With the constant flow of information in the fast changing situation of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, this page is intended to keep our members up to date with the current situation in the Province of Berkshire and Freemasonry in general, along with links to useful information.
An official communication from the United Grand Lodge of England, 14th April 2020
ALL MEMBER ALERT – COVID-19 REGIONAL COMMS GROUPS
The United Grand Lodge of England has implemented an emergency structure – in response to Covid-19 – consisting of a lead Provincial Grand Master and Province for each of the Regional Communication Groups (RCG). In addition to the Grand Secretary and the Chief Executive of the Masonic Charitable Foundation, they form the UGLE Covid-19 response group.
The aim of the Covid-19 Group will be to foster closer operational working within and between the RCGs in order to deliver visible and effective help, on a national scale, to our members and their dependents in need and also to members of the wider community.
The groups are constituted as follows:
|Provinces||Covid-19 Response Group Lead|
|RCG 1||Cumberland and Westmorland,|
Durham, Yorkshire North and East
Ridings, Yorkshire West Riding,
|RCG 2||East Lancashire, West Lancashire,|
Isle of Man, Cheshire, North Wales.
|Sir David Trippier|
|RCG 3||Shropshire, Staffordshire,|
|RCG 4||Gloucestershire, Herefordshire,|
Monmouthshire, South Wales,
West Wales, Bristol.
|RCG 5||Berkshire, Buckinghamshire,|
|RCG 6||Bedfordshire, Derbyshire,|
Leicestershire and Rutland,
|RCG 7||Cambridgeshire, Essex,|
Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk.
|RCG 8||East Kent, West Kent, Surrey,|
|RCG 9||Devonshire, Cornwall, Somerset,|
Hampshire and Isle of Wight,
Wiltshire, Dorset, Guernsey and
|A||Metropolitan Grand Lodge.||Andrew Manasseh|
The structure has been implemented as – at a time of national crisis – it would not be possible to achieve the same ends in the required time scale working directly with 48 separate areas.
There will be extensive communication with other members of the RCG, and also with UGLE and the MCF who will share good ideas with other RCG leads for their consideration.
The Covid-19 group is tasked with identifying and recommending a wide variety of Provincial projects that could be replicated, potentially on a national level. The group is currently investigating initiatives to feed the homeless, the manufacturing of Personal Protective Equipment through local contacts, helping to purchase essential patient monitoring equipment for the Nightingale hospitals and creating meals on wheels services from Masonic Halls with professional kitchens.
In addition, UGLE is working alongside the MCF, the Freemasons’ charity, who have provided an initial sum of £1m to support strategically important, high impact, grass root projects throughout the Craft. The fund will be evenly split to provide each RCG with £100,000 to allocate to such projects.
We are also pleased to announce the launch of a national UGLE Covid-19 relief chest, which the MCF will match fund donations made to it, up to £1m. We are asking members to support this with charity collections through virtual pub nights, quizzes or LOIs they may be attending. Donations should be sent to the Masonic Covid-19 Relief Chest (Number: COVID19). A donation guide has been produced by the MCF which explains how to make payments into the Relief Chest. The funds raised will be allocated by the Covid-19 Group to support further charities that are responding to the current crisis. Please consider making a donation, without detriment to yourself or connections.
David Staples, CEO at UGLE said: “I am sure you will appreciate that these are extraordinary times, and that such times call for extraordinary measures if we are to remain relevant, effective and also, to be seen to be so by our membership and the world at large.
“At this time of national crisis, we see the potential to impact significantly and positively within our communities by doing those things that Freemasons have always done, but by doing them proudly and visibly.
“In order to maximise this potential and ensure that what we do is effective, it will be necessary to coordinate activity throughout the whole of the Craft in a way that has never been done before.”
David Innes, Chief Executive of the Masonic Charitable Foundation said: “During these challenging times, I am delighted that the MCF has been able to set aside £2 million to support the two initiatives outlined above, as well continuing to support members and their families. All of us will be acutely aware of the extraordinary efforts of local charities and other community initiatives that are delivering vital work across the country in response to the Coronavirus.
“I encourage all Provinces to identify and recommend, via their respective RCG, local charities and projects that are making a real difference to people’s lives that would benefit from financial assistance from the MCF so that we can help them expand or continue their support.”
An official communication from the Pro Grand Master
Thursday 19 March 2020
Dear Brethren and Companions,
These are difficult and testing times for us all. First, I wanted to thank each and every one of you for your patience and understanding during this challenging and worrying period.
Coronavirus is going to be with us for some considerable time, and I am certain you are as disappointed as I am that we have, reluctantly, suspended all Masonic activity. I trust that you will agree that it was the right course of action at the right time.
I appreciate the enormous disruption that this will cause all of us, and also the hole left in our lives by the withdrawal of something we hold enormously dear. To those of you who have been Masons for but a few months, this may seem a little strange, but to those like me, who have been ‘bitten by the bug’, we cannot help but feel bewilderment and sadness at how quickly something so important has been taken away from us, albeit temporarily.
For the next few months we may not see as much of each other as we have recently; we may be spread throughout the country, or indeed the world and we may have things asked of us which sit outside the ordinary compass of our experience. From a personal point of view, being over 70 and diabetic I am taking the “lock down” seriously, as I am sure all brethren in the same situation will. There are, of course, a great many in this position and it is not easy with no, even vague, end date in sight. My real sympathies are with those who live alone. I am lucky, I have a wife, as well as our children all of whom are most supportive and our daughter is arranging our shopping needs, where they can’t be delivered. I do hope that many of our brethren are in the same boat and over and above that, we all have our large and active masonic community to rely on. We are luckier than most.
My youngest son is adamant that the best way forward is to try to have some form of structure in our day, as that is what we have been used to most of our lives, albeit in a very different format. I suspect that, in the current times, the structure will take on a rather strange appearance. We live in a reasonably isolated area and can walk for over an hour without seeing anyone, therefore I think the dog is going to get a great deal fitter (and could even become a better ritualist!); my office might become and stay tidy and I can catch up with all those things I have been putting off for far too long. This won’t take up 3 months or whatever time is required, but I am sure other activities will develop as time goes by. Anything to keep mind and body active. Of course, at some point in the future, life will return again to normal.
I have already mentioned trying to keep a structure in our lives. Freemasonry is a very well-structured institution. Currently that structure has been disturbed, but rest assured that, whilst The Book of Constitutions is pretty rigid on some subjects, ways will be found to ensure that we get Lodges and Chapters back onto the right format as quickly as possible after the resumption. This difficult period will run its course, and move into history and our Lodges and Chapters will begin to meet again. Candidates will experience the wonder of the initiation ceremony, Bro Treasurers will again chase their profligate Brethren for dues, Grand Officers will, more’s the pity, sit ‘tutting’ on the back rows over some ceremonial sleight, imagined or actual, and the rhythm of our masonic lives will once again return to normal.
Over the last few years we have been trying to stress that Freemasonry must remain relevant to society and I have never been in doubt that this has been the case in many ways. However, it has never been more relevant than it is right now. What we do in the next few months, will be written into our Lodge and Chapter histories and will test us, as an organisation and as people perhaps more than anything in our lifetimes. I think it is fair to say that I cannot remember a more testing time for the organisation, for society and for the country. We need to step up and do our part, as we have in difficult times past, to help those, our less fortunate Brethren, their families and the communities from which we are drawn.
That is why, we have, today, released a joint statement with the MCF, the Freemasons’ Charity, committing to help those in need. Up and down the country, in Provinces large and small, Freemasons are coming together to commit to help those who find themselves at life’s lowest ebb. I encourage those of you who feel able to safely commit both time and effort to think on how you might play a very small part in this worthy National effort. There are many great ideas already out there, and we will be sharing these and how successful they are as things develop.
We will need your dedication, flexibility and patience over the coming weeks and months to help each other through these turbulent times. Freemasonry has weathered many storms in its centuries-long history. It will weather this one too, and we will emerge ready for the challenges of, I suspect, a very different world.
Look after yourselves, brethren, and I trust we can get back to normality in the not too distant future. I wish you and your families good health and happiness, and more than your fair share of luck.
Pro Grand Master
Message from Anthony Howlett-Bolton, Provincial Grand Master of Berkshire
I think we will all agree that we are in uncharted waters. The decision to suspend all Masonic meetings for the next four months by UGLE has not been taken lightly and reflects the seriousness of the current situation.
As a Provincial Grand Master, I take the view that the health & welfare of our members is of the highest priority and thus support unequivocally UGLE’s decision.
You may rest assured that whilst our physical meetings have been suspended nevertheless, through the use of modern technology, the routine planning & support work of the Province continues unabated. Indeed, we will use this opportunity to reflect, streamline and modernise our processes to make us more effective for the future.
None of us can accurately predict when we will return fully to normal masonic operations but we are ‘planning for the worst and hoping for the best’. As the picture unfolds, we will take such steps as are necessary to safeguard our members, our lodges, the Province and our Masonic Centres. We will be lucky to escape totally unscathed but I do anticipate that we will emerge robustly.
I am extremely conscious that the self-isolation and social distancing requested by the government will have a significant impact on the well-being of a number of our members. This is the time for individuals and care teams within lodges to ensure that regular contact is made with all Lodge members, whether vulnerable or not, to ensure their welfare and that of their families. Whilst, the use of social media and WhatsApp type groups could be particularly beneficial, there is nothing wrong with just picking up the telephone. If needed, key contact details for the Executive are contained within the blue Berkshire Masonic Yearbook.
Finally, I ask that you take all appropriate steps to keep yourselves, your families and your loved ones safe. I very much look forward to joining you at your lodge meetings and festive boards as soon as circumstances permit.
Message from Ian Clark, Provincial Grand Mentor
First of all, I hope that you and yours are well and in good spirits. I’m just getting used to the idea of being referred to as ‘elderly’. Up to this point, that’s always been someone else! I have to declare an interest here – my 72nd birthday is in a few days – so I’m speaking from the perspective of someone in a vulnerable group and, frankly, yes, I’m feeling a bit vulnerable.
We are in extraordinary times and we have seen extraordinary responses. I think we are very fortunate to have a qualified medical man as our CEO and Grand Secretary and a very compassionate and pragmatic PGM with such valuable senior police experience. As a consequence, we’ve seen very sensible and considered actions from Grand Lodge and from the Province. Now it’s time for all of us to think about how best to play our part in the weeks and months ahead.
Now is the time to demonstrate that the principles and tenets of Freemasonry are beneficial to the world by putting into practice our values and good citizenship. If brotherly love, relief and truth mean anything, now is the time to show it. The advantages of having an active Care Team should now be obvious, even to those who have been dismissive of the idea in the past. You don’t have to do this on your own. Your Care Team can be the focus of your action by making sure that you keep your lodge together. Find ways to maintain communications. Those of us who are effectively ‘locked down’ are effectively locked up and not a little apprehensive about how this affair will affect us. Communicate at any time and regularly but celebrate particularly the special times at which your lodge or LOI would have met by using the phone, emails, texts, messaging services – anything that promotes a sense of connection. Many lodges now have WhatApp groups which can be particularly good at providing this connection. Use anything that will relieve the sense of isolation which can be so corrosive of our mental health. Don’t miss anyone, even those members who you haven’t seen for some time. Renew those contacts, find out how they are. You may not be able to help them in other more practical ways but don’t underestimate the value of bringing a feeling of connection.
Finally, look after yourself. Don’t be afraid to express your own feelings and don’t be afraid or too proud to ask for help. Connect, re-connect, stay connected and look after each other.
Warmest fraternal regards, Ian