Q, You have been in office as the Assistant Provincial Grand Master for close on a year now, and appointment that took a lot of people by surprise.
Can you recall how your appointment came about?
A, to be honest I was as surprised as everyone else when I first received the call from our PGM, and I recall it was quite a long conversation. He firstly advised me that the former APGM had decided to step down and asked me if I would consider taking that role on, which was a bit of a shock in many respects. However, we chatted through what the role involved, the Challenges ahead, the levels of commitment required (both time and indeed financial) and he asked me to consider it.
To be honest it was the challenge of the role and the work ahead which was the main attraction, and I was pleased to embrace that challenge, and the opportunity of being involved with the new initiatives, and to give the role my best shot.
Q, how are you finding it so far?
A, one of the very first things I realised is there is no manual with the role, and the learning curve is quite steep! However, I have enjoyed great support from the Provincial team and Past Leaders and have been well received by all our Mark and RAM lodges.
It’s also been great to enjoy a level of autonomy in the decision-making process, and of course very interesting to be involved in leadership initiatives, discussions and indeed decisions.
Q, Despite being the Deputy Festival Chairman, which I imagine takes up a fair amount of time, you are also involved in the various membership drives- How did that come about, and how do you manage this as well as your other duties?
A, to be honest I have worked closely with our Provincial Grand Master in the past, so I know that we are both of a similar outlook. We all work closely with the provincial Team and encourage them to take on a role or aspect, without overloading them, and it’s this coordinated approach which greatly helps when we manage the various aspects we are steadily working on.
On the Festival of course our Chairman Steve Simpson and I again work closely, and we are similarly working with the festival team to ensure that our final year of Fundraising is as successful as it deserves to be for the 2024 Festival, and that the team works well together.
The Membership initiative really sprang from the work started when I was asked if I could look into the future of and assist in saving Fidelity mark nr 31, one of our oldest lodges, but who were struggling post pandemic with members.
I set about this, meeting the Lodge (establishing their desire to work with us) and we managed to find four or five local joining members, who for whatever reason had left the Mark in recent years, but who have since joined.
Fidelity has recently advanced its first new member in a few years, and is shortly holding an Open-Door meeting, with a view to introducing the mark degree to suitable potential candidates, so has in many respects turned the corner and is now again sustainable going forward.
Shortly after taking over as APGM, we recognised the need for a new membership strategy and approach, aimed to maintain sustainability of our existing Lodges, and so the idea of creating a team for that purpose was born.
Q, you mention the Open-Door Meetings- what are they, and how do they differ from the previous Friendship meetings?
A, having appointed a small select team to assist, which ultimately is now headed by Russ Dodd, we firstly looked at the friendship meeting presentation, which was to be fair over 20 years old, and whilst in its day was a very successful document and approach, was we felt a little dated and in need of review, but equally we looked at how a presentation is delivered.
In the past this was largely left to the individual Lodges to present, which from experience had varying results, and we decided that a more hybrid approach should be used, with a Provincial team working with the Lodge officers to between them undertake the demonstration, the idea being that a more polished result would be achieved.
The actual Open-door document was produced by Russ Dodd, Keith Evans and Graeme Sambrook, and with the additional members including Simon Wall, Simon Porter, and Derek Scott, the core demonstration team was born.
It was trialed at Dukinfield Mark (whom had approached us for help again with low numbers being their main issue) in January, the very first time our PGM and indeed new Deputy had seen it, to great success, with all 7 of the none Mark Masons attending having since been advanced into various Mark Lodges (albeit one or two ended up in East Lancashire!).
The evening also featured a “fun” festive board, in that case an old English Night, ran by Peter Conroy, and the emphasis was not on a hard sell- more on an increased awareness with the potential candidate sat next to their potential sponsor, to ask any questions and enjoy themselves.
Although Dukinfield didn’t immediately pick up any new candidates from that meeting, two who had joined in our neighbouring province have now applied to join, and they I’m informed they in turn will be proposing a further two new members for advancement at the next meeting, with the application forms already in hand.
The emphasis of the open door is about providing the information in a relaxed and fun way, including an enjoyable festive board, with no “hard sell” as such- it’s more about the potential candidate enjoying themselves, and engaging in the “find out more” conversation, and making their own mind up.
Q, you mentioned Dukinfield Mark, and of course there is I understand a new RAM being Consecrated soon, the Benjamin Addy Lodge of Royal Ark Mariners. Can you tell me how that came about?
A, when we were looking into the sustainability of Dukinfield, we also noted that Ashton and District Mark (who also meet in the same Hall) equally had a smaller than average number of members, about half of whom where members of RAM degree, but in our neighbouring Province, and not Cheshire.
Seeing how successful a RAM that meets on the same evening, immediately before the Mark Lodge can be- with time and financial savings for our brethren who are still working (two meetings 1 meal) we looked into the feasibility of introducing a RAM to that Hall, meeting in rotation before the two Mark lodges, which of course would hopefully boost attendance- which certainly works for other Lodges across the Province.
Having initially discussing the idea with Bill Emery from Dukinfield, he approach Ashton and District, and uncovered a great level of support to consecrate a new RAM lodge between them, and so far I’m aware that they have 27 founders who have been included in the application, and 7 prospective candidates for Elevation, so fingers crossed, the team looking after this, which includes Bill, Barrie Sant and Steve Headdock, will be successful in their submission, with a potential consecration date hopefully, all things being equal, early in 2024.
Q, can elaborate on the “Magic of the Mark” and Travelling Maul initiatives?
A, the Magic of the Mark was a national initiative introduced by Grand Mark, but with each Province able to put its own introduction and indeed identity to it.
The aim is to increase positive awareness of our Order, and from that increase our numbers, and the material or medium we are using is of course the trifold leaflets, which should now be available at each of our Masonic Halls and the business cards with QR codes directing the recipient to Magic of the Mark video.
We ask our members to pass these to none Mark members, so they may find out more or start the conversation.
The Travelling Maul initiative is really a revisit to the similar idea of the Travelling Ashlar, but with a slight difference. When the maul is claimed, it attends the claiming Lodges next meeting, accompanied by one of the Provisional Leaders, and several acting provincial officers, which hopefully may make it an even more interesting meeting for the new candidate(s).
However, to ensure there are no diary clashes, the Maul claim can be prebooked, by emailing Markapgm@cheshiremarkmasons.co.uk and we can then advise the when and where the claim can be made and commit to attending the advancement or elevation at your Cheshire lodge.
Q, so what is an Adoniram Nugget?
A, this is essentially a small presentation of about 10 minutes which can be delivered in a Royal Arch Chapter for the Companions, giving them information about our friendly degree- again something that comes under our membership team, who can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q, apart from the 2024 Festival, what else are you currently working on?
A, that would be telling! On the membership front we will continue to look at taking the Open door and Adoniram Nuggets across the province, with the Open-door meetings ideally hosted by a Mark Lodge that needs a bit of a membership boost.
We are also of course looking to retention of our existing members, and support promotion for the Royal Ark mariner degree, something we aim to introduce after the summer break.
From a festival perspective I’m working with the team to ensure the MMH challenge goes without a hitch, and that we have a full suitable list of events for the final year of our Festival.
Beyond that we are of course still quite busy visiting and supporting lodges across the province until the Summer, I almost said break, but behind the scenes we will be working hard for next season.
Of course, our immediate focus remains the sesquicentenary celebrations in June and looking further ahead to the culmination of the 2024 festival, at the banquet planned at the Concord suite in Manchester Airport, in July of that year (details to follow).
Q, have you got a message or anything you would like to say to our brethren?
A, I’d like to thank them for their help and support that we have received and hope that continues.
We are seeing a lot of advancements and indeed elevations across our province, and although the information is of course very much a moving target and won’t be available until mid-summer, the trend is one of small steady growth, something we all need to work to maintain if we can.
However, I was reminded a few weeks back that perhaps one of the most important things we can all do, is to contact any members that we haven’t seen in our lodges recently, and just see if they are ok, and invite them back along to a meeting.
Of course, post pandemic we will see a number of members who may still be cautious about returning, and if we are not careful they may not return at all, if we don’t maintain that contact.
As an order, we pride ourselves as being the friendly degree, so surely, we should all look to keep in friendly contact with those members and even past members we haven’t seen for a while, and perhaps remind them about how much they enjoyed our lodges.
As a member of the provincial team, I look forward to continuing to the visit and support our Mark and Ram Lodges across the Province, and to enjoy the company of the Cheshire Brethren when we can.