On Friday 4th July 2014 I had the privilege of attending a meeting at the Masonic Hall in Poole, Dorset to discuss the use of social media in freemasonry. This is believed to be the largest gathering of freemasons brought together by social media. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss the use of social media as a tool to recruit, retain and inform members of our fraternity.
It is perhaps true to say that freemasonry as a whole has been slow and in some quarters somewhat reluctant to embrace new technology but there is little doubt that the benefits of electronic communication are now being realised. Such was the interest in last nights meeting that RWBro Richard Merritt, The Provincial Grand Master, welcomed representatives of nine different Masonic provinces who gathered to hear two very interesting presentations. The first was delivered by W.Bro Nigel Harris-Cooksley who explained how his Lodge (North Harrow Lodge No6557) had seen a decline in numbers and had turned to the internet and social media to attract new members. Over a period of 3 years this approach attracted a total of 50 New members to Lodges in Middlesex. 18 of these were initiated into North Harrow Lodge and 32 were passed to other lodges. Of the 50 initiates it is believed that 49 are still active and many of these new made brothers are already taking offices in a variety of Lodges.
It seems to me that the key to North Harrow’s success in this new venture is underpinned by a recognition that attracting enquiries is very much a starting point. Nigel and other brethren from his lodge worked incredibly hard to meet, interview and socialise with perspective candidates before they were initiated. Once initiated the new brothers were allocated personal mentors who were supported in turn by a lodge mentor. The length of time between enquiry and initiation has varied. In the early days some were initiated in as little as 3 months, at present 9 months is seen as ‘normal’. During the waiting period candidates are contacted regularly, kept up to date and invited to social functions where possible.
The time and care put into supporting, vetting and socialising with candidates is hugely important. It should engender a sense of belonging in the candidate and reassure members of lodges that candidates are not simply being ‘dragged off the streets’. I realise that some brethren, who joined freemasonry by the traditional recruitment process, may have reservations about this method of recruitment but I believe North Harrow Lodges experience shows that there are men in our communities who want to join freemasonry but don’t know how to go about it. Some may feel that the risks of initiating someone who is not personally known to a current member are too great. It is a fact that there is a risk that any initiate may prove unsuitable in the longer term, but again, North Harrows experience shows that the benefits have far outweighed the risks.
As I mentioned above making access to freemasonry easier through the use of websites and social media should be seen as a starting point. If we are to retain our members after they have joined it is important that new members, especially our younger men, are supported and made to feel welcome. Our second speaker Colin(Lex) Luther Davies explained one of the mechanisms whereby the Metropolitan Grand Lodge are supporting its younger members.
The Connaught Club is an organisation formed to support freemasons under 35 who are members of a Lodge in London or who live or work in London and are members go a lodge attached to the United Grand Lodge of England. The club currently has some 200 members and has been founded to give young Freemasons in London a means to meet and socialise, with like-minded people of similar ages, within Freemasonry; whilst bridging the large geographic area and diversity of London’s many Lodges.
Primarily the Club’s role is to provide events and other occasions, of either a social or (Masonically) educational nature, for young Freemasons to meet each other and encourage their involvement within the fraternity. Events range from informal pub socials to formal dinners and to visiting each others Lodges. This is a fantastic example of what can be done to support our members and there is undoubtably much that other provinces can learn form this.
The evening concluded in fine Masonic style with all present dining together. It must be said that the caterers laid on a fantastic meal and the ambience of the evening was helped enormously by the effort that W.Bro Brian Chidgey and his assistants put into the organisation of the event. No event runs well unless effort has been put into the planning and preparation.
The Provincial Grand Master, RWBro Richard Merritt, gave a short speech during which he explained his personal enthusiasm for making use of new and emerging technology and thanked the speakers and organisers for their efforts in putting together a most enjoyable and informative evening
The Province of Dorset was very well represented by brethren from across the County. The PGM was supported by VWBro Clive Deakin, the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, and VWBro Nigel Leonard, the Assistant Provincial Grand Master as well as several members of the Provincial team. Brethren from the Provinces of Dorset, Hampshire & IOW, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Buckinghamshire, Devon, Middlesex, Metropolitan and even the Serbian Grand Lodge were welcomed. I am sure everyone went away with some food for thought and fresh ideas.