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
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.
After the floods - Freemasons of Yorkshire, North & East Ridings donate a further £25,000 to the Two Ridings Community Foundation Flood Appeal in York
We can all remember the sight, over Christmas 2015/New Year 2016, of the floods cascading over the sides of rivers all over our country. We can also remember the sadness on the faces of the victims of these floods. We saw traumatised children and older people, being lifted from their homes by the Emergency Services. We were looking at people who had lost everything to the waters. This horrendous picture of despair had such an effect on the Provincial Grand Master, of the Freemasons of Yorkshire North and East Ridings, Jeffrey Gillyon that he had to do something to relieve the distress of these people in the York area.
The Freemasons' Grand Charity, which is based in London and administers a relief fund for such eventualities, had already set the wheels in motion by giving an immediate £75,000 donation to the flood-relief efforts, both in Cumbria and in York.
Jeffrey Gillyon wanted to directly affect the lives of our more local victims of the York floods, and so asked the Freemasons' Grand Charity for another £25,000 to be given for the benefit of the victims of the York floods. The immediate result was this extra donation for use by the Provincial Grand Master.
The next thing, for him, was to channel this money, to the most deserving of those people in need. So, the Freemasons of the Province of Yorkshire, North & East Ridings approached the Two Ridings Community Foundation (TRCF) for their assistance in distributing these funds. They had been involved from the start, Jan Garrill, the Chief Executive of TRCF, had received a telephone call from Colin Stroud on Boxing Day, to set up a fund for the victim relief effort.
In mid-February 2016, a small team of Freemasons attended at the offices of TRCF in York to, not only hand over a cheque in support of the fund, but to speak with the TRCF Team about their work. The Freemasons Team was also willing to offer their help and support. They met with Jan Garrill, the Chief Executive of the TRCF.
Terry Wolf, is the Flood Relief Manager and she told the Freemasons Team about a young couple, who had recently bought their new home in York. To their knowledge there hadn’t been any flooding in their area for over 40 years, so the taking out of insurance hadn’t been one of their priorities. She was pregnant and due to give birth soon, so was not at work at that time. This had put some pressure on their finances, which may have been a consideration when thinking of insurance purchase. The Freemasons Team could imagine the stress of moving into a new home, a pregnant mother-to-be and then the nightmare of the floods. The couple had lost nearly everything that they had built up, but what most hurt them, was that they had also lost their wedding photographs. They were devastated.
The TRCF Team had given this couple an immediate grant of £700, to cover their immediate finances and is staying with them until they can get them back on their feet. The £25,000 from the Freemasons will help this young couple directly.
It will also help another older couple, which was mentioned by Terry Wolf. This elderly couple are on a low income and the husband is in poor health with chest problems. They are a stoic couple and do not normally look for assistance from anyone, preferring to have their own independence. They had seen floods in former times, at their home and were ready for it. However, when these floods came, they were unprepared for the amount of flood water. Their home was flooded. When the waters eventually subsided, they got on with repairing their lives and just cleaned up as they had been used to doing. The dampness of the house made the husband’s chest condition worse and he had to visit the York District Hospital frequently. The TRCF Team were not initially made aware of this couple’s needs, as they had not made any application for assistance.
The TRCF Team, being on the ground and talking with victims of the flood, had gone to a local furniture store, which was acting as a pseudo-community centre, giving out ‘bacon butties’ and advice, where they were told of the elderly couple’s woes. (Praise must be given to the owners and staff of the furniture store, for re-kindling the fine community spirit that exists in York.) Terry Wolf helped to arrange de-humidifiers for the drying out of the elderly couple’s home. However, the chest problems of the husband were made more difficult by their use, so they then arranged for the landlord to re-house them, while he went about ‘Cooking’ the house with driers. The TRCF Team expect the couple to move back into their home very shortly.
The £25,000 donation from the Freemasons of Yorkshire North & East Ridings will help to provide assistance, in the months to come, to these specific people and generally to the people of York, who will still be suffering, even though the media story has started to fade.
The Freemasons will be working in the community with the TRCF in the future, not only with the flood victims, but on other projects to benefit the people of the two Ridings of North and East Yorkshire.
The latest TRCF venture is the “Surviving Winter Appeal”. This project helps older and vulnerable people to stay warm and well during the winter months.
The Government’s Winter Fuel Payment is paid automatically to all eligible older people. For many this is vital. But the Freemasons Team will be asking their members, ‘If you feel that you’d like to give some or all of your payment to help other local older or vulnerable people, please donate to the TRCF Surviving Winter Fund.’
The Surviving Winter Appeal will be match-funded by a new project which is tackling fuel poverty and supporting winter health across North Yorkshire.
Remembering fallen brethren
This year’s church service for the Province of Yorkshire, North and East Ridings, was held at York Minster during evensong when a commemorative plaque was blessed. The plaque marks the service of 54 brethren from 22 of the Province’s lodges who died while in the service of their country in World War I.
Hundreds of brethren in full regalia then walked from the Minster to St Saviourgate, accompanied by Provincial Grand Master Jeffrey Gillyon; the Lord Mayor of York, Cllr Sonja Crisp; and many civic and Armed Forces dignitaries. The PGM unveiled a newly mounted plaque at the masonic hall, which was dedicated by the Provincial Grand Chaplain, Rev Trevor Lewis.
Every year the brethren of Yorkshire, North and East Ridings, attend a church service in a different part of the Province
The Provincial service this year was held at York Minster on 27 September 2015 at the 4.00pm Evensong. During this service, a commemorative plaque was blessed. It marked the service of 54 brethren from 22 Yorkshire, North and East Ridings lodges, who, during the First World War, were killed in action, died of wounds or died whilst in the service of their King and country in that conflict.
The Provincial Grand Master Jeffrey Gillyon, accompanied by the Lord Mayor of York Sonya Crisp and many civic and armed forces dignitaries, as well as hundreds of brethren in full regalia, then walked through the streets of York, from the Minster to St Saviourgate.
The British Legion also marked this occasion with a display of their banners. This display of Freemasons in their regalia is believed to be the first, in about one hundred years, although archives are being checked to establish this fact.
At the masonic hall at St Saviourgate the Provincial Grand Master unveiled the newly mounted commemorative plaque, and it was dedicated by the Provincial Grand Chaplain Rev Trevor Lewis.
All present stood in a reverential silence after a trumpet tribute to our fallen brethren by Bro Mark Richardson.
The Lord Mayor said that she was pleased to be with the Freemasons on this memorable day for them.
The plaque came into being after one of the brethren, Peter Rudd, was researching the First World War and saw that these 54 local Freemasons had not been officially recognised for their ultimate sacrifice.
A very emotional day for all concerned, and we can now say that we have truly recognised the service and sacrifice of those Yorkshire brethren.
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
'A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma'
This was how Winston Churchill described Russia in 1939. Seventy three years later his words were repeated in introducing ‘less well known groups’ at a recent meeting of the Hull and East Riding Interfaith Group at the Guildhall in Hull.
Jeffrey Gillyon, Deputy Provincial Grand Master, Province of Yorkshire North and East Ridings, spoke about freemasonry, which he described as: ‘Not a religion but an approach to life’. Others spoke on different topics including 'The Greens and Paganism', 'The Bahai in Principle and Practice', and 'The Russian Orthodox Community in Hull'.
Those attending questioned Jeff on the issues of secrecy and Freemasonry and on the origins of the Craft. The evening proved interesting and thought provoking, with the basic tenets of Freemasonry being openly discussed.
The co chairs for the evening, Professor John Friend and Reverend James Hargreaves, encouraged open interactive discussion between the representatives of different faiths and groups. The consensus at the conclusion of the evening suggested that Churchill’s aphorism, whilst not inappropriate, was not entirely applicable: the riddle was being unwrapped, the mystery reduced, and the enigma addressed.
It is hoped further opportunities will arise across the Province enabling similar interaction with different faiths and community groups.
Dr Cliff Jones, resident at RMBI care home Connaught Court in York, has celebrated 60 years in Freemasonry. His home held a sherry morning to celebrate the event, which was attended by Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Yorkshire, North and East Ridings, Jeffrey Gillyon, and members of Humber Lodge No 57.
Jeffrey presented Cliff with a certificate and jewel to commemorate his masonic career. Cliff started his career in Freemasonry in 1951, aged 22, after being inspired by the headmaster of his school. He became Third Provincial Grand Principal in the Royal Arch and was a founding member of Mitre Chapter of York No.7321.
The Deputy Provincial Grand Master concluded, ‘Cliff is a true gentleman.’
The Province of Yorkshire, North & East Ridings welcomed over fifty guests to an ‘Interfaith Luncheon’ at the Masonic Hall Beverley Road recently. Faith Groups represented included Anglican-Quaker, Greek Orthodox, Hindu, Roman Catholic, Church of England and both Reform and Orthodox Jewish. The presence of Reverend Michael Mewis, Provincial Grand Chaplain and Reverend Tim Boynes a member of St Cuthberts Lodge No 630 were examples of the ecumenical tolerance that was integral to the talks which followed.
The aim of this initiative was to disseminate information about the nature of Freemasonry. It is hoped that any misconceptions about the Craft may have been dispelled. It has been suggested that Freemasonry’s poor press in the past might dissuade men of different religious persuasions from becoming involved and may likewise alienate their wives, partners and families. A further aim of this pilot event was to address this issue which was raised by one of the guests Mrs Mary Munroe-Hill, Chaplain to The University of Hull.
Jeffrey Gillyon, The Deputy Provincial Grand Master, gave an erudite presentation titled ‘Freemasonry: not a religion but an Approach to Life’ explaining how the Craft does not possess a theological doctrine and forbids the discussion of religion and politics. He stressed the nondenominational concept of The Great Architect of The Universe embracing all religions and compromising none. The Deputy Provincial Grand Master described Freemasonry as ‘an approach to life’ which reinforces concern for others, kindness and care for the less fortunate, honesty in business, courtesy in society and fairness in all things.
Philip Daniels spoke about the history of Freemasonry and the links with the operative stonemasons in the middle ages. He referred to the documentary evidence of the seventeenth century and described features of the Lodge Room, relating how they had evolved with time.
There were many questions, skilfully fielded by the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, Philip and Sam Judah from the Provincial Grand stewards Lodge. Visitors were then invited to luncheon, where a wide range of interesting questions followed, to which the Deputy Provincial Grand Master responded.
Ms Jackie Loukes, Secretary of The Hull and East Riding Interfaith Group, gave a vote of thanks on behalf of the guests, applauding the presentation team and the hospitality of the Provincial Grand Stewards Lodge who had hosted the event.