Report on the Provincial Officers’ Mess - Autumn 2015
By Worshipful Brother Steve Bispham
The Autumn meeting of the Provincial Officers’ Mess was held at the Winter Gardens, Margate on Thursday 15th October, attended by more than 200 provincial officers who enjoyed a splendid luncheon and an interesting meeting.
Proceedings were opened at 13.04 by the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies (Craft), Worshipful Brother Neil Johnstone who called on all present to receive the President and Vice-President of the Mess: Right Worshipful Brother Geoffrey Dearing and Worshipful Brother Peter Williams.
The President called upon the Third Provincial Grand Principal, Excellent Companion Roger Croucher, to deliver Grace after which the brethren were served an excellent lunch comprising Steak and Ale pie,
Lemon tart with fruit and cream followed by the ubiquitous cheese, biscuits and grapes.
During the meal the President took wine with all present, the Vice-President, the Past President - Right Worshipful Brother John Bonomy - and the Mess Secretary and Treasurer, Worshipful Brothers David Alexander and William Daniels. The President also enthusiastically took wine with the esteemed Guest Speaker, Mrs Heather Newton, from Canterbury Cathedral.
At the conclusion of the meal Grace was again delivered by Roger Croucher.
The President then rose to propose the usual toasts to Her Majesty The Queen and The Grand Master.
Turning to the meeting agenda, the President reported apologies from past and present members of the Provincial Executive and other distinguished brethren.
The President alluded to the unusual situation of having received a formal question and he promised to respond to it later in the meeting, which was a tantalising and exciting prospect to the brethren who looked forward to this with relish!
The President announced that he would be particularly reporting on the support in relation to Canterbury Cathedral and the preparations for the anniversary celebrations in 2017.
He then invited the Treasurer, William Daniels, to describe the background to the Mess Accounts to 31st May 2015, which had been circulated.
The Treasurer immediately thanked the staff in the Provincial Office who gave excellent and much appreciated support with the Mess administration, which is considerable. He confirmed that all efforts are made to minimise costs and that, although the reserves were less than stated, that this is due to a change in accounting methods and that the Mess accounts are in a healthy state.
However, the Treasurer pointed out that, following a review, it would be prudent to increase the revenue stream. It was not proposed to increase subscriptions at present but that new members should pay an increased joining fee of £25, which would include the first year’s subscription. For obvious reasons, the financial situation would continue to be monitored.
The Provincial Senior Grand Warden, Worshipful Brother David Heley proposed that the accounts should be accepted. This was seconded by the Provincial Junior Grand Warden, Worshipful Brother James Reuther and carried unanimously.
There then followed the elections of Mess Treasurer and Mess Secretary. There being no other nominations, Worshipful Brothers William Daniels and David Alexander were unanimously re-elected having been proposed by Worshipful Brother Peter Rodd and seconded by Worshipful Brother David Kershaw.
The question previously alluded to was then addressed. This concerned the fees levied by the United Grand Lodge of England which, the questioner stated, had increased by 44% since 2010.
The President reported some very interesting background to the fees and noted that these had been frozen at provincial level for a number of years but that UGLE fees had risen.
He explained that the costs of running UGLE, with an old but splendid building of considerable size, in the heart of London, employing paid staff, were very significant. However, he reassured all present that these fees are robustly and vigorously discussed. They are kept to a minimum whilst maintaining the necessary standards and traditions of the Grand Lodge.
He observed that when set into the context of local lodge subscriptions, the UGLE element did not seem unreasonable.
The President then took the opportunity to report on the success being achieved in terms of recruitment and retention of members in the Province. The net loss of members is now at just 0.5% - better than for many years. This reflects the efforts being made in this area and it is hoped that we will achieve ‘break even’ very soon. We may then start to see a net increase in the number of members.
The President then introduced the Guest Speaker, Heather Newton, Head of Conservation at Canterbury Cathedral, who presented an interesting summary and report on the important project of updating and restoring parts of the cathedral at Canterbury. Heather expressed the trust’s gratitude for the training of apprentice stonemasons which had been supported by donations from Masonic charities. Her talk focussed on the restoration needed to the North West Transept, for which the appeal to raise £200,000 by the Freemasons in East Kent, West Kent, Surrey and Sussex was recently announced.
Heather’s presentation was enhanced by contributions from the Past Deputy President of the Mess, Very Worshipful Brother Roger Odd, who has been closely involved over the years. The brethren and companions present were asked to go back to their lodges and chapters and encourage support for this appeal.
The President thanked Heather for her talk and the brethren for attending. After a Vote of Thanks given by the Provincial Senior Grand Warden, Worshipful Brother David Heley, the President and Vice President retired and brethren departed after an interesting and enjoyable occasion.