Brethren, it is an incredible sight to see so many of you here today to support this very special Annual Festival.
I cannot begin to tell how privileged I continue to feel 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 to be 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 – Paul Flowerday as APGM, Ted Smith as our Provincial Secretary, and Mark Eyles-Thomas as our Provincial Membership Officer – their service has been exemplary over many years, and I want to place on record my gratitude for all they have done. Of course, I congratulate their successors, Eric Hampson, James Marsh and Jason Pearson respectively.
I’d like to make a particular mention of our retiring Secretary, who has been enormously helpful in assisting me with a wide variety of issues – Ted, thank you so much for all that you have done for us as a Province and for me, as an individual.
So much has been achieved in the last 12 months and many of you are to be congratulated on the way you have embraced our Provincial Strategy. Now that you have become familiar with it over the past 12 months, our focus for the coming year will be on delivery to our strategic objectives and achievement of its goals – with reform and responsibility as a priority.
Our Membership initiative, under M E-T, and the series of training sessions for Lodge Membership Officers, have borne fruit and those Lodges that have appointed a Membership officer have seen the benefit in ample streams. We have witnessed a marked increase in new recruits and some Lodges have enjoyed a rich seam of new members and a healthy waiting list of recruits. In addition, the work being undertaken by John Perkins and his Mentoring team is assisting with the reduction of resignations, through enriching our members’ experience. Our medium term objective is to flat-line our membership attrition and then onward to membership growth, through the proactive measures you are all taking.
We usually receive some 150 new members per annum into the Province. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in this, our Tercentenary year, supported by the increased visibility through Press and Televisual exposure, we were to redouble our efforts to be open, engage more actively with like minded friends and acquaintances, and see that ingress reach 300 new members – I lay down that challenge to you, and hope that you will rise to it over the next 12 months.
Following the inauguration of our Light Blues Club last year, it has recently held its first AGM and elected its new committee – I wish Darren Enright, its Chairman, and his team every success in the future, and I have already arranged meetings with him to underscore our support to them and help develop their membership still further.
Our new Streamline Lodge has prospered enormously, with a surge in initiates and new membership applications. I am delighted to announce that, earlier this year, it received accreditation from the Universities Scheme, with links now established with the University of Greenwich, from which two of its new members have come – and we will be active during its Freshers’ Week, to showcase how membership of the Craft might add value to its current and prospective students. The Lodge is shortly to sponsor a new Chapter and I wish it well in its development.
Following the resounding success of our Motorcycling Lodge, it will be joined by other themed Lodges in 2017, in the field of Shooting, Cycling and also a Marine Lodge, and I am also pleased to have welcomed two new Lodges into our family – Tottenham Secundus and Desaguliers.
Since my appointment, I have been greatly assisted in formulating and articulating our Provincial Vision and Internal & External Communications Strategy by Jim O’Donnell, our Head of Communications. I must also record my thanks to Fred Halligan for his contribution to the Communications Team – within the Province and in the Community – and the tireless work he has undertaken to develop our communications channels. Our Press Coverage more than doubled in 2016 and we are on target to double that 2016 figure in the first six months of this year! Our Facebook membership now exceeds more than 1,000 members and that channel has provided me with the opportunity to share with you, in real time, my activities as PGM and the large number of community events which I have supported and attended, to help raise the profile of Freemasonry in West Kent.
Our Provincial Website now carries my video messages – which I intend to record regularly. You will also notice we are filming PGL today – and hope to be able to make DVD copies available to members. We also recognise that we need to be more proactive in engaging with our local Communities – and I will return to that theme this afternoon.
Our Centres continue to flourish and I want to place on record my appreciation for Chris Roberts, our DPGM, and his team, who have set the Welling Masonic Centre on its new path. The new dining facilities at Wrotham are delightful and I know that it has further development plans. Our active liaison with our Centre Chairmen continues and, at our recent Centre Chairman’s dinner, many topics of interest were discussed, and best practice shared to their mutual benefit.
Your support to my calls for action and your magnificent generosity during the last 12-18 months has known no bounds. Bob King and his Tercentenary team, supported by Roland Stokes, our tireless Charity Steward, have encouraged you to raise incredible sums – of which more this afternoon. Your support to the Canterbury Cathedral appeal, and your superb attendance at its Service of Thanksgiving, not least the Provincial Tercentenary Ball, at which over 320 of you supported Laura and I, were a testament to their efforts. Now that their team’s objectives have been achieved, I congratulate Bob King and his team for exceeding their fundraising objectives and thank them today – at the conclusion of their task – for a job well done. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed.
Today, I am launching our new fundraising initiative to run for the next 12 months – the CALM appeal or Community Appeal for Local Mayors and my thanks go to Roland Stokes and Fred Halligan for the preparatory work they have undertaken to date. Through this initiative, we will seek to make a meaningful difference to our local Mayors’ fundraising efforts, which will hugely benefit the work of those local charities that are so reliant on local financial support – of which more this afternoon.
Brethren, the history books record a myriad of changes and evolution over the last 300 years, and we’ve certainly witnessed an acceleration of that change in recent times. All around the world things we took for granted are evolving and we must seek to capitalise on this zeitgeist for change.
The “Y” Generation, the next generation of our members, has its own aspirations, with views around loyalty, authority, intellect, speed and adaptability to change. And we must capture their imagination. They will not accept, nor understand, the “we have always done it this way” paradigm.
Of course we need to be efficient and provide VFM for our members. Naturally, we need to meet our Membership’s expectations and provide them with a fraternity, which does just that. To achieve this we need to constantly improve and refine our activities and our approach – and this is what next year will be all about. I will also be supported by a different kind of Provincial Office at Bromley, with a clearer structure, and focussed primarily on servicing the needs of the Executive and our membership, and immediacy of delivery in its outlook.
I am conscious of my responsibility to lead and develop our Province in a modern and engaging way, to make the Order attractive in a World that is entering uncharted waters. And that is where Freemasonry can offer most – to provide the principles, support, skills and reassurance that every man needs to be happy and fulfilled, irrespective of secular uncertainties, and prevailing circumstances.
We have been here, for our members and our communities, for 300 years and seen seismic change in that time. Evolution shouldn’t faze us – it will bring out the best in us – and I am proud to stand alongside you as we once again seek to evolve, succeed, and deliver.
You can, as always, continue to count on my commitment to achieve those aims. Above all, Brethren, continue to enjoy your Freemasonry and may God bless you all.