It was a wonderful day by the seaside as our 2022 Provincial Grand Lodge meeting returned to the newly renovated Winter Gardens in Blackpool. Little did we know that just before the closing of the lodge and as he finished his thanks to all present, Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison would announce that he would be retiring from office at the end of June.
Following Tony’s surprise announcement, the entire ensemble joined in a standing ovation that seemed to go on for ever, in recognition of Tony’s outstanding dedicated service to the Province over the eight years he has been leader.
Being back at the Winter Gardens with a full programme and full pageantry was a welcome relief from the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, and over 800 brethren filled the venue. Under the direction of Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies Malcolm Bell, the entrance of the Provincial team and distinguished guests was really impressive, further enhanced by the rousing music from Stephen Derringer on the famous Blackpool organ.
After welcoming his distinguished guests and formalities completed, Tony then appointed and invested his team, commencing with his two wardens. Chris Taylor was appointed as ProvSGW and Sylvester During as ProvJGW and both took their chairs, replacing Daniel Crossley and Ben Gorry. The rest of the acting officers were then invested followed by those receiving first appointments.
All ran smoothly with military precision, and on completion Tony gave his address. He commenced by expressing his pride in what has been achieved by West Lancashire in the year in which we have left behind the worst effects of the pandemic, not only surviving COVID-19 but emerging from the experience stronger. It is now, he said, that we must work to cement what has been achieved and look to the future. The Province is in a good place, already fulfilling goals set by UGLE in its five-year strategy.
Praise was given to Phil Preston, who was retiring as Provincial Grand Charity Steward, and had been in the driving seat for the MCF 2021 Festival, which despite adverse circumstances managed to raise over £3,500,000. Tony then spoke of the successes in membership, mentoring and communications and thanked the officers and team members involved. He also thanked his deputy and assistants for their support, along with members of the Provincial Office and all the acting officers of the year.
Following on from the address, all those receiving promotion were conducted by the stewards and congratulated individually by Tony. The final promotion was that of Chris Reeman of Corinthian Lodge No 2350, newly appointed Wigan Group Vice Chairman, to PPJGW. Chris was Provincial Grand Scribe Nehemiah in Royal Arch during the pandemic.
Chris had recently been discharged from hospital following serious surgery and complications but despite his illness and lack of mobility he was determined to receive his honour in person, and with the help of Wigan Group Chairman John Selley and a wheelchair, he proudly received Tony’s congratulations.
After the lengthy standing ovation resulting from Tony’s surprise announcement, the Provincial Grand Lodge was closed and the parade out was expertly orchestrated. There was time for liquid refreshment before the formal banquet in the Exhibition Centre hall.