Friday, 05 June 2015 01:00

A year of masonic success

Annual briefing

On 28 April, masonic leaders celebrated the achievements of the past year, revealing an organisation that is embracing transparency and taking positive steps to ensure its long-term future

 Held in the Gallery Suite at Freemasons’ Hall, the Pro Grand Master’s Annual Briefing Meeting brought together Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents to hear about the state of Freemasonry and why its future is in their hands.

With Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes welcoming attendees to the meeting, the President of the Board of General Purposes (BGP), Anthony Wilson, ran through the accounts for 2014, showing United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) finances to be healthy. He also highlighted the increasing importance of hiring out Freemasons’ Hall to third parties as a source of income. 

Second Grand Principal George Francis and President of the Committee of General Purposes Malcolm Aish explained how the Royal Arch was faring. ‘The good news is that we had some magnificent figures on exaltations for 2014,’ said George, congratulating attendees for the results that return the Royal Arch to the level it was at six to eight years ago. ‘We’re now hitting the 50 per cent mark of initiations so the prospects for the Royal Arch really do look rather good. I think there’s still more to be done.’ 

Provincial Grand Master for Warwickshire David Macey looked at the progress being made with the membership database, ADelphi 2, which goes live at the end of July this year. Offering improved reporting capability and ease of use, ADelphi 2 will give Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents all the membership information they need, at their fingertips. David also stressed that a structured training plan is in place to offer support to everyone using the new system.  

Taking virtual steps

With the Papers of Business for Quarterly Communications circulated electronically for the first time in 2014, James Long from the Electronic Systems Committee explained why it was felt necessary to make this change. ‘We were prompted to some degree by looking to save money and make efficiency enhancements,’ said James, ‘but there was something else that actuated our motive here: we thought it entirely appropriate for a modern membership organisation. We must be responsive and reactive to what our members want.’ 

Looking at the need to improve communication within UGLE, James congratulated the attendees for embracing new technology. ‘There are many Provinces and Districts that have well-constructed, thought-through and properly controlled communication strategies on social media. What we have to do is learn from all of those,’ he said. ‘We’re going to continue to ensure that UGLE is making the best use of all electronic media for communication, both internal and external.’ 

Landmark events 

Next on the agenda was the 2017 Tercentenary, which starts with events around the country in January 2017 and culminates with a celebration at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 October 2017. Anthony Wilson said that Grand Lodge expects to offer seats at the Royal Albert Hall to each Province and District on the basis of one place for every 80-90 members. Grand Lodge wants to widen the participation and is looking at ways to screen the event live in all the Districts and Provinces. 

Staying on the subject of the Tercentenary, Provincial Grand Master for Somerset Stuart Hadler announced the design of a new branding for UGLE, which will make its appearance in the run up to 2017. While the coat of arms has for generations been a mark of status and standing in society, Stuart said: ‘Society has changed over the past 50 years and a coat of arms no longer communicates the image and messages that a modern membership organisation needs to convey. One might also observe that we are seeking no longer to be silent.’ 

Stuart went on to discuss how the Membership Focus Group (MFG), the BGP and the Rulers believe that a positive and attractive image is vital. ‘To preserve the integrity of the brand and achieve a corporate image, there is to be a strict protocol for us all to follow that will dictate how the symbol is to be used,’ he said, adding that Provinces and Districts will need to review and revise their existing paperwork by 24 June 2016. 

Future-proofing

Freemasonry’s image is just one of the areas being explored by the MFG. Tasked with assuring the long-term success of both the Craft and the Royal Arch, the MFG has been talking to Provinces about their experiences of recruitment and retention. Assistant Grand Secretary and MFG member Shawn Christie highlighted that many growing lodges hold vibrant meetings and regular social events that are open to non-masons. These provide an opportunity for prospective candidates to ask questions in an informal environment, learn more about Freemasonry and possibly, in time, join if both sides feel the fit is right. 

Provincial Grand Master for Nottinghamshire Robin Wilson explained that the road to retention starts with proper preparation. ‘For that to happen, the prospective members must be made aware of the essence of Freemasonry, what it involves and how it involves them,’ he said. For this to succeed, expectations must be managed: ‘Otherwise they could feel ambushed or disappointed by what they find on joining.’ (See here for more details about the MFG’s conclusions on membership retention.) 

Next on the podium, Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master Michael Ward discussed how MFG research into leadership and education showed that many people, if not most, are motivated to join Freemasonry with an expectation of self-development. ‘The opportunity for specific leadership and management development tends to emerge as our brethren get into more senior roles,’ said Michael, adding that while there is a wealth of information available in all the Provinces, there has been limited sharing of best practices. ‘Provinces are consequently reinventing and duplicating.’ 

Michael believes that there is a window of opportunity to develop and deliver high-quality training material using some of the best practices from around the Provinces. ‘This creates a huge potential for us to enrich members’ experiences and demonstrate that we have listened to and understood their needs. It also shows that we are committed to modernising while maintaining our traditions,’ he said. ‘The alternative is to ignore reality and ignore the needs of our members. Our future depends on inspiring and re-energising our membership. This can only be achieved with the full and active support of the Provincial Grand Masters and the Grand Superintendents.’ 

Malcolm Aish echoed Michael’s sentiments when he outlined the MFG’s proposed strategy for Freemasonry going forward, which had been circulated to the attendees prior to the meeting. ‘The MFG feels a coordinated approach will achieve greater success but it is each Province that should consider its participation and support – for it is you that will implement a large part of the agreed strategy.’ 

Grand plans 

Chairman of the MFG and Deputy President of the BGP, Ray Reed discussed the results from the annual survey for Provincial Grand Masters. He noted that 54 per cent of Provinces are providing training for new masters and 34 per cent for communications officers. ‘These must be two of the most important areas because they can make such a massive difference in our Provinces,’ said Ray. ‘It’s essential that we encourage those who don’t have training for lodge masters to contemplate giving it.’ 

In a 30-minute address, Ray touched on the need to innovate and speed up communication, adding that there is broad agreement on what the key areas for development are. ‘We’re talking about training and educating people, about effective mentoring and about best practice in recruitment, retention and retrieval,’ he said. ‘The MFG has sought to better understand the problems we face in Freemasonry and we are now ready to move from analysis to implementation.’

Ray ended on a strong message, saying ‘a successful future for Freemasonry will only come through quality leadership, consultation and collaboration’. 

The presentations at the Pro Grand Master’s Annual Briefing Meeting finished with a fitting quote from Henry Ford: ‘Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.’  

Published in UGLE

Open forum

As the Grand Lodge of England approaches its tercentenary in 2017, the Membership Focus Group has been established to consider how best to attract, recruit and retain good men. In July, five members of the group met to discuss why the strategy for the future of Freemasonry in the Craft must be a collaborative exercise involving all its members

Why was the Membership Focus Group (MFG) formed?

Ray Reed: The objectives of the MFG are to advise the Rulers and the Board of General Purposes of how best Freemasonry can focus members, lodges, Provinces and staff to work in a collaborative manner to create and implement a strategy that will assure the long-term successful future of both the Craft and the Royal Arch. 

We want to look at the whole organisation as well as its ceremonial structure to identify what’s really worked for the past three hundred years, what’s good to keep and what we need to modify. We especially need to consider how to attract and retain the ‘modern man’ and future leaders in this fast-changing world.

Peter Taylor: When we looked at the numbers from the ADelphi database, which contains the masonic life histories of our members going back to 1984, there were some very telling statistics. In many areas around the country we’re attracting new members in good numbers, yet total membership is still going down. The group wants to discover why and find solutions to reverse this trend. 

Malcolm Aish: We found that for every age group, the length of time before members resigned was the same. The more we looked at the statistics, the more we felt that it wasn’t just an issue of how to make Freemasonry more attractive to young people as they make up a relatively small proportion of our membership. They are still very important to us, as they could be joining for forty to fifty years, but the big recruitment age is around forty, so we need to discover why fortysomethings are just as likely to resign as twentysomethings. 

Ray Reed: Our biggest strength and greatest opportunity is that we’re getting lots of people wanting to join. That number is on the increase at the moment, so we’ve got to make sure that when new people join, their expectations match with what we have to offer. 

What sort of questions is the MFG asking?

Shawn Christie: The United Grand Lodge of England is a very special organisation. We can rightfully be proud of our past and our present, but it’s important to look ahead and plan for the future. 

This is the reason why we’re asking about the kinds of things we can do better. We’ve analysed membership statistics, identified key focus areas and established working groups to develop those areas further. For example, I’m chairing a working group looking at recruitment, and there are other groups focusing on areas such as governance and the image of Freemasonry. Moving on from our initial analysis, we’ll soon start surveying the membership to make sure that we have an accurate understanding of their feelings.

Stuart Hadler: I’m concerned that we provide very little formal leadership development in Freemasonry, whether that’s progressing to become Master of a lodge or a senior Provincial officer. I think that Freemasonry is poorer for not having the opportunity to develop those skills – we could actively promote it as one of the opportunities offered by our society when attracting new members.

Malcolm Aish: My interest in the Royal Arch means I’m very happy to be involved in the MFG, because success in the Craft will lead to greater success in the Royal Arch. We’ve found out from the statistics that when masons go on to join another lodge or the Royal Arch – the ‘multiple members’ as we call them – then their membership longevity extends significantly. That’s something that we need to analyse. We could find out if people who join their second lodge are more selective about the kind of members they team up with. 

If that’s the case, then we might be able to improve overall retention.

Stuart Hadler: Another point we’ve identified is that there’s no clear external perception of what Freemasonry is and why people join. We haven’t prepared members in how to communicate clearly and consistently. If we’re going to attract people in the right numbers and keep them, then we have to find good examples in simple, modern language about what Freemasonry offers.

Malcolm Aish: We don’t want to be seen to be intrusive; it’s quite difficult for someone outside the Province to ask quite personal questions, but we have to be able to find out the real reasons why someone has left a lodge. Was it because they didn’t feel welcome or had an argument? The whole process we’re undertaking aims to open everyone’s minds to consider doing things differently.

‘In many areas around the country we’re attracting new members in good numbers, yet total membership is still going down. One of the aims of the MFG is to discover why and reverse the trend.’ Peter Taylor

Is Freemasonry set for big changes under the MFG?

Stuart Hadler: We have many cherished traditions, but we should be prepared to question their continuing importance to our principles and image. In recent years, for example, there have been more cases of Freemasons parading in public, which is great – it’s a return to where we left off in the 1930s. But are gentlemen of a certain age walking through the streets, parading their regalia, the only images we want to portray? We need to think about the kind of image we’re trying to put across, and the MFG can be about offering a range of choices, perhaps saying that it’s fine if a lodge decides to wear jackets and ties rather than dress in full regalia. 

Malcolm Aish: The fundamentals of Freemasonry are not going to change. Why would we want to modify the core ceremonial and ritual traditions of a highly successful organisation? But how we communicate among ourselves – how we formulate the ideas and direction that we are going to take, as well as organise ourselves – is an opportunity for members to make a major contribution.

Peter Taylor: I hope that the membership will be pleased to see that the MFG comprises members from around the country. We’re looking at the wider aspects of Freemasonry from an inclusive standpoint, and will be surveying views taken from a wide range of geographic areas that have different socio-economic challenges. 

Ray Reed: We’re a bottom-up, not top-down member organisation. If you want to have your views on the future of the Craft reflected, then you must get involved with the surveys. This is all about meeting the needs of both existing and future members in today’s society in order to ensure the future of Freemasonry.

‘We’re listening to all our members, we want feedback, and before we come to any conclusions, we want to understand what the membership has to offer and what it can improve on.’ Malcolm Aish

How will the MFG communicate its findings?

Shawn Christie: The MFG will use various channels to keep the membership informed, including Freemasonry Today and communication through Provincial and District Grand Lodges. Whatever the findings, we hope to identify and share successful practices and approaches throughout our society. We want to work with Provinces, Districts, lodges and members rather than simply communicating in only one direction.

Ray Reed: Communication is going to be continuous. The strategy document might prove to be substantial, but we’ll need to summarise it and allow everyone at every level to understand. We’ll always take our conclusions to the Board, Rulers and PGMs first because we want them to be the first ones to know – we can’t let magazines like Freemasonry Today know something before the PGMs do. The information route will be focus groups first; then surveys; followed by findings and talks with the Board, Rulers and PGMs. Finally, there’s communication with all our members. 

Malcolm Aish: Having this round-table article is a great starting point in reaching a wide proportion of our membership, but we’ll have to feed back what we’re doing in order to be as effective as possible. We don’t know what the outcomes are going to be yet, but we’re listening to all of our members, we want their feedback, and before we come to any conclusions, we want to understand what the membership has to offer and what it can improve on.

Have your say

During the next six months, the Membership Focus Group will be seeking the assistance of members by way of several short surveys. Many of the subjects on which we shall be seeking views are mentioned in this article.

If you wish to have your say and are willing to help, then please email your details as indicated below.

UGLE members can only register at: www.ugle.org.uk/mfg 

Your registration will be confirmed by us asking for your name, lodge number, masonic rank and years of membership

 

Other members of the MFG

Sandy Stewart, Provincial Grand Master for Staffordshire, Michael Ward, Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master, Paul Gower, Provincial Grand Master for Hertfordshire, Gareth Jones, Provincial Grand Master for South Wales, Marc Nowell, Representative from the Universities Scheme, Jeffrey Gillyon, Provincial Grand Master for Yorkshire, North and East Ridings, Robin Wilson, Provincial Grand Master for Nottinghamshire  

Published in Membership Focus Group

When the Provincial Grand Master, Stuart Hadler, launched his appeal on February 17 he did not appreciate the level of support that would be received from Somerset lodges and from Freemasons around the country

Hoping to achieve £50,000, the Somerset Masonic Flood Recovery Fund has passed £125,000 and has become one of the four major contributors to the Somerset Flood Appeal.

The Provincial Grand Master has been overwhelmed by the generosity not only of brethren in Somerset but of many other Provinces and, of course, The Freemasons' Grand Charity.

Commenting, Stuart Hadler said: 'The concern shown towards those in great need on the Somerset Levels by brethren from far and wide has been overwhelming. We will be able to make a most significant contribution to helping families and communities to recover and rebuild over the coming months. The need is immense. With the continuing contribution of brethren and Lodges in Somerset, I hope that we will be able to achieve a target of £175,000.

'I express my heartfelt thanks to all those who are supporting the appeal.'

The Provincial Grand Master has also announced that he is setting up a Flood Recovery Grants Committee to work with the Somerset Community Foundation to identify and approve grants for suitable projects. A number of areas of possible support are being clarified that will aid individuals and communities in their recovery. This committee will be lead by John Winston, AsstProvGM, and include brethren with knowledge of the Somerset Levels.

The Somerset Community Foundation (SCF), having been tasked to provide financial support to those affected by the floods, launched an appeal for £150,000 in January. It quickly became clear that in the months ahead a far greater sum would be required, not only to provide emergency grants to those in need, but much more would be needed to support the recovery and re-building of lives and communities. The SCF set up a system for emergency grant payments. Since January this has helped over 200 households and awarded over £120,000. Through working alongside community workers and other organisations longer term needs have begun to be identified.

Having recognised that the SCF would be well placed to identify genuine need and manage the use of grants, Stuart Hadler elected to use the SCF as the main route through which Freemasonry could best support those affected by the floods. The Emergency Grant phase was adequately covered by donations to the SCF. The subsequent stages of recovery and rehabilitation would take yet more money and fill gaps not covered by government, other agencies and insurance.

The SCF has now increased its target to £1,000,000. This week £750,000 has been received including over £125,000 allocated by the Somerset Masonic Recovery Fund. A tremendous achievement on the part of Freemasonry.

Peter Whyman CBE, Chairman of the SCF said, 'On behalf of the Board of Trustees of the Community Foundation may I thank everyone involved in raising this money which I am certain will make a real difference to the communities currently affected so badly by the flooding'.

Current flood situation

We have all seen and heard reports of the personal experiences of those affected by the flooding on the Levels. At its height around 200 households were affected and of those 90 families were evacuated, in many instances with little notice and therefore without the chance to collect and take clothing and personal effects.

This week (beginning of March) the reduced rainfall and pumping efforts have seen the waters begin to subside and some residents have for the first time been able to visit their homes. They have witnessed severe water damage and contamination of their homes, sewage pollution and staggering accumulations of debris. One can but imagine the horror, heartbreak, overwhelming sense of loss and hopelessness experienced when faced with a much-loved home that has effectively been devastated and devalued.

The process of drying out, clean-up, repair and restoration will take months.

Loss adjusters are beginning the process of assessing the damage. Many of those affected have been advised that it will be up to twelve months before they will be able to return. In some cases homes are beyond repair. The impact on house values can be imagined. Some families will have had enough and look to move elsewhere. It has been estimated that around 25% of properties are uninsured and others underinsured because of the high premiums required.

The floods have also affected many small businesses that offer local employment and services. They too will need financial and practical assistance to find alternative premises, re-equip and address cash-flow issues.

Village and community life has been disrupted, in part because of being cut-off or having extended journeys to move from one place to another. Community facilities are out of action. Many residents have been evacuated or moved away temporarily.

The farming community has had pasture under water for weeks, fodder and foodstuffs destroyed. Livestock has either been moved or sold. Some farms remain under water and will be out of action for a considerable time. Many areas remain under water.

Immediate support

While the various agencies have been present on the ground and provided a range of help and support, much of what has been needed has been provided by a huge groundswell of voluntary effort and community spirit. This has responded to individual and collective needs, lobbied for support and assistance and been very successful in maintaining morale and mutual support.

Many individuals and groups have come together and participated in the emergency relief effort.

Centenary walk for Somerset lodge

On Tuesday October 8 Nyanza Lodge, No. 1197, in Somerset celebrated 100 years in their existing Lodge building in Berrymans Lane, Ilminster, by walking from their first home in North Street, Ilminster, now a doctor’s surgery, to the current Temple.

The lodge was founded in 1867 and members moved to their current home in October 1913. In that year the brethren processed in full regalia from North Street to Berrymans Lane, via the High Street of the Somerset town, to celebrate the move. To re-enact that celebration, and to mark this historic occasion, the current members repeated that walk on October 8 in full masonic regalia, the first time that any lodge in Somerset has paraded in public since the Second World War.

The Worshipful Master of Nyanza Lodge, Hall Smyth, was joined in the procession by Stuart Hadler, the Provincial Grand Master of Somerset, together with eighteen lodge brethren. The lodge has thus continued the ‘openness’ theme, following their very successful ‘Open Day’ in 2011 when the building in Berrymans Lane was visited by several hundred members of the local residents of Ilminster.

The procession through Ilminster has since received considerable sympathetic news coverage in both local newspapers.

The Freemasonry in the Community diesel 12-seat Renault Master minibus has been handed over to the Weston and District Community Transport group. It has air conditioning and a power-operated wheelchair lift located at its rear. The minibus was acquired by Somerset Freemasons in 2010 and has since completed 130 respite day trips, carrying about 1,250 people in total.

The handover was made by Somerset Provincial Grand Master Stuart Hadler to Weston and District Community Transport trustees chairman David Ray in the presence of the Mayor and Mayoress of Weston, Cllr David Hitchins and Mrs Carol Hitchins. Somerset lodges have contributed to the running costs and the vehicle will be driven by a team of masonic volunteer drivers.

Mrs Eileen Jackson, the Founder and Chair of the Somerset Masonic Widows Association, has been named in the New Year's Honours list by HM The Queen by the award of an MBE for her services to charity in north Somerset.

Commenting on this honour, Stuart Hadler, Provincial Grand Master of Somerset said: 'Eileen is a fine example of selfless dedication to the needs of others whether in her local community or more especially the Masonic Widows Association in Somerset. Her drive and commitment has been the predominent factor of the success of the Association over the last fifteen years. She has made a positive difference in the lives of countless widows and their families and to many other needy people through her campaigning and fund-raising for a range of charities and support projects. We congratulate her on this honour from HM The Queen, which is well deserved'.

St Alphege Lodge is responsible under the UGLE Universities Scheme, for forging links with the University of Bath

As a result of considerable interest generated by the Scheme and from members already recruited through it, Christmas came early this year with five candidates being initiated into the Lodge in a multiple ceremony.

St Alphege last carried out such a ceremony in 1925, so this was a very special evening for everyone concerned.

The Assistant Grand Master, RW Bro David Williamson, who is President of the Universities Scheme, attended along with the Provincial Grand Master for Somerset, RW Bro Stuart Hadler. The Assistant Grand Master subsequently wrote to the Lodge saying "I sat in Lodge, enthralled and touched by what we witnessed."  

The Provincial Grand Master described it as "a great success and a landmark in the history of the lodge"

The Ceremony concluded with a presentation of a 50-year certificate by the Provincial Grand Master to Brother Keith Brown, the significance of which made an important impression on the five young Initiates. 

Published in Universities Scheme
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