Brethren, it is an incredible sight to see so many of you here today at our Annual Festival. I cannot begin to tell you how privileged I am to lead such an outstanding Province and I offer my gratitude to each and every one of you for joining us in such overwhelming numbers. I hope that it will prove a memorable experience, not only during our Business meeting this morning, but at the Luncheon and Investiture ceremony this afternoon, where we will be joined by our younger ranks, our families, friends, non-Masonic guests and Community leaders.
Today, a number of our Executive members have stood down. Chris Roberts as my Deputy, Keith Fairweather as my Assistant, and James Marsh as Provincial Grand Secretary – their service has been exemplar over many years, and I want to place on record my gratitude to each of them for all they have done for the Province. I congratulate their successors, Mark Eyles-Thomas, James Marsh, Andrew Waddington and Paul Christopher, each of whom will add great value to a highly effective Provincial Executive team, with an air of can-do and confidence, and a wish to lead rather than preside.
I’d like to make a particular mention of the work undertaken by James Marsh as Provincial Grand Secretary over the last year – since his appointment last May, we have worked very closely together and he has been very effective in that role. In Paul Christopher, we have a sound pair of hands at the Administrative helm, and I congratulate Martin Davies, who has assumed Paul’s responsibilities as Assistant Scribe E and Ian Fraser, for his work as Assistant Secretary.
Such a lot has happened over the past year. Looking back, the Tercentenary was truly a “once in a life-time” event and the series of celebrations that took place during the year will last long in our memories. However, the Province has also had some remarkable moments and has broken new ground in a wide variety of areas. The CALM Appeal has been an enormously successful and extremely popular initiative within the Province, and externally with our stakeholders and communities, and the number of individual lodges who have supported this appeal can feel justifiably proud of being associated with such a tremendous effort. I will be announcing the final figures raised this afternoon and sharing with you our forthcoming Charitable plans until 1 January 2020, and having learnt of the final figures only this morning, I should prepare you in advance to be astounded.
During our Tercentenary Year, it was our avowed intention to increase the profile of the Province of West Kent with a wide range of different communities and charities, and with the local media. We have developed and strengthened our links with our local Boroughs, and the Press, and we joined in a wide number of Civic Events during the year. Again I will be referring to this in more detail this afternoon.
In October 2015, we clearly set out our Provincial Strategy and specific objectives and, this year, we will be focussing on achieving results.
It would seem appropriate, as we celebrate with those who will be receiving Provincial First Appointments or Promotions this afternoon, that I use this afternoon to say a little more about the changes we are proposing to the Provincial Honours system – the recognition of the Freemason and his behaviours – qualitative information, rather than just his activity in Lodge, the quantitative facts – and how I see it developing in the future. We will be holding a “Demystifying the Honours System” seminar in the coming weeks, where I will be able to explain to you the fine detail of how the system will work in practice and I encourage each Lodge to be represented at that time.
By the same token, I would like to share some thoughts with you about the concept of member safeguarding, a topic being actively discussed at present. You are well aware that there is a high level of attrition within the first three years of membership. We also lose members for a wide variety of reasons, but sadly, in some cases, members have left, or have considered doing so, because of the overbearing attitude of another Lodge member or a display of what I would consider un-Masonic behaviour. Brethren, let me be clear here, I have zero tolerance for such behaviour. There are no exceptions to this rule – from the newest and most junior member, to the most senior and highly respected. Any such incidents which are brought to the Executive’s attention will be investigated, and we will act accordingly, without fear or favour
As many of you will know, membership continues to be our over-riding priority and focus. The new UGLE “Members’ Pathway” has been formally launched, with a leaflet listing the 11 Steps included on the cover of the Winter Edition of “Freemasonry Today”. Our Provincial Membership Officer, Mentor and Almoner attended the recent Pathway launch event in London – and you will have seen our own Provincial Pathway events launched this month.
Membership has historically been in decline, although our membership figures have shown a pleasing improvement. However – I tell you this – if we continue to do what we have always done in the way we have always done it, we will always end up with the same result. Our number of initiates continues to increase and we are successfully reducing the number of resignations – what I refer to as “controllable losses” – and we should continue to focus on this as an absolute priority. Our focus this year is to increase attraction by 25%, whilst reducing the number of resignations by 25%, and to actively engage with those members who have left the Craft during the last five years.
We are approaching the 50th anniversary of the formation of our Province in 2023 – wouldn’t it be a wonderful aspiration, for our Province to aspire to 5,000 subscribing members by that key milestone?
The development of our newer and younger members continues to be a focus and Light Blues Club membership continues to rise. I have asked Mark Eyles-Thomas, our new DPGM, to become wholly responsible for membership matters and he will succeed me as President of the Club, with Paul Holmes as Vice President, who has a proven track record with our younger members in our Universities Scheme Lodge.
“Themed Freemasonry” has a major part to play in the future of West Kent as it combines classical masonry with other social pastimes. The Motorcycling Lodge is flourishing, as is our “Streamline” lodge, which has now achieved UGLE Universities Scheme status. 2017 also saw the formation of the Shooting Lodge, and we are shortly to have a Fishing Lodge, a Music Lodge and a Marine Lodge. The Ordnance Cycling Club is now fully established and registered with British Cycling, and sponsored by Ordnance Lodge.
Our active liaison with our Centre Chairmen continues, and Ian McNelly, our ProvGSuptWks, who is qualified in this regard, we ensure that each of the Centres continues to develop.
Our Provincial website will continue to carry my video messages to you all and, following the success with the video montage of last year’s PGL meeting, you will notice that we are filming PGL again this year in a much more comprehensive manner, and DVDs of today’s celebration will be available for you to purchase as a memento of the occasion.
One aspect of my role which gives me the greatest pleasure is the presentation of Long Service Citations and I have always marvelled at the reaction of a recipient, who has given loyal service to the Craft over 50 years and beyond. However, I am acutely aware that many of our members join the Craft later in life, so I am pleased to announce that, this year, we will be introducing LSCs after 30 and 40 years’ service.
Brethren, the iconic events of our Tercentenary year are testament to the way in which Freemasonry has embraced change, and a new direction. The next generation of our prospective members have their own aspirations and we must capture their imagination. They will not accept the “we have always done it this way” paradigm, and we should adapt and evolve so that we can continue to meet the expectations of the coming generations.
Before I close, I have a number of important reminders and dates for your diary.
- Firstly, I am humbled at the huge support for the Masonic Charitable Foundation Ball on Saturday 23 June, at which Laura and I are presiding, and I am enormously grateful to Roland Stokes, for promoting the event and to you all, for your exceptional support.
- The West Kent Provincial Grand Stewards’ Ball will be held on Saturday 30 June at Oakley House. I look forward to joining many of you for what I am sure will be another highly enjoyable event.
- Our fifth PSA testing session will be held on Saturday 5 May at Dartford. Do please make the effort to attend – as many have found out to date, it could very well save your life.
- The “SPRING FAIR” at PGDKC will be held on 12 May and I hope you will be able to go along and support them, and
- The Provincial Church Service at Rochester Cathedral on Sunday 13 May which I wish to see as replete as last year, and perhaps I may enjoy your company at the Lunch beforehand.
Brethren, I remain enormously conscious of my responsibility to lead a Province in a modern and engaging way, which will make our cherished Order ever attractive in an ever-changing world, and provide our members with pride in their membership and a fulfilling experience for themselves and their families.
You can, as always, count on my support to help you to achieve, evolve, succeed and deliver to our strategy. May you have a happy and relaxing summer break, and I look forward to your ongoing support and commitment in the coming season. God Bless you all.