Assistant Provincial Grand Master John Hutton and the Provincial Masonic Hall team eagerly took up an offer made by Widnes Group Chairman Derek Williams and Widnes Masonic Hall Chairman David Wilkinson and his board to visit Widnes Masonic Hall to see the improvements implemented by Widnes Masons under the Masonic Hall Appeal programme.
The Provincial Masonic Hall team, which comprises John Hutton, halls’ coordinator Tony Hough, vice chairman Steve Bolton and secretary Bob Boal left at the end of their visit thoroughly impressed, not only by the many initiatives which have been done at the hall but also by the excellence of the third degree ceremony they saw performed at David Wilkinson’s own lodge, Victoria Lodge No 4629.
Freemasonry has flourished in Widnes since November 1871 when the first lodge was founded. Burgeoning numbers saw more lodges formed and Widnes Masons first acquired their own premises in Victoria Road in 1900. A further relocation saw lodges move in 1920 to St Paul’s Chambers above what was then Boots the chemist.
Then, finally, the current purpose built Masonic hall was opened in 1959 in Kingsway, Widnes and is home to seven lodges and four chapters as well as several other Masonic degrees. It has two fully furnished lodge rooms the McCausland and the Berry suites which are complimented by function rooms, bar and dining facilities.
Widnes Group executive and the hall’s board work in close harmony which, Derek Williams says: “Has been intrinsic in getting the considerable amount of work undertaken approved and completed.”
The board is chaired enthusiastically and with great commitment by David Wilkinson, together with Peter Carter and hall secretary Gary Turner. Co-opted members are group chairman Derek Williams and his secretary John Gibbon. Together they have overseen a programme of works which has, as a result, been of benefit to all of the brethren who meet at the hall by bringing substantial savings in their per annum capitation.
Income for this programme of works and the resultant financial benefits has come not only from donations made by brethren but also from careful management and from utilising several external sources of income. The hall management have seized the opportunity to make in-house savings by installing LED fittings and lighting to the main lodge room, bar and ballroom, which have resulted in considerable reductions in power usage.
Much has been made of the hall’s position at the heart of bustling Widnes by making it a centre for all manner of community and commercial purposes which brings income from renting the ballroom and hall for dance lessons and music classes. There is also a projector and screen to enhance conference facilities. Pull up publicity stands in the foyer highlights to visitors many of the facilities on offer as well as the contributions made by Freemasonry to the local community.
The function suite is marketed as Kingsway Function Rooms and provides a perfect setting for weddings and other celebrations. The hall is licensed for civil marriages and is proving to be a one stop shop for many events. The Kingsway Function Rooms’ website boasts that, having recently undergone a £30,000 refurbishment and redecoration, the rooms can accommodate a wide range of events for up to 180 guests. Caterers offer a wide variety of table d’hôte, carvery and buffet and have been awarded a five star food standards agency rating for food hygiene. The ball room has a fully sprung wooden dance floor – the only one of its kind in the area. The Kingsway Function Rooms website address is: www.kingswayfunctionrooms.co.uk
Widnes Masonic Hall also has a large car park at the rear of the building which serves the Masonic hall and the Kingsway Function Rooms which is rented out commercially during the day. A barrier control system and CCTV to restrict car parking to bona fide users has been installed. The provision of additional car parking at the front of the building is also underway. Many other projects already completed have included repairs to flat roofs and car park tarmac.
As an indirect result of laying new carpeting, some beautiful parquet flooring has been re-discovered which has been refurbished and left as a feature. As well as this, some tiled flooring featuring the square and compasses motif has been uncovered in the foyer which will also be restored as a feature at a later date. All of which and much more left the visitors to Widnes thoroughly impressed.
The delights on offer kept on coming as Victoria Lodge performed a third degree ceremony par excellence. Master of the lodge Rob Bazley and his officers conducted the earlier business of the evening before Rob handed over to his immediate past master Matt Baldwin, who gave a master class in raising Karl Spencer to the third degree. Karl, who also proved to be a very able candidate, received a faultless rendition of the traditional history as well as the working tools of the degree from the lodge’s assistant director of ceremonies Dave Lewis.
At a sumptuous festive board John Hutton said that the halls’ team, which he fielded ‘en masse’ at Widnes, had enjoyed a ‘fantastic’ visit. He said how great it was to be back as he had often visited Widnes when he was Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals in the Royal Arch. He spoke about the massive change he saw in the hall and that it seemed to be ‘buzzing’ and was a credit to the halls’ management.
Tony Hough in his address congratulated the members of Victoria Lodge, singling out the officers who had taken part in the ceremony for praise. He said that the Provincial halls’ team was there to offer any help and advice on a great variety of different topics concerning the good management and running of Masonic halls but that the team could also learn from their experiences of Widnes. He urged brethren to continue to support their Masonic hall and the Widnes hall team.