Celebrating 300 years

Picking up the pieces

After the smoke has cleared and the flood waters receded, teams of British Red Cross volunteers are now on hand across the UK to give victims vital emotional support. Sarah Holmes investigates how masonic funding has helped this service to roll out nationally

When the Telford family home caught fire in September 2014, Michelle and her five children got out with nothing but the pyjamas on their backs. ‘It was awful watching the black smoke billow out of the house,’ remembers Michelle. ‘All I could think was “What am I going to do? Where are we going to live?” ’

A plug in a bedroom sparked the blaze, which quickly engulfed the house along with a lifetime’s worth of possessions. Nothing could be saved. Fortunately, the family didn’t have to deal with the consequences alone. Within minutes, a British Red Cross Fire and Emergency Support Service (FESS) vehicle – one of a national fleet part-funded by The Freemasons’ Grand Charity – arrived on the scene to offer the family hot drinks, clean clothes and a safe place to sit away from public view. ‘The volunteers stayed with us for a good couple of hours until they knew we had somewhere to go,’ says Michelle. ‘I was so grateful for their help.’ 

Michelle is just one of the many people who have received support from the FESS, which has evolved over the years to help victims through such emergencies as fire, flood and road collisions.

‘In an emergency situation, very few of the blue light agencies have capacity to look after the emotional needs of survivors,’ says Simon Lewis, head of emergency planning and response at British Red Cross. ‘Quite often, families are left to deal with the consequences alone. That’s where the British Red Cross comes in.’

‘The emergency services know they can rely on a Red Cross volunteer not to make silly mistakes or try to play the hero.’ Simon Lewis

On-call care

Founded in 1993 in Berkshire, the British Red Cross FESS set out to provide emotional and practical support for victims in the wake of a fire. It worked in cooperation with the national fire service, with volunteers trained in first aid responding to call-outs from the incident officer. The service relied on specially adapted vehicles that contained everything from a shower and toilet, to a telephone and household staples such as nappies. But at a cost of £50,000 per vehicle, most funders were reluctant to commit to the level of investment needed to help the service flourish. That’s where the Grand Charity stepped in. 

‘We heard about a service the Red Cross was hoping to trial, which would provide much-needed assistance to people in the aftermath of personal tragedy. It sounded exactly like the type of thing we wanted to fund,’ says Katrina Baker, Head of Non-Masonic Grants at the Grand Charity. 

The Grand Charity provided an initial grant of £300,000 in 2000, allowing the Red Cross to set up 10 support services across the UK. ‘We used the money to buy 13 new vehicles and train 800 volunteers, so it essentially kick-started the service,’ recalls James Hickman, senior trusts and statutory fundraiser at British Red Cross.  

‘Rather than making do in a marquee, a Fire and Emergency Support Service vehicle acts as a fully equipped base for our volunteers to provide timely, high-quality care. It’s a fantastic presence at local events like the London to Cambridge Bike Ride, but crucially it allows the British Red Cross to respond to major incidents like the east coast storm surge in December 2013 when evacuees of the floods most needed our help.’ Simon Holmes, Cambridgeshire emergency response and resilience manager, British Red Cross

Serving changing needs

It was a starting point, but as the occurrence of domestic fires almost halved by 2011, the role of the British Red Cross service needed to change. Diversifying its remit, the FESS began to support NHS ambulances, providing assistance at major incidents with its fully equipped First Aid Units. Today, the Grand Charity’s UK, non-emergency grants have exceeded £650,000, and the Red Cross has been able to deploy 20 new emergency vehicles.

‘We’ve reached over 90,000 people, and that’s as a direct result of the Grand Charity funding,’ says Hickman. ‘It’s their flexibility that makes the partnership so valuable. They are responsive to our needs and willing to work with us to establish which region will benefit most from their support.’

Cambridgeshire is one region that benefited from a new First Aid Unit in 2011. Peter Sutton, the Provincial Information Officer, says: ‘We have raised £1.2 million for the Grand Charity, so our local Freemasons can feel real pride that we have contributed to making this support possible.’ 

The Red Cross is playing an ever-more vital role in the emergency response sector. Just last year, volunteers assisted communities devastated by the UK winter floods, helping to evacuate people as well as delivering food, blankets and first aid.

Lewis attributes the success of the service to its volunteers – who are trained in providing first aid and emotional support on joining the team – but also to the relationship between the Red Cross and the emergency services: ‘Trust is vital in any fast-moving situation. The emergency services know they can rely on a Red Cross volunteer not to make silly mistakes or try to play the hero.’

British Red Cross in the UK

While the foreign relief efforts of the British Red Cross are well advertised through its public appeals for funds, the charity actually spends more at home in the UK than it does abroad. In fact, in 2013 the Red Cross spent £28.1 million responding to UK emergencies compared to £25.7 million spent on overseas support during the same period. The relationship between the Red Cross and Freemasonry has always been a strong one, with Freemasons in the UK donating more than £2 million over the past 30 years – vital funds that have supported Red Cross services and relief efforts both at home and abroad.

Published in The Grand Charity
Friday, 05 June 2015 00:00

Signed sealed delivered

Postal address

When Freemasons’ Hall welcomed actors Benedict Cumberbatch, Sir Ian McKellen and Tom Hiddleston into the Grand Temple, Jessica Hopkins was in the audience to listen to messages of love and anguish in Letters Live

Without words we’d be forever fumbling in the dark; letters throw light wherever they are cast.’ And so opens a night of extraordinarily moving literary entertainment at Freemasons’ Hall.

It began as a simple idea: a website dedicated to photos of remarkable letters from the past, accompanied by transcriptions and introductions. Letters of Note then became something of a Twitter sensation before becoming a hardback anthology and then morphing into Letters Live. This year’s five-night live performance spectacular at London’s Freemasons’ Hall in April saw a glittering line-up of performers read against the glorious Art Deco backdrop of the Grand Temple. 

While events at Freemasons’ Hall do tend to be bespoke, one-off occasions, Letters Live offered the chance to do something quite different. ‘It was unique and like nothing we had done before,’ explains Karen Haigh, Head of Events at the Hall. ‘Even though I knew we could do it, I also realised that we had never done anything on this scale.’

With 7,500 tickets sold, more than 40 performers treading the boards and some 100 letters read aloud – not to mention an unexpected fire blazing beneath the streets of nearby Holborn – it was no small feat to pull off. When the Holborn fire forced Freemasons’ Hall to cancel the Wednesday performance, many of those scheduled to read that night came along to the Thursday show instead, creating a dream playbill: a who’s who of the stage and screen scene. 

Star-struck

The audience didn’t know who was performing until the moment they appeared on stage, so whoops of surprise and delight were heard as Sir Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott, Sir Ben Kingsley, Simon Callow, Sophie Hunter and Clarke Peters stepped up to the podium, to name but a few.

With opening and closing music by newcomer and one-to-watch Kelvin Jones, as well as a passionate solo cello performance by Natalie Clein, the evening – like the whole run – had been thoughtfully curated to match performers to letters. Subjects spanned the arts and politics, love and loss, family and friendship, longing and rejection.

There were letters filled with advice and encouragement, such as Kurt Vonnegut to Xavier High School, read with McKellen’s wise drawl: ‘Practice any art… no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.’

There were letters filled with furious rejection, like Hunter S Thompson’s to Anthony Burgess on receipt of a ‘50,000 word novella about the condition humaine…’ instead of the Rolling Stone thinkpiece he had commissioned. Performed by Dominic West and full of language far too colourful to reproduce here, it was one of the more spirited readings of the evening.

The Grand Temple buzzed with energy from the performers, while the splendour of the venue was equally captivating – visually beautiful and acoustically fantastic, it became an enhancer when it could have been a distractor. Those attending were left with the feeling of having witnessed something truly magical. It’s an effect Karen was keen to achieve: ‘We wanted people to enjoy the experience of going to the theatre but also be somewhere completely unique,’ she enthuses. 

It certainly didn’t disappoint. 

Evocative and emotional

For Virginia Woolf’s suicide letter to her husband, Leonard, the Grand Temple turned to darkness with only a single spotlight on reader Greta Scacchi: ‘I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time… Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.’ A visceral, desolate performance.

Benedict Cumberbatch drew on his best David Bowie impression to read a letter written from the musician to his first American fan in 1967, when he had no sense of how famous and renowned he would become, which added to its innocent excitement and humility. In a duologue performance, Cumberbatch and Louise Brealey – facing one another across the Grand Temple and very much in-the-round – read letters from Chris and Bessie: two everyday British civilians who fell in love via ink and paper while separated during World War II. The collection showcased quite beautifully how letters written by ordinary people with passion and something to say can contain just as much poetry within their pages as those written by thinkers, artists and academics. 

Past perfect

Perhaps the performance of the evening came from 87-year-old actor Joss Ackland, who read a letter he’d written to his future wife Rosemary, who was engaged to another person at the time. Either side of the reading he performed the part he was rehearsing when he first met her: Act II, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo’s soliloquy from the Capulet’s orchard, ‘But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?’ 

‘I might be a trifle old, but I think this is the way I played it,’ he told the audience before reciting from memory a speech full of lust and longing. And then, after the letter: ‘This is how I would play it now, with Rosemary no longer with me.’ In a breathtaking performance, the longing remained, but it was cloaked in sorrow rather than driven by lust.

With considerable media coverage, Letters Live has been one of the more high-profile events hosted at Freemasons’ Hall, generating only positive sentiment according to Karen. ‘Events such as this are a way of saying to people that we’re not what you think we are,’ she explains. ‘Because when we open our doors people’s preconceptions are completely blown away.’

Published in Features
Friday, 05 June 2015 00:00

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
Friday, 05 June 2015 00:00

Grand Secretary's column - Summer 2015

From the  Grand Secretary

 As you read the summer edition of  Freemasonry Today, you will see that we have a great deal to be proud of and many successes to celebrate. As well as the numerous examples of charity on home soil, the Grand Charity was, as usual, quick to send donations in emergency aid via the British Red Cross to Vanuatu following the severe tropical cyclone in March, and to Nepal following the devastating earthquake in April.

The Pro Grand Master has stressed the importance of mentoring to retain members, not least to encourage initiates to talk openly about Freemasonry to their family, friends and acquaintances from the very outset of their membership. The Pro Grand Master also called upon lodges to work with their Provincial and District Grand Mentors.

To further support our collaborative approach, the Pro Grand Master’s Annual Briefing Meeting was an outstanding success. Our report on the proceedings presents the highlights and reveals ‘an organisation that is embracing transparency and taking positive steps to ensure its long-term future’.

While the future of Freemasonry involves modernisation, maintaining tradition is also important. Pastoral care has long been a key strand of our organisation, so we find out about the ongoing work of Ernie Greenhalgh and his team of almoners in West Lancashire. We also talk to Dame Esther Rantzen about her Silver Line charity and the importance of offering support and comfort to older people.

Dame Esther is not the only celebrity gracing the pages of this issue, however, with Benedict Cumberbatch visiting Freemasons’ Hall to read at Letters Live. Our feature on the star-studded event demonstrates a membership organisation that is happy to open its doors to the world.

Transparency was one of the motivating factors in forming the Devonshire Masonic Art Group. We interview its members to discover how painting and raising money for good causes is taking the message of Freemasonry to local communities across the region. In our cover story, creativity is also being used as a way to connect with others; we learn how masonic funding is helping disadvantaged young people to take their first steps in the music industry. 

Whether the beneficiaries are old or young, masons or non-masons, there are many stories in this issue of Freemasonry Today that celebrate the support we give. I hope they will make you proud.

Nigel Brown
Grand Secretary

‘While the future of Freemasonry involves modernisation, maintaining tradition is also important, and pastoral care has long been a key strand of our organisation.’

Published in UGLE

Going the  distance

Whether it’s a currency fluctuation in India, a typhoon in Vanuatu or an earthquake in New Zealand, Lister Park has made it his job in the UGLE Registration Department to understand what’s going on in all the masonic Districts around the world

Where were you before coming to UGLE?

In my previous life, I was in the advertising industry for some 38 years where I worked in various agencies with responsibility for the media planning and buying aspect of our clients’ marketing budgets. In July 2006, a friend and ex-employee suggested I come to UGLE to interview for a three-month temporary assignment in the Registration Department. I’d been doing some consultancy work, where everyone wanted everything yesterday but weren’t too keen on paying the bills, so my wife suggested I give the job a go. Nine years later, I’m still here.

What was it like when you started?

At first I dealt with the administration of lodges and chapters under Metropolitan Grand Lodge, but after a while it was suggested that I try my hand at the Districts. The old boardroom was being used for storage back then and when I opened the doors to one of its huge cupboards, I found it full of papers. My first job was to sort that into some sense of order, which took quite a while. That was my introduction to the Districts. The next task was to set up a chain of communication. Before I joined, various people at UGLE had been dealing with the Districts so there wasn’t a single point of contact; whenever someone from a District got in touch with a query, they could come through to anyone. District queries tend to be more complex than those of the Provinces, so I created a niche for myself. When first dealing with the District personnel, I was addressing them as ‘Dear District Grand Secretary’, but as time went on, relationships flourished and it became more personalised – it became ‘Dear Bob’ or ‘Dear John’. 

What does your job now entail?

My day-to-day responsibilities cover everything from receiving and processing amendments to lodge membership data on annual returns, through to processing registrations and recording incoming payments to ensure that all fees and dues are paid. I also advise the Districts on rules and regulations relating to their membership. 

Is it hard to stay in touch with all the Districts?

Part of the challenge we have is distance, but the internet has helped so much. We used to post out UGLE and Grand Chapter stationery, and annual returns to such far-flung places as Nigeria, Malaysia, Australia and Argentina – and you’d never know when they were going to get there. 

They might take three months or even get lost in transit. Now documents can be emailed to each District office, where they will be transmitted in a similar fashion to the lodge secretaries. But even then, when we email papers to the District Grand Secretary in Buenos Aires, for example, they will need to find their way to our lodges in Uruguay and Chile. If documents need signatures, you can’t expect the District Grand Secretary to pop in the car and collect the papers from someone hundreds of miles away. You therefore need to give these lodges a certain amount of leeway. You’ve got to understand the geography of the country and the distances involved and be very aware of the vagaries of the local postal system.

‘I make myself available for the Districts, but it’s not a hardship… It is a job but it’s also a way of life.’

Is it a challenge collecting the annual dues?

It all relies on administration and making sure that the databases are up to date. But you do get problems, especially when faced with currency fluctuation. Look at India and the way the rupee has fallen against the pound over the past few years: the District Grand Lodge can collect the dues one month but by the time they come to pay UGLE, the rupee might have dropped further, so they are faced with a shortfall. A few years ago there was astronomical hyperinflation in Zimbabwe and the value of the local dollar could change from hour to hour. The South African rand is another currency that is volatile, so we constantly monitor the currency markets to pre-empt some of the problems and help the Districts find the most beneficial way of paying their dues. 

‘It’s heart-warming how much the Districts and their lodges want to belong to UGLE.’

What do you enjoy about the job?

It’s heart-warming how much the Districts and their lodges want to belong to UGLE. 

They might have only 10 members, hold their meetings hundreds of miles away from the District office and even have English as a second language, but there is such loyalty to the mother lodge. It’s part of the joy of working with the Districts. Although they are far away from our headquarters, they still want to be associated with UGLE; they’re proud to be part of us. 

Does your job complement your Freemasonry?

I was out of masonry for 12 years before I came to work at Freemasons’ Hall. I wasn’t a subscribing member of any lodge and felt that, as I dealt with so many different aspects of Freemasonry five days a week in my job, it was enough. Eventually, though, I took the decision to reactivate my membership and joined St Barnabas Lodge, No. 3771, a London lodge that meets on a Saturday. During the past couple of years, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel, as a guest of the Districts, to both Cyprus and Kuala Lumpur where I gave presentations to gatherings of local lodge secretaries on how to provide more accurate documentation and data to UGLE. I came away from these visits with a tremendous feeling of camaraderie, of belonging to something that is so strong and so far from home. 

How important has it been to build relationships with the Districts?

I make myself available for the Districts, but it’s not a hardship. It’s not 24 hours a day, but I always have to be aware of the time differences and gauge when to send emails that elicit a quick response or when to make an urgent phone call. 

I joined Royal Arch Freemasonry recently and the District Grand Secretary from Hong Kong flew in especially for the meeting. I was knocked out – it was an amazing thing to do, but that’s the kind of rapport you build with people. I get visitors from the Districts dropping into the office throughout the year. It gets really busy during the week of the Annual Investiture, when you’ve got everyone travelling to Freemasons’ Hall – whether it’s from New Zealand, Singapore, Bombay or the Bahamas – all wanting to catch up. My diary gets pretty full for that period and it’s usually four days of intense meetings, which concentrates the mind as you tend to get a whole year’s worth of problems rolled into one week, as well as having new personnel to meet and old friends to catch up with. It is a job but it’s also a way of life.

The District Network

Lodges meeting abroad are grouped in 33 Districts, each headed by a District Grand Master, with five groups headed by a Grand Inspector and 12 lodges administered from Freemasons’ Hall. There are about 20,000 members in this category. 

The largest District is South Africa, North with more than 100 lodges and the smallest is Namibia with just four. Currently, the Districts encompass around 720 lodges and 320 chapters in total. 

UGLE has lodges across the globe, taking in Africa, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Greece, Hong Kong and the Far East, India, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, St Helena, South America, the South West Pacific (including Fiji and Vanuatu) and Thailand.

There are also foreign Grand Lodges not under UGLE’s jurisdiction and it is estimated that there are about six million Freemasons worldwide.

Published in UGLE
Friday, 05 June 2015 00:00

Playing for keeps

It’s show time

An initiative to give disadvantaged young people the chance to fulfil their musical dreams and find employment is being supported through masonic funding, as Imogen Beecroft discovers

 Over in one corner of a room two people are huddled together at a piano, perfecting a duet. Across the way, young men and women are memorising rap lyrics, strumming guitars and fiddling with DJ decks. Given the sheer array of musical ability, you would think you had stumbled into a professional West End rehearsal. In fact, these groups of young people are preparing for their final performance after just six weeks of training at the Roundhouse – a former railway engine shed in London’s Chalk Farm that is now a performing arts and concert venue, and a charitable trust. 

As soon as the first group goes on stage, the friendly, laid-back atmosphere gives way to a vibrant energy as everyone rises to their feet. One of the people singing along most enthusiastically is Africa Krobo-Edusei. He was working in a restaurant when he heard about the Roundhouse’s OnTrack project, a programme for young people aged 16-25 to learn about the music industry. 

‘I hated waking up in the morning and going to work,’ Africa remembers. ‘I quit my job because I knew this would be the thing for me. I have such a passion for music, so I took a risk and have no regrets. Now I’ve found a course that has inspired me, I wake up every day feeling happy.’

The intensive course covers all aspects of music production, from songwriting to event management, culminating in a live performance at the Roundhouse. OnTrack is one of the venue’s many programmes and events for young people not in full-time employment, education or training, some of whom have been homeless or in prison. The programmes are overseen by youth support worker (YSW) Angus Scott-Miller, whose role is part-funded by Stepping Stones, a non-masonic giving scheme operated by the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB). The scheme, which aims to reduce child poverty by helping disadvantaged children and young people to access education, awarded a grant of £20,000 to The Roundhouse Trust in 2011, followed by a further £20,000 in 2014. 

Les Hutchinson, CEO of the RMTGB, says: ‘The Roundhouse Trust is one of a very small number of charities to have received a second grant from the scheme. The RMTGB decided to provide support on both these occasions due to the wide range of opportunities that the organisation offers for disadvantaged young people. Freemason’s Hall is also located within the same London Borough as the Roundhouse, so it was the perfect opportunity to support a charity on our doorstep.’

Instrumental role

Angus coordinates the youth support team, visits schools and pupil referral units (for children who have been excluded from school), and provides pastoral support for 200 young people each year. Fran Pilcher, trusts and statutory manager at the Roundhouse, says: ‘The grant from the RMTGB has allowed Angus to continue to engage some of the most disadvantaged young people with creative opportunities. 

‘Many of those who access our services are vulnerable and experiencing multiple difficulties. The YSW role helps to create a safe environment for any young person, many of whom have no other support networks to turn to. With the backing of the RMTGB, it has become an integral part of the Roundhouse.’

Angus, 30, has been a YSW for six years but has been involved with the Roundhouse since he was 16 years old, when he was a student on one of its programmes. ‘It was the first thing I did outside school,’ he says. ‘It was a big step for me and I fell in love with the arts thanks to the Roundhouse.’

A few years later, Angus was checking the Roundhouse website daily to see if there were any jobs available when he saw an advert for his current role. ‘At the time my mum was kicking me out and all I had were two job interviews,’ he says. ‘I got two offers but took the one at the Roundhouse because I just love it. It did a lot for me as a kid and I want to give something back.’

Playing to strengths

Angus’s background helps him in his role providing pastoral care for the young people in the programme, of which 60 per cent are classified as disadvantaged, and he speaks passionately about the difficulties facing young people in London. ‘It’s so easy to get lost in a big city and get mixed up with the wrong crowd.’

Oliver Carrington, who manages the RMTGB’s Stepping Stones scheme, says Angus ‘does a fantastic job in building trust with the most disadvantaged young people that access the Roundhouse’s services. He helps participants overcome any potential barriers that they may face and is very effective in developing their strengths and nurturing their talents.’

Angus is modest about his work, but has dealt with issues as diverse as someone liking a girl at school through to abuse and suicide. ‘For a young person to trust you, you’ve got to build a relationship, and once you have that they will want to come to you for advice,’ he says, adding that he builds this trust by not putting on a persona. ‘I just listen, try to understand and help.’

Angus recalls one young person going through a particularly tough time. ‘He’d robbed a house and taken a lot of money. Some people found out, came to his house with guns and threatened his mum.’ Angus helped him get on a drama course at the Roundhouse. ‘After that he went to drama school. He now has his own place, a girlfriend and he’s acting professionally. I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world that helps young people like the Roundhouse. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but that’s what we do: we change lives.’

Africa believes the Roundhouse has turned his life around too. ‘There are people who show an interest in you and teach you how to apply your skills to the real world. They let you know that music isn’t just a hobby – it can be a career and you can excel if you put in the time.’ Africa has indeed excelled in his course, making strides in his musical ability as well as finding lifelong friends. ‘It feels like we’ve built a little family,’ he says.

Once the course is over, the young emerging artists can return to the Roundhouse for various events, or book out one of the venue’s studio spaces from £1 an hour to start making their own music. As Angus says, ‘It won’t be goodbye. This is just a welcome to the Roundhouse.’ 

Africa is certain he’ll be back and already has big plans for his musical future: ‘I’m going to start an artist development programme that takes on young artists like myself and works to help give them some direction. I always had a passion but this place is making that dream into more of a reality.’

Published in RMTGB

Recognising our legacy

HRH The Duke of Kent explains how funding from the Royal Arch is supporting the Royal College of Surgeons and has helped to restore the Willis organ in the Grand Temple

 You will remember the generous £2.5 million raised for the 200th anniversary appeal to support the research work of the Royal College of Surgeons. A fundamental decision was needed as to how this sum should be invested and administered. 

It was decided that this would best be done together with the existing Grand Lodge Fund, launched for the Royal College in 1967, to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Grand Lodge.

It has been agreed that the fellowships will be allocated to both the Craft and the Royal Arch in proportion to the contribution of funds. So, this will mean that there will be two Royal Arch Fellows in every five fellowships that are supported. 

As patron of the fund, I confirm that in order to reflect these important changes – notably that the funding for these fellowships has come from both the Craft and the Royal Arch – the name of the fund has been changed as of January 2015 to The Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research.

On the east wall of the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall, the Willis organ has been renovated and greatly improved during the past year. You will be aware that Supreme Grand Chapter has funded this initiative from its reserves as the Royal Arch’s contribution towards the Tercentenary of the United Grand Lodge of England. In recognition of this contribution, the organ’s new case bears a triple tau at its top as well as on the front of the renovated console.

I am sure you would want me to congratulate all concerned with this project, which not only enhances this magnificent room, both audibly and visually, but also adds to the heritage of this building and the memory of those many Freemasons who died in World War I.

‘The renovation of the Willis organ is the Royal Arch’s contribution towards the Tercentenary of UGLE.’

Published in SGC

Involvement and cooperation

As we celebrate the efforts of those who have achieved Grand Rank, Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes reflects on the challenges ahead for every member

 I congratulate those I had the pleasure of investing with their various ranks. Grand Rank has been awarded for your contribution to English Freemasonry, here and in our Districts. I take this opportunity to remind you that further great things are expected of you and you will be required to shoulder greater responsibilities, particularly with helping to implement initiatives for improving our Freemasonry, which may be brought in by the Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters.

At the Annual Briefing Meeting, the Metropolitan Grand Master, Provincial Grand Masters, District Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents were brought up to date on the various initiatives that have been undertaken to make Freemasonry fit to celebrate its Tercentenary with confidence in its future. This confidence will show that Freemasonry is as relevant today as it has been throughout the past 300 years.

To achieve this, we will continue to work closely with Provincial and District hierarchy to develop a clear strategy on sound leadership and the involvement of the membership, with clear focus on future needs and backed up by sufficient factual information. 

I am determined that this level of involvement and cooperation, which is already showing great benefit, continues to succeed.

It is essential that Grand Officers set good examples in their lodges and help to train the next generation. 

They should be expected to carry out any duties for which they may be called upon to support the strategy.

‘I take this opportunity to remind you that further great things are expected of you and you will be required to shoulder greater responsibilities, particularly with helping to implement initiatives for improving our Freemasonry.’

Published in UGLE
Friday, 05 June 2015 00:00

Dave Stubbs: Northern Soul brother

Life and soul

With a bit of ritual, special outfits and a strong sense of camaraderie, Northern Soul is a music and dance passion for Dave Stubbs that perfectly complements his Freemasonry. Sarah Holmes finds out more

Leafing through a red leather box of vinyl, Dave Stubbs suddenly jumps to his feet. ‘Ah! This one! This record is magic,’ he beams. Turning to an old-fashioned record player, he carefully places the unsheathed disc on the turntable and drops the needle. A crackled silence is followed by the stomping bass of John Leach’s 1963 track Put That Woman Down. The music rumbles through the two-up, two-down terrace in Shrewsbury as Dave bounces on the spot, face to the ceiling and arms open wide, crooning in time to the gravelly vocal.

It’s the kind of passion usually reserved for the front row at a music festival, but here in the humble setting of his living room, Dave’s exuberance practically bursts through the walls. He is a music fan, quite obviously, but with a particular taste for the B-side American soul tracks of the 1960s. 

Unlike the populist songs of Motown, this music was harder, grittier and less palatable for mainstream audiences. Even so, it found a devoted fan base in the Mod-inspired subcultures of northern England. From 1970 onwards, journalists such as Dave Godin referred to it as Northern Soul, and underground clubs like Twisted Wheel in Manchester and The Golden Torch in Stoke-on-Trent began hosting Northern Soul all-nighters. 

Like so many, Dave Stubbs first came to the music as a teenager in his local youth club. ‘It was the older lads, the ones sneaking into the Northern Soul all-nighters, who introduced us to the music,’ remembers Dave. ‘That’s how we learned to dance; we just copied what they were doing. It was all experimental.’ 

Thanks to the genre’s athletic dance style, Northern Soul fashion was dictated by the need for practicality. Loose-fitting clothes such as baggy Oxford trousers, Ben Sherman-style shirts and sports vests became the accepted uniform. Dave looks every inch the genuine article in Wrangler Bluebell jeans, a check shirt and a flat cap. ‘It’s not a costume for me. I walk around in these clothes every day,’ he says. Although vintage shops are the main source of his authentic 1970s wardrobe, his most prized possessions have been passed down to him by fellow ‘soulies’.

The only incongruity in his outfit is the masonic ring on his right hand. As a member of Salopian Lodge of Charity, No. 117, Dave balances his time between Northern Soul and Freemasonry. ‘My great grandfather was a Freemason, so it was something that always interested me,’ he explains.

Soul brothers

A military man for most of his youth, Dave served in Iraq in the early 1990s and his living room is adorned with paraphernalia of his time there, including a framed certificate of commendation for his work with Operation Desert Storm. But it wasn’t until leaving the army that Dave became involved in the Craft. 

Having become a county standard bearer with The Royal British Legion, he got talking to a Freemason while on duty at the Shrewsbury Flower Show and was proposed as an initiate. ‘I know a lot of lads from the military who are involved in Freemasonry,’ says Dave. ‘It’s something that we look for after a military career – that sense of belonging.’

It didn’t take long for Dave to introduce his brethren to the belting world of Northern Soul. Every month, he organises a Northern Soul night at the masonic hall on Crewe Street, the proceeds of which go towards maintaining a World War I memorial commemorating the Shrewsbury Freemasons. Simon Curden is a regular attendee and, like Dave, has a passion for the Northern Soul scene: ‘It’s fun, keeps you fit and is part of a fantastic social world. It’s not so different from Freemasonry.’ 

It’s not just members who benefit from Dave’s musical interest. This summer, his friends and family will get a glimpse into the Craft when he hosts his Northern Soul-themed wedding reception at the masonic hall in Shrewsbury. ‘My fiancée Polly is a Freemason and a Northern Soul fan too, so it’s a place that’s close to both of our hearts,’ says Dave. ‘It’s not surprising that so many people who enjoy Northern Soul are Freemasons too. I find the two interests very complementary. On the Northern Soul scene, we’re often called soul brothers and soul sisters, and just like a masonic lodge, we all stick together.’

Dance rituals

Watching Dave cut his way across a dance floor, it’s no surprise he was cast as an extra for Elaine Constantine’s 2014 film, Northern Soul. In celebration of the premiere, Dave hired out the local cinema, selling the tickets to family and friends, and giving the proceeds to the local Freemasons’ memorial. 

It was his involvement in this BAFTA-nominated documentary that won him the starring role in a national Shredded Wheat advert last year. A mini film showing the ritual leading up to a Northern Soul night out, it captured every moment of Dave’s meticulous routine as he got ready. ‘The ethos is all about turning out smart,’ explains Dave. ‘So from the moment you wake up on a Saturday morning you’re ironing shirts, shining shoes and listening to records. It’s a whole-day ritual.’

For three days, a film crew camped out in Dave’s front room, interviewing his friends and family on his lifelong devotion to the Northern Soul scene, and the philosophy behind his passion. ‘They could have hired an actor,’ he says, ‘but I think they chose me because I actually live the lifestyle. It’s in me as a person, so there was no need for pretending.’

Luckily, Dave’s brush with stardom didn’t go to his head; he didn’t even keep the lifetime’s supply of Shredded Wheat that he received after the advert. ‘We tired of it pretty quickly, so we gave it to the homeless shelter down the road,’ he says, keen to add that money was never going to be a motivating factor: ‘Northern Soul is my passion and I wanted to show other people what it is like, and hopefully share the joy with them.’

While Northern Soul was predominantly the preserve of Suedeheads and Mods in the 1970s, over the years its following has diversified; nowadays you’re just as likely to find youngsters tearing across the dance floor as the original soulies. ‘Nobody will judge you for letting go and having a good time in Northern Soul,’ explains Dave. ‘It’s all about the shared love of the music. You can completely lose yourself in it, and it feels amazing.’

Such is the adrenaline rush of the Northern Soul all-nighter that often, Dave says, he’ll return home at 7.30am only to head back out to an all-dayer by noon. ‘It becomes a lifestyle, I suppose,’ says Dave. ‘Just like Freemasonry, it’s not about money, and it’s not about connections. It’s about camaraderie, and living in a way that makes you feel good.’ 

‘Nobody will judge you for letting go and having a good time in Northern Soul.’ Dave Stubbs

Out on the floor

Starting off in venues such as Manchester’s Twisted Wheel in the late 1960s, Northern Soul’s unique brand of fashion and dance quickly spread to other UK dancehalls and nightclubs like Chateau Impney in Droitwich, The Catacombs in Wolverhampton, the Highland Room at Blackpool Mecca, The Golden Torch in Stoke-on-Trent and Wigan Casino. With the beat becoming more uptempo, Northern Soul dancing became more athletic and started to feature spins, flips, karate kicks and backdrops.

Published in Features

Drawn together

On one level, the members of the Devonshire Masonic Art Group create works of art, put on exhibitions and raise money for good causes. But as Peter Watts discovers, they are also spreading the word about Freemasonry to the wider community

Although Devonshire’s Masonic Art Group was formed in 2013, the seed was planted three decades earlier. 

‘It goes back 30 years,’ says the group’s founder, Cyril Reed from Lodge of Perseverance, No. 164, who is 81 years old and has been a mason for more than 50 years. ‘I was working in London where there was an exhibition of postmen’s art at the Barbican. Then about five years ago, an art teacher came to our village in Devon and started holding classes. I attended, remembered that exhibition and thought there must be a lot of masons – and relatives of masons – who were interested in art.’

Cyril asked the secretaries of local lodges to put the word out and by October 2013 had rustled up enough interested – and talented – bodies to hold an exhibition at the masonic hall in Newton Abbot, which was opened by Provincial Grand Master Ian Kingsbury. Money raised from sales was split between the Devon Air Ambulance Trust and the masonic charities, with the initial show followed by similar events at lodges in Crediton, Sidmouth, Totnes, Dartmouth, Exeter and Exmouth. 

A picture of success

To date, the art group has sold paintings and raised money for local causes such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and a children’s hospital, while also allowing members of the public to visit lodges and speak to masons about the Craft. ‘We’re all in it for the same aims,’ says Keith Eddiford, a member of the group and of Teign Lodge, No. 7018. ‘To further knowledge of Freemasonry among the general public, to make a little bit of money for charities and to show off our work.’ 

The group has worked in various styles and disciplines that extend beyond traditional painting. Keith, for example, has made pens and snowmen in numerous types of wood. Mervyn James from Lodge of Perseverance, No. 164, who sadly passed away shortly after the group held an exhibition of their work at Exmouth Masonic Hall in April, built fairground organs.

‘We’re all in it to further knowledge of Freemasonry, make money for charity and show off our work.’ Keith Eddiford

Exhibiting talent

‘We try to have a certain standard – without upsetting anyone – and they must be affiliated with Freemasonry in some way,’ says Keith. Cyril, who trained as a draughtsman but had done little painting until he took it up in his 70s, focuses on animals and birds. Barbara Bird, who was instrumental in setting up the Masonic Art Group, specialises in cats, both large and small. Meanwhile, the current chairman, Phill Mitchell, calls upon his experiences in the Merchant Navy to depict seascapes and boats, having begun painting when home on leave. 

There’s even a professional artist in the ranks. Emma Childs, whose 2015 exhibitions include events in London and Monaco, also displays her mysterious, colourful forest scenes with the Masonic Art Group. Her partner, Rob Potter, is a photographer and member of Devon Lodge, No. 1138. The pair supply much of the material required for staging an exhibition – the boards and large wooden A-frames that are used to display the artworks. 

‘They are really good exhibitions,’ says Emma. ‘There’s a great deal of talent there. And the group are very proficient with the practicalities; they don’t need me to show them how to put on an exhibition, we all help equally.’ There are three or four Masonic Art Group meetings a year, and while it’s the chairman’s responsibility to identify and contact potential venues, Phill says that with several exhibitions under their belt, the group now moves as a ‘well-oiled machine’. 

For many of the members, one of the benefits of the group is that the exhibitions give the public a chance to visit lodges and learn about Freemasonry. ‘People who are walking past can come in,’ says Phill, who is a member of Unity Lodge, No. 1332. ‘They may have never been inside a lodge, they may not even know what one is, so we can tell them what we do and show them around the temple. People are very interested in the history of masons and the buildings.’ 

Emma believes that the fact that each lodge is different attracts people. ‘The public gets to see a free exhibition and to look inside a lodge. Then the Freemasons are on hand to discuss what masonry is about and which charities we are raising money for, and people can also look at the art.’

For Cyril, showing the friendly face of Freemasonry was his principle motivation in forming the group. ‘It wasn’t just the money we’d raise, it was to show we are normal people, we like painting and we like showing it to everyone.’ Phill believes that the group broadens the masonic experience for members. ‘We get to meet other masons and see different sides of each other,’ he says. Keith agrees: ‘It’s wonderful seeing these old lodges. Parts of Gandy Street in Exeter go back to the 14th century.’

‘We’re still a small group. We want to raise the profile, encouraging other people to do the same.’ Phill Mitchell

Into the groove

Many of the members are retired and find time for painting between their other activities, including volunteering and masonic responsibilities. The art group fits neatly into this groove, bringing together charity work and the promotion of Freemasonry. For Keith, the group allows him to combine masonry with his artistic skills. ‘I was in the ambulance service for 32 years but before that I trained as a carpenter,’ he says. ‘I bought myself a wood-turning lathe and one of my first projects was turning pens, using all types of wood. I gave a lot away but I also sold some to masons after putting masonic clips on them – the square and compasses, things like that.’ 

Phill is also interested in the symbolism of masonry and plans to paint some of these elements. ‘I like the fact everything has an allegorical meaning,’ he says. ‘The way we attach meaning to working tools – trowels, squares, compasses. Each degree is represented by different symbols and I’ve painted a first degree tracing board. That’s something that interests me.’

Looking forward, the hope is that other areas of Devon will get their own groups together. ‘We can’t travel all over the county, but we think it’s a nice concept and it would be great to see others take it up,’ says Keith. Phill agrees, keen to expand into Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset: ‘We’re still a small, Provincial group and we want to raise the profile, hopefully encouraging other people to do the same. If they are interested we are more than happy to offer advice.’ And what about exhibiting in London? ‘We haven’t thought about that at all,’ laughs Phill. 

‘We would need to get a lot more A-frames first!’

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