Provincial Grand Master’s address at the 2016 Annual Meeting

Brethren.

Over the last few weeks I have been thinking – where has this last year gone? They always say that time flies when you are busy and enjoying yourself and it has been a tremendous and somewhat hectic year for this Province albeit touched with a tinge of sadness. It only seems like five minutes since I was appointing and investing brethren to acting or past ranks either as a first appointment or as a promotion. And here we are again.

To those who I have had the pleasure of appointing today – well done – appointments and promotions to any rank do not come of right – they are hard earned in this Province and an acknowledgement of what you have already achieved within your own lodge or for this Province with the added expectation of future endeavours. Please remember that.

The sadness I referred to was the loss of our sixth Lodge – Kinder Scout Lodge in New Mills – and on 18th November a full Temple witnessed the surrender of the Warrant. A sad, but courageous, and correct decision for a lodge that had been in existence for 92 years. Using the gardening analogy you often have to prune hard to encourage growth.

But we move on – and whilst we have lost a lodge we might be gaining two more. Turning to forestry, if you cut mature trees down you need to plant new saplings to replace them and a petition has already been submitted for a new Steward’s Lodge and there is the strong possibility of a Bikers’ Lodge. Both are generating a tremendous amount of enthusiasm.

Over this last year the buzz words have been “evolve” and “change” and the Membership Focus Group have been working hard on various initiatives.

However change shouldn’t just be for the sake of change and, in my opinion, change enforced from above doesn’t work – it has to come from below –from you the members of this province. The Executive has, over this last year, been asking you to think carefully about where you want to be as a Mason in 3, 5, 10 years’ time – where you want your lodge to be, indeed some of you have said we are challenging you. We probably are because you have to be the ones that bring about that change, which sees lodges evolving – you need to be thinking about the legacy you wish to leave behind for your sons and grandsons – what do you want them to inherit masonically?

What may have been good enough for our fathers and grandfathers may not be good enough to sustain future generations of masons and take us through the next 300 years.

The “I’m alright Jack” and “we have always done it that way” attitude that seems to pervade Freemasonry needs to be swept aside and a much more forward thinking approach adopted.

I can see the seeds of that already germinating – Beauchief Abbey Lodge in Dore was a lodge with some difficulties – looking to merge, reduce the number of meetings, even fold. Now it is beginning to thrive. Why? Due to the hard work of its Liaison Officer WBRo Steve Williams and the enthusiasm of its younger Past Masters (and I single out WBRo Chris Fry who was one of my extra first appointments) the lodge has evolved. It now has a large number of young masons, many of them working long hours, who couldn’t, perhaps daren’t, leave work early to travel from Sheffield or surrounding areas to get to Dore for 6pm. So the lodge now starts at 7pm and still finishes by 9.45. Things have been tweaked but it hasn’t materially affected the ceremony and it is working. Other Lodges are now considering following suit.

Cherish, Nurture, Thrive – these 3 words underpin our future development. Cherish what we have and is working; Nurture it and our junior brethren and we will see Freemasonry thrive and maintain its place and relevance in 21st century society. On that theme we will be holding an Initiates Evening on May 12th at Chesterfield Masonic Hall for all those who were initiated in the last 18 months in the north of the Province together with their Proposers and Seconders. This is an opportunity for them to meet the Executive but more importantly a chance for us to meet them. A further meeting is planned at Derby.

The same applies to our Masonic Halls and after some initial meetings with representatives of most of the Halls, small but significant changes are taking place within our established meeting places.

Indeed we hope to replace and rededicate the Foundation Stone of Bakewell Town Hall – originally built by the Freemasons as a Masonic Hall in Bakewell and subsequently held in trust for the people of Bakewell as their Town Hall. WBros Coates and Bentley are working hard on this project along with WBro Dr John Wade. This will form part of our Tercentenary celebrations.

The Moot Hall at Wirksworth, home of Derwent Lodge, is also being refurbished by the Duchy of Lancaster over the summer (about time you might say!) and again we hope to be able to do something there to mark this occasion. The New Bath Hotel in Matlock Bath is being refurbished with a view to reopening next year and so this will give Arkwright Lodge the opportunity to return home if the members so desire. If that did take place it could also be marked accordingly.

Alfreton Masonic Hall is an example of enthusiasm and great foresight by the Brethren especially WBro Neil Stone which has resulted in an excellent new dining facility.

One of the recent initiatives from the Membership Focus Group has been the introduction of the Provincial Membership Officer and the Membership Pathway scheme. You will no doubt have read about this in the strategy document and WBro Richard Johnson is standing down as a Deputy DC to take on this new and challenging role. Those of you at the Installed Masters’ Lodge on Wednesday will have heard his short, thought provoking talk.

This province is one of the 10 pilot Provinces; we need 12 pilot Lodges to trial Steps 5 and 6 of the Pathway – the interview process. A number of lodges who will be interviewing between now and March next year have come forward but we do need some more across the whole province. If you have an interviewing process in place please don’t ignore this opportunity to trial the pilot interview. See what you think, compare it with yours and feedback your views to WBro Johnson – there may be something in your approach that needs to be incorporated into the Pathway scheme but we won’t know unless you try it and tell us. If nothing else, it will provoke debate and a reflective mind-set and you will have been part of a process rather than standing on the side-lines muttering about change!

Those of you who read VWBro John Hamill’s excellent article in the recent issue of Freemasonry today will have realised just how secret we became as a result of WWII and the Nazis and just how long it is taking us to come back into the light. I was recently reminded that Bernard Levin said it would be a long, slow ‘drip drip’ process.

In Derbyshire we are doing our utmost to support community projects and local charities and to raise the profile of Freemasonry throughout the County.

For the first time that I can recall we were invited to participate in the Remembrance Day services in Derby and Chesterfield and in future our wreaths will be prepared by the Royal British Legion, with our logo in the middle. I am grateful to WBro John Wood for starting to coordinate our participation in these and other Remembrance Day services across the Province.

We are now being invited to Civic dinners and events and I, in my capacity as PGM, was asked to propose the toast to the Showman’s Guild at the annual civic lunch of the East Midlands branch. Over 500 attended and I was amazed at the number of Local Authority officers and Mayors who were Freemasons.

Perhaps the greatest achievement has been in our support for those children who are disadvantaged or disabled. We are exceptionally lucky to have two very enthusiastic and energetic Masons in the persons of WBro Philip Bowler, our Special Events Coordinator and WBro Mick Hitchcock, the Charity Steward who work overtime in putting on events.

The epitome of this has to be our 6th Funfair to be held again at Long Eaton on 22nd April. WBro Mike McKean of Beaureper Lodge and a member of the Showman’s Lodge books the site for his own funfair but for two hours on the morning of the 22nd it’s ours. Over 1000 children and carers will be attending from all over Derbyshire – it costs the schools nothing as everything, including refreshments and most of the transport, is paid for by the Derbyshire Provincial Charity in conjunction with our partners Erewash Borough Council. Support comes from brethren of the Derbyshire lodges and not just local ones but brethren from across the whole of our Province. It is a tremendous occasion, bringing tears to the eyes when you see the joy on the faces of the children and their carers. This year it is to be filmed by Emporium Productions for Sky Television as part of 4, 1 hour TV programmes about Freemasonry which are being produced and will be aired in 2017 as part of the Tercentenary celebrations.

But WBros Bowler and Hitchcock do not stop there; numerous events have already taken place this year and many are planned for next. There are far too many to mention but two stand out. The Pantomime put on by Derby Playhouse for 350 disadvantaged and disabled children on January 7th this year was wonderful and brilliantly organised by our Special Events Team and the Playhouse staff and those 75 plus brethren who came with me to the December Quarterly Communication in London will be pleased to know that the £326 that WBro Bowler extracted from us in fines (no-one, and I repeat, no-one was exempt) was used to buy the interval drinks and ice creams at the Panto.

Only two weeks ago, thanks to the good services of WBro Andy Wright, 24 children from Derbyshire Downs Syndrome Association had the opportunity of driving a car – dual controls of course; an experience that the parents thought their children would never, ever have. Many parents were in tears.

WBro Steve Jones, my APGM, continues with his work in broadening and strengthening our Education and Development project. In conjunction with WBro Mike Lake, formerly our Education Officer but now in his new and important guise of Foundation Stone Coordinator, extensive work is being undertaken in creating social groups – Foundation Stone Groups -for the newer masons in the Province – an exciting project and one that is going well and bodes well for the future of Freemasonry in this Derbyshire.

None of this could happen without the support and assistance of a large group of often unsung heroes ranging from the officers and staff of the Provincial Secretariat, the Communication, Education and Special Events teams through to the Provincial Charity members, the Lodge Liaison officers and my Executive officers. All of them I thank whole heartedly for their support, endeavours and advice.

Our new website is up and running and proving very popular and successful such that it is virtually a full time job for WBros Harvey and Brearley to ensure that everything is as up-to-date and as fresh as possible. However we still need more input from you – articles, photographs and details of events to ensure the website is and remains timely and relevant. Please also remember to use Twitter and Facebook as well.

Today’s meeting, all my official visits, Installation meetings and other celebration events could not have happened or been as successful as they have been without the dedication and expertise of the Provincial Secretariat coupled with the enthusiasm, friendship and support of the acting officers and ceremonial team. Thank you for all your efforts and energy.

One person who will be absent from the team this year will be our retiring Director of Ceremonies, WBro Roger Bishop, who stands down after 11 years. He has been a tower of support and a font of sensible advice to me over this last year and also to my predecessor in the previous 10. Roger, thank you for all that you have done for Derbyshire Freemasonry. I wish you a happy and enjoyable retirement.

I am delighted that a number of brethren of this Province have been honoured by the MW Grand Master by appointment to or promotion in Grand Rank. I would ask them to stand when their names are read out and remain standing until I have finished, when I am sure brethren, you will join with me in an enthusiastic outburst of well-deserved applause and appreciation.

Receiving his first appointment in past rank to JGD is my APGM WBro Steve Jones.

By virtue of his outstanding work as a Prestonian Lecturer, WBro Tony Harvey is appointed to the past rank of AGDC.

Two appointments that really please me and, I am sure, will please you all go to hard working members of the Provincial Office – WBro Mick Knifton, our Provincial Treasurer and WBro Eddie Foulds, our Provincial Secretary who receive first appointments to the past rank of AGDC.

Also promoted to the past rank of Grand Sword Bearer and thus becoming a Very Worshipful Brother is my hard working, astute, patient and long suffering DPGM, WBro Brian Evangelista.

And last, but by no means least, my predecessor RWBro Graham Rudd, who at the moment is hurtling up the motorway from Gatwick to be with us for lunch, has been nominated as a Grand Steward for 2016-17.

Brethren – all thoroughly deserved.

The new Masonic Charitable Foundation was launched yesterday – WBro Mick Hitchcock has been keeping you up-to-date with developments via Twitter, Facebook and so on and will be arranging a series of talks and briefing sessions over the coming year. It is also hoped that we will be able to arrange for a talk from the Deputy President – VWBro James Newman – and the CEO of the Charity – Brigadier David Innes.

Brethren, as the Tercentenary of UGLE in 2017 draws nearer, our own Tercentenary committee is working hard to deliver a programme of events that will celebrate that occasion when, 300 years ago on 24th June 1717, 4 lodges met to begin the process that would see the formation of the very first Grand Lodge. Nationwide each province is planning its own events culminating in a special meeting of Grand Lodge at the Royal Albert Hall on 31st October 2017. More information regarding this will be forthcoming in due course. Here in Derbyshire a number of events are being planned. These include a very special talk to explain the significance of 1717 and the developments in Freemasonry up to the present day, a civic reception and major grants to local – and I stress the word local – causes and charities plus a gala dinner on Saturday 24th June 2017 – 300 years to the day of that first meeting. In time the plans for more events will be announced. Please subscribe to the website to receive details of news and events as they happen.

Brethren, 2017 offers to us the opportunity not only of celebrating the past important 300 years but also looking forward to the future with renewed vigour and confidence. We can lay the foundations for the next 300 years and ensure that Freemasonry in Derbyshire flourishes and is there for our children and our children’s children. I ask all of the Lodges in this beautiful province of ours to do what they can to celebrate our present and past achievements and to use the Tercentenary to bring Freemasonry out of the shadows and demonstrate to our families, our friends and our communities what a wonderful organisation Freemasonry really is.

I have a vision that we can increase the numbers of Freemasons in Derbyshire to 3000 – hopefully by 2020. Some say we can’t –Brethren let’s prove them wrong! At the very least, let’s all work together to strengthen Freemasonry in Derbyshire.

Brethren I am proud to be a Derbyshire Mason and I am very proud of you all.

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