PGL Address 2019
Brethren, it was but a year ago that I was installed as Provincial Grand Master. The twelve months have flown past, but it has been a most memorable and enjoyable year.
As this is my first proper address to Provincial Grand Lodge, I have limited myself to four topics this morning. Each one is quite long, but there are only four of them.
The first is a review of the last 12 months, reflecting on our ambitions at the start of the year, and to comment on the outcomes. We have launched a number of initiatives this year with the specific intention of enriching the experience of Masons in Bristol.
The programme of Health and Well-Being was established to address a particular conundrum. Our various Masonic charities do a very good job in supporting those who are suffering but we felt that there was a real opportunity for early intervention to “prevent rather than cure”. So far, two events have been held – a Prostate Disease awareness day last autumn and a “Save a Life” seminar, this spring, on what to do when encountering a person in a state of collapse. Both events were very professionally run by W Brothers Jon Hayes and Mike Paige and very well received by the delegates. More seminars are in the pipe-line.
At last year’s installation, I spoke of my desire to see the vast resource of talent and experience within the Province being accessed to support the community, through volunteering. We have so far engaged in two events, and I hope that we will have more events this year with an increasing turn-out of masons. W Bro Kash Dewani is taking the lead on coordinating our volunteer work force, building a talent database and working with Bristol City Council to support organisations in need of assistance.
Our next development is that of Learning & Development. Following the launch of Solomon last year, W Bro Andy Friedman has put together a team of experienced Masons to explore the opportunities to work with Lodges and Chapters to increase the understanding of aspects of ceremonies and thereby foster a greater love of the Craft and the Royal Arch. The team of Ambassadors will be visiting a Lodge near you very soon.
It is no secret that Freemasonry is becoming more open and transparent and this is reflected in our new entrants, a large number of whom are joining from a genuine interest in masonry, rather than the traditional routes of being proposed and seconded by friends, colleagues or family. For the second year running our net membership has grown and this is in large part due to the success of our immediate past Membership officer and the Information Evenings held at Park Street. A further aspect of this visibility is the role we play within the civic community and developing our links and connections across the city. During the last 12 months we have taken strides forward but there is more work to be done in the months and years ahead.
My final point on the last year must be the success of the Festival, which is fully reported in the Bristol Standard, and represents an amazing achievement. My wholehearted congratulations go to the Festival Committee for the excellent result and a brilliant party at the Ashton Gate, the home of Bristol Bears.
My next topic refers to those who have contributed so much over the year. The smooth running of the Province is often taken for granted and it is my very pleasant duty at this annual meeting to acknowledge the tireless and, by and large, uncomplaining efforts of a large number of brethren who keep the wheels rolling. In particular, I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Deputy Provincial Grand Master who has been a fantastic support during this past year. When I asked him to be my Deputy, I pointed out that I was very much a strategist rather than a “doer” and that I needed someone who could help put my ideas into action, Richard has been that person. His promotion to Past Grand Sword Bearer in the April investiture of UGLE this year was very well-deserved.
The Secretariat operates with the efficiency and effectiveness of a well-oiled machine, with superb attention to detail. I mustn’t forget to mention the hard-working Provincial Grand Secretary, W Bro Peter Wills. Thank you, Peter, for dealing so well with all the stresses and strains I put upon you. I should point out that we are one of the four Provinces working with UGLE to modernize the way in which Lodge information is gathered, processed and stored, which represents significant drive to assist our hard-working Lodge secretaries and treasurers.
Our Provincial Treasurer stepped in to the role this time last year and has made himself perfectly at home, running the Provincial visits and our dining arrangements today, with aplomb and minimum of fuss – thank you Tony.
Our DC continues to perform superbly well and protects the pure and antient Bristol workings rigorously, so a big thank you to him and also to his team of volunteers for today – the Dunckerlys – without whom life would not be the same.
Behind all of those I have just mentioned, there are a large number of individuals carrying out a whole range of invaluable tasks and I thank each of you for the work that you do keep the Province shipshape and Bristol fashion.
My third area of focus is that today is very much about the new Provincial officers being appointed for their first honours and also those brethren receiving promotions. The presence of the distinguished guests, the formality of the processions and the dignity of the occasion reflect the gratitude of the Province for the work you have done for your Lodges in the past and which you will continue to do for both your Lodges and this Province in the future. To those Provincial officers who are standing down from active posts today, I hope that you have enjoyed your year, but more importantly take this opportunity to return to your Lodges with a sense of purpose and commitment to support newer members, improve the quality of the ceremonies and enrich the experience of all members. I must mention two officers who have been nothing short of superb in their year of office – my Wardens, WBros Nigel Middleton and Prakash Dewani. Not only have they carried out an enormous number of visits to Lodges this year – in excess of 160 – they have also been Masters of their respective Lodges during the year. I and the Province are deeply indebted to both of you not just for the number of your visits, but for the quiet and supportive way you have worked with the Lodges over the year.
Finally, I can confirm that the charitable aspect of the Province continues to develop well. The accounts of the Bristol Masonic Benevolent Institution and the Bristol Masonic Charitable Trust will be published in the year book but grants to individuals and local charities exceeded £100k, supporting over 30 local Charities, with donations ranging from hundreds of pounds to large scale donations to St Peter’s Hospice and full credit is due to the treasurer and secretary, Lynton Whyatt and Paul Binding for their many, many years of service to the Charity. Now that the Festival has come to fruition, I am keen that Lodges should look to continue to raise funds and identify local charities deserving of their aid. In addition, we are looking to enhance that work by creating a “matched-funding” scheme whereby the BMBI can support the efforts of individual Lodges. A further increment may be available, by an application to the Masonic Charitable Foundation by the BMBI, where evidence of appropriate due diligence has been carried out. This “bottom-up” approach means that Masons will be able to support local charities with a far greater impact than hitherto.
This brings me neatly onto our latest project. It will not have escaped your notice that during the summer recess last year, Freemasons’ Hall, Park Street underwent a transformation in the entrance lobby and stairwell. The committee, which looks after Freemasons Hall, signed off on a dramatic re-design to the décor and lighting to amazing effect. This has indeed made visiting the hall, a WOW factor experience. In addition to this work, I am delighted to report that the bar is now accessible to those masons and visitors who are unable to use the stairs. There is now a mechanized platform which allows for wheelchair access to the corridor leading to the bar and we are immensely grateful to the Patron’s Club for their continued support of the Province. As you might imagine, the maintenance of the Hall does not come cheaply, and we are about to address this issue with the creation of a fund to maintain and enhance the building for future generations of masons. The charitable fund, whose working title is Friends of Freemasons’ Hall, Bristol, will raise money through holding events, such as the Summer Fayre, receiving direct donations from Lodges or individuals and from the receipt of legacies. I have great hopes that this fund will succeed in developing and improving the home of Bristol Freemasonry. I am also delighted to report that we have this week received a donation of £5,000 to get the fund off and running. I am sure that W Bro Steve Bennett, the newly appointed Chairman of the fund will be in touch with you all soon.
Brethren, I thank you for your support today, and your forbearance at the length of my address. I was anxious to cover quite a lot of ground today and I wish you all a great summer break and look forward to seeing you in September.