As I said at my Installation, this job was NOT on my bucket list. That said, I am honoured and privileged to be the 25th Provincial Grand Master of this Province and will do my best to live up to the success of some very distinguished Brethren who have preceded me over the last 285 years of Freemasonry in Yorkshire.
As a Yorkshireman born and bred, I have spent, and still am, a big part of my business career promoting the north and telling anyone, who would listen, how great Yorkshire is, why its people are the best and what they are missing by not living or working here.
For the last 20 years, I have been trying to do very much the same thing at Grand Lodge via my various roles in the national charities, and I am delighted to say that there is a growing recognition that all the Provinces matter to the success Freemasonry and I want this Province to be the one that leads the way.
As I mentioned earlier, this Province is in a good place. Membership has dropped over the past two years, but these have been extraordinary times, which I hope are now almost behind us.
We have also lost a number of Lodges, which is disappointing, but struggling Lodges were never going to attract new members. Due to the hard work of the Rulers and membership teams, we have not lost that many members, which is fantastic. Most have joined other Lodges to make them stronger.
Stronger Lodges have not only a better chance of survival but will also attract our new members, so very important for our future. I think we should all be heartened by the successes of the New Masons Groups and the Company of Grand Stewards, and I ask all the senior Brethren of the Province to encourage these new and enthusiastic members of our Province to further success.
Having been appointed both PGM and MEGS, one of my initial tasks and a theme of today is to bring the Craft and Royal Arch closer together in the Province. This process has already started with a joint meeting a couple of weeks ago of the Rulers from both the Craft and the Royal Arch. This proved to be highly successful and a way forward as to how both Orders will work more as one was broadly agreed.
One of the first of these initiatives, which was put in place some months ago following my appointment, was the creation of a single Provincial Communications Committee under the leadership of our new Prov Communications Officer, W Bro Craig Johnson.
This Committee has already been hard at work, and today, I am delighted to launch the new Yorkshire WR website - details up on the screen behind me. It will be going live shortly, so please do not try to access it just yet.
This is a website for both the Craft and RA, each with equal billing, which will contain all you need to know about both Orders, the news and future events of both Orders and all the other things we all might expect to be able to access on a combined Provincial website.
I would like to thank Craig and his team, especially Adrian Collins, for the hard work they have put in to get this new website developed so quickly.
Not only do we have a new website, but a new monthly newsletter has also been developed, called the Provincial Post. This follows on from the highly successful weekly newsletter, which kept us all informed during the lockdown and was a collaboration between not only the Craft and the RA but also Mark and the other Orders in the Province.
This new publication will be mainly forward-looking, highlighting future events at both Lodge and Chapter level as well as Provincial, so please, if you have something to advertise or promote, please let someone in the Communications team know.
This is all part of the changing face of how the Province communicates with you all. We have the website which will provide all the historical and current information anyone may need about the Province and will get regularly updated.
However, we also have Facebook and Twitter at Provincial level, and there are also a number of specific group sites, such as the New Masons Groups, as well as some very active Lodge and Chapter sites. All of these are current and forward-looking, which is where we need our communications activity to focus.
Whilst on the subject of Communications, as you will all be aware, W. Bro David Simister has retired today as our PCO after a number of years at the helm. I think I can say, with some degree of confidence, that David is considered by Grand Lodge as one of the best PCOs in the country, and the reputation of this Province at Grand Lodge has been greatly enhanced as a result.
David, we thank you for your hard work and creativity, and I am delighted that you are still going to be part of the new Communications Committee to provide advice and ideas.
Other changes related to bringing the Craft and RA closer together will involve more coordinated activities around membership, mentoring and education and training, all of which are being reviewed by a joint Craft and RA working party being chaired by W. Bro Alex Webster, the new Provincial Mentor overseen by the Deputy ProvGM and Deputy GSupt.
So, look out for more announcements in the coming months.
Whilst I have mentioned the closer working relationship between the Craft and the RA, it also extends to working more collaboratively with all the other masonic Orders for the benefit of Freemasonry more generally. This path is now fully endorsed by Grand Lodge, who have also recognised that one of the ways to sustain a strong Craft and RA is by supporting and working closely with the other Orders in Freemasonry.
The first step on this road will be the meeting in three weeks with all the Heads of the other Orders who meet in this Province. At that meeting, I hope we can find ways to support each other to our mutual benefit so that none of the Orders feel they are working in isolation, and we can present a united front to our joint members and to the outside world.
One of the first events, which I hope I shall get joint support from all the Orders, is the Thanksgiving Service on Sunday 19 June at St George’s Hall in Bradford. This date has been on the Provincial calendar for some time now, and the Prov G Chaplain and his team have put a lot of work in to organise a wonderful multi-faith service.
This service is to commemorate and to celebrate the lives of all those Brethren and their families who have sadly passed away during the last two years, whether it be from Covid or any other reason.
We owe it to those we have lost and to their grieving families, who we were not able to support at funerals because of the restrictions, to attend this event. I would, therefore, strongly urge you all to register your attendance via the website or ask your Lodge Secretary for details. I would expect many of the newly appointed and promoted Provincial Officers, both acting and past, to attend as part of your commitment to the Province.
I would also hope that all Lodge Almoners have contacted all their widows, especially those widowed over the last two years, to attend the event when we shall be remembering their husbands and our brothers, as well as encouraging those brethren who have lost their partners, to attend to remember them.
My third theme for today is charity, and, as I have already mentioned, we should be proud of everything we do in raising money and supporting those in need. This has been especially true during the pandemic, and the report from WRMC details everything we have done.
I am delighted to announce today that the Province, with the wholehearted support of WRMC, will be donating the significant sum of £250k to charities active in the Province who are associated with HM The Queen. This programme of charitable support will be this Province’s way of celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and more detail on how these monies will be distributed will be available shortly.
I believe this is a wonderful way of showing this Province’s and Freemasonry’s support for Her Majesty on an incredible achievement, and the Rulers and I are very grateful to the Directors of WRMC for considering and agreeing to our request.
The Province will also be signing the Armed Forces Covenant very shortly at a ceremony to be held in Sheffield. This will reinforce our support of the Armed Forces as an organisation and follows on from Grand Lodge and other Provinces, who have also signed up to this initiative.
I am also pleased to announce that I have appointed W. Bro John Williams, a member of Goderich Lodge and Philanthropic Chapter, as Chairman of the Festival 2028 Committee. John has already assembled a powerful and experienced team to start planning for the Festival, which will be our first for the MCF and will be our chance to repay them for all the support they have given to our Brethren and their families and so many other charities in the Province since they started 2016.
As the West Yorkshire Mark Festival is currently ongoing until the middle of next year, it has, quite rightly, been agreed that we will not launch our Provincial Festival until the Autumn of next year. In the meantime, John and his team will be preparing the way, so please do try to get involved.
The final subject I want to raise is that, according to some, 2022 is the 200th Anniversary of this Province as a separate Province within Yorkshire. Freemasonry in Yorkshire is acknowledged to have started in 1738, 282 years ago, but sometime in the early 1770s, the Province merged with the Province of North and East Ridings. In 1817, the Grand Master separated Yorkshire again and appointed a ProvGM for West Yorkshire.
However, seemingly he never took up his duties and never called a ProvGL, so it was not until 1822 that a new ProvGM, Viscount Pollington, was appointed and held his first ProvGL meeting in November 1822.
The centenary of this event, and thus the centenary of the Province, was held in 1922 at an Especial Meeting at the Cutlers Hall Sheffield when the ProGM and the Grand Secretary attended a meeting presided over by the ProvGM at the time, Sir William Raynor. This is fully documented in a published booklet.
On the basis that the ProGM and Grand Lodge recognised 1922 as the centenary of the current Provincial geography, it would seem we do have a bicentenary to celebrate this year.
As I have only recently found out about this, the Rulers and I will need some time to work out how we might celebrate and mark this important anniversary. You will hear more during the summer.
Before I finish, I would like to again congratulate all those who have received an appointment or promotion today. Many of you have contributed to the Province over many years, and some of you have a lot more to do. The Province is grateful for all you do, and it has been our pleasure to recognise and reward the effort you have made.
I would also like to thank all last years and the year before Acting Officers for supporting the Province in the many visits, centenary celebrations and special meetings in what was, for both years, a very disruptive time. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed your time as an Acting Officer and made many new friends around the Province, as I did so many years ago.
I must also thank our ProvGDC, W Bro Ian Smith and all his team of DCs for putting on such a splendid show in our revamped space in this wonderful setting.
And finally, to W. Bro Malcolm Whiteley, our brilliant Prov Secretary and all his team for organising everything both here and for the dinner, the lighting and sound team, Harrogate MH for the loan of the furniture and the Company of Stewards and WRAOL for their time today in helping to ensure that everyone, including me, knew where to change and to sit.
For those of you not staying for the dinner, I hope you have had a good afternoon with us and have a safe journey home. For those of you staying for dinner, I look forward to meeting as many of you as I can before and during the meal.
Brethren - We are all familiar with the words ‘the honour, reputation and usefulness of the Institution will materially depend on the skill and assiduity with which you manage its affairs’.
Without a doubt, this is a Province of honour and reputation, which those of you, who are its Members, should be very proud of. As the fifth biggest Province in the UK, its usefulness to Freemasonry should be apparent to everyone.
I am proud to be your Provincial Grand Master, and I will do my best to uphold the honour of the Province, maintain its reputation and increase its usefulness to Freemasonry in general and to Yorkshire in particular.