Celebrating 300 years

Richard Hone's address at the Grand Charity's AGM - September 2015

Wednesday, 09 September 2015

Annual General Meeting of The Freemasons' Grand Charity

9 September 2015 
An address by Richard Hone, QC, President of The Freemasons' Grand Charity

The main change is to reduce the membership from the present 180,000 members to a single charitable company whose own 124 members – comprising the trustees of the new charity, plus members appointed by the 47 Provinces and the Metropolitan Grand Lodge. Experience has shown that 180,000 members are too many and the vast majority do not even know that they are members! Good governance is better achieved by a smaller number. The present members of the Grand Charity will become Supporters of the new charity and, in the rare case of dissent, can either contact their Provincial or London representatives, alternatively they can attend a general meeting and make their views known.

I want to inject a note of enthusiasm here because I am delighted to report that we have made significant progress in our overall aim to have the new, fifth, overarching charity up and running by 1 April 2016. As you will all know by now, over the past five years the four Presidents and Chief Executives of the central masonic charities have been meeting regularly with a view to making masonic charity a more coherent operation.

The present division between the four charities has become illogical and inefficient in the sense that there is now considerable overlap and duplication of function. Over the five year period of the review much has already been achieved.

There is unanimous agreement between the Presidents, the Chief Executives and all four trustee boards that the best way forward for masonic charity is to incorporate a new overarching charity with the widest charitable objects. This will optimise the resources of the four existing charities and ensure an improved service to our masonic and non-masonic beneficiaries.

This has been the most detailed review of masonic charity since the Bagnall Report in 1973 and builds on recommendations endorsed by the Provincial Grand Masters’ Forum in 2008. We have consulted widely.

At a meeting in October 2014 the PGMs supported the changes. My letters to members in March and July 2015 explaining the changes to Grand Charity have been distributed through Provincial and Lodge Secretaries. I have had half-a-dozen letters from individuals and lodges raising questions which I hope I have answered to their satisfaction. In general the response has been overwhelmingly supportive.

At the General Meeting in Norfolk on 15 November I was able to seek the views of those attending, and they indicated approval. In July 2015 there was a large meeting of Metropolitan and Provincial Grand Charity Stewards in Manchester with almost every Province represented and they were positive and enthusiastic. These proposals have been accepted by the Grand Master’s Council, the Grand Master’s Council Charity Committee and the Grand Master himself, in his capacity as Grand President of the four central masonic charities.

Although significant, this change is neither rocket science nor revolutionary. The four existing charities will remain in name and will hold their restricted funds, but their functions will be assumed by the new charity administered by a single Trustee Board of 20 members with a single Chief Executive, rather than the four existing Trustee Boards with their separate committees and administrations. Masonic charity is an extraordinary, but largely untold, story and truly is a terrific force for good. The four charities collectively distribute over £25 million each year and we are expecting to improve on that.

I am delighted to announce that the new charity has now been incorporated with agreed Articles of Association. This has been quite a complicated task and we are all extremely grateful to the Grand Registrar who has mediated differences of views with consummate forensic skill and tact. There is now in place a shadow Board of Trustees for the new charity, drawn from the existing trustees of the four charities and working alongside the existing trustee boards. It is a most impressive group and I have no doubt that it will be ensure a smooth transition and a first rate administration from its operational date which is 1 April 2016.

All that remains is for the new charity to be registered with the Charity Commission and for an agreed Memorandum of Understanding between the existing charities and the new charity.

But we do need you, the members, to support this exciting work and vote in favour of this resolution. I now have great pleasure in proposing that the amendments to the Trust Deed and the Regulations of Grand Charity, subject to meeting the conditions specified, be ratified and that the Report of the Council be approved.

[The amendments were approved]

Thank you. As this is the last AGM of Grand Charity, I would like to pay tribute to the 139 trustees who have served over the 35 years of Grand Charity’s existence. I am delighted to see over 20 Council members present today. Also present are three former Presidents, Sir John Welch, Raymond Lye and Grahame Elliott, who have done so much to bring about the changes you have just approved. I mention the late Iain Ross Bryce who as Deputy Grand Master started this whole process moving and was a driving force. He is greatly missed. 

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