On Thursday, 22 April 2021 the Grand Secretary, R.W.Bro. Ryan A Williams, P.G.J.W. called a Zoom Virtual meeting to advise the brethren of the decision reached by Grand Lodge in conjunction with the two Provincial Grand Masters, following the receipt by Grand Lodge of R. W. Bro. Russell Howard's intention and wish to retire in June 2021, subsequently extended to November.
The Grand Secretary along with the Provincial Grand Masters for both the Bedfordshire and the Northamptonshire & Huntingdonshire Mark Provinces, R.W.Bro. Russell Howard and R.W.Bro. Bob Stokes, fielded questions and held discussions about the proposed amalgamation of the two Provinces, which, despite a technical hitch on the limitation by Zoom of members of both Provinces being able to attend, for which the Grand Secretary apologised, none the less the number exceeded 100 and both Provinces appeared to be well represented.
It was considered beneficial for the two Provinces to amalgamate and thereby gain from the benefits and effectiveness of a larger province, which will be known as ‘Northampton, Huntingdon and Bedford’ - the name adopted by the Province when it was first established in 1894, prior to Bedfordshire splitting off to form their own Province some 35 years ago and it is planned that it will be constituted on Saturday, 6 November 2021.
(R.W.Bro. Williams justified the choice of name for the new Province, as they were unable to find a Regalia Supplier capable of fitting "Northamptonshire, Huntingdonshire and Bedfordshire" onto an Apron badge or Collar Jewel).
They explained that the amalgamation is certainly not intended to be a take-over, but a marriage of equals in every respect.
Combining the ~500 MMM's of Northants & Hunts with the ~180 of Bedfordshire will create a much enlarged Province, able to benefit from the economies of scale associated with a larger jurisdiction, such as the appointment of an Assistant Provincial Grand Master and several additional Provincial Appointments.
The number of Grand Lodge appointments would relate to the national allocation based on the number of members of a Province (not memberships), a figure was not quantified. The Provincial Grand Master of the newly amalgamated Province will select his Officers with an intention to develop a balanced list based on location, experience and originating Province which will inevitably result in some Active Officers in both Provinces standing down in November.
Many points and concerns were raised by brethren, the majority of which had already been considered. RWBro Williams explained that although not regular occurrences, Provincial amalgamations are not unprecedented and that they had already seen and determined optimum resolutions for many aspects during previous amalgamations. However some financial questions in respect of the current Provinces' General and Charitable funds were deferred for the time being as was the exact future of Bedfordshire's inter-lodge visiting vessel, their 'Travelling Keystone' that was still being discussed and needed to be decided by brethren of the individual Provinces prior to the unification. On a question of Lodges Amalgamating, the Grand Secretary commented that each request would be considered on its merits. Reference was made to a Past Master's Lodge and again it was suggested that such might be considered in the future.
In answer to a question relating to the Provinces membership database - the Grand Secretary responded Provinces should not be using local databases in preference to Keystone Online which is the authorised repository of membership data. However, we do recognise that local practices exist. In this case, the information retained locally in both Provinces will be uploaded to KoL and will still be accessible
With regard to regalia the meeting was advised that Active Officers would receive a new Collar jewel and where appropriate an apron roundel. Holders of a Past Provincial Grand Rank of each Province would retain their present regalia, which would change on an appointment or promotion in the new Province post November 2021. Whilst the second-hand stock of Provincial Collar Jewels and Roundels held by this Province would be of no use in the new Province they may have a value to collectors.
The response given to matters relating to a Province tie, Logo, Banners etc, was none of these items are necessary for the constitution of the new Province but, in the fullness of time, they will be addressed. Plans for a combined website development will be assessed as a sensible way forward.
The RAM Assembly due to be held in December, would be held under the umbrella of the new Province and offered an opportunity for those members and their partners of R.A.M. Lodges in Bedfordshire to join us. Similarly, an invitation was extended to the Bedfordshire members to partake in the weekly coffee morning and the Mark weekend.
The meeting was very positive and R.W.Bro. Ryan Williams said it was intended to hold another Zoom meeting later in the year, to advise brethren of the actions that had been resolved and identify any other outstanding points remaining to be solved.
I am sure that you will appreciate that there is a lot of work to be undertaken, but all in all, this was a very useful and instructional meeting.