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Fostering Student Engagement

Members from across the UK recently gathered at the Universities Scheme Conference to share best practice and success stories.

Freemasons at a University Scheme Conference in Berkshire


More than two centuries ago, in 1818, the formation of the Apollo University Lodge at Oxford marked a pioneering moment, laying the groundwork for what would eventually become the Universities Scheme. This is a cornerstone initiative of the United Grand Lodge of England to propagate Freemasonry’s core principles to a new generation.

Formally instituted in 2005, the Universities Scheme has blossomed into a nationwide network, encompassing 87 Lodges and seven Chapters in university towns and cities throughout England and Wales. These Lodges enthusiastically welcome aspirants from diverse academic and professional realms – undergraduates, postgraduates, esteemed university faculty and alumni – as well as students aged 18 and above from further education institutions.

Fostering student engagement is the beating heart of the Universities Scheme. It offers members an invaluable platform to forge long-lasting friendships, cultivate self-confidence and life skills, and enhance their social connections. As an integral part of their efforts, members actively participate in Freshers’ Fairs at universities nationwide, collaborating closely with student unions and university governing bodies. Furthermore, the United Grand Lodge of England has halved membership fees for those under 25 years of age, ensuring that Freemasonry remains within reach for the widest possible audience.

A biennial Universities Scheme Conference is held to enable scheme members from around the world to share best practices and contribute to the ongoing development of the scheme. The latest edition of the conference, hosted on 20 April at Sindlesham, the Berkshire Masonic Centre, drew more than 100 members from across the country and beyond.


University Freemasons at a conference


Opened by conference organiser Mark Boullé, Scheme Chairman James Hilditch and Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Berkshire Mark Heppelthwaite, the conference had running themes aligned with the new UGLE Strategy, including Thriving Membership, Coherent Organisation and Community Engagement. The day featured a variety of programmes, ranging from an enriching session on the Members’ Pathway presented by Shaun Butler, Ian Copestake and Chris Hirst, to engaging membership using Solomon by Ken Wootton. These sessions gave members insight on how to best utilise existing resources to better interact with members, helping retain membership and also attracting new members into the organisation.

One of the pivotal discussions during the conference centred around the issue of migration and the implementation of the Migration Policy. Presented by former Scheme Chairman Julian Soper, Mo Afsa, Peter Hughes and Chris Hirst, the group introduced a migration web form that will soon be available on the UGLE website. The web form, slated for launch in September to coincide with the start of the next academic year, was developed to address the complexities surrounding migration and the challenges faced by former or current members of a University Lodge. The form aims to alleviate the difficulties these members encounter in transitioning to a new Lodge or Chapter near to their current residences.

Shaun Butler, Director of Membership and Communications at UGLE, commented on the success of the conference, ‘I’m really happy with how the conference has gone so far. There have been some great discussions about the Members’ Pathway and migration.’ He highlighted the importance of facilitating networking, which he deemed the conference’s crowning jewel. ‘I think the most important aspect of today is the networking element,’ he said. ‘We have brought together members from all across UGLE into one room, where they can meet and talk with one another and share best practices, which they can then take back and implement in their own Lodges and areas.’

After lunch, delegates divided between two sessions, with half the audience opting to listen to the Third Grand Principal, Gareth Jones, as he spoke about the integrated approach to Royal Arch Freemasonry and the ways it can be integrated into the Universities Scheme. Meanwhile, Sharon Whatley from Freemasonry for Women, Andy Mapperson and Stephen Whatley presented a vibrant session about Freshers’ Fairs.

The conference marked a significant milestone with the unveiling of the University Society Support Network, a pioneering initiative under the UGLE Universities Scheme aimed at empowering student Freemasons and driving engagement in student Freemasonry. This initiative provides a central resource hub to assist University Lodges in recruiting new members and facilitating robust participation in Freshers’ Fairs nationwide.

Stephen Whatley, who led the initiative, was elated at the positive response garnered by its launch. ‘The initiative was developed to support attraction and engagement in student Freemasonry,’ said Stephen. ‘We’ve got University Lodges across the country wanting to help their students and not knowing how to. Providing a comprehensive, centralised resource to support students through their Lodges and empower student Freemasonry was the driving force behind this new initiative.’



Dr Dave Thomas, Worshipful Master of the Pentangle Lodge, was delighted to encounter numerous good practices and ideas shared by various members and presenters. ‘We meet every two years as representatives and share ideas and opinions,’ he said. ‘Today, I’ve learned that there are many good practices happening across Provinces, and some of these have been shared here. I’m looking forward to taking these back to my Lodge and attempting to revise and review our processes, making them more user-friendly and better supporting the sustainability of the fraternity as a whole.’

The day was completed with a demonstration of multiple candidate ceremonies in the Berkshire Lodge Room. Using some very distinguished stand-in candidates, Tom Golds, the Universities Scheme Representative for RCG7, led his demonstration team, illustrating how small changes to ceremonies can help create seamless navigation around the Lodge Room.

The day was neatly rounded off by James Hilditch as he closed the conference. In doing so, he stepped down from his role after four years of steering the Universities Scheme, handing over to Stephen Wyer, the Provincial Grand Master Designate for the Province of Worcestershire. James concluded, ‘I was really impressed with the engagement that I saw today. The interactions, the questions and the challenges that were put to our speakers was encouraging and inspiring. The Universities Scheme is in good hands, and I look forward to seeing it go from strength to strength in meeting those aspirations and challenges in the future.’

As the curtains closed on another Universities Scheme Conference, the energy in the room was palpable. Attendees buzzed excitedly, exchanging contact information and making plans to implement the ideas and best practices shared throughout the day. The conference’s resounding success heralded a new dawn for the Universities Scheme, where Freemasonry’s cherished principles and values would continue to resonate across academic realms and beyond.

Thanks to Howard Griffin for his valuable input.

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