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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Multi-Million-Pound London Freemasons' Donation Deemed 'Controversial'

Last Friday must have been a slow news day in Britain, because yet another dustup over the Freemasons made it into the press there. The Telegraph reported that the London Fire Brigade has accepted a "controversial" donation of a whopping £2.5 million (US$3.5 million) from the UGLE's London lodges for outfitting two ladder trucks with extended aerial ladders to reach high-rise building fires, like the horrific Grenfell Tower blaze last July.

Why is it "controversial"? Well, it certainly must be since it's set in 120 pt. typeface in the paper and on the Telegraph website.

According to the article, at least one member of the Fire Brigades Union apparently took issue with the fact that the donation came with the codicil that a square and compass symbol appear on the trucks to acknowledge the UGLE's generosity. 

From the article by Sophie Jameson:
Paul Embery, of the Fire Brigades Union, told Channel 4 News that there were concerns over donations from “secret societies”.
"We don't want to sound uncharitable but our concern is that this is really a slippery slope,” he said.
“The idea of private companies or secret societies effectively purchasing front line emergency service vehicles and having their insignia - free advertising effectively - we are really concerned that could lead to a greater inflow of private money into what really is a private service."
Paul Embery is the Regional Secretary of the Union (FBU). Back in January, he was quite vocal about budget cuts for firefighters and equipment in London, and he claimed there was a correlation of a rise in deaths from serious fires as a result. London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton had requested specialized firefighting equipment as part of her review into the Fire Brigade's resources that she was asked to undertake by London Mayor Sadiq Khan in July after the Grenfell fire. Government coffers were dry, but the FBU's General Secretary Matt Wrack was immediately critical of the notion of private organizations and societies like UGLE funding major equipment via charitable donations to pick up the shortfall.

“Whilst we appreciate the charity of anyone who wishes to support our firefighters, the idea that a professional, life-saving public service has to go around with a begging bowl to organisations with deep pockets is deeply alarming.
“If the equipment is needed to save lives, then the funding for it should be provided by Government. This deal sets a pretty awful precedent that could allow the Government to discharge its responsibilities in the future.
“We also have grave concerns that the donation in question has come from an organisation that disbars women from joining – a deeply offensive practice that needs to come to an end.”


The FBU doesn't want a donation from London Freemasons partially because they don't admit women as members. (Why am I reminded of Basil Fawlty standing in the lobby of Fawlty Towers shouting, "Honestly I don't know why we bother. We should let you all burn!")

Freemasonry across Great Britain is even more heavily concentrated on high-visibility, public charity than we are in the U.S. in most cases, and very large donations like this are not unusual. The UGLE's official appeal donations represent the third largest charitable body in the UK (after the Sainsbury grocery store chain's foundation and the National Lottery), and that doesn't even count donations made by individual lodges apart from the UGLE-sponsored official ones.

In the last few years, Freemasons of the UGLE (and especially of the London Metropolitan lodges) have officially donated almost £4 million for several rescue helicopters in the UK, including two London Air Ambulances. They have donated five high-powered, rapid response cars to help support the work of the London Ambulance Service. The Masons have also purchased a large number of rescue lifeboats all across the country. Cumberland and Westmorland Freemasons recently donated a brand new fully equipped emergency response motorcycle to Blood Bikes Cumbria. Numerous other Provinces have donated to rescue services, hospitals (including at least one MRI machine), hospices and countless other worthy causes. A truly comprehensive list is impossible to compile.

Many of the emergency vehicles heavily funded by the UGLE charities have featured a square and compass symbol on them as an acknowledgement of their generosity and of their dedication to improving their communities.

Many of these donations were made to supplement community services that would have otherwise cost taxpayers more money, or would otherwise have just done without for budgetary reasons.  This current London Appeal for £2.5 million for the London Fire Brigade is a continuation of that dedication. 

But the Telegraph and Paul Embery and Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigade Union find all of that "controversial" and some undefined "slippery slope." Because, you know, "wimmin." 

One wonders if the Grenfell fire victims would have shared their squeamishness.

Thankfully for the citizens of London, the actual Fire Brigade itself is more than happy for the donation and finds no "controversy." From the Telegraph article:
A spokesman for the London Fire Brigade said it was not unusual for emergency services to accept charitable donations and it would be “irresponsible” not to consider any donation that could save lives.

“The donation we have received from the London Freemasons follows similar support offered by the organisation to other emergency services including the London Air Ambulance and London Ambulance Service," the spokesman said.

“The expectation for branding also follows similar support offered by the London Freemasons to other emergency services in the capital.
“The safety of Londoners is our priority and if we are offered any significant donation we can use towards equipment which could help us further protects Londoners and save lives, it would be irresponsible of us not to consider it.”

Indeed it would be.



  1. The inside of the Washington Monument is plastered with plaques, not only Masonic but honoring Odd Fellows, Red Men, and even more unlikely sponsors. When anger with the French meant the Senate restaurant renamed French fries as American fries, nobody went further and demanded the French plaque be yanked off the Statue of Liberty. I will concede the irate tenants are getting Trump peeled off their skyscraper condo, but that is something else.

  2. So just remove the S&C from the equipment. Or make the contribution anonymous.

  3. What a horrific notion: having community services significantly funded, with no operational strings attached, with private funds! Why, before you know it, it might become increasingly difficult to convince "the public" to be satisfied with high taxes and wasteful, inefficient administration of services.

    I assume that the twit from the FBU meant "public service" when he warned against "...greater inflow of private money into what really is a private service."

  4. I have made a number of gifts with the offer to have my name removed if anyone would match them -- they could have all the honor. I recommend the idea because it centers attention on what should be the purpose.

  5. Charity with photo ops and award plaques and names on buildings isn’t charity... that’s public relations and marketing... and with individuals it’s just buying fame and stoking egos.

    Maybe we as masons should take a hard look at what providing relief and the meaning of charity really is.

    1. We do. The branding is discreet (see the London Air Ambulance) but is an acknowledgment that indeed the equipment has been provided "privately" and not from public funds (tax).
      ALSO it is important in England (less so in Scotland afaik) to show to the general public what, in practical terms, Freemasonry is about.
      We have over recent decades been on the receiving end of a lot of adverse comments and publicity - including from leading politicians and public figures. This needs to be countered - and the branding of such major donations helps this.
      Bear in mind that just about *every* large donor organistion requires some kind of 'branding' on what it donates. Donors like to be appreciated since that, even if indirectly, can help the donors get more funds to make more donations.

  6. "Charity with photo ops and award plaques and names on buildings isn’t charity... that’s public relations and marketing..."

    What a cynical view of the world. Recall that this money was requested by the Grand Lodge and that many masons donated, as opposed to some corporation that said 'We need more good PR, how much is in the charity account?'

    Should those masons who did donate to that appeal simply get a thank you email and never even see a picture of the thing their money helped to procure?

  7. “Recall that this money was requested by the Grand Lodge and that many masons donated, as opposed to some corporation that said 'We need more good PR, how much is in the charity account?'

    What a naive view of the world. See, two can play that game.

    “The charity that hastens to proclaim its good deeds, ceases to be charity, and is only pride and ostentation.” -William Hutton

    “I have come to the conclusion that charity is only charity when you give goods, services or money without personal gain, benefit or recognition of any kind. True charity is anonymous.” - Jim Pinto

  8. I haven't read about the "FBU" donating large sums of money. As for the markings, while anonymous charity is wonderful, people (and organizations) are entitled to be recognized for what they do.


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