

The Masonic Halls Best Practice Guidance Manual has a vital role to play in modern Freemasonry, says Grand Superintendent of Works John Pagella

We’re living in an age where standards, particularly in the delivery of public services, are governed by both law and regulation. This carries the implication that unchecked, the quality and reliability of services would decline.

Meeting standards required by law is an obligation which cannot be ignored. Regulation, however, can range from a legal requirement to meet mandatory standards to ‘best practice guidance’. The decision over which approach is appropriate will depend on many factors, of which the consequence of a fall in standards will be one of the more important.

What has this to do with Freemasonry? The answer lies in the status of the Masonic Halls Best Practice Guidance Manual, which offers advice and guidance, but does not require that either must be followed.

Does this mean the manual can be ignored? It certainly does not, and there are several reasons why. As long as a masonic hall or centre is well run, is financially viable and serves the needs of those who meet there, it might not be thought necessary to consider whether it is operating within ‘best practice guidelines’. Indeed, there may well be lessons which should be shared with others and that is why so much time is being spent reviewing the manual to make sure that it reflects current experience. On the other hand, if things start to go wrong and pitfalls clearly signposted in best practice guidance are not avoided, those involved will need to explain why they failed to follow advice based on the experience of others.

There is an even more important reason for recognising that even well-run masonic centres should acknowledge and be aware of the manual. Some of its advice draws attention to obligations imposed by law. Examples include health and safety, and meeting the needs of those who are disabled. In these areas, best practice guidance has to be followed. 

Keeping the manual up to date is therefore an important responsibility. Recent updates have covered project management, advice on assessing the future financial viability of masonic centres and halls, and insurance.

Insurance is easily overlooked until a claim needs to be made. When that occurs, a policy of ‘hoping for the best’ is foolhardy at best. Some aspects of insurance cover, such as employers’ liability, are required by law. In other areas, such as third-party liability or loss of or damage to lodge regalia and furniture, having the right cover is a matter of prudent management. 

In both cases the manual recommends that you contact the Masonic Mutual in advance of when your insurance is due to be renewed. In addition to providing competitively priced cover for masonic centres, the Masonic Mutual is owned by its members – ie the policyholders – and is directed by a board of senior Freemasons who give their time voluntarily. Who better than Freemasons to understand the insurance needs of their brethren? Additionally, the Masonic Mutual serves members directly, avoiding commission to brokers, and retains any surplus for the benefit of its members rather than the shareholders of brokers or insurers.

If things start to go wrong and pitfalls signposted in best practice guidance are not avoided, those involved will need to explain why they failed to follow advice'

Published in UGLE

Building  knowledge

Nearly a year on from the publication of the Masonic Halls Centres of Excellence Guidance Manual, Grand Superintendent of Works John Pagella explains why those managing masonic halls and centres find it useful

Judging from the warm welcome and positive response that I and others on the Masonic Halls Steering Group have received when visiting Provinces to speak to trustees and directors of management companies, many have found the Masonic Halls Centres of  Excellence Guidance Manual a welcome and long-overdue initiative.  

Unlike the Book of Constitutions, there is no question of compliance. The manual is simply combining the knowledge of many Freemasons across the country who are willing to share experience of best practice in a single document, while pointing to ways of avoiding some of the problems that have arisen in the past. 

I cannot emphasise too strongly that ‘guidance’ does not mean recommending or imposing answers. The manual encourages awareness – things to have in mind as issues are discussed. It also points to processes that, if followed, are most likely to lead to good and informed decisions about the best way forward.

OPEN TO UPDATES

The manual is a ‘live document’, and updates covering ownership and insurance have already been added to the original version, with further updates to follow. The general law constantly changes, and new regulations frequently follow. Experience can provide useful lessons, and we always welcome comments and suggested changes or additions from anyone who believes that something is missing, or that the content needs updating.

We are currently examining ways of using available data to predict future demand by lodges and other masonic units on masonic halls and centres. From this, we can anticipate how existing buildings may need to be adapted, and then offer relevant guidance. In some cases, relocation may be the answer; the design principles reflected in successful new builds are also being reviewed.

IN SEARCH OF EXPERTISE

At a local level, we are looking at hall-hire and catering agreements. Informal arrangements covering both of these areas can work, but they carry hidden dangers should things go wrong. We’ve recently received a very simple form of catering agreement, but at this stage we have no way of knowing if it’s being widely used. Careful reading suggests that it will work as long as the relationship between the masonic hall and its caterer is working well, but there is concern that it could lead to problems should difficulties arise. 

You can help

If anyone reading this article has experience of working with catering agreements, please do get in touch by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Individual experience is invaluable in our work to ensure that what is available is ‘best practice’ and can be shared.

‘Experience can provide useful lessons, and we always welcome comments and suggested changes or additions from anyone who believes that something is missing, or that the content needs updating’

Published in UGLE

Well appointed

Responsible for the fabric of Freemasons’  Hall, Grand Superintendent of Works  John Pagella encourages a businesslike  approach towards the management of  every masonic building

What’s your professional background?

I’m a chartered surveyor by training, working for the first five years of my professional life for what was then the Greater London Council. I spent two and a half years doing slum clearance in the East End of London, acquiring properties that were medically unfit for human habitation. I learnt a little bit about surveying but a huge amount about life and social conditions that simply don’t exist today.

I then wanted the challenge of working in private practice. So I joined a firm of chartered surveyors called Montagu Evans, becoming a partner and eventually the head of valuation and professional services before retiring in 2002. Retirement is a bit of a strange term, because I’m now doing as much as I ever did.

What does the title Grand Superintendent of Works mean?

It’s a masonic title – I’m the property adviser or the surveyor, in very simple terms. I’m responsible to the Board of General Purposes and to the Rulers of the Craft for maintaining the fabric of Freemasons’ Hall. When Grand Lodge was first established there was no Grand Superintendent of Works, but they quickly realised they needed a property professional. Sir John Soane was the first, and over the years we’ve had architects, engineers and surveyors filling the post.

In my role I also guide the changes that may be needed within Freemasons’ Hall to help it to function as a building that fulfils the needs of Freemasonry today. Equally important is our property portfolio in Great Queen Street, both as an asset within the investment portfolio of UGLE and also for the income that it produces. This income helps to cushion the organisation from the day-to-day costs of managing an ageing building.

How did you become a Freemason?

My father was a mason and it’s one of my regrets in life that he died before I became one. His – and my – mother lodge, Molesey Lodge, No. 2473, was the lodge for Covent Garden. So the owners of the fruit businesses, the market workers, the local bank manager and the local solicitor were all members. One of my earliest memories was the atmosphere at home when it was the lodge meeting day. He’d be dressed in his masonic clothing with morning suit, and off he went. My uncle, who by then was Secretary of the lodge, said, ‘Come on, I think you’ll enjoy this.’ Eventually, I gave up the unequal struggle and joined.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. I met interesting people and no matter where I went, I felt welcome. I also got satisfaction out of the ritual as I’ve always been intrigued by analysing and understanding why we do what we do as masons. If you put some time and effort into understanding the ritual, it has an awful lot to tell you about life.

'Freemasonry is a craft but managing its buildings is a business’

What are the challenges facing masonic buildings?

One of my mantras is that Freemasonry is a craft but managing its buildings is a business. One of the reasons we have got into difficulties with some of our buildings is that masons have been visiting their lodges for many, many years. They feel comfortable, it’s all part of the tradition of that lodge and they’re reluctant to look objectively at what is happening.

I’m a director of Surbiton’s masonic hall, and a number of years ago, when lodge membership began falling, we realised we needed to complement the income that Freemasonry brought in with outside events. Some people think that’s straightforward, that all you do is put up a sign saying ‘we do weddings’ and it comes to you. That doesn’t tend to work. You’ve got to be professional about the way that you attract outside income.

We adapted the building so that there was a modern, elegant hospitality suite. We had wedding coordinators, we installed a professional kitchen, we created improved bar facilities – everything that a couple who wanted to get married would want.

The approach at Surbiton is only one example of the challenges in managing a building – one solution does not fit all. What we’re trying to do is encourage people to go to the right people and ask the right questions in order to make an informed commercial decision about their building.

How is UGLE helping at a local level?

We cannot do other than encourage common sense and good practice in the way in which lodges decide to use their land and buildings. It’s not our task to dictate. We want to encourage those who own and occupy masonic buildings to pause, sit back and ask themselves whether their buildings are not only fit for purpose today but will continue to be so in 10 or 20 years’ time.

While Freemasonry is about respecting tradition, we also need to be aware that the world is changing. Circumstances are forcing us to think about what we are doing with our buildings. We can either think about this in sufficient time to make an orderly and sensible decision. Or, we can wait until, all of a sudden, circumstances overwhelm us. That is when the problems arise, when people are forced to take critical decisions too quickly.

At the moment I don’t have a lot of contact with the Provincial Superintendents of Works. One of our objectives at UGLE is to try to create some form of forum for discussion
and the exchange of ideas. We can all benefit from the experience we have in different areas.

Is it hard for you to look at any building aesthetically?

It’s a standing joke in my family. Whenever we go into a house, my wife looks at the interior design, and I point out there’s a bit of damp and some shared rights of access that I feel uncomfortable about! I do look at everything through the eyes of somebody whose whole life has been concerned with buildings.

Some buildings are beautiful. Some are appallingly ugly. Since 1948, every building in this country has been through a formal approval process. If you see a terrible building in the wrong place, ask yourself how it came about, because somebody not only sat down to design it, someone else approved it too. Bad architecture should be the exception yet there’s so much of it about.

Do you enjoy your work?

I think I have one of the finest jobs in Freemasonry because I’m able to use my experience to achieve something tangible. By 2020, I hope we will have completed the work needed on our property investment portfolio, leaving us to concentrate on exercising sound management control. If I achieve a change of attitude towards the way we manage masonic buildings generally, I think I will have helped to achieve something worthwhile.

Published in UGLE

Alarming rate

With a new Rating List coming into effect in 2017, Grand Superintendent of Works John Pagella explains why masonic centres and halls could end up paying more

The financial pages of the popular papers may not be everyone’s idea of bedtime reading, but you will have been hard pressed not to have noticed articles predicting the consequences that might follow the recent revaluation of commercial properties for business rates.

In the public mind, businesses occupying property with a high value are assumed to be better able to make a greater contribution to the total tax take than those whose business is run from more modest premises. The logic behind this is difficult to challenge, provided that revaluations are accurate and are carried out regularly. This will mean that changes in relative value between different areas of the country and property types are picked up as changes in value occur.

Unfortunately, that continuous process of revaluation has not happened. Business rates payable in the current fiscal year are based on the 2010 Rating List, which was prepared by the Valuation Office Agency based on values on 1 April 2008. Many changes have taken place since then. It should not therefore come as a surprise that, in many cases, substantial increases in rateable value will form the basis for the payment of business rates from 1 April 2017 when the new Rating List comes into effect.

Relief plans

The Government’s position is that the total revenue raised under the new list will not increase as a direct result of the revaluation, and those facing a steep rise in business rates payable will be helped through transitional relief. The options being considered for transitional relief include capping the year-on-year increase for ‘large properties’ at between 33 per cent and 45 per cent, rather than 12.5 per cent in real terms under previous Rating Lists.

As the definition of ‘large properties’ is likely to be those with a value in excess of £100,000, the majority of masonic centres and halls may not be affected. However, for those that are, a steep increase in business rates could become payable in 2017, with little opportunity for forward planning.

What does this mean for masonic centres and halls generally? They are classed as ‘business premises’ and all will therefore have been included in the revaluation. While it is always dangerous to generalise, it is highly likely that many will face an increase in assessment that will carry though to an increase in business rates payable.

Faced with this unwelcome prospect, the first step is to check the new entry in the Rating List, take specialist advice in relation to the valuation and then ascertain whether the Small Business Rate Relief or other similar scheme might apply.

I cannot emphasise too strongly that rating valuation and practise is a specialist area of expertise. Challenging the Valuation Officer’s assessment and investigating possible reliefs requires knowledge and experience of property valuation, as well as the complex legal implications.

The challenge ahead

While there will be many firms offering to help on a no win, no fee basis, it is important to bear in mind that those offering this service are likely to be interested in the straightforward cases that can be challenged quickly and easily. Retail shops and offices, as an example, are let on a day-to-day basis. Evidence of value is easy to obtain, and the valuation process for rating purposes for these types of property is not unlike market practise.

Valuing masonic centres and halls is, however, more complicated. Open market transactions occur infrequently, and to cope with this the methods of valuation adopted can be complex. By way of example, particularly difficult cases could well involve a valuation approach that aggregates land value and the cost of rebuilding adjusted for age and obsolescence, before decapitalising to arrive at an annual rent.

If this all sounds confusing, you will understand why I am encouraging those responsible for managing masonic centres and halls to check their rating assessment and take advice. Don’t delay. Although there is no time limit at the moment for challenging valuations, if a saving can be made, the sooner the process is started the sooner overpayments will be returned.

Finally, do use the Improvement Delivery Group at Grand Lodge as a point of contact to put appointed surveyors in touch with each other to share knowledge and experience.

‘Valuing masonic centres is complicated. Open market transactions occur infrequently, and to cope with this the methods of valuation adopted can be complex’

Published in UGLE

Never stumped

When a group of lodges in Kidderminster wanted to relocate from the cellar of a hotel, joining a local cricket club proved to be the perfect solution

In December 2015 the Membership Focus Group launched a strategic paper that identified masonic centres as a key area for improvement in the organisational development of Freemasonry. With many centres not considered fit for purpose by the members who meet in them, the challenge for lodges is how to turn a legacy problem into an opportunity. 

‘It is not uncommon for lodges to find that their existing premises become unsustainable owing to lack of critical mass if membership levels fall, or simply because of the structural integrity of the building itself,’ explains Provincial Grand Master for Yorkshire, North and East Ridings, Jeff Gillyon, who heads up the Masonic Centres Study Group.

For a group of lodges in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, this was particularly true when their 44-year tenure at The Briars pub came to an abrupt end. With the brewery selling up, the lodges moved to a local hotel’s cellar for four years while considering a new meeting place. 

‘It certainly wasn’t ideal,’ says Peter Ricketts, a Past Master of Lodge of Hope and Charity, No. 377, which was among those affected. ‘The cellar was small and the walls were covered in mirrors because it was planned as a nightclub. But for four years it was home to three lodges, a chapter and a Knights Templar unit.’

With so many members under one roof, amalgamating with a lodge in another property was out of the question, so the board considered buying a property of its own. ‘Then somebody suggested partnering with the local cricket club,’ says Peter. ‘It was perfect really, because the cricket season starts in summer just as the masonic season ends.’

With two bars and a large car park, the Chester Road Sports and Social Club easily catered to the social aspect of Freemasonry, but it clearly couldn’t provide a masonic temple. 

So, after prolonged talks, it was agreed that the Freemasons could build one adjoining the club.

Work started on the new temple in September 2011 under the careful watch of Mike Langdon of Old Carolian Lodge, No. 7599. As the retired owner of a construction company, Mike drew on his industry contacts to source supplies at cost. Mike, together with fellow Old Carolian Mick Insull and Martin Lawrence of Lodge of Hope and Charity, completed most of the building work themselves over six months. 

‘Until that point, my construction credentials extended to the wooden shed in my back garden, and that was a bit rickety,’ says Martin, a retired police officer from Aldridge. ‘But within a couple of months we’d laid the foundations and completed most of the brickwork.’ 

Progress was so quick, in fact, that by 3 April 2012 the first lodge meeting had been held in the custom-built premises. Staggeringly, the entire project cost just £150,000 – with key savings being made by Martin, Mike and Mick providing labour at no cost. ‘While quality was paramount, we made savings wherever possible and brethren helped tremendously,’ says Martin. ‘When we said we needed to insulate the loft, one brother went to B&Q and emptied the store of fibreglass rolls using his pensioner’s discount.’ 

A willingness to adapt traditional ideas of how a temple room should look, while not compromising on quality, also helped to keep the project on budget. For instance, Martin explains, ‘It would have cost £15,000 to have a masonic carpet woven, but a brother footed the bill for a magnificent marble and granite floor, which was a fraction of the price.’

The project is a great example of the flexible approach lodges need to start adopting to meet the changing landscape of Freemasonry. As the Masonic Centres Study Group’s Jeff Gillyon remarks: ‘This is a good example of how innovative thinking can solve the problem, but it is only one solution.’

For John Pagella, Grand Superintendent of Works, while the history and familiarity of a lodge room is important, ‘what’s essential is that Freemasons can still meet, regardless of where that may be’.

If that means relocating to a more affordable property, John says the first port of call should be a qualified adviser to get an idea of the full value of the property being vacated: ‘Consider the property’s potential as a commercial building. As a masonic hall, it may no longer have value, but as a hotel or a restaurant it could have enormous potential.’

Should lodges decide to capitalise on the commercial possibilities themselves, John advises taking a serious look at the standard of competition, and considering how commercial facilities would sit alongside masonic purposes. ‘Only then should you consider any refurbishment works. You need to approach the running of your centre like a business – balance cost against income.’

For those staying where they are, John says looking after the fabric of the property should be the priority. ‘Keep an eye on the building’s condition to avoid any major expenditure further down the line, and consider establishing a contingency fund,’ he says.

Ultimately, every lodge is individual – what may work for one may not work for another. The key is to take a proactive approach, says John, and to think practically about future-proofing your lodge. It’s a sentiment Martin agrees with. ‘Looking back, I can’t believe we stayed in our room at the pub for so long. There was no heating, no space and no funding to maintain it. Now we have a custom-built temple with the lowest capitation costs in the Province.’

While Martin appreciates the prospect of change can be daunting, it is necessary to ensure that Freemasonry keeps pushing into the future. 

‘If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this experience it’s that when it comes to the crunch, Freemasons pull together. We didn’t make it through the past 300 years without adapting.’

‘It was perfect, because the cricket season starts in summer just as the masonic season ends.’ Peter Ricketts

Building blocks

PLAN AHEAD: If your building is rented, start thinking now about alternative meeting places and set up a contingency fund by adding an extra £1 to capitation.

REACH OUT: Invest in your connections with the local community to keep your options open. 

SCALE BACK: Charity starts at home, so if you’re struggling to cover costs consider reducing your charitable giving for a short while until the lodge is back on a stable footing.

Published in Features

Just like moving home?

Can personal experience of selling a house equip people to deal with what selling a masonic centre involves? Grand Superintendent of Works John Pagella notes the similarities and differences

Moving house is said to be one of the most stressful experiences in life. From the large sums of money involved through to unfamiliar legal issues, the process can be highly traumatic. The same could be said of the challenges that masonic halls and centres face should an existing building no longer serve the needs of Freemasonry today. 

Successfully relocating is a subject all of its own, but the starting point is realising the full value of the existing building. Masonic halls and centres are commercial buildings and their use is regulated by planning laws. You might think the laws and regulations are no different from those affecting residential property, but while the underlying principles are the same this is not the case once you look at the detail. 

In relation to commercial buildings, planning use rights frequently embrace a range of business types within the same planning use category – planning is not directed towards preserving individual businesses or protecting their value. 

A shop can fail in the hands of one business, but succeed in the hands of another with a different business model. As a result, the market value of a commercial building can be quite different from its value to the owner or occupier. Understanding this is particularly important where a business has run into financial difficulty, and managing a masonic centre is running a business. It therefore may not always be the building that explains the problem.

The next consideration is whether the building or its site has a higher value to a purchaser contemplating a change of use with or without refurbishment, adaptation or redevelopment. 

Spotting this takes both knowledge and experience, and missing it can lead to underselling. The numbers can be substantial.

‘You might think the laws and regulations are no different from those affecting residential property, but this is not the case once you look at the detail.’

Recognising that a building or site has development potential is of fundamental importance. However, it is only the first step in a complex process that can all too easily lead to frustration and regret if experienced developers and their advisers are allowed to dictate the agenda. Is an option sensible, or should a conditional contract be considered? If a conditional contract is the right approach, should the vendor have an element of control over the timescale and planning agenda? If the answer to that question is yes, how can this be best achieved? 

Proceed with caution

In some cases the answer could be for the vendor to explore the planning potential and obtain an outline or detailed permission before selling. Obvious though that might seem, it may not always be appropriate if, for example, there are a number of development options. I pose questions rather than offer answers for the reason that each case will be different, and what works for one may be quite wrong for another. 

As to the question of whether experience of house sales can equip someone to manage commercial property transactions, I would suggest that proceeding without any guidance would be most unwise. Informed, experienced and independent advice from qualified advisers is essential. It will cost money, but provided you have the right adviser it will be money well spent.

Published in Features

Keeping the doors open

Grand Superintendent of Works John Pagella looks at the challenge of maintaining masonic centres and halls in modern times

Freemasonry is by no means unique in finding that as times change, and the needs of its membership evolve, buildings once well suited to their function become too expensive to maintain. We need to ensure that if masonic use declines, our buildings adapt to attract outside interest, generating income and strengthening their connection with the local community.  

While individual circumstances vary widely for each masonic hall and centre, the first step is to examine the potential for introducing outside uses. This is not achieved by simply advertising availability and hoping for the best. It requires analysis of the type of users for whom the building might be suitable, and consideration of whether what is needed can be managed while retaining masonic use. 

London’s Surbiton Masonic Hall is a positive example of what can be achieved. Glenmore House was built as an imposing Italianate-style private villa in 1840 at a time when residential development was extending out from London into the surrounding countryside. By 1920, it had become one of the many houses that were too large and expensive to run as private homes, so was put up for auction. 

It was purchased by four local masons, becoming known as Surbiton Masonic Hall, and was dedicated as a peace memorial.

For much of the 1900s the house flourished as a masonic centre, but as the century drew to a close it became clear that, once again, a change was required. Masonic membership was in decline, with fewer people attending meetings and a number of lodges handing in their warrants. A decrease in income meant that without a radical change in the way that the building was used, closure was inevitable.

Business foundations

Fortunately, the board of directors of Surbiton Masonic Hall included people with experience in building and development, as well as running commercial companies. They recognised that managing a masonic centre today is no different to running a hospitality company. Freemasonry is a craft but running masonic halls and centres is a business, requiring the same commitment, financial skills and disciplines. 

Although the property’s design, finishes and furnishings were dated, the potential for creating a self-contained hospitality suite was recognised. The building included a large ballroom with its own independent bar, but while the existing kitchens had coped well for many years, they were not suitable to support the standard required for outside events. Complete modernisation was therefore needed. 

Even if the refurbishment had been confined to these areas, much would have been achieved, but it was felt that the contrast between the facilities available to outside users and those offered to Freemasons would have been all too obvious. Furthermore, the loss of the ballroom for masonic dining would have reflected badly on the centre’s continuing commitment to its Freemasonry. 

With this in mind, dining accommodation at first-floor level was also refurbished and moveable dividing partitions erected to permit two units to dine simultaneously. The adjacent bar was modernised to the same high standard as the bar in the hospitality suite.

A new lease of life

The revenue generated from opening Glenmore House up to outside use has been vital. It has not only secured its future as a financially viable masonic centre, but also enabled the centre to become more of a focal point for the local community. ‘Far from losing identity, the changes we made enabled the community to identify the values that Freemasonry actually represents today,’ said Robert Dobbie, Managing Director of Glenmore House. ‘For the past 10 years we have participated in the Heritage Open Days, we are used as a local polling station, we host a twice-weekly bridge club as well as monthly lunches for Barclays bank and the BBC.’

Masonic centres and meeting halls are all individual, and it would be wrong to suggest that what worked in this case would always be successful elsewhere. However, there are some general principles. First, masonic buildings exist to serve the needs of members, but that purpose can only be sustained if they are managed in a way that is financially viable. In many cases this will mean shared use, which must be approached with the needs of the outside user in mind. The competition can be fierce and that means adopting a more proactive strategy than just advertising accommodation for hire. 

One final thought: those who take their own advice will in most cases have no recourse should things go wrong. If a masonic centre or hall has professional expertise within its members, by all means use it, but always consider the value of using outside consultants as well. Their more objective approach might be beneficial, and those giving outside advice may also have a legal liability.

‘Masonic buildings exist to serve the needs of members, but that purpose can only be sustained if they are managed in a way that is financially viable.’

Letters to the Editor - No. 32 Winter 2015

Maintaining masonry

Sir,

As Superintendent of Works for the past 40 years, I read with interest the article in the autumn issue by John Pagella, the Grand Superintendent of Works. I totally agree with him that because of rising costs it is a challenge to maintain masonic halls, especially old ones. 

Ours was built in 1860. Fortunately, like Surbiton Lodge, we have members who are experienced in the building trade and have contributed to the maintenance of the lodge buildings, not taking any remuneration for their work. Also, we have a good social committee that provides us with funds to help pay for the work we cannot do and for materials.

I joined Freemasonry in 1966 when we had a lot of members who were textile business owners employing maintenance men to look after their buildings. I have always wondered why the lodge building was nearly in a state of dereliction when I became Superintendent of Works in 1975.

At that time we had retired members on fixed incomes and my thoughts were that if we can keep the costs of running the lodge low there would be no reason to increase subscriptions. This worked and still does. Our subscriptions are among the most reasonable in the Province of Yorkshire, West Riding. 

I have read of many fine old masonic buildings being closed and sold, and most have accommodated multiple lodges. Big is not always good. We have only one Craft lodge and three side Orders meeting at our building, yet our subscriptions are among the lowest in the Province. I have noted some of the outside users John Pagella writes about who use their building and I will suggest to our lodge committee that we could do the same thing. 

L R Hirst, St John’s Lodge, No. 827, Dewsbury, Yorkshire, West Riding

Published in More News

What’s the use?

How a local council values a masonic centre or hall can have significant financial implications. Grand Superintendent of Works John Pagella scrutinises the fine print

One of the more significant elements within the overhead costs of occupying and running a non-residential property is business rates. While economies can be made in managing most day-to-day expenses, the payment of business rates to local councils is a legal obligation over which there is no direct control.

Business rates are calculated by reference to values entered in local rating Valuation Lists. The rate in the pound is not something about which anything can be done, making it all the more important that every care is taken to see that the property is correctly assessed in the rating Valuation List as this can be challenged. 

The recent experience of Freemasons in Bury St Edmunds offers an example of how important it is to look carefully and, if necessary, challenge individual rateable values. When local Freemasons decided that their masonic centre was no longer fit for purpose, they decided to relocate to a more suitable property that had previously been used as offices and as a warehouse. The building had been assessed by the valuation officer as having a rateable value of £52,000. Currently, rateable values are assessed on the basis of the annual value at which the property would be let as at 1 April 2008, broadly as it stands for its current use.

Planning permission was needed to change the use of the property to a club to be used for masonic purposes. The application was made and, in anticipation of permission being granted, the property was acquired. It was decided that, amid the many things that needed attention during the move, advice was required about the property’s rating assessment. 

Rating valuation involves a complicated interaction between commercial reality and a complex area of law and regulation, so a local firm of chartered surveyors with a specialist rating valuer was instructed to advise. With years of experience in valuing properties used for masonic purposes, the firm investigated and then challenged the rating assessment.

Despite every effort to resolve the case by negotiation, the matter ended up in the Valuation Tribunal where the key issue was whether the change of use from offices and warehouse to a club required adjustment to the rateable value, despite the initial absence of works of adaptation. Significantly, there was no dispute over the fact that the annual value of the building when used as a club for masonic purposes was considerably less than for its former commercial use. 

The decision of the Valuation Tribunal was that the rateable value should be reduced from £52,000 to £16,500, backdated to August 2011. The saving in business rates payable by the Freemasons was in the region of £16,500 per annum.

Delving deep

The Bury St Edmunds case illustrates how the valuation officer can unreasonably resist requests to alter the rating list. In seeking to convince the officer otherwise, one needs to delve deep into rating statute and case law, and also have an appreciation of how the Freemasons operate and how this impacts upon their property requirements.  

The lesson Freemasons can take from this is the importance of being aware of the process that is available to challenge assessments in the rating list, and the need to seek specialist advice when doing so.

It is worth noting that the valuation supporting the revised assessment of £16,500 was based upon local rating schemes for clubs, but also a comparison with the rateable value of other masonic centres across the region. Most masonic centres and halls are owned rather than leased, and for that reason evidence of rental values available from open-market lettings is limited. Despite this, the hypothesis underlying rating valuations has over the years been accepted as requiring valuations by comparison wherever possible – even where the evidence base is narrow.

Clubs come in many guises, some of which are commercial and profitable, while others such as masonic halls may not be. This case shows that for rating purposes, a distinction between use as a commercial club, or indeed for any commercial use, and use as a club for masonic purposes is accepted.

‘Be aware of the process that is available to challenge assessments in the rating list, and seek specialist advice when doing so.’

Published in Features

ugle logoSGC logo