The Provincial Officers Mess, 17th October 2019.
An informal observer’s account.
The months seem to fly by.
I stepped off the train at Margate – punctual, of course! – and strolled down to the prom, passing on the way a most curious pillar box. So – that’s why my correspondence from Margate always arrives crumpled.
A lovely sunny start to the day. The Winter Gardens were filling up nicely, Provincial Officers old and new signing in and renewing friendships and acquaintances. In the warmth of the Seaside Bar I spotted our Provincial Grand Master and Mess President, Neil Johnstone, his Deputy, Peter Williams, and his Assistants David Graeme, David Alexander, Mark Bassant and Richard Wingett. Lovely also to see our former APGM Peter Rodd, looking healthy and relaxed. David Graeme wasn’t able to stay for lunch, owing to another engagement, but it was nice that he had taken the trouble to call in.
We regulars know the routine: make sure you’re at your seat in the Main Hall by one o’clock. Apart from the “top table”, we can sit wherever we like. The four APGMs, however, are allocated specific tables. We can join them if we wish. The APGMs like this arrangement as it allows them to meet and interact with members from across the Province. It’s a win-win, chaps!
At 1256 hours – four minutes early: maybe he was getting hungry – Andy Stevens, Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, called us to order to receive the PGM and his party. John Baker, Third Provincial Grand Principal, led Grace, and then we all sat down to a splendid lunch, cooked by Head Chef Julian Moore and his team of three: Prawn Cocktail, Chicken Kiev with Herb-crushed Potatoes, Roasted Cauliflower and Carrots, followed by Apple and Rhubarb Crumble with Custard. On each table were a jug of water and a couple of bottles of Jack Rabbit Shiraz. All that for the princely sum of £16 per person.
I’m always impressed at the standard of service we get while dining at the Winter Gardens, so this time I thought I’d watch Max Rennie, Bars & Services Manager, and his Assistant, Fiona Shewring, as they directed their sixteen staff discreetly and effectively. The mark of success when serving, in my opinion, is not to be really noticed, and in this they succeeded admirably.
By a quarter past two we had finished our meal. John Baker led us again with Grace, and Neil Johnstone led the Toasts to the Queen and to the Grand Master.
And so to Business. The PGM welcomed us all, especially those who had been newly appointed to Provincial Grand Rank. The Provincial Grand Secretary, Phil South, announced Apologies. The Provincial Grand Treasurer, William Daniels, said that he had had no comments regarding the Mess Accounts. The Provincial Senior Grand Warden, Nigel Fitz, proposed, and the Provincial Junior Grand Warden, Edward Adkins, seconded, that the Accounts be accepted, which they were, nem con. Hooray! Next, the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, Peter Williams, proposed, and the Deputy Grand Superintendent, David Kershaw, seconded, that William Daniels be re-elected Mess Treasurer and Phil South Mess Secretary. The proposal was carried nem con.
Neil Johnstone, President of the Mess, then addressed us. “This is not going to take long”, he began. I always worry when someone starts with this, but our President was true to his words. He was delighted that 130 brethren from East Kent Province had joined him at the recent Quarterly Communications at Grand Lodge, and he hoped that we could do it again for Craft and Chapter in the future. He was also very pleased that some 300 people had attended for a PSA [Prostate Cancer-related] test at the Maidstone Masonic Centre the previous month. “I’m very supportive of this PSA test and extremely appreciative of those who organised the event.” He thanked David Kershaw and Clive Manuel, Second Provincial Grand Principal, for organising and running the Holy Royal Arch “In the Beginning” demonstration, which had excited quite a lot of interest from other Provinces. Several 2025 Festival Events had already taken place, and Festival Jewels were now being sent out to donors, free of charge. The Cornwallis East Kent Freemasons Charity (CEKFC) would be holding its annual Charity Presentation Event at the Canterbury Cathedral Lodge Hotel on Saturday 16th November. All Masons and Companions were most welcome.
The PGM now turned to welcome the Guest Speaker, Nigel Codron. Nigel, a former Assistant Provincial Grand Master and Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies in the Province of Middlesex, is a key member of the team developing Project Hermes – “which”, the PGM said, “will relieve Secretaries and Scribes of a great amount of administration work”.
Intrigued, I and everyone else settled back to listen.
The curtains on the stage swept back to reveal a giant projection screen. “AN INTRODUCTION TO PROJECT HERMES”. Nigel picked up the microphone. He has a strong, confident voice, and could, I’m sure, have been easily heard without the mic. He told us that he had joined the Project at its inception in January. First off, he asked all those who were or had been Secretaries or Scribes to put up their hands. By my reckoning, almost three-quarters of us did so. Just the kind of audience Nigel needed! His talk would show us how we were to move away from all the endless form-filling processes.
Tony Keating, Hermes Project Manager, and Nigel, Business Analyst, reported to the Hermes Project Steering Group which met monthly and was headed by the Grand Secretary, Dr David Staples.
Hermes would be a front-end web portal to which Secretaries and Scribes would have access and where they could input data relating to Candidates, Joining Members, Grand Lodge Certificates, Installation Returns, Annual Returns, Requests for Dispensation and changes of membership status. Information entered in Hermes would be uploaded into the United Grand Lodge of England’s (UGLE’s) Adelphi database system, which maintained the details of all Masons and Companions, which would save Lodge Secretaries and Chapter Scribes E a lot of duplicated paperwork.
Six regions, out of the 47 Provinces and 32 or Districts under UGLE jurisdiction – Metropolitan, Hampshire/Isle of Wight, Cheshire, Bristol, Cyprus and the Eastern Archipelago – had been selected as pilot regions to input, validate and test the Project Hermes proposals as they were being developed.
Why the switch from a paper-based system? One of the main reasons was to encourage accurate reporting and form-filling: currently, Nigel said, at least twenty percent of the contents of every paper form submitted to UGLE were being rejected!
There were four functional areas to Project Hermes: Membership, Journey, Finance and Analytics.
Secretaries and Scribes would be able to update and edit their membership records, which would then automatically form part of their Installation Returns. “Journey” would cover a Mason’s progression from Enquiry through the Membership Pathway to Initiation. No signatures would be needed – a great time-saver. Each Mason had a Grand Lodge ID Number. If a Brother or Companion wanted to join another Lodge or Chapter, the Secretary or Scribe would input the ID, and Hermes would show all the other Lodges and Chapters that the Brother or Companion belonged to and ensure that they were in good standing! When a Brother was raised to be a Master Mason, the report would automatically trigger a request to UGLE for a Grand Lodge Certificate, thus replacing the Form LP&A5 so beloved of us all(!). Not only that, but Masons at each level would be sent interesting and relevant articles from UGLE’s Solomon database.
On the Finance side, Hermes would show the IDs and names of all the Lodge/Chapter members and calculate the amounts due to be paid to Province and UGLE for the Annual Return.
The Analytics side would cover such things as attendance at meetings (triggering a warning when a Brother or Companion had missed a specified number); Lodge and Chapter charity contributions; how much money a given Charity had received from all Lodges/Chapters in the Province; and an automatic notification to Resignation or Retention teams immediately after a Brother or Companion had tendered his resignation.
There would also be a Business Agenda screen with a drop-down list of Ceremonies and other business items to choose from.
Nigel reassured us that the mechanics of the proposed system would be familiar to online shoppers and bankers: nevertheless, there would be extensive training for all users.
If anyone wanted further information, they were most welcome to contact him and the team at firstname.lastname@example.org
“This is the future, Brethren and Companions. We’re entering a whole new world!”
To enthusiastic applause, the PGM thanked Nigel for a very illuminating talk. Hear, hear!
And so to Any Other Business. None from me, said Phil South. “That was quick!” exclaimed our President. It only remained for Neil to pay tribute to the members of St John Ambulance, who always attended gatherings of this nature, and to present Ray Ashman, District Lead for the South East Region, and Steve Walker, District Manager, SE, with a cheque for £400.
Nigel Fitz proposed a Vote of Thanks to the President, praising Neil for his vision and energy in encouraging and enthusing us all. We stood to order as the President and his team retired. It was a quarter past three. Another thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining meeting was at an end.
The next Provincial Officers Mess will be at the Winter Gardens on the 19th March 2020. I’ll be there. Will you?
Report by John Ray.
Photos by John Ray and Richard Wingett