Celebrating 300 years

Seen to enjoy ourselves

Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes reflects on how far Freemasonry has come since he was initiated 44 years ago

As many of you know, 2017 will see a large number of special events to celebrate the Tercentenary. There are 106 events planned so far, of which four have actually taken place. Not the least of these events relate to the 62 paving stones that will be laid outside the front of this building to commemorate the 62 Victoria Crosses awarded to masons in World War I, and also the formal reopening of the Masonic Memorial Garden at the National Arboretum.

During May I was lucky enough to attend two splendid Festivals. The first was for the Samaritan Fund, held by the Province of Cheshire at Old Trafford, and the second was for the Grand Charity, held by the Province of Norfolk in Norwich. Cheshire raised just over £3 million and Norfolk just over £2 million – remarkable results very much on a par with each other, bearing in mind the relative sizes of the Provinces. Congratulations to both.

It never ceases to amaze me how good our members are at fundraising. Every year, the four Charity Festivals raise close to £10 million. Over and above that, there are the Provincial charities and the individual lodge charities. These, of course, don’t include the Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research, which provides funding for the marvellous work of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Indeed, there are several other exceptional masonic charities, but space doesn’t permit me to mention them all. Suffice to say that the central masonic charities gave more than £4.8 million to 393 non-masonic charities last year and I have little doubt that the Provinces and lodges added considerably to this figure.

Finding the fun

Not only are our members good at fundraising but, just as importantly, they have a huge amount of fun in the process. I mention the enjoyment created by these events, as surely that must be the aim at all of our meetings. We have come a long way since I was initiated 44 years ago: I enjoyed my early meetings, but possibly despite some of the more elderly members rather than because of them. In those days it was nearly a capital offence to smile in lodge, but now more often than not some amusing incident occurs and it is allowed to be seen as such. There is no harm in being seen to enjoy ourselves.

‘I mention the enjoyment created by these events, as surely that must be the aim at all of our meetings.’

We can probably all cite instances when a more senior member is less than sympathetic to a newer member who has had a few lapses during the ritual. In my view, encouragement is what is required. This will almost certainly give him the confidence to improve, thereby increasing his enjoyment of our proceedings. If we encourage and congratulate – rather than routinely castigate – our new members, we will go a long way to retaining them.

Brethren, I should probably warn you that I have developed a liking for visiting lodges and chapters unannounced. Whether the lodge or chapter has enjoyed it I don’t know, but they have been kind enough to say that they have. A chapter that I went to in West Wales recently performed an excellent installation ceremony and I heard at least three pieces of ritual I had not come across before and all were delivered without hesitation. Above all, brethren, it seemed to me that they – you’ve guessed it – thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Published in UGLE

Shropshire goes walk about

A band of walkers completed a 45-mile hike from the masonic hall at Constitution Hill, Wellington, to the masonic hall at Brand Lane, Ludlow, in Shropshire, in two 10-hour journeys.  

Deputy Provincial Grand Master Roger Pemberton, who had been on the walk, later travelled back to Ludlow for a meeting of the Lodge of the Marches, No. 611, where he received a cheque for £5,000 for the 2019 Festival Appeal in aid of The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, now part of the Masonic Charitable Foundation.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016 01:00

Rebuilding education in Nepal

Strength and resilience

When Nepal was hit by a violent earthquake last year, Freemasons rallied to provide funding to replace a school that had been demolished in the village of Jyamire. Glyn Brown catches up with the relief efforts

Nepal is a beautiful, still relatively undeveloped, landlocked country of 28.5 million people. Bordered by China to the north and India to the south, it sits amid the breathtaking Himalaya mountain range, which includes the mightiest peak on earth, Everest. It is also a fragile country struggling with high levels of poverty and the difficult political transition from a monarchy to a republic. Its income is dependent on carpet making, tea and coffee production, IT services – and tourism.

On 25 April 2015, Nepal was hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8, an intensity classed as ‘violent’, and which was followed by multiple aftershocks. With the epicentre 81 kilometres northwest of Kathmandu, it was the biggest quake to hit Nepal in 80 years. Centuries-old buildings at UNESCO World Heritage sites, vital for tourism, toppled; roads cracked and electrical wiring was ripped loose; and almost 9,000 people died, with about 22,000 injured. At least 500,000 homes were destroyed, although some aid agencies put the figure significantly higher. 

Relief aid came within hours of the news being broadcast; The Freemasons’ Grand Charity donated an immediate £50,000, although Freemasons would later donate on a bigger scale via the international children’s charity Plan International UK. 

Aftershocks

Wonu Owoade, trust funding officer in Plan International UK’s Philanthropic Partnerships team, explains the immediate needs in the aftermath of the tremors: ‘Plan has staff based in Nepal, so we were able to react virtually instantly. And we had to act fast, because the monsoon was on its way and families were living in the cold and wet under makeshift tarpaulins. Knock-on effects included health problems, both physical and mental, and disease that comes with sanitation issues.’ 

The level of donations meant Plan International UK could distribute sturdy tents and ropes, food packs, blankets and mosquito netting, and get hygiene problems under control. The most pressing focus then was mothers with newborns, and childcare. The future for any country is in its young, and many children of Nepal were not only deeply traumatised but also bereaved or homeless – schools had been reduced to rubble, leaving a million of them without education.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, masons were determined to help. David Innes, Chief Executive of the Masonic Charitable Foundation, explains: ‘We have very close contact with aid agencies across the world, so we can respond quickly to calls for international disaster relief. Freemasons knew we had made a donation, but we began to receive huge numbers of emails, letters and calls from our members, saying, “We want to do more.” So in May 2015, a Relief Chest was allocated for this purpose.’

‘Within days of the chest being opened, we had £76,650. We were talking serious money.’ David Innes

Bringing relief

The Relief Chest idea is an inspired one. ‘It’s a simple, secure and efficient way to bring together donations from Freemasons across England and Wales,’ says David. ‘And because it’s a recognised charitable scheme, we’re able to claim tax relief on donations, so for every pound donated, HMRC gives an extra 25p, which means a donation of £100 is worth £125.’

Masons were as good as their word. ‘Within days of the chest being opened, we had £76,650. We were talking serious money,’ recalls David. The funds were donated to Plan International UK’s Build Back Better project, to rebuild the devastated Bhumistan Lower Secondary School in one of Nepal’s hardest-hit areas. 

The original infrastructure was pretty poor, so the idea was to replace the school with first-class facilities and what’s called ‘future disaster resilience’ – because of course lightning can strike more than once in the same place.

One trustee of the Grand Charity, retired GP Richard Dunstan, already had fond feelings for Nepal, having driven to India in 1970 with some pals. ‘We split up for a week and I went to Nepal on my own, and it was just the most magical country, a true Shangri-La. The people were gentle, peaceable, it was very agricultural, with no roads, no traffic…’ Fast-forward and, having been chairman of the committee that allocated the Relief Chest funds, Richard travelled with wife Tessa to Nepal again in April 2016, on the anniversary of the earthquake, to see where the new school would be built. 

While Nepal was still a stunningly beautiful country, Richard noted that much of the country was in disarray. ‘The government has money to spend on rebuilding, but there’s so much to do. The emphasis is to rebuild with new, safer planning, and each of these plans must be approved. So families are still living in tents and shacks.’

The school is in the village of Jyamire and, says Richard, ‘the original building was right on the hillside’. He explains: ‘We went to see what was left and could hardly climb up to it, the path was so steep. When it collapsed, it must have been terrifying. The villagers are just relieved the earthquake happened on a Saturday and the children weren’t there.’

‘They’ve been through something appalling, but they were smiling, positive, happy.’ Wonu Owoade

Determination

A temporary school is in place for now, although ‘it has a corrugated iron roof, which is incredibly hot in the sun’. But the site for the new school has already been cut in a much safer location. Richard was there to hand over the Freemasons’ cheque and met children, parents and teachers at the ceremony. ‘The commitment of the village to the education of their children was palpable; you could see clearly they were keen to get on with it,’ he says. 

Owoade of Plan International UK was at the ceremony too, and also saw the determination Richard noticed. ‘Because of the economy in Nepal, it’s very common for children, especially girls, to stay at home and concentrate on domestic duties, or go out to work,’ she says. ‘But when we visited Sindhupalchowk there was a real desire to educate the children – in a safe, secure building – so they could rebuild their lives and go on to better things.’

Owoade says that the new school is something everyone is pinning their hopes on. ‘They see it as part of a greater reconstruction of the whole country, the start of further rebuilding in the area: hospitals, homes... the impact will be incredible.’

Best of all, Plan International Nepal is about to sign a mutual agreement with the government to begin construction, so building can start once the monsoons are over in early autumn, and could be completed in six to eight months. 

And how did the children strike Owoade, on the visit? ‘There’s a real sense of strength and resilience there,’ she says. ‘They’ve been through something appalling, but they were smiling, positive, happy. They were glad to be able to continue learning in the temporary building, but they’re more than ready for their new school – they’ve asked for a science lab, and computers – and so excited. Once something stable is in place, it will also give them back a sense of normality and routine.’

Which couldn’t be better news for David. ‘While in the army I worked with many Gurkhas from Nepal and have huge respect for them and their country, as I’m sure many Freemasons do. To be able to help those less fortunate, whether part of the masonic community or not, is incredibly gratifying.’

Published in Freemasonry Cares

500 supporters of the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity dined and partied the night away at Edgbaston on Friday 8th July to celebrate 25 years of HELIMED service to the counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Staffordshire

The AIR25 ball and awards ceremony celebrated the special achievements of individuals and organisations who had made continuous and significant contributions to the charity over the quarter century of its existence.

In the category of Community Partner there was only one nomination, the Freemasons of the four counties, who between them had contributed over £1,100,000 over twenty-five years. This amount excludes personal legacies from Freemasons, which in themselves have been significant. The donations from Freemasonry have come from individual lodges, from Craft, Royal Arch and Mark Provinces as well as from other Orders and from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity.

It was appropriate therefore that on the evening the award was presented to W Bro Dennis Hill PAGDC, who is the Treasurer of the Staffordshire and Shropshire Mark Benevolent Fund; Treasurer of the Shropshire Masonic Charitable Association; Treasurer of the 2019 Shropshire Festival Appeal in aid of The Freemasons’ Grand Charity and a Trustee of the Masonic Charitable Foundation! Dennis was presented with the award by television celebrity Rusty Lee. The stainless steel representation of a helicopter with the distinctive heartbeat logo displayed on all three Midlands Air Ambulance helicopters is a scale model of a very large sculpture which is soon to be prominently sited somewhere in the West Midlands.

The Midlands Air Ambulance Charity has helicopters based at Tatenhill in Staffordshire, at Cosford in Shropshire and at Strensham in Worcestershire and has carried out over 46,000 life-saving missions over the past twenty-five years. Recent high profile incidents include the Alton Towers ‘Smiler’ accident and the Sutton Coldfield stabbing of a pregnant lady. It is a fact that if a patient who has suffered a major trauma can reach hospital within sixty minutes they are several times more likely to survive. The Midlands Air Ambulances take the hospital to the patient - there are many alive today who without the service would have perished. It is all the more incredible that this important life-saving service is funded entirely by public, community and corporate donations. It receives no central or local government contribution other than a recent Libor grant of £240,000. Each mission costs a minimum of £2,500.

At the MAAC ball and awards ceremony Freemasonry was celebrated by the charity as its premier Community Partner over the past twenty five years. It is hoped that the award will, over the next twelve months, travel to each of the Craft masonic Provinces and to the Mark Province of Staffordshire and Shropshire and that the brethren of these Provinces will have an opportunity to see it.

Assistant Provincial Grand Master at unveiling of new helicopter funded by Freemasons

Tuesday 7th June saw the official preview event for a sparkling new Airbus H145 helicopter

The Yorkshire Air Ambulance service has just purchased this wonderful addition to their service which will officially go into service over the summer. Raising the necessary £6 million for the helicopter has taken some time, helped in no small part by the annual grant made from the The Freemasons' Grand Charity to all of the air ambulance services throughout the country.

The event was attended by Stephen Robinson, Assistant Provincial Grand Master for the Province of Yorkshire, North and East Ridings, Tony Llewellyn, Assistant Provincial Grand Master for the Province of Yorkshire, West Riding and Dr Nigel Weightman, Chairman of Provincial Grand Charity for Yorkshire, North and East Ridings.

There were many other supporters of the scheme in attendance to hear that the efficiency of the new helicopter will enable the Yorkshire Air Ambulance Service to attend 30% more call-outs, due to the greater range of the new helicopter and the fact that flying hours will be extended to cover some night flying.

Never one to mince his words, the event was also supported by Geoffrey Boycott OBE who is a Patron of the Yorkshire Air Ambulance. Geoffrey was instrumental in obtaining £1 million from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, from the banking sector Libor fines.

Announcement to the Craft about Laura Chapman and Richard Douglas

Sent on behalf of the President, the Deputy President, all Trustees and Chief Executive of the Masonic Charitable Foundation

'Following the formation of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), Laura Chapman and Richard Douglas have decided to leave the charity.

Both Laura and Richard have served their respective charities, The Freemasons’ Grand Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund, as Chief Executives with distinction for the last 15 years.

We are delighted that Laura has agreed to stay on with MCF until the end of July to help with merger transition issues and to advise on the creation of a new strategic development function. Likewise, Richard Douglas, has agreed to stay on with MCF until the end of September to continue his important work in establishing the new communications team and function.

During the last 15 years, both Laura and Richard have made a huge contribution to the charitable activities of the Masonic community and achieved a great deal, including being heavily involved in the creation and launch of MCF at the beginning of April this year. We are sure that you will all want to join everyone at MCF in wishing them both well for the future.'

Published in Freemasonry Cares

A beacon for us all

James Newman, Deputy President and Chairman of the Masonic Charitable Foundation, explores the evolution of the charity

Our new charity has been established following a long and very thorough review of how the four central masonic charities operated, how they could work together in the future and how best they can collectively serve the masonic community in particular. The Bagnall Report in 1973 made quite a number of recommendations, some of which were implemented, but many others were not, as they were not felt appropriate at that time.

In those intervening 43 years, some attempts were made to further integrate masonic charitable support but with little success. More importantly, The Freemasons’ Grand Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund have been successfully established, with Freemasonry and society both changing beyond recognition, so another major review was long overdue.

So why has this review succeeded in getting over the finishing line? As with all things, especially in Freemasonry, it’s all about people and their willingness to compromise and work for a better solution.

We worked together for a good number of years on the review, had some robust discussions along the way, but always came back to the overriding objective – how do we create the best, most long-term and most efficient solution to provide charitable support and protect our fundraising activities?

Whilst the presidents have set the policies, persuaded and sometimes had to cajole their trustees to support the review’s recommendations, we owe a big debt to our four chief executives and their respective staff teams for the professional manner in which they have approached this review, and indeed, are now implementing it.

Change can often be difficult, but our staff have been magnificent throughout and no matter what uncertainty they face for their own futures, they have ensured that the standard of service you all have come to expect has been maintained at a consistently high level. 

The rationale for what we have done is to make best use of the money you all so generously donate and to have a structured and flexible system of support carried out in the most efficient way. To do this, we will over time create a single charitable fund with as few restrictions as possible on how we spend it, which will allow us to react to the specific demand or need for support at any point in time from both masonic and non-masonic communities. Of course, the existing funds of each charity will continue to be spent for the purposes for which they have been raised.

A trustee board has already been formed and has representatives from each of the four current charities and an excellent mix of skills. We have set up a number of committees, which are already hard at work advising on new integrated policies, assisting the executive team and making recommendations to the trustees.

So how will all of you and the Craft be represented and able to get your views across to the trustees and executive team? Membership of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) will consist of the trustees as well as two appointees from Metropolitan Grand Lodge and two from each Province. These nominees will be approved at each Metropolitan or Provincial meeting so that you will all know who they are and can, therefore, ask them to represent your views. There will be at least two members’ meetings each year, one of which will be outside London.

We are about to create a very large and, we hope, nationally recognised charity, which will become a beacon for us all. The funds at our disposal have been built up by our predecessors over two and a quarter centuries, and we owe it to them and our current donors and beneficiaries to make it a success.

‘How do we create the best, long-term and most efficient solution to provide charitable support and protect our fundraising activities?’

A Canterbury tale

The links between Freemasonry and Canterbury Cathedral have helped preserve this iconic building. Glyn Brown gets to the foundations of a historic relationship that was only renewed 10 years ago

Canterbury Cathedral is a place of strange and majestic beauty, from the echoing cloisters and soaring Bell Harry Tower to the dazzling stained-glass windows and vaulted ceilings. 

Founded in AD597, rebuilt and enlarged, it seems to sanctify and protect Canterbury. With the pale Caen-stone grandeur of this UNESCO World Heritage Site dwarfing the modern buildings around it, the Cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. Chaucer’s motley crew are perhaps the best known of those travelling to its sanctuary to worship at the seat of the Anglican church and the shrine of St Thomas Becket. 

The sense of peace and the knowledge of the sheer human endeavour that went into its construction make the Cathedral a deeply moving place. Added to which, there are ties between Freemasonry and the very fabric of the Cathedral that go far back in time.

The building has survived all sorts of trauma, from the civil war to damage during World War II, and so requires ongoing restoration. And this, in part, is where Freemasonry comes in today. Not only does the Grand Charity donate regularly, but Kent Freemasons and their neighbouring Provinces have pledged to raise a substantial sum for a particularly urgent project. 

Launched by Provincial Grand Master of East Kent Geoffrey Dearing, the 2017 Canterbury Cathedral Appeal is being coordinated by Roger Odd (pictured), Past Deputy Provincial Grand Master of East Kent: ‘For a long time, I had no idea there had been links between the Cathedral and Freemasons,’ Roger admits. ‘Then I realised Archbishops of Canterbury had been Freemasons – people like Geoffrey Fisher, who crowned our current Queen. I also saw a picture of Past Provincial Grand Master of Kent Lord Cornwallis at a service in 1936. There had been connections, but the relationship hadn’t been re-established for some time.’

It was 10 years ago, when Roger was asked to find out if Freemasons could attend a Cathedral Evensong service, that this all changed. ‘I made an approach, met someone from the Cathedral Trust, which was about to launch an appeal for restoration work funding, and our relationship started again. It was really just us asking what Freemasons could do to help.’

The relationship has since blossomed and Roger now visits the Cathedral several times a month, often going behind the scenes. ‘It is such a privilege. You see the actual construction of this glorious, iconic building, how it’s survived, how bits haven’t survived – and why it needs such tender loving care.’

‘It is such a privilege to see the actual construction of this glorious, iconic building.’ Roger Odd

Investing in craft

One of the more resonant things to have come out of the relationship is the grant of £22,000, given for the past three years by the Grand Charity towards funding an apprentice stonemason. ‘The trainees are passionate about what they’re doing, and it’s lovely to see some of them now becoming master masons and trainers themselves,’ says Roger.

The Kent Museum of Freemasonry is currently mounting a timely exhibition to explain the bond between Freemasons and the Cathedral building. A video features a stonemason at work: ‘He’s a young stonemason who we supported and he’s so dedicated, so enthusiastic, and only too pleased to show you how to try the job yourself – he let me handle the tools so I understood it.’ 

How did that feel? ‘I was scared, first of all! It’s the skill of being able to chip stone away at an angle, to use that heavy maul and chisel correctly. Some of these tools are years old, but the masons know exactly how to make the right groove and create the perfect figure or moulding.’

Heather Newton, stonemason and the Cathedral’s head of conservation, sees the Freemasons’ support as nothing less than a blessing. ‘We’re desperately in need of funds,’ she says. ‘It’s a huge building, and there’s always something that needs doing. The Freemasons have been immensely generous, but the fact that they’ve given much of their donation specifically for training apprentices is particularly helpful. It’s proper, practical help, and in many cases it’s been a lifeline for some very talented people. You see them develop over the course of the apprenticeship – the experience enriches them.’

For Newton, the stonemasons are the ‘guardians’ of the Cathedral. It’s almost as if the building is a living, breathing thing that holds people’s hopes and beliefs within it. ‘It’s exactly like that, an extraordinary place.’ But like any living thing, it needs support. ‘The weather throws everything at the Cathedral. The south side gets lashed by rain and wind, then hot sun in summer. The north side is attacked by cold.’ 

Does it cause you pain when you see it start to crumble? 

‘It does sometimes, when you see really old little bits of detail just hanging on by a whisker. If something precious is on the brink we take it out and put it in a safe place, replacing it with as accurate a copy as we can. After all, the original will still bear that first stonemason’s marks.’

The most pressing issue is the deterioration of the north-west transept and its pinnacles. One of the oldest parts of the building, dating back to the 11th century, it supports the area of the Martyrdom, the small altar to St Thomas Becket, as well as one of the breathtaking stained-glass windows Freemasons of the past helped provide, dating from 1954. 

With the Cathedral in need of support, it was a happy coincidence that Roger was considering how best to mark the Freemasons’ Tercentenary. The result is that the Provinces of East and West Kent, Sussex and Surrey have pledged to raise £200,000 by the end of the year to enable restoration work already underway to be completed.

‘The Freemasons have been immensely generous. They’ve given proper, practical help.’ Heather Newton

Masonic foundations

And so to the Kent Museum of Freemasonry, where you will discover – if you don’t already know – that Freemasonry is thought to have origins in English stonemasons who built the great cathedrals and churches of the Middle Ages. 

Tony Eldridge, a museum trustee and volunteer, says visitor numbers have risen notably since its refurbishment in 2012: ‘We’ve had 9,000 visitors in the past 12 months, over 5,000 of those non-masons.’ From the interactive children’s area to the surprising list of masons (including George Washington and ‘Buzz’ Aldrin), the museum opens a door on Freemasonry, particularly through the current exhibition tracing modern – and ancient – bonds with the Cathedral. 

A semi-professional singer, Tony often sings at Canterbury Cathedral and knows it well: ‘A Canon, Tom Pritchard, once said to me, “If you think of the prayers that have soaked into the walls, it’s no wonder people feel so uplifted here.”’ Or as Roger says, ‘The more I get involved with the Cathedral, the more I feel, “Aren’t I lucky to be a part of this?” ’ 

Find out more about the Kent Museum of Freemasonry at www.kentmuseumoffreemasonry.org.uk 

Published in Features

Independent lives for veterans

Representatives from the Provincial Grand Lodge of North Wales visited the Blind Veterans UK centre in Llandudno to award the charity a £100,000 donation from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity. Provincial Grand Master Ieuan Redvers Jones presented the cheque to Blind Veterans UK chief executive Major General Nick Caplin. 

The money will help in the refurbishment of buildings being turned into residential units for Blind Veterans UK’s Life Skills for Independent Living project in Llandudno. Delivering tailored, specialised training programmes to young, blind or limbless veterans at risk of homelessness, the project will focus on ensuring the most vulnerable ex-servicemen and women can live as independently as possible.

Wedding present for Grand Charity

When Shropshire mason Andy Gough married Maria at St Peter’s Church, Rushbury, near Church Stretton, wedding presents were notably absent – instead they had asked guests to make a charitable donation, raising £1,000.

The couple donated the money to Shropshire’s 2019 Festival Appeal in aid of the Grand Charity. Maria, whose husband is a member of Caer Caradoc Lodge, No. 6346, said, ‘Without any hesitation, we both agreed that our wedding gift donations should go to Freemasonry, which has come to mean a lot to us both.’

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