Brethren, you have already been required to listen to a vast amount of information this afternoon and I shall therefore make this part of the afternoon as brief as possible, although it does fall upon me to convey to you a certain amount of information which is important to you and the Province as a whole.
Firstly, may I thank all of you for attending today and I fully appreciate the efforts you have made to be here at Freemasons' Hall on a Monday afternoon. The challenges of work, travel and expense do not get any easier and I extend to all of you my sincere thanks for your efforts to be here today. I also extend that comment to our many guests.
Brethren, there is so much happening in this Province that it's impossible for me to mention it all within a sensible time frame, so I apologies in advance if I overlook you, your lodge or your initiative; please do not take it personally.
Let me briefly mention what I consider to be some of the highlights of the past year.
A new lodge was consecrated in Buckinghamshire for the first time since 2003, The Buckinghamshire Motorcycle Lodge No.9926, which took place at Sindlesham in July, which proved to be a wonderful afternoon and evening and was enjoyed by all who attended from far and wide. I must thank those from other Provincial motorcycle lodges who supported us on the day, not least the motorcycling PGM from Hampshire & IOW, Mike Wilks who is with us again today and all those founders who put the idea together and made it happen. It has already had two successful meetings and increased its membership and is proving a great success.
Most of the work to create a new Car Lodge has been completed during the year and this will be consecrated at Sindlesham on 22nd May 2017. I have high hopes that this will be just as successful and we in Bucks are extremely lucky to have Sir Stuart Hampson SGW to join our Province as the primus master of the lodge. I suggest you do not miss this one brethren, it will be another special day.
Those involved with both lodges, including Sir Stuart, suggested a Provincial presence at the Kop Hill Climb, Princes Risborough in September. A decision was taken to upgrade and improve our equipment for that event, which proved highly beneficial. I cannot describe to you the reaction from the thousands attending the event over a two day period, you would need to witness it yourselves. With new state of the art marquees, large screen presentations, new promotional material and the cars and motorbikes owned and demonstrated by our members, it was an outstanding success and we now have display equipment fit for the modern era. I must thank APGM John Clark for his input into this event and for taking my wife, Frances, up Kop Hill in excess of 80 mph on the back of his Kawasaki motorbike. Something she will remember for many years to come!
In February I attended another successful cheque presentation evening where we donated £150k to various charities. Not only was I stunned by this amount, but so were the numerous charity representatives present on the evening. Since 2011, more than £500k has now been distributed at these presentations.
Our Freemasonry in the Community events have expanded throughout the Province in 2016 and they continue to give us opportunities to meet and greet those who know little about Freemasonry or have a poor understanding of what we do. We opened another Provincial garden in September at Milton Keynes Hospital, which now gives us four across the Province and I was pleased to attend the official opening. Also present was Baroness Wall, head of the hospital, and she was another fascinated by our organisation and what we do. I am in ongoing discussions with her with regard to other potential opportunities within the hospital. I must thank all those involved with the garden scheme and particularly our DPGM Robert Wharton and our head gardener Cynthia Wharton. Believe me brethren, it wouldn't happen without Cynthia.
The Buckinghamshire Masonic Centenary Fund broke the one million pound total donation barrier in May and has now been giving grants to deserving Buckinghamshire causes for 25 years. I encourage you all to donate the £3 per capita amount each year to this worthy cause and you will find a subscription form in the Order of Procedure.
The PSA scheme had a successful year with several hundred members and guests attending centres for the simple blood test. The Graham Fulford team will be attending all of our major centres on an annual basis and I urge you all to take a test every year. Just because you received a good result one year, does not mean that you will pass the following year.
Most of you are now wearing the new Provincial Tie introduced from September 1st. I have to thank Nick Blackmore of Wraysbury Lodge for planting the seed for the idea of using the Provincial Hallstone Jewel as a motif on the tie and also the Deputy Grand Secretary Graham Redman for approving and sanctioning the use of the Hallstone Jewel. I hope you enjoy the tie and that you will be proud of explaining to other Provinces what the Provincial Hallstone Jewel is and why Buckinghamshire is the only Hallstone Province.
Moving on to the coming year, I must confess that there is so much planned that I've found it difficult to select what items to concentrate on today. I shall however begin with the tercentenary celebrations where our main focus at the moment is on the event to be held at Windsor Racecourse on Sunday 2nd July, to be shared with Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Most of you would have heard of the event by now and you should be considering purchasing tickets @ £19 before the end of this year. If you do not, then the price will rise and return to the normal racecourse rate which is much higher than £19. If you have not done so already, or you may have purchased them here today, then the easiest method is to purchase them online. You will find the link on the Provincial website. Negotiations for the after race concert are nearly complete and the named act will be announced very soon. I can also announce that the Pro-Grand Master will be in attendance, so it all points to an excellent day. In excess of 1600 masonic tickets have already been sold and I expect that to rise significantly. Hospitality tickets are also available, again you will find details on the website.
Many inter-provincial sporting events are taking place and the dates for these are now booked. I was pleased to attend the first of these in September at High Wycombe where the Clay Pigeon Shoot took place. It was a lovely day out with glorious weather and well supported by members from Bucks, Berks, Middlesex, Oxfordshire and Herts. On the day, the honours went to Middlesex who won both the team and individual events. I hope you will support the many other sporting events taking place over the coming months.
Buckinghamshire has been allocated 49 tickets to the main 300 year celebration event to be held at the Albert Hall on 31st October 2017 and 18 tickets to the dinner afterwards. Lodges will be contacted shortly with regard to distribution of these tickets. If you are unable to obtain a ticket and would like to celebrate the event in real time, then two venues are being sort, one in North Bucks and one in the South, where a live stream of the event will be available to view. There will hopefully be a party atmosphere created at both venues. These arrangements are in the hands of APGM John Clark and details will follow when available.
I intend the mark the Tercentenary in Bucks with a permanent project. It has become increasingly obvious over recent years that our masonic meeting places sometimes leave a lot to be desired and if we intend to attract and retain new candidates we have to continue to improve our venues. I must stress that most of our centres are managed and maintained to a high standard and I am always pleased to visit them, however, there is a need for continued progress and to assist with that, I shall create a Tercentenary Celebration Building Fund which will be in place from January 1st 2017. I have managed to persuade the Provincial Grand Treasurer to release funds from other areas, which will give us a significant start to the fund and applications can be made from the beginning of next year. Any money granted will be treated as a loan and will need to be repaid in full at a favourable rate and within a set time frame. I hope that this fund will go some way to assist with the continued improvement of our masonic meeting places and will be a lasting reminder of the anniversary.
Mel Shah, who has completely revived the Teddies for Loving Care project in Bucks over the past few years, is organising a Teddy Bears Picnic to be held at Bletchley on Sunday 16th July 2017. This is also part of the 300 year anniversary celebrations and will be free. It will include lots of entertainment for the children including party games, treasure hunts and a variety show and should provide a great day out for your children and grandchildren and I shall certainly be taking my grandchildren. More information on this will appear after the meeting today. Brethren please continue to support Mel and the teddies whenever you are able, they are both doing a great job.
I must mention a few Provincial matters for next year. Our Provincial Grand Mentor Eugene Matthias will be running a series of seminars which I urge you to support. Information on these will be coming out soon. The Masonic Fishing Charity will be using Stowe School in Bucks for their celebrations and our group will be there led by Dave Hollis.
Our website has had another major makeover and will continue to do so during 2017. My congratulations go to the IT group who continue to excel. Hugh Douglas-Smith, Paul Brissenden-Hemstock and Steve Blair have all worked extremely hard and long hours, to provide us with state of the art IT and the website continues to develop and expand.
Our website joining enquiry team continues to excel and I expect them to have a busy year. Our website is becoming an increasing source of joining enquiries and I thank the team for all that they achieve.
This leads me on to a very important matter and one that I wish to finish on. I started this address by saying that I would be as brief as possible and I may not have managed that, but I do need you to concentrate for the next few minutes on what I have to say. We achieve a considerable amount in this Province for our size and it brings with it a lot of success. Our communication and contact with the local community is second to none. Our ability to use the local press puts us in the top 12 in the country. Our social media is up there with the best. Our IT, as I have mentioned, is amongst the leading Provinces. Our promotional material and display products are outstanding, some of which you would have witnessed today. Our social occasions are numerous and enjoyable. Our charitable donations and involvement with local charities is at a high. We are able to support our own members when necessary for years to come through the Bucks Masonic Benevolent Fund, which now holds funds at record levels. Our involvement with young carers throughout Bucks is something we can all be proud of and not repeated elsewhere at the levels of success we achieve. Add all these together and we are attracting increasing amounts of joining enquiries and our candidates are up again during the past twelve months.
However, we are seriously failing in one very important aspect and that is resignations. Our resignations for the 12 month period to 30th September 2016 were far too high and we have to stop it, otherwise all of the good work I have just mentioned will be diluted. I have implemented all of the perceived methods of tackling this problem and our Provincial Mentoring Team and Provincial Membership Officer and his team have worked extremely hard on the subject. Our exit interview procedures have also been extensively implemented, again to no avail. I am therefore announcing today that I will be selecting certain lodges to take part in the trial of a simple idea which may assist with the problem. The only true record of who is attending your lodge and who is not is kept in the register completed by all attending the meeting. I wish to see that register. Now I cannot visit all of you on every occasion to look at the register, but I can ask you to send it to me electronically. I will supply you with a template of a simple spreadsheet based on my mother lodge Heatherden. It will take less than five minutes for you to complete after each meeting. It can be managed by any nominated member within the lodge, it does not need to be the Secretary, it can be the Assistant Secretary, the Mentor, or a younger member who wishes to assist. It will be saved on their computer and used time and again after each meeting. This will not only provide the information to me as to who is attending and who is not, but it will also provide the same information to you. I shall be asking you to send it in within seven days of the meeting date. It will take 2-3 meetings before it becomes of use, but over a period of 12 months it should provide invaluable information to be used to assist in the prevention of resignations. If chosen, I hope you will assist me with this project.
Brethren, I extend my best wishes and congratulations to all those who have received an appointment or promotion today. I must thank our guests for gracing us with their presence and I do hope that they will continue to enjoy the evening in the Grand Connaught Rooms.
Thanks also go to our Provincial Grand Secretary and his team, the DC 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. Most of you understand my commitment to the practice of fun and enjoyment in Freemasonry. 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 2017.
Good Reasons To Become a Freemason
When you become a Freemason you: Join an international organisation of some 6 million worldwide, where members will greet and welcome you, and your family, wherever you go;
Procedures for Joining
One of the most common misconceptions about Freemasonry, and there are many such misconceptions, is that you have to be invited to join. Nothing could be further from the truth.