June 1st, 2023 could become a pivotal turning point for Freemasonry in the North Central area of the province. For it was on this day that around 130 ‘lodge influencers’ attended the Winchester Masonic Centre, to hear the Provincial Grand Master set out what the UGLE Membership Strategy means for lodges in Hampshire & Isle of Wight.
This was the sixth and last such meeting the PGM had attended, as he personally set out to address members from across the entire province on what the UGLE Membership Strategy is and why it is so important for every member to ‘buy-in’ to it and to pro-actively support it.
In his opening address, the PGM took the audience back just over 30 years, to the time when he was initiated as a freemason. He outlined that at that time, there were more than 16,000 members across the province. Disappointingly, this has now dwindled to just under 8,000. In addition, the PGM took no pleasure in announcing that he had recently and reluctantly had to accept seven lodges surrendering their Warrants.
In the North Central Area alone, whilst a commendable 5,583 new initiates joined the fraternity during the period 2007-2022, a staggering 7,343 members had resigned, leaving a net loss of 1,760. Similar trends were witnessed across the other five areas. Alarmingly, should this trend continue, the PGM expressed concern that within the next 30 years, there could be as few as 1,000 freemasons remaining within Hampshire & Isle of Wight.
Concluding, and as daunting as it might seem, the assembled audience were informed that a minimum of four new initiates per lodge would be required each year just to maintain the status quo. And that was the ‘challenge’ set to everyone in the room.
With additional input from the area APGM, W. Bro. James Kneller, Provincial Membership Officer, W. Bro. Adrian Fretter and W. Bro. Sam Chapman, the audience were left in no doubt as to what was required to collectively halt this decline. But more importantly, to ensure that everyone in the room, along with the members of their lodges, played their part in helping freemasonry to grow and prosper long into the future. A Q&A session followed.
The evening ended with an informal festive board of a curry meal, where attendees chatted with members of the executive team and among themselves, as they set out to identify ways forward.