The sociable network
With social media and a pint at the local pub attracting a new following of junior Freemasons, Caitlin Davies meets the Rough Ashlar Club
These days, a recommendation to become a Freemason doesn’t have to happen at the local pub. Ubiquitous internet access and devices mean that social media is now proving an ideal way for Cheshire Freemasons to reach out to new, younger members. Launched last November for junior masons, the Rough Ashlar Club has a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed that’s gathered nearly five hundred followers to date.
The club is a result of the Cheshire Master Masons Forum, whose aim is to make Freemasonry a modern, appealing and fun organisation, while retaining its core traditional values. ‘Our leaders in Cheshire identified that we needed to engage with young guys.
Now the forum has various projects and we’re bringing Cheshire into the modern era,’ explains Master Masons chair Mark Sellers, thirty-six, a Freemason for nearly ten years.
The Rough Ashlar Club launched with a Greek-themed night, attended by around forty people. ‘The idea was to bring mates along to meet your masonic friends,’ says Mark. ‘We’ve not got two heads, we’re normal guys who enjoy friendship and raise money for charity.’
Forum member Tom Browne, forty-seven, says they surveyed lodges and found that people wanted more social events. So the club held a Fancy a Pint night in pubs around Cheshire.
Events so far have been as inclusive as possible, targeting the young but not excluding seniors, and open to family and friends. Plans are now afoot for cheese and wine evenings, casino nights, a family fun day and a Christmas ball. In February the club sold well over one hundred tickets for a race night – and raised £1,770 for charity. Upcoming events include a trip to the Chester Charity Beer Festival.
So, beer features quite prominently in the club’s activities? Tom laughs, ‘It seems to be a running theme.’
Another theme is the use of social media. Forum member Phil Hopkinson set up a website (www.roughashlarclub.org), which advertises events and keeps people up to date with news. A Facebook page has also been launched, but it’s the Twitter feed (@RoughAshlarClub), with news, comments and photographs, that has been the biggest success.
‘Twitter has been phenomenal. Older guys say, “I wish we’d had this while I was growing up!”’ Mark Sellers
Entering a new age
While posting regular tweets and keeping the website and Facebook page fresh is a big time commitment, the Rough Ashlar Club is already seeing the results. ‘Younger brethren are constantly asking when the next event will be,’ says Tom. ‘Social media is definitely working and this is only the beginning.’
Forum member Adam Collantine describes his role as ‘ambassador, champion and a bit of a mouthpiece’. He says the club was started for ‘young’ masons; then the forum realised the median age of new masons is between forty and fifty, so they changed the word to ‘junior’.
Adam, thirty, became a mason by simply writing to the Province saying he wanted to join. ‘I’d read up on it and I was feeling slightly disheartened about the state of the world, the country and the way people behave to each other. I liked the core values of Freemasonry.’
It was Adam and other forum members who made a concerted effort to bring Cheshire Freemasons into the twenty-first century.
‘We said we’d run a Facebook page and a Twitter feed as a trial for the Province,’ he says, revealing that the Province has just started a Twitter feed of its own. ‘I was a Facebook man, but Twitter is faster and constantly updated.
The point of social media is short pieces. I’m at work, I don’t have time to read an article, but I can read one hundred and forty characters.’
Open and honest
‘The people in the Province didn’t understand social media and there was a fear of exposing themselves to criticism,’ admits Mark. ‘There has been a lot of interaction, but no negative press. Twitter has been phenomenal. All the people I bump into think it’s great. Older guys say, “I wish we’d had this while I was growing up!”’
As for the social events, Mark explains that masonic activities are not exclusive from the rest of the member’s life: ‘Wives, partners and girlfriends get to enjoy them too.’ The club’s website, meanwhile, includes a section for people thinking of becoming a Freemason.
It explains the organisation’s history and dispels the myth that becoming a mason is difficult.
Mark says new members are now applying though the internet; the days of having to be invited to be a Freemason are well and truly gone. ‘We need to be open and honest and let people find out about us. People join, they go through their Three Degrees and then they wonder what’s next – especially if there aren’t younger guys at their lodge. They want to know how to get more involved.’
The Rough Ashlar Club’s aim is to help the Craft both survive and thrive. It has created a list of Cheshire-based masonic tweeters to encourage communications between all corners of the Province. And if social media continues to thrive as a communication and recruitment tool, what’s happening in Cheshire could provide a template for other Provinces to use – so watch this space. Or for those already on Twitter, watch this ‘#’.