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Shifting age-old stereotype of Freemasons

PUBLISHED: 15:00 11 March 2017

Cornerstone members scuba-diving. Picture: Cornerstone Club

Cornerstone members scuba-diving. Picture: Cornerstone Club

Archant

Arcane rituals, secret handshakes and old guys running the country from behind the scenes? That's not what the Freemasons are about, as Chris McKeon finds out

Scuba diving, bungee jumping, paintballing, Apache helicopter rides – not activities you would typically associate with Freemasons.

But the Essex Cornerstone Club is dispensing with old stereotypes, running a series of socials and days out for young adults, as well as instilling in them the importance of supporting good causes.

Since the group’s foundation in December 2015, it has attracted more than 100 young Freemasons from across Essex and east London, including from Romford and Hornchurch.

Open to men in their twenties and thirties, the club is a far cry from the popular image of an elitist conspiracy.

“We don’t have any of that at all,” said Jack Gilliland, a doctor from Rainham, whose father introduced him to Freemasonry. “My father was an industrial plumber, my great uncles were welders, we’ve got policemen, bricklayers.”

There are around 3,000 Freemasons in Essex, and just less than a third are classed as young masons – that is those under 37. Clearly Freemasonry appeals to younger people even as it celebrates its 300th birthday this year.

“I saw my father going to meetings and saw the benefits and enjoyment he got from it,” said Jack.

“A number of people coming in say they belonged to an organisation like Scouting and they wanted to find something else like that.”

But the club, and Freemasonry in general, is not just a social group.

There is a strong emphasis on character and integrity and Freemasons are deeply involved in charitable work – Essex Freemasons raise around £1million each year.

“Young men are looking for something that has meaning,” said Colin Felton, provincial grand charity steward for the Provincial Grand Lodge of Essex. “Freemasonry is even more important in the 21st century. You have to have something to strive for, something that has value.”

As well as a sense of belonging to something meaningful, both Jack and Colin say Freemasonry teaches valuable life skills like leadership, finance management and public speaking.

“If you’re master of your lodge you have to run it like you would a business,” said Colin. “It’s a supportive environment. Everybody is on your side. You are with people who understand and want you to succeed.”

The Cornerstone Club is still in its infancy, but is planning a full range of events for 2017 to foster links between masons and attract younger members.

“They are shattering myths about Freemasonry,” said Colin. “It’s evolved with the times. We have to evolve with every new generation coming in.”

To find out more, visit essexcornerstone.com.

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