At the annual meeting of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Berkshire on Tuesday 27th September 2016 the Provincial Grand Master, Martin Peters, delivered the following address with a simple and exciting overall message – the Province is making astounding progress:
“What a delight it is to see this room so full for the annual meeting of our Provincial Grand Lodge. I have already welcomed our distinguished guests from other Provinces, but I do thank them again for being with us today. I now extend a welcome and congratulations to all those who have been honoured with a First Appointment or a Promotion today. It has given me huge pleasure to recognise the contributions you have made to take the Province forward and I thank you for them.
Among the promotion letters which went out in March was one to W Bro Bill Lloyd notifying him of my intention to promote him to Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden today. You might have noticed that that didn’t happen. That’s because I attended a dinner on 28th July to mark his 100th birthday and I surprised him with a Field Promotion to Past Provincial Senior Grand Warden. He is with us today and I am sure you would all now like to join me in congratulating him on his remarkable achievement.
We had a particularly successful team of Provincial Officers last year and the level of support for our team visits was exceptional. The few words I have already said about our retiring Deputy Provincial Grand Master do not reflect the huge contribution Very Worshipful Brother Colin Hayes has made to this Province since being appointed a Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies 27 years ago. I shall miss him enormously from our Executive team, but I am sure his wife will welcome the opportunity to share his company more often in the future. Colin, I cannot say how grateful I am to you for your contribution which has been pivotal to the success and happiness of this Province.
The Province has also been extremely well served by those officers I reappointed today and I am most grateful to them for their work on behalf of the Province over the past year. Of those who retired today, I should perhaps make special mention of W Bro Jim Dance who retired today after five years as our Provincial Grand Charity Steward and who made such a success of my Appeal for the Berkshire Masonic Charity. W Bro Neil Harvey and W Bro Gerry Preston, my Provincial Senior and Junior Wardens, made a fantastic team, visiting over 150 lodges during the year whilst also undertaking other valuable roles. I would also like to thank an unsung hero, because he is not an invested officer, W Bro Robin Kent our Provincial Communications Officer, who has done so much to promote our cause over the past year.
Lastly, I thank my Executive, especially W Bro David Keys our Provincial Grand Secretary, who has worked tirelessly for the Province over the past year, and whose administration for this special meeting has, as always, reflected the highest levels of planning and professionalism.
As we move from one year to the next, I thank every member of my old team and welcome the new one.
Brethren, my overall message today is a simple and exciting one – the Province is making astounding progress. Almost wherever we look we can see change. While change is inevitable, it can also be uncomfortable. But change can also be exciting and we have a strategic plan to deliver positive change. That plan is working and the results we are seeing are most encouraging. Your hard work to introduce the necessary changes to ensure a healthy future for your lodges has resulted in a dramatic improvement in fortunes across almost every metric by which progress can be measured.
What hasn’t changed is our Vision Statement which underpins our strategic plan – that “Freemasonry should be understood and valued by the community”. Nor has there been a change to our Mission Statement which is “to ensure that the Brethren of Berkshire enjoy their Freemasonry so that we grow our organisation and increase our contribution to the community”. But in the areas of our three strategic imperatives – Enjoyment, Growth and Community – significant changes have taken place which have improved the fortunes our Lodges and of the Province.
Take Enjoyment. Lodges enjoy having work to do, and the backlog of ceremonies is now greater than it has ever been, but enjoyment of our Freemasonry is probably best measured by trends in resignations. In the past year resignations have been reduced by nearly 30 per cent. At 124 we had fewer resignations last year than we have had for over 20 years. The Lodge Care Teams which have been introduced into virtually every lodge over the past 15 months have been key to this dramatic reduction.
Take Growth. Growth is predicated by the number of new members we attract into our organisation. In the past year 137 initiations have been carried out – that is the highest level for over 20 years and over 30 per cent up on the previous year. That’s just brilliant and the Introduction to Freemasonry team has made a huge contribution to this outcome. The chart in the Provincial Grand Secretaries report on page 12 of the Order Paper shows that the number of initiations exceeded the number of resignations. This is the first time that has happened for several decades, so of all the changes which have taken place, this is perhaps the most dramatic because it has resulted in us returning our Province to growth in terms of both Members and Memberships after a long period of decline. Indeed, my contacts who have access to all the numbers at Grand Lodge tell me we are one of the fastest growing Provinces in the country. Looking at the numbers in the Order Paper it might come as a surprise to some that we are growing, but that just underlines how remarkable the turnaround has been because those numbers are based on Lodge Annual Returns for the year 1st April 2015 to 31st March this year. Two thirds of our lodges now have a larger membership than that shown in the Order Paper on pages 14 and 15 and total memberships have increased from 3368 to 3463, that’s an increase of nearly 3 per cent which, given past trends, is very, very impressive.
Take Community Contribution. As part of our strategic plan I launched an appeal to raise half a million pounds for the Berkshire Masonic Charity which supports the Berkshire community. I will never forget the presentation of £40,000 in used ten pound notes at this meeting a year ago, which took us past our £500,000 target a year ahead of schedule. Your generosity has enabled us to increase our financial support for community needs across Berkshire as well as introducing new projects such as the Berkshire Masonic Charity Scholarship in Pharmacy at Reading University.
The public’s awareness of the contribution which Freemasonry makes to the community is hugely important to the future well-being of our organisation. Our contribution can be measured in terms of both time and money and today I want to focus on the giving of our time. The “300 Hours” initiative which I am launching today is designed to impact directly within local communities. The approach is based on the gift of time rather than cash and will reinforce the concept of Freemasons providing practical support in addition to the more traditional financial support role that we so often play. As part of our 300th anniversary celebrations, I am today inviting each lodge to deliver 300 hours of local community engagement between now and the end of 2017 and a team of volunteers has already been assembled representing every Centre to provide guidance to lodges to get this exciting project off to a flying start.
Our three strategic imperatives: Enjoyment, Growth and Community – all going well, very well!
The year ahead sees us celebrate the Tercentenary of the meeting of four Lodges in London in 1717 to form the first Grand Lodge in the World. An extensive programme of events is being organised to promote public awareness of Freemasonry, including a television programme. Other events will enable our families and friends to join in the festivities next year, such as the race day at Windsor Racecourse on Sunday 2nd July and a Gala Dinner here on Friday 24th November when local dignitaries will also be invited.
I trust that the report I have been able to give you indicates that the Province and our Lodges are thriving. Of course there is still much work to be done, but the fruits of your efforts are now clearly visible and we should all be hugely encouraged by the progress which has been made. The increased interest in Freemasonry which will be generated over the next 15 months will undoubtedly provide a further boost to our fortunes.
Brethren, the future for Freemasonry in Berkshire is bright and the year ahead will be full of opportunity to enjoy our Freemasonry, grow our organisation and increase our contribution to the community. Let’s go forward together to realise that opportunity.
Thank you again for your unstinting support and for your attendance here today”.