Brethren, those who have attended this meeting for the past two years, will understand how important this part of the day is for me. This address gives me the opportunity to set an agenda for the coming twelve months, to comment on the past year and to thank and congratulate you for making my role as your Provincial Grand Master enjoyable. I’ll update you on various matters, point out areas of success and encourage you to take on board the fun and enjoyment that I and your Executive experience when looking after this wonderful Province on your behalf.
This year has been one of continued success in numerous areas and, although I do not wish to dwell too much on the past in the limited time I have, I do need to thank and congratulate some of those who have created that success and excelled in their chosen project.
I’ll start with our Provincial Press Room which continues to promote Freemasonry across the Province with many articles and photos being published on a regular basis. This, in turn, creates increased interest in the website, and that interest has been converted into multiple joining enquiries which have been expertly handled by our website enquiry team. I not only thank the members of the Press Team for their efforts, but you as well brethren, for without the hard work and dedication you put into creating a function or an event, the Press Room would not have a story to promote.
Our involvement with the Trinity Mirror Group by sponsoring the Young Carer section of the Pride of Bucks Awards brought us an enormous amount of newspaper coverage. It placed Freemasonry in front of local industry at both the judging ceremony and the awards dinner and, those of you who saw the picture of Denise Van Outen with our Past Deputy Provincial Grand Master, will fully understand how much he personally enjoyed the day. Buckinghamshire Freemasonry was also encouraged to put forward deserving Young Carers and it was wonderful to see young Georgie Church succeed and become recognised for her dedication in looking after her paralysed Father. Brethren, we will be involved with this idea again next year.
I have already mentioned the website enquiry team and I do congratulate them for giving up their time to meet, greet and interview potential candidates, along with introducing them to lodges which meet the specific requirements of that candidate.
In excess of one hundred joining enquiries have been received on the website since the project started, not all successful, but twenty have been initiated and those initiates are now encouraging their friends, family and work colleagues to join us. There are numerous others in the system at the moment familiarising themselves with a particular lodge and those lodges are correctly taking the time to get to know any prospective candidate.
I am sure that those of you who have received an initiate from this source will agree that they have all been well vetted and instructed and I and the Executive thank the team for their time and efforts.
On the subject of membership, I would dearly like to stand before you today and announce an increase, unfortunately I cannot. I can however give you some figures that will provide great hope for the future. The report in the booklet from the Provincial Grand Secretary covers the time frame until June 2013. If I may quote figures from the last Provincial Meeting until now, I can report that individual membership fell by 59, the lowest fall for many years and less than half the amount is was two years ago. The number of members below 50 years of age has increased at the highest rate for 3 years, 97% of initiates have been retained and the number of resignations is down by 30%. This points out to me that we are getting the basics right and if we continue introducing new candidates at the current rate, then we have every chance of an increase very soon. May I thank all lodges for the good work they are achieving, please continue with that good work, because the reward is too great to be overlooked. I am also pleased to inform you that New Urban Lodge No. 6371 will be joining us next year. They are moving from London to Elliot Hall, Winslow and I welcome them to Buckinghamshire.
The Choices scheme introduced last year has raised a total of approximately £50,000 divided amongst the three selected charities, Pace, The Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance and The Chiltern MS Centre. I must congratulate two of our members for their exceptional work, Cliff Drake for raising in excess of £11,000 on behalf of Pace with his sponsored walk and Jack Surridge who continues to raise large amounts for the Air Ambulance and who recently handed over a cheque for £4,500 at his 80th birthday celebration. Congratulations go to all lodges who became involved; it proved a great success and will be repeated at some point in the future.
The Show Stand has been revamped this year and thanks go to Webster Springer and Phil Cole who are responsible for making sure that the equipment arrives at the right place at the right time and is manned for the day. The marketing team have now provided additional promotional material and the dates and venues are being expanded. One notable recent success was Freshers’ Week at Buckingham University where numerous positive enquiries were received and are being processed. Our thanks go to all who are involved with these groups and projects.
Our involvement with Chiltern Railways continues to flourish and this year saw the garden at High Wycombe Station evolve into an impressive part of the Station complex and admired by all. The masonic emblems and signage are very prominent and are on permanent view. Thanks must go to those green fingered Freemasons and Cynthia Wharton, who have created a wonderful space. The official opening earlier this year was attended by the Mayor of High Wycombe and Chiltern Railway Executives. We are now actively looking for other sites to develop in a similar manner.
Add to this Football Team Sponsorship, numerous Freemasonry in the Community projects, Ihelp, fishing and social events on a weekly basis, it’s been a great year and I thank and congratulate you all.
I must also thank you for the warm and enjoyable reception that I and the Executive team have received during 2013 when visiting lodges. Buckinghamshire is a large Province and many miles are covered to enable us to visit and it’s nice to receive a warm welcome after a long journey. I always enjoy the visiting experience and I know the others do as well. This year the topic of conversation amongst the Executive is how well you are doing as individual lodges. The amount of proposals for new candidates and joining members has been incredible and I have been pleased to witness an initiation ceremony on more than one occasion when attending a working meeting.
My personal highlights were the meeting of Haddenham Lodge in March, where the Worshipful Master, Ray Roberts, conducted a perfect Installation of his successor at the tender age of 97 years and the celebrations held for other senior members who have dedicated so much time and effort during a lifetime in Freemasonry, in particular Lesley Harborne’s 90th Birthday meeting and Jack Surridge who celebrated his 80th birthday at a meeting at Beaconsfield in September. Another memorable evening was the Initiation of twins Wayne and Ryan Hancock at Grand Union Lodge back in February.
Moving on to the next twelve months, where hopefully we can continue in the same vein, I shall announce today two important initiatives which, along with many of those already mentioned, will form a large part of the strategy for 2014.
There is no doubt that we are blessed in this Province with two important and well managed Masonic charities, the Bucks Masonic Centenary Fund and the Bucks Masonic Benevolent Fund. The latter has been in existence since 1902 and was principally setup to assist Buckinghamshire Freemasons who may find themselves in financial difficulties, for whatever reason, and works very closely with the Grand Charity in providing financial support. It is very effective in providing emergency grants where needed and can have money in place within 24hrs. I must stress at this point, that the BMBF is not in any financial difficulty, however, there is a growing feeling amongst the management team that demands will increase over the coming years, particularly with changes to Government benefits. Therefore, I have decided that I will begin an appeal today to increase the fund by as much as we can manage. It will be short and sharp, just 12 months, and should remove the need for any further BMBF worries for the foreseeable future. This appeal will be closely, but not solely, linked to Rock Ride 2, which I officially launch today and I will briefly explain the connection.
Rock Ride 2 will take place at the beginning of June 2014 and will consist of 16 riders cycling from Gibraltar back to the U.K. to raise money for numerous charities. Amongst those riders will be Bucks Freemasons Gavin Lannen and Andy Collins, who have kindly agreed to ride on behalf of the BMBF. The challenge I’m setting is for your lodge to support Gavin and Andy to the tune of approx. £1 per mile. This will enable the BMBF fund to grow substantially, along with making a significant contribution to the total raised by Rock Ride 2. In simple terms, you kill two birds with one stone, you sponsor the BMBF riders taking part in RR2 by making a donation and you therefore automatically support the BMBF, or, if you wish, you can donate directly to the BMBF and this will also be attributed to Rock Ride 2.
You will hear much more of this over the coming months and I urge you to become involved. Lodges will be recognised at the completion of the year with Patronage of the BMBF Appeal 2014. A donation to qualify as Vice Patron will be £1000, Patron, £1500 and Grand Patron, £2500 and for those of you who may be wondering, it’s approximately 1500 miles from Gibraltar back to Buckinghamshire.
I must thank our good friends and neighbours, the Province of Middlesex and the Pro Provincial Grand Master Roger Croome, for entering a rider; I believe that their cyclist, Peter Lawrence, will be riding for the RMTGB. Brethren, they all deserve our support and I’m sure that we wish them well.
I can also announce that preparations are under way for the celebration of 300yrs of Freemasonry in 2017. Berks, Bucks, Oxon and Middlesex have agreed to join forces in holding a large event at the Hall Barn Estate, Beaconsfield, in the summer of that year. A committee consisting of members from all four Provinces will begin working together during 2014, and I’m extremely hopeful that an event suitable to mark this historic occasion will be achieved.
Brethren, I extend my best wishes and congratulations to all those who have received an appointment or promotion today, and I include in that statement our new Deputy Provincial Grand Master and Assistant Provincial Grand Master. I am extremely confident that both of them will throw themselves into their tasks with vigour and enthusiasm, because I’ve told them to do so, and I do hope that all of you will leave this meeting today with a similar attitude. I must thank our guests for gracing us with their presence and I do hope that they will continue to enjoy the evening.
Thanks also go to our Provincial Grand Secretary and his team, the Director of Ceremonies and his team, the Stewards Lodge, the Organist and the Choir, but most of all brethren I must thank you for embracing this meeting today. It is not easy to be in London on a Monday afternoon and I appreciate your commitment to this Provincial Grand Lodge. I do hope that you have enjoyed the occasion and that you will also continue to enjoy the evening. I know that many of you have very pressing appointments around Great Queen Street to attend to and I shall do my best to see many of you later.
Remember what I said at the very start of this address with regard to fun and enjoyment. We cannot continue to move in the right direction if Freemasonry is not enjoyable. Make sure that your lodge is a fun and interesting place to be and, most importantly, make sure that new members feel that it’s a fun and interesting place to be.
Brethren, I have thoroughly enjoyed the day and I now intend to enjoy the evening.
Good luck with all that you do in 2014.
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