Provincial Grand Master James Anthony Harrison, attended the annual Preston Group dinner as the principal guest of the evening.
He was accompanied by other senior members of the Province, Assistant Provincial Grand Master David Winder and Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals Ian Cuerden. They were accompanied by the Provincial Senior and Junior Wardens, David Asbridge and Peter Allen, the Provincial Grand Secretary Peter Taylor, Keith Kemp PrGDC and Ian Halsall PrDGDC. The occasion was also supported by the very welcome presence of the Leyland Group Chairman Chris Blackwell. The host for the evening was the Preston Group Chairman Steve Bolton.
Over 110 brethren attended the event that gave them an opportunity to meet and talk with the principal guests. In a change of format from previous occasions, prior to the dinner, the usual formal question and answer session was replaced with a general get together where the senior members of the Province circulated amongst the brethren for almost an hour, in an informal and relaxed environment.
The hall chef, Alistair, did his usual magnificent job in producing an excellent two course meal of turkey and ham pie, potato croquettes and vegetables followed by Eton mess for dessert, with coffee and mints to close. From all the empty plates, it was obvious that it had been thoroughly enjoyed by all present.
Following the meal, the toast to Tony’s health was proposed by Simon Wright, the master of Ribble Lodge No 4558 and chairman of the recently formed ‘Ashlar Blues’, a club that is open to all master Masons. The toast was delivered in an excellent manner and from the applause it attracted, was greatly appreciated by Tony and all the diners.
Tony responded by first thanking Simon for his delightful toast. He went on to comment that, in view of the snow and high winds, he had been lucky to be able to attend. Looking out of the window first thing that morning, he said he had decided to let his wife Maureen have a ‘lie in’, feeling certain the snow would need clearing from the drive later!
He thanked all the members of the Provincial team that had accompanied him and the group executive, for all the work they do.
He was pleased to see the ‘Light Blues’ club getting off the ground and the progress being made by the Ingol Lodge of St Margaret No 8544 in implementing the University Scheme.
He continued by congratulating all the brethren who were to receive Provincial appointments and promotions at the May meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge, noting that, as per last year, the PSA test would be available for all attendees. He urged the brethren to make full use of the PSA test, kindly provided by the WLFC, as it could prove lifesaving in the future.
Turning to the recent press articles regarding Freemasonry, Tony asked the brethren to please look at the Provincial website where the response from UGLE is shown under the title ‘Enough is Enough’. He encouraged everyone to be open and proud of their Freemasonry and prompted them to always consider themselves as membership officers of the Craft.
He noted that the positive side of the press articles has been to cultivate interest in Freemasonry with over 50 enquiries from the public being received in the last month alone.
Remembering that Grand Lodge recently celebrated 300 years since its formation, he thanked all those who took part and supported the tercentenary events, put on as part of the celebrations.
Moving on to the MCF 2021 Festival, Tony thanked all the Festival Stewards for their work in supporting the Masonic Charity Foundation. He reminded everyone not to forget that more money comes back to West Lancashire by way of the Foundation, than West Lancashire donates. Currently it is of the order of £1,000,000 per year with £108,000 being distributed in West Lancashire in the last week.
He thanked all those who had made a pledge to support the Festival and encouraged them to wear their Festival Jewel with pride. For those who have yet to make a pledge, he urged them to consider doing so. Tony concluded by encouraging brethren to remember that the should, above all, enjoy their Masonry.
The Provincial Junior Warden, Peter Allen, rose to propose the toast to the Preston Group. He began by praising the welcoming nature of the Preston Group, this despite the fact that David Winder and Steve Bolton both admitted to being supporters of Manchester United.
He thanked the hardworking hall staff for all their efforts in providing such an excellent meal in a convivial environment. He congratulated the group on the formation of a ‘Light Blues’ club and the operation of the University scheme. He mentioned the enviable heritage of the Preston Group and concluded by saying: “Long may it continue.”
The group chairman, Steve Bolton, responded by thanking Peter for his toast to the group and for the brethren’s response to it. He continued by thanking Tony for his excellent contribution to the evening and extended his thanks to Peter Taylor for all the support he gives to the group. He was pleased to have the company of the Leyland Group Chairman Chris Blackwell.
Turning to his own team, Steve thanked the group secretary Peter Ledder, for his organisation of the event and the group vice chairman Geoff Saul, for all the work he does behind the scenes. He commended all those who rose to the occasion and established the Masonic hall on its present solid foundation, with particular thanks going to the hall chairman Terry McGill and his hardworking team. His final thanks went to the brethren for their continued support of the hall and its amenities.
He concluded by informing the brethren that over the last three seasons 40 new brethren, from all walks of life, had been initiated as members of the Masonic community. He asked the members to encourage and look after them as they are the future of Preston Freemasonry.
He then had the pleasure of presenting Tony with a bouquet of flowers as a thank you to Maureen for allowing him to be out on yet another occasion. He continued by presenting Tony with a bottle containing a quantity of suitable but undisclosed alcohol.
Keith Kemp brought the proceedings to a close by asking for the ‘tyler’s toast’ and named Ray Beech for the role of toast master, much to his surprise.
Collecting his thoughts, Ray rose to the occasion with a faultless performance that met with a standing ovation from Keith and those present.