The Modest Mason

Growing up within a large family in a suburb of London where money was sparse, the one thing that has always provided a sense of escape throughout Graham Raven’s life is fishing. In this issue Lee Cannon from the Provincial Communications Team takes time out to interview Graham, who is the recipient of an award in recognition of his volunteering work. 

Read how his initiation into Freemasonry was somewhat ‘enlightening’, and how he dedicates himself to making a difference to the lives of others through a vast array of volunteering work.

Starting our online meeting and having exchanged the usual pleasantries, Graham sports an interesting logo on his shirt. The insignia was of REME (Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers), and it was his 5 years of service dedicated to the Crown that saw him undertake a variety of roles during his career. Understandably being taught to be cautious was a characteristic applicable to Graham long before he joined Freemasonry; and yet from very early on it became clear that the values and activities he had been taught in childhood had also held him in good stead. ‘I was brought up in Harrow’ He shared, ‘we were a big family, lots of kids and Mum and Dad didn’t have a lot of money.’ Fishing was something he had been associated with since as long as he could remember. Threaded through our conversation Graham articulated the relevance this pastime has within his life. A constant he could go back to and reset. ‘It was our escape. Every Sunday Dad would take me and my brother fishing, just to get us out’. At 8 yrs of age he had his first catch and most of the school holidays he remembers tying a rod to the bars of his bike and going off with his mates to Watford, Rickmansworth and Harefield to catch what he could.

Having left REME, Graham embarked on a new career as a Retail Manager with B&Q Watford. In terms of stresses and demands he reflected on how it would be difficult to disconnect – in that people would contact him 24/7 with matters that cropped up and needed dealing with. ‘After about 26/27 years with B&Q I decided it was time for retirement and wanted to take up fishing again.’ His desire came to fruition, and Graham devoted more time to this activity. His involvement evolved more with the Angling Trust, and in doing so he became a Voluntary Bailiff. For those of us who’d walk alongside a river once in a blue moon, we’d not necessarily understand the different communities that are drawn to it. So too, the challenges and impacts that those who are frequent users of the river have to endure. ‘As a Voluntary Bailiff I provide information back to the Environment Agency in a non-overt capacity’ Graham explained. In turn the information he provides is used by warranted officers from the Agency to ensure users of the riverways are licenced to. Graham’s strong association with the Voluntary Bailiff Service (VBS) sees him regularly working alongside Environment Agency officers as they patrol the waterways. Although it’s not all about enforcement he points out. A new scheme run by ‘Building Bridges’ sees a variety of different people working together to provide awareness and education to a wide range of different communities about how they can properly interact with fishing.

The initial aims of the interview were to understand more about Graham being recognised for his work as a Voluntary Bailiff. Yet it slowly became apparent that despite being a very modest man, Graham had devoted many years of his spare time to other interests also, in particular scouting. ‘For about 20 odd years I’ve devoted my time to looking after the Lees Wood Scout and Guide Centre’ he explained. The centre itself is one of very few that relies wholly on volunteers to keep its woodlands and building in good working order. His sense of pride clearly came across as his team of 45 dedicated volunteers worked hard to achieve and keep the centre going. What drives him is to be able to utilise his skills and volunteering to as he puts it ‘create a safe environment for kids to do their stuff in.’

The association between his management of Lees Wood and his separate role as a Voluntary Bailiff got some key people talking, and it was from those conversations, (unbeknown to Graham), that resulted in him receiving an award. The Dave Fletcher Memorial Award was created in memory of a colleague that passed away during the course of the year, and it’s purpose was to recognise a person’s outstanding contribution to the VBS. Graham was clearly honoured to be presented with the award, and there is no doubt from the warmest commentary he has received on social media that the organisation had selected the appropriate man as its first worthy recipient.

But how did this all join up? All of these values to service, devotion to others and volunteering clearly had some parallels with Freemasonry and yet it wasn’t until 2000 that Graham had his first real introduction to the Craft. ‘My Dad was due to be initiated in a London lodge back in the 40’s, but it never happened. Yet he’d always speak highly of the masons when we were growing up.’ Graham recalled his introduction to Freemasonry as being a little surreal, ‘I was working as the manager of B&Q when one of my colleagues asked me if I thought of becoming a freemason’ So far as Graham was concerned he’d never known a freemason, so never really knew what it was all about. Having then been told ‘well, you’re talking to one now’ Graham was intrigued and was soon on his way to start his masonic career through Aldenham Lodge which meets at Radlett. What surprised him most was at his initiation, particularly at the part he was able to look around and see who was in the room. ‘Working in a busy retail outlet with builders, tradespeople etc I was amazed by the amount of people I recognised and had no idea were masons. Some of them were my employees and others were regular shoppers at the store too!’

Within his masonic career, Graham has been no less busy here too. Worshipful Master in 2007 he went on to attain Provincial Grand Rank in 2014, and last year he was promoted to Deputy Director of Ceremonies. If that wasn’t enough he has been involved in a variety of different orders also, and this year will be his third consecutive year in the chair of his Buckinghamshire Lodge as a result of Covid. It was at this point in our discussion that Graham shared another especially unique activity he devotes his time towards. Most Monday’s sees him at the Radlett Masonic Centre running what I’d term as a ‘Tri-Lodge L of i’. The uniqueness of it immediately struck me as something new and innovative, a way of working that many lodges could utilise for the times we find ourselves in. That was until Graham revealed that the concept was one he and the Brethren of his lodge had been operating in for decades. ‘We meet every Monday where we can and I am the preceptor of the L of I that services 3 lodges; and anyone else really who wants to come along.’ The arrangement started with Elstree Lodge and it’s daughter lodge of Radlett would feed its brethren into a conjoined Lodge of Instruction. Once Aldenham Lodge was created, they too would channel their brethren to the Monday meet-ups. ‘We average around 15/16 people most Monday’s, and in doing so support each other in attendance at other meetings.’

Even though each lodge has its ‘quirks and nuances’ he explained, ‘we are aware of them and we are always able to accommodate them.’ What may seem a little unconventional to most lodges in actual fact provides a good platform from the outset. ‘For someone starting out,’ Graham said, ‘for me it was a really good grounding. Straight away you were meeting new people, learning new things and getting the chance to visit other lodges’

Our chat also took us over how being involved in some of these activities and organisations have helped him remain resilient in the usual ups and downs of life situations. ‘Sometimes things can be stressful, whether that be at work or otherwise,’ he reflected. Even whilst on deployment in Germany Graham had the opportunity to go back to what he was used to, engaging in the kinds of activities that made him happy from a very early age. ‘For me it’s not all about catching fish. It’s about taking time out of your normal day and appreciating what is around you’. In terms of lockdown Graham takes a pragmatic approach to it’s impact. ‘For many,’ he said, ‘particularly the elderly lockdown wasn’t a surprise. For them it’s just another day.’ He suspected that there were many Freemasons who at some point in their lives enjoyed some form of angling in the past; and yet because of the complexities of life were now unable to access the benefits this simple activity reaps.

On the subject of ‘giving back’ he recognises the notion of people being more ‘cash rich, time poor’ in the sense that they would much rather donate £20 that do the kind of things that are worth far more to people. Taking time out to listen to someone and support them in other ways that have an effect on them. For him ‘the real voluntary work I do enables people to fulfil their potential.’

Every day is a learning day, and as an advocate for promoting mental wellbeing I often promote the NHS 5 Key steps to positive mental wellbeing. Those being:

Connect with other people
Be physically active
Learn new skills
Give to others
Pay attention to the present moment

I’m certain being the modest man he is, Graham would disagree. But if I were to pull out one example of a man who is active in all of the above, then he would fit the bill.