From the Grand Secretary
By the time you receive this issue, our Tercentenary year will be well under way and our Rulers will have already attended overseas events in Denmark, Mumbai, India, and Zakynthos, Greece, at our unattached Star of the East Lodge, No. 880. His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent has also attended a church service at Canterbury Cathedral for the Provinces of East and West Kent, Sussex and Surrey. We now await the broadcast in April of the long-anticipated Sky TV documentary Inside The Freemasons.
It is an exciting year as we build towards our showpiece event at the end of October. So far, it is likely that we will welcome around 160 Grand Lodges from around the world to celebrate with us at the Royal Albert Hall and look forward to our next 300 years. We now need to build on our successes and use this year to show ourselves as the vibrant and relevant organisation which is Freemasonry.
Looking forward to the Tercentenary in this issue of Freemasonry Today, Keith Gilbert highlights the planning and organisation of celebratory events taking place across not just the UK but the entire world. As Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes notes in his Senior Insights column, these are exciting times, so we should celebrate in style by showing our pride in being Freemasons.
When it comes to showing the best in Freemasonry, Spinnaker Lodge in the Province of Hampshire & Isle of Wight is a shining beacon. We find out how its members are encouraging younger Freemasons into the Craft with a shared interest in all things sailing. The sixth specialist lodge in the Province to be consecrated in the past four years, Spinnaker will be visiting new marinas and hosting social events at sailing clubs to raise both its own profile and that of Freemasonry in 2017.
Best foot forward
In the north-west of England, we meet a 54-strong group of Freemasons, their families and friends who trekked across Morecambe Bay. Cumberland & Westmorland Provincial Grand Master Norman Thompson and his intrepid travellers not only raised money to help victims of the Cumbria floods, but also showed how Freemasonry is connecting with local communities. The team joined some 1,000 walkers at Arnside Promenade to brave the wet and puddled sands for a memorable day that is now an annual event in the Provincial calendar.
The opportunities for Freemasonry are not just in the face we show the world, but are also in our governance, our leadership, our retention and our management of masonic halls. The Chairman of the Improvement Delivery Group, David Wootton, reports on how he and his team are leading the implementation and delivery of our agreed strategy for Freemasonry to 2020. As David notes, there is much to do but also much to enjoy.
‘We need to use this year to show ourselves as vibrant and relevant’
Brethren, 2017 is without doubt a landmark year in the history of our great organisation. It provides a wonderful opportunity both to celebrate past achievements and to ‘lay schemes and draw designs’ to ensure its future.
I am very conscious that we are already three months into the year and that a number of celebratory events have already taken place.
I was particularly pleased to be able to attend the service at Canterbury Cathedral on 18 February, which was a marvellous celebration of our achievements, and I look forward to taking part in other events during the year.
I am impressed by the number and variety of events that are taking place in the Metropolitan area and our Provinces and Districts. I know how you have all worked and are working tirelessly to ensure that our Tercentenary year is both memorable and enjoyable.
I wish you every success in 2017 and, above all, strength and stability in the future.
With soldiers from across the world meeting and sharing values during World War I, Diane Clements looks at how this period shaped New Zealand’s relationship with Grand Lodge
The armed forces of many different countries fought in World War I between 1914 and 1918, with their experiences often being pivotal in the formation of national identities. But what of the effect these nations had on each other as they fought side by side? The experiences of masons as they travelled to new countries provide an intriguing window into how the war helped to develop the links between Grand Lodges across the world.
In 1914 there were 1,700 lodges across England and Wales, with a further 1,300 spread throughout the British Empire. As British colonies had become independent from the mid-1800s, they had established their own masonic jurisdiction or Grand Lodge. The relationship between the English Grand Lodge and the overseas Grand Lodges strengthened during World War I and was marked at celebrations of the Grand Lodge’s bicentenary in 1917 and of the peace in 1919.
For the soldiers, the experience of travelling to foreign countries, the comradeship and the trauma of war were significant in their personal development. For many, informal links with Freemasons were widened and reinforced, and the bond formed between New Zealand masons and their English brethren is a prime example of how the Craft came together during wartime.
The first masonic lodge in New Zealand was formed in 1842 and each of the English, Irish and Scottish Grand Lodges all formed lodges there. In 1890, 65 lodges established the Grand Lodge of New Zealand, with Henry Thomson as the first Grand Master. A medal was produced in 1900 to mark its first 10 years. The three ‘home’ Grand Lodges also maintained District and Provincial Grand Lodges in New Zealand.
William Massey, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, sent a telegram on the outbreak of war in 1914, saying: ‘All we are and all we have is at the disposal of the British government.’ He travelled to Britain several times, both during and after the war, and attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, signing the Treaty of Versailles on behalf of his country. Massey was installed as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand in November 1924.
In 1914, the population of New Zealand was about 1.1 million and 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF), which went first to the Middle East and fought at Gallipoli and then to the Western Front. Around 18,000 New Zealanders died in or because of the war, with more than 41,000 wounded.
The Library and Museum of Freemasonry collection includes a gavel with a head made from the stock of a German rifle found on the Somme battlefield in 1916 during an advance on Flers by the NZEF. It was then taken to New Zealand where it was mounted and polished.
The NZEF Masonic Association was formed in France by Colonel George Barclay in 1917. According to an article in The Freemason in April 1918, the association developed from an informal meeting of serving New Zealand troops near Armentières in June 1916.
The association’s original objective was to hold meetings to promote fraternity among its members, with branches formed in various camps, depots and hospitals. One branch was formed in Egypt and Palestine in May 1917 by Brigadier-General William Meldrum (1865-1964), the officer commanding the mounted division. This group held a meeting in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in April 1918. The association’s meetings included lectures and discussions and its members were encouraged to visit other local lodges.
NZEF soldiers came to England for rest, recuperation and training, with Wiltshire’s Sling Camp functioning as their chief training ground, while in London, the NZEF Masonic Association organised visits to Freemasons’ Hall. The association was active along the south coast of England and correspondence between Grand Lodge and Jordan Lodge, No. 1402, in Torquay from December 1917 provides a fascinating glimpse into the interaction between the troops and local lodges.
The Lodge Secretary, Stanley Lane, wrote to London about a candidate, Eric George Rhodes, a corporal in the New Zealand Paymaster’s department: ‘There has been a large camp of discharged New Zealanders near Torquay, this being the convalescent base before embarking for home… several of the officers have visited Jordan Lodge many times.’ Rhodes’ candidacy was supported by a letter from George Barclay himself who was then based at Boscombe.
By the end of the war the NZEF Masonic Association had about 1,500 members. Its members’ jewel was in three grades: metal, silver gilt and gold. In 1919, one of these gold jewels was presented to the Grand Lodge in London to commemorate the association’s wartime work and it remains a treasure of the collection.
With a passion for sailing, the members of Spinnaker Lodge want to help younger Freemasons navigate their way through the Craft, as Matthew Bowen discovers
It’s not often that you hear the words ‘pontoon party’ and ‘Freemasonry’ together. Formal suits aren’t exactly de rigueur at the marina and aprons tend not to mix well with high winds. But the members of a new lodge see sailing and Freemasonry as perfect crew mates.
In November 2016, Spinnaker Lodge, No. 9932, became the sixth specialist lodge in the Province of Hampshire & Isle of Wight to be consecrated in the past four years under the leadership of Provincial Grand Master Mike Wilks. Like other specialist lodges, such as Football Lodge and Chequered Flag Lodge, Spinnaker centres its proceedings around a common interest; charitable giving will focus on supporting boating charities – and members will travel to meetings by boat.
So how to go about creating a specialist lodge? The first step, according to the lodge’s inaugural Master, Frank Milner, was to see how many of the Province’s 9,000 members were interested in sailing. As the proud owner of a Moody 27 yacht himself, Frank tested the water by issuing a circular, Calling All Yachtsmen.
One of the first to respond to Frank’s invitation was Adam Harvey, who is now the Junior Warden at Spinnaker Lodge. ‘I’ve been sailing since I was 12 or 13,’ he says, ‘so when I saw the invitation I couldn’t turn it down. It struck me as a good thing to have something else to bond over in addition to being brothers.’
Frank’s original intention had been to start a sailing club, rather than a masonic lodge, but encouraged by a 25-strong crew of the keenest boatmen in the Province, he decided to push his idea further. Together they took on the challenge of founding the new lodge.
‘It’s been a learning curve,’ says Frank. ‘If you join an established lodge, the traditions are already in place, but when you find yourself making on-the-spot decisions about how to run a double initiation ceremony, for example, you realise you have a task on your hands.’
Some of the decisions were easy to make: naturally, all members must have an interest in boating (though owning a boat is not a requirement) and they must all be prepared to learn the words to the official lodge song, What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor.
Navigating new waters
Deciding how to appeal to new, younger members, however, has proven to be a trickier affair. ‘We are working hard to bridge the gap between young, trendy sailing guys and our traditional formalities by developing our meetings to meet their expectations,’ says Frank, determinedly. In the face of declining membership, he believes that appealing to the younger generation is crucial for Freemasonry, and his greatest hope for the new lodge is to see younger masons coming up through the ranks.
To make ritualistic masonic life appeal to millennial males, Frank is aware that he must be flexible with the rules. As well as applying the principles of brevity, the lodge will operate in a somewhat nomadic fashion as it casts its net wider in the search for new members.
Meetings at the lodge’s official headquarters, the Royal Naval and Royal Albert Yacht Club in Southsea, will be limited to twice a year, with three more taking place at other masonic centres along the coast, where members will cast anchor for the weekend. By visiting new marinas and hosting social events at sailing clubs, it is hoped that the profile of Spinnaker Lodge will rise among those who could potentially make perfect new members.
Given that the modern man is likely to be time poor, what would convince him to join Spinnaker Lodge? ‘Aside from the personal development opportunities, younger members will be able to tap into the knowledge of more experienced sailors,’ says Frank. By joining older brethren on their boats, younger sailors will be shown the ropes on different crafts.
‘We are working hard to bridge the gap between young, trendy sailing guys and our traditional formalities by developing our meetings to meet their expectations’ Frank Milner
As far as Adam is concerned, special interest lodges are the way forward for Freemasonry, enhancing the appeal of joining as well as creating greater enthusiasm among masons. And when it comes to getting greater commitment from existing members, the founding members of Spinnaker Lodge know there’s nothing more powerful than family.
By holding lodge meetings at weekends, and setting up temporary bases in marinas within easy distance of a masonic hall, Spinnaker Lodge offers family members the chance to meet and socialise. Senior Warden Adrian Cleightonhills, who sails a Southerly 32, says, ‘I’m keen that Freemasonry shouldn’t just be for the man of the house. It can take a fair amount of his time and I feel that it should be done with the encouragement, and involvement, of his family.’
Women and non-masonic members of the family won’t take part in lodge meetings, but they’ll keep the party going while the meetings take place, which is proving to be a popular notion. ‘When we’ve spoken to potential new members, this is the thing they show most interest in alongside the sailing,’ says Adrian.
Anchored in tradition
But Spinnaker Lodge will not only apply itself to appealing to new members; moral and spiritual values will not be compromised, and the lodge will remain dedicated to being a force for good in the community. Spinnaker will choose a sailing charity to support each year – this year it’s the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust – and the personal progression of members will be enhanced by developing them as sailors as well as men. And while the lodge would like its membership to double over the next five years, it’s not its biggest priority and won’t be achieved at any cost.
At the lodge’s first meeting in January this year, Spinnaker initiated two new members, both in their 20s and both keen boatmen.
They are the future of the lodge, and their success within it will ultimately reflect the lodge’s success as a whole. The winds of change are certainly blowing in Spinnaker’s sails and, as Frank says, ‘it’s all up for grabs’.
A year to be proud of
From fundraising to the formation of new masons clubs, Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes reflects on the reasons to celebrate Freemasonry in 2017
I have received a copy of the Report of the New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference and was delighted to learn just how well the clubs are progressing with more than 30 established across London and the Provinces. This is a fantastic achievement and I would encourage those new Freemasons in Provinces without such a club to consider setting one up. You would have our full support and I am sure you would be greatly encouraged by your Provincial hierarchy.
I have asked Gareth Jones, Provincial Grand Master for South Wales and Third Grand Principal, to act as the focal point for the movement. It really is a splendid initiative and I congratulate all those involved.
I have frequently said how proud we should be of all our charities, and not just the big four. They all do tremendous work. The astonishing sum of £14.5 million was raised through the hard work of our brethren. The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Festival total of nearly £7.75 million is the highest total ever achieved.
Across the board, the money raised per capita by all four Provinces in Festival during 2016 was extraordinary and of a similar level. Your generosity is not taken for granted and is greatly appreciated.
The Masonic Charitable Foundation has launched a scheme to give £3 million to your local charities next year in recognition of both its own formation and, of course, our Tercentenary. This not only shows your generosity but is also aimed at promoting our involvement in the community.
Cause for celebration
I know that some of you have become frustrated at not being able to get hold of a Tercentenary Jewel. Please be assured that there are now plenty available in Letchworth’s Shop. Unfortunately, initial demand far outstripped supply. In spite of your frustration, may I ask you to beware of cheap imitations. Sadly, they do exist and are being offered at a very reduced price, but they are unauthorised and unlawful copies. We are working closely with the Provinces to get them all removed.
The forthcoming Sky documentary entitled Inside The Freemasons gives us a great opportunity to capitalise on the publicity being generated, and we anticipate that other high-profile events throughout the year will keep us in the public eye and produce some really positive results.
These are exciting times; let us celebrate in style by showing our pride in and talking about our membership. I am absolutely certain that we will all enjoy a splendid year in 2017.
‘Your generosity is not taken for granted and is greatly appreciated’
The red aprons
Director of Special Projects John Hamill explores the history behind the Grand Stewards, the lodge without a number
Like many membership organisations, Freemasonry relies on volunteers to run smoothly. One of the longest-serving groups of volunteers is the Grand Stewards, whose members, because of their privilege of wearing crimson collars and edging to their aprons, can cause confusion when they visit outside London.
The Grand Stewards’ prime function is to organise the Grand Festival, which immediately follows the annual investiture of Grand Officers on the last Wednesday in April each year. That has its origins in the famous meeting that took place on 24 June 1717 when the first Grand Lodge was formed. Indeed, for the first few years the annual feast and election of the new Grand Master appears to have been all that Grand Lodge did.
As the 1720s advanced and the number of lodges and members increased, organising the Grand Feast became more complex, so a number of individuals volunteered as stewards for the event.
In 1728, to formalise the arrangement, Grand Lodge invited 12 individuals to form a team to take on the preparations. This proved successful and the stewards became Grand Stewards, with their own jewel of office to be suspended from a crimson ribbon and the privilege of having their aprons lined and edged in the same colour. The original jewel was said to have been designed by William Hogarth, himself a Grand Steward in 1735.
The Grand Stewards received a further privilege in the same year when they were given a warrant as the Stewards Lodge. Originally they also carried a number but, in 1792, the Grand Stewards Lodge was formed, which was permitted to meet ‘without number, but first on the list of regular lodges’. Like the three time immemorial lodges, which formed the original 1717 Grand Lodge, the Grand Stewards Lodge meets without a warrant.
The Grand Stewards grew into a powerful body, with 12 representatives of the lodge entitled to attend and vote in Grand Lodge (usually only the Master and Wardens represented a lodge). The Grand Officers, for much of the 18th century, were chosen from among their number. Both these practices were lost after the Union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, although the Grand Stewards retained the right to occupy the front rows on the north and south areas of the Grand Temple.
Up until the Union, the outgoing Grand Stewards had the right of nominating their successors, which naturally led to the office becoming associated with a small group of London lodges. Although the Antients Grand Lodge used stewards occasionally and had a Stewards Lodge (in effect, their Committee of Charity), they did not have a similar system of Grand Stewards.
After the Union in 1813, the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Sussex, began to formalise many of the pre-Union practices. In 1815, 18 London lodges were given the privilege of each year nominating one of their members for appointment by the Grand Master as a Grand Steward. Many of these lodges had previously provided Grand Stewards for the premier Grand Lodge.
The Grand Stewards were to assist at great ceremonials and the Quarterly Communication. In addition to organising the Grand Festival, they were to bear its cost. This later proved to be problematic and the present system was evolved, whereby Grand Lodge sets the ticket price for the Grand Festival and the Board of Grand Stewards makes its plans in the full knowledge that any costs exceeding those funds will fall on the board itself.
In making the new arrangements in 1815, the Duke of Sussex set up a curious anomaly. During their year of office, the Grand Stewards are Grand Officers. At the end of their year they become Past Grand Stewards and retain the right to wear their distinctive regalia but cease being Grand Officers – unless they are promoted or already hold Grand Rank.
On a number of occasions, I have seen consternation cross the brow of a lodge Director of Ceremonies when a Past Grand Steward visits his lodge. He does not fit into any of the conventional groups, so where does he go in the procession?
Is he saluted? And where does he fit in on the toast list…?
‘A Past Grand Steward does not fit into any of the conventional groups, so where does he go in the procession?’
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.
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’
The guardian of regularity
Treading a fine line between advice and interference, Derek Dinsmore’s position as Grand Chancellor is akin to that of Foreign Secretary when it comes to working with Grand Lodges around the world
When did you become a Freemason?
I was initiated in 1970 in the Midlands at Chevron Lodge, No. 6021, where I was also involved with rugby. I played for a club up there and the president of the Worcestershire and Herefordshire Rugby Union proposed me into his lodge. I was in the fashion business and had to come back to London, where I was starting my own business, and I was then asked to go through the Chair. I had control of my own diary, so I was able to go up to their meetings on a Friday. My wife was from Birmingham, so it matched up with weekends when she would go back to see her mother.
In London, I joined the Rose Croix in 1980 and was Grand Director of Ceremonies for 10 years. By that time, I was working with a German company, looking after the promotion of their products in the UK and Ireland. I retired when I was 58 and started to focus more on my Freemasonry. I was then offered the position of Grand Chancellor at Grand Lodge, taking over from Alan Englefield, who was my predecessor, in 2012.
Why was the position of Grand Chancellor created in 2007?
The relationship between our Provinces, Districts and all the overseas Grand Lodges that we recognise used to come under the responsibility of the Grand Secretary. However, with things like the break-up of the Eastern Bloc in the 1990s, the Grand Secretary had to spend an increasing amount of time dealing with urgent external relations as more Grand Lodges sought recognition, sometimes to the detriment of other matters under his care.
The Rulers and the Board of General Purposes therefore decided to relieve the Grand Secretary of the pressure of external relations and created the office of Grand Chancellor in 2007. I’m responsible for overseas relations, not our Districts, and with Grand Lodge now recognising 197 Grand Lodges around the world, there is a lot to deal with.
Of course, I always knew through my days in Rose Croix at Duke Street [in London] of the regard in which the United Grand Lodge of England was held. However, it wasn’t until I started doing this job that I realised quite how high a position we have in the world as the ‘Mother Grand Lodge’. Each Grand Lodge is sovereign, but we do get asked for advice a lot and we have to be very careful in the way that we conduct ourselves.
On the whole, everybody wants to be on side and wants to keep it that way. Generally, that’s the role of the Grand Chancellor – to be seen, to be spoken to, to give advice when asked, and to promote regular Freemasonry worldwide. The biggest problem we’ve got is not regular Freemasonry but irregular Freemasonry. That’s becoming more and more of an issue with things like the internet. With so many voices on the web, people don’t know the difference between regular and irregular Freemasonry.
So is your role to make sure Grand Lodges stick to the rules?
There are principles in our Book of Constitutions that we would call ‘regularity’. If somebody asks me why does UGLE recognise another Grand Lodge the answer would be because we are happy with its regularity and that we would be content for our members to inter-visit with their members. However, there are lots of Grand Lodges, or bodies calling themselves Grand Lodges, around the world that don’t comply with our rules of regularity. They might have mixed lodges, not believe in the great architect of the universe, get involved in politics or religion – things that we would call ‘irregular’.
I’m convinced that the reason that we are going to celebrate our Tercentenary this year is because we’ve not got involved in politics and religion over time; otherwise I think it would have been the end of English Freemasonry. So we have to be careful, and that’s what we’re really trying to do, trying to promote regular Freemasonry. If there is more than one Grand Lodge in a jurisdiction that applies to us for recognition then, provided that the two agree to share the territory or jurisdiction, we would consider recognising them as regular bodies.
‘It was always a question of when, rather than if, we would re-recognise the Grand Loge Nationale Française’
How do you approach your role?
The best bit of advice I was ever given when I first started travelling for Duke Street, around 16 years ago, was that once you’d flown over the Isle of Wight, forget what goes on in English Freemasonry. It’s not about implementing or taking a set of working practices out to other Grand Lodges. Every single one is entirely sovereign and nobody can tell it what to do.
After every trip as Grand Chancellor I make a report. There is also a group of people behind me, I’m not pushed out there on my own. I report to the External Relations Committee, which is a subcommittee of the Board of General Purposes, and I’m also on the Board of General Purposes itself.
If we consider that a Grand Lodge’s practices are irregular, then we’ve only really got two courses of action. One is to suspend relations and the other is, as a last resort, to withdraw recognition. Because of the respect and recognition that UGLE has, just being able to do that does give it power, which is why there is a fine line between advice and interference – you’ve got to tread a fairly careful road.
What happened in France in 2009?
The Grand Loge Nationale Française (GLNF) was formed more than a 100 years ago, and we never considered its members or lodges to be irregular. It was only the behaviour of the then Grand Master that we felt was bringing Freemasonry into disrepute. We made representations, but nothing changed. We then suspended relations, so members of lodges under UGLE and lodges under GLNF could go to their own lodges but there wouldn’t be any inter-visitation.
We hoped that this suspension would fire a warning shot across the bows, but after 12 months we had to withdraw recognition. This meant that those members who belonged to lodges under the GLNF and UGLE had to resign from one or the other. There was a lot of movement within Europe trying to create a confederation within France, and some were trying to open Districts within France.
We said to everyone, ‘Look, stand away, it’s a problem for the GLNF’s members. It’s for them to resolve, and outsiders should not get involved.’ For us, it was always a question of when, rather than if, we would re-recognise the GLNF. A new Grand Master was elected by the French brethren, a new executive appointed, and peace and harmony returned. After a period of about two years recognition was restored.
‘I’ve been in Freemasonry for 46 years and I’ll never be able to put back in as much as I’ve got out of it’
How do you interact with other Grand Lodges?
We have open invitations to our sister Grand Lodges to come to our Quarterly Communication meetings. We just ask them to give us four weeks’ notice, and we restrict the visitations to three senior members because of space. There’s a dinner the night before for the visiting Grand Masters, usually in Freemasons’ Hall, where we can talk about any issues, although we try and keep it social rather than business-led.
I also go to annual meetings at overseas Grand Lodges. It gives you the opportunity to talk to everybody and we can resolve most of the issues that come up through face-to-face meetings.
In my business life working for a German company, the common language was English, but sometimes I would be talking at a board meeting and they’d be saying ‘yes’, but when I looked at them I knew they hadn’t understood what I’d said. So I’d go another way to try to get the information across. That’s very important for my role, where I am talking to people whose first language isn’t English. It’s about face-to-face contact and getting a feeling about people.
What does Freemasonry mean to you?
I’ve been in Freemasonry for 46 years and I’ll never be able to put back in as much as I’ve got out of it. I believe very much in the principles of Freemasonry and I’m happy to promote them. They are as relevant today as they ever were, particularly to younger people.
Freemasonry is a personal journey for the individual and we hope that the lessons he learns will affect his public and private life. But for different people it means different things. I’ve met plenty of Freemasons who’ve become quite esoteric and spiritual but on the other hand you also get those people who meet four times a year with the same group, have dinner afterwards, go home and that’s that. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, it just depends on what the individual wants to get out of it – after all, it is a fraternal organisation.
For me, it’s been about being introduced to some great people who I would never otherwise have had the opportunity to meet. The nice thing about Freemasonry is that, irrespective of who you meet, we’ve all gone through the same process: we’ve all been initiated, we’ve all been passed, we’ve all been raised, and we’ve all gone through the rituals. That gives you a level and such a strong base.
Moving the yardstick
A city farm in one of the UK’s most disadvantaged areas is giving young people new confidence. Matt Timms looks at how masonic funding is supporting its vision to transform lives
St Werburghs in Bristol was almost totally overrun with crime in the 1980s after floods forced residents to vacate their homes. Locals recall how the fields became a dumping ground and once-prize allotments grew wild and untamed. Determined to regain some semblance of togetherness, they put a request in to the council for the land. But it wasn’t until sheep were introduced that the community started to properly re-energise.
St Werburghs City Farm has now been improving prospects for people living in the area for 30 years. The two-acre smallholding, one-acre community garden, two-and-a-half-acre conservation site and 13 acres of allotments have become the beating heart of the community. A place that once looked beyond help is thriving and a £38,125 grant awarded by the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) will allow the surrounding communities to grow still further.
Situated in the Bristol ward of Ashley, alongside four others that are among the 10 per cent most disadvantaged in the UK, St Werburghs City Farm provides practical, outdoor and therapeutic opportunities for permanently excluded and disengaged young people.
‘Each year, we support hundreds of causes, including those that provide employment opportunities for young people who are not in education, employment or training,’ says Katrina Baker, Head of Charity Grants at the MCF. ‘We decided to support St Werburghs City Farm because it engages, equips and empowers young people with the confidence and capacity to transform their lives.’
According to Alex, a 17-year-old participant in the farm’s Work2Learn placement scheme, ‘If anyone is in Bristol and they’re having a tough time, they should come to St Werburghs.’ Alex is just one of an estimated 704 people aged 14-19 – most of whom are struggling in mainstream education – who will benefit from the support the farm provides over the next three years thanks to the MCF grant. ‘The people here are my second family,’ he says. ‘We feel equal.’
Now into his third year on the farm, Alex had considered becoming a chef, a train driver and even joining the army, but a love of the outdoors, together with his experiences at St Werburghs, opened his eyes to the joys of farming. ‘Sometimes you just get the feeling you’ll be good at a job,’ he says. His time at St Werburghs has not only given him vital experience, it’s also boosted his confidence.
The farm’s youth development manager, Anna Morrow, has seen Alex and countless others change for the better as a result of the youth programme. ‘When things fall apart, that one day out a week can make all the difference – enough for them to be able to cope,’ she says.
‘St Werburghs City Farm engages, equips and empowers young people with the confidence and capacity to transform their lives’ Katrina Baker
Max, also 17, believes his time at St Werburghs has helped him in life: ‘Being here has shown me about teamwork. There will be some people you get on with, some you don’t, but that’s life and you have to accept that.’ For Max, interacting with people on the farm has exposed him to a world outside mainstream education and given him opportunities he otherwise might not have had. His mother has noticed a marked improvement in Max’s moods, and firmly believes he has benefited socially from having other adults to talk to.
Morrow recalls a 14-year-old young carer who used his placement to overcome problems at school, mostly to do with aggression. ‘He was doing everything at home: cooking, cleaning, taking the parent role,’ she says. ‘All that was taking its toll.’ Starting at just one morning a week, his experience at St Werburghs made such a difference that he ended up helping out three days a week and eventually went on to gain an apprenticeship in farming.
For young people living on the perimeters of society, schools are limited in how they can address complex personal issues, so having a place like the city farm can be a lifeline. ‘It’s all about relationships,’ says Beth Silvey, a youth worker at the farm. ‘Participants get to do things they’d never get to do anywhere else. And I think that builds trust. It’s a nurturing environment and they are very much part of the team. It’s a group activity that isn’t intense, so they talk to us. It’s like a family here.’
Growing a community
Personal development, self-esteem and support networks aside, an equally important aspect of the farm’s work is improved community cohesion, particularly in an area where so many young people live below the poverty line. More than half of children are living in income-deprived households in three areas within walking distance of the farm.
The thinking behind the project is clear: if you catch anxieties at an early stage then you’re able to address issues before they balloon out of control. ‘It’s really important,’ says Silvey, ‘it can tip the balance at a crucial time. And we wouldn’t be able to do that without the money from the Masonic Charitable Foundation.’
Thanks to the MCF grant and a new building, the farm has been able to extend all its work placements and start a new enterprise project. With the continued support of the MCF and the proud members of the community, St Werburghs City Farm has become an invaluable asset in bettering the situation facing young people in the area.
‘People come here because they’re accepted,’ says Max, who has himself been witness to some extraordinary stories. ‘The people are just nice; no one is bothered by difference.’ And in an area that continues to suffer from poverty, having a place that is very much loved and embraced by the community is crucial.