Brethren, twelve months can be a very long time unless you enjoy what you are doing, and I can assure you that I am enjoying my role as your Provincial Grand Master. I find it very difficult to believe that one year has passed since I stood here for the first time to give an address at the end of what was a very long day.
I said on that occasion that this would be the part of the proceedings where I took the opportunity to set out some of my thoughts and aspirations for the Province during the coming years, and this address will be no different. I shall take this opportunity to congratulate many of those who have become involved in various projects within Buckinghamshire Freemasonry, I shall mention many of the projects which have been successful and I shall tell you about ideas that I and the Executive are working on to keep this wonderful Province moving in the right direction, along with our expectations for the future.
So, I intend to start that process as I started this address, by going back twelve months and updating you on the very important theme which ran through the meeting last year, that of communication.
We have taken huge strides forward with both internal and external communications. Examples of this internally can be seen with the complete makeover of our magazine Concord, both to the look and the content, and now has companies queuing to advertise, which enables it to raise funds towards its’ costs. It has a foreword from me in every issue to explain and communicate current Provincial information and thinking and I have recently introduced a Provincial email to deliver facts and figures directly into your inbox quickly and efficiently, particularly from organisations and areas of Freemasonry which do so much in our name, but that you may not hear about on a regular basis. I am happy so far with the progress made with our internal communication, but we still have a long way to go before we get it right. I have therefore set up a marketing group under the leadership of the Dep Prov G Master to look at further improvements and developments to this very important subject and bring further ideas to the table. Their efforts will hopefully be witnessed during the next twelve months.
May I take this opportunity to thank John Jackson for his many years of hard work as editor of Concord along with the challenging role as our Provincial Information Officer, John has decided to stand down from both roles and has been replaced by Sue Dorman as editor and John Poulter as PIO. Thanks must also go to Hugh Douglas-Smith and Neil Robertson for their excellent work in setting up and bringing to fruition the email project. Brethren, I can assure you that internal communication will remain high on the list for improvement over the coming years.
The work and achievements in external communications have been exceptional. I have never known a better period for Buckinghamshire Freemasonry in its’ ability to deal with the press. We have success virtually on a weekly basis across the Province in numerous publications and we recently had two different articles mentioning Freemasonry in one issue of the same newspaper. This success is down to all of you. Without your involvement with the local community and your hard work in developing ideas which catch the public eye, the stories would not exist and I urge you to continue with this good work. The offshoot is increased awareness of Freemasonry by the general public, an understanding of what we are about, friendship, decency and charity, and a huge increase in website traffic, which in turn, has brought about a substantial interest in the “join here” button on the website homepage.
Although we can all share in this success story, thanks have to go to certain brethren who work tirelessly on our behalf to bring this success about. I have recently formed them into a group to move us forward and continue to expand on their achievements, they are now more commonly known to me as the “press office” which consists of John Poulter, PIO, Tim Arnold, Media Consultant, Bernard Friess, who leads up a team of photographers and the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, who has the unenviable task of keeping them all under control. If your Lodge has an event, or you are involved with the community in any way, please use them, they are a professional team and they will bring you results. Thanks must also go to V.W Bro.Nelson Hall and his team of “spotters” who inform us of entries in all weekly newspapers across the Province and often from those out of it!
You may remember that I’ve just mentioned the “Join Here” button on the website and a substantial increase in enquiries via that route as a direct result of increased publicity. I’ve set up a new group to manage and process those enquiries, which stand at approximately sixty in the last few months alone, as it’s important that these potential candidates are responded to quickly and their questions are answered in a professional manner. This group is achieving significant results by initial telephone interviews, followed by face to face meetings in the area in which they live and then, and only then, introduction to Lodges which best suits their needs and interests. The normal Lodge process then begins and continues to initiation, if all parties are happy. I would like to thank Martin Wing, Mike Blane, Peter Kemp and Richard Lewis for the time that they give to this project and the success that they are having. The future for this group is to the revitalise the exit interview procedure, where the skills obtained with dealing with new enquiries can hopefully regenerate the interest of those who may have walked away from Freemasonry, whatever the reason.
I cannot finish on the subject of communication without mentioning ihelp. This idea, under the leadership of APGM Mike Stimson and run by Eugene Mathius, has had another fabulous year, possibly its’ best. The final was outstanding, with all judges agreeing that it was an impossible decision to pick a winner, although it was eventually achieved, and all those who took part thoroughly enjoying the experience and the occasion.
Ihelp and Eugene give us a tremendous opportunity to open doors previously closed to Freemasonry and we are now beginning to be received with open arms by numerous charities, schools, youth groups, local councils, mayors, the High Sherriff and recently Westminster. It alone has instigated numerous media articles, it has enabled Freemasons to be seen working in the local community and it has produced candidates. Ihelp can only get bigger and better, its potential within the Masonic community is huge and its potential to assist with external communication is infinite. Next year Eugene will become our Youth Development Officer and set up a new scheme to involve youth groups at an early stage, developing them over a 2-3 year period and then promoting them to the ihelp final when they are confident and ready. This will enable us to form a long term relationship with the organisations and put ihelp into their annual calendar. As Buckinghamshire Freemasons, you should be very proud to be associated with this project, keep giving it your support and remember, you witnessed it first in your Province.
I now move on to another extremely important part of our Masonic life and one in which we excel in Bucks, charity. “If you had not been so deprived would you give freely”?
That’s what we are asked when we are initiated and most do, not all unfortunately, but most. This year, tremendous support has been given by Lodges to numerous local, national and Masonic charities along with our own BMCF and BMBF. We have assisted the Puzzle Centre as a Province with their fundraising events, Pace continues to receive a high level of contact. The support given to Hospices throughout the Province is exceptional and national charities have benefitted hugely from matched funding from The Grand Charity in the name of Buckinghamshire Freemasonry, along with a £38,000 donation to The Epilepsy Centre at Chalfont St Giles to fund research.
However, the highlight for me this year has been the donation given by you to The Friends of the RMBI, where an astonishing total of approximately £50,000 was raised in what was effectively a six month period, much of it by Bucks, which smashed all previous records. In my opinion, this will remain a record for some time to come and I must thank you all for your support and contributions. I can assure you that the RMBI Good Neighbour Fund will use and distribute that money wisely and to the benefit of all those who need it.
If I add to that the Chiltern Fun Day shared with Berkshire and Oxfordshire, which raised £42,600 in one day, then the mathematicians amongst you will already know that approaching £100,000 was raised by these two events alone, which is an outstanding achievement in these austere times. My thanks go to the many who were involved, particularly our PG Charity Steward, Graham Dearing, but one name stands out as the common denominator, and that is John Clark, whose involvement, hard work and dedication ensured the success of both of these worthy causes.
I know that you will continue to work hard in this important part of our masonic life, historically Bucks always has, hence the Provincial Hall Stone Jewel. There is no doubt that the next few years will bring new ideas, along with challenges to our charitable giving. Claims on the BMCF and BMBF are rising, it is very important as a Lodge to remember the £2 per member donation to the BMCF and we may need to look at some funding for the BMBF in 2014. Rock Ride 2 is coming to a Lodge near you very shortly and festivals in other orders may put a strain on your pockets. However, please continue to assist your Charity Steward whenever you are able, it’s not an easy role and he means well.
Next year we intend as a Province to introduce a new method of supporting charities within Bucks, by proposing three organisations that you may wish to support as an individual Lodge. I stress that this is not compulsory, but only a suggestion and designed for those who may be looking for a charity during their year as Worshipful Master. There is no doubt however, that if we all agreed to donate an amount per Lodge to a specific organisation, then the results would be hugely effective and a legacy of understanding and commitment would be built between Freemasonry and that group, which would exceed in many cases, that which we now have. The Provincial Grand Charity Steward will be in touch with you shortly and the charities chosen for this project will be, MS Chilterns, Pace and Thames Valley Air Ambulance.
I do hope that you’ve had a chance to look at the exhibition on Lord Desborough, particularly in this Olympic year, and I thank Ken Wooton and Elias Kupfermann for their support with this project. Also, you will have hopefully noticed the roller banners depicting a year in the life of Buckinghamshire Freemasonry, if not, please have a look. I can particularly recommend the pictures of the Dep PGM in dance mode and APGM Mike Stimson getting ready to eject, still wearing his chain.
On a more serious note, you should have noticed the Freemasonry Cares banners, an idea which was adopted by the Province back in February. I am continuing to monitor this idea and commend it to you all; more information is available on the website. I thank our P.G Almoner, Phil Blacklaw for his support with this project, amongst the many others tasks he performs on a daily basis.
Brethren I would like to finish with a brief resume of some projects that you will hear about over the coming months.
The connection made between the Acting Stewards of 2011/2012 and Orion Lodge, proved a great success, as did the Provincial Team visits. I thank the members of Orion Lodge for their support with this scheme and I know that the relationship built between both groups will be lasting, which is exactly what I had hoped for when putting the suggestion together. The same level of commitment will be expected from the Acting Stewards for this year and Marlow Valley Lodge No. 8974 will be the recipient. The Provincial Team visits will also continue.
We have negotiated with Chiltern Railways to develop a plot of land at High Wycombe Railway Station into a Masonic Garden. It is an on-going project and will not come to fruition until next spring. However, it is already a substantial land mark with a large square and compasses at its centre and is drawing attention from the thousands of commuters and rail passengers who pass it on a daily basis. I must thank Jim Webster for the suggestion, Cynthia and Robert Wharton for their design skills and Tim Anders for his hard work with the preparation. If it’s successful, then we shall repeat the idea at another station somewhere along the line, as this railway cuts right through the heart of Buckinghamshire.
Lastly, for those of you who enjoy a full English breakfast, approaching forty brethren have signed up to join Upton Manor Lodge to create a group of approximately fifty members who will meet at Beaconsfield as a breakfast Lodge starting in February 2013. The format will be very different to what we are used too, but that is exactly what is required in these modern times. If successful, then I feel that it could be expanded to include a group in the Bletchley area at a later date.
Brethren, I have to say thank you to so many people for their help and assistance today, but firstly, I must thank you for attending and supporting this Provincial meeting. I hope that you have enjoyed the afternoon so far and I hope you continue to enjoy the evening ahead. I must thank our distinguished guests for their support today and making the journey to be with us, they really are a great bunch and I thoroughly enjoy their company. I congratulate all those who have received an appointment or promotion and I look forward to taking wine with those who are staying to dine later.
I know that you would wish me to thank our Organist, the band and the choir and I do hope that you enjoyed the musical content of the meeting. Thanks in particular must go to the acting Director of Ceremonies and his assistants and the Stewards Lodge for their usual support, and finally, our Secretary and his team for their organisational skills, without which, this meeting today would not happen.
Brethren, I intend to leave you with one final thought. Your executive and many others are working very hard on your behalf to promote and advance the Masonic cause in Buckinghamshire, but they cannot do it alone, they need your help. I said at the start of this address that I would give you our expectation for the future and this is it. We will do everything that we can to raise the profile; you need to do the same. Open up to friends, family and work colleagues, do not be embarrassed or reserved about your membership, be proud and I assure you that together as a Province we will go from strength to strength.
I’ve enjoyed the afternoon immensely brethren, thank you for what you do and I shall endeavour to see some of you later.
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