By W Bro Gur Samuel LGR
When meetings resume and Brethren return to Freemasons Hall, they might find themselves pleasantly surprised at some of the changes the building has undergone during the lockdown. Among the most significant of these is the relocation and redesign of the shop, now situated in what was previously the drawing-room. We spoke with UGLE Head of Trading, Perry Bushell, to learn more about the new shop.
In September 2019, Perry joined UGLE and was promptly given a mandate to “revise and professionalise the retail offering” of the building. “We had feedback from the membership that the old shop was quite out of the way, and in some ways, was a bit stuffy and old-fashioned. When they went to buy a new apron or collar or jewel, which was often marking an advance in their journey through Freemasonry, it didn’t feel special.”
By bringing in a visual merchandiser to help in the design and being offered the drawing-room to work with, Perry and his team set about re-thinking how the new setting can enhance the shopping experience. “We’ve retained the four large portraits that were in there and have re-used some of the furniture, such as round tables and glass-fronted cabinets, and coat-hooks from a lodge room, to help make it feel more part of the building.”
At the same time, Perry wanted to address some of the feedback from the general public who visit the museum and tour the Grand Temple. “With the old shop, a lot of the public weren’t even sure if they were allowed in, as it looked so specialist. While it’s obviously still quite specialist, it now feels more like an extension of the museum. Right opposite the shop entrance, we have a big display with all the collars and aprons, and we’ll have explanatory notes about where each apron is from and what it represents. Then to the left, we’ll have further regalia and a display with an extensive range of jewellery which looks really impressive. To the right of the room, we have souvenirs related to the building and Freemasonry more generally. We felt that, for members of the public, after they enjoyed their tour of the hall and the museum, there weren’t many things they could take away with them - so we’ve introduced a dozen new ranges which will appeal to both the public and the membership.”
For Perry, the new shop isn’t just a shop, its an important piece of the wider strategy to engage more with the public about what Freemasonry is and what we do. Towards the end of 2020, a few national newspapers even ran an item about the new shop. “Most people are still unaware that Freemasons Hall is open to the public, that we have tours of the building and that we have a public museum and library. So, to some, the idea of a supposed ‘secret society’ having a public gift shop challenges a lot of stereotypes about Freemasonry, but it’s a story that got a lot of attention.”
Indeed, Perry has even been invited to take part in a webinar by ALVA, the Association of Large Visitor Attractions, who represent zoos, parks, museums, galleries and the like. “I’ve been invited on to explain how we’ve used the lockdown to renovate and open the new shop and dispel any wrong ideas about Freemasonry.” And while Perry admits the lockdown did, in fact, give the team the opportunity to complete the work faster than usual, “I can’t wait for meetings to return and have people come through the shop, they’re really going to like what we’ve done!”
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 44 April 2020 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons - Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.
Read more articles in the Arena Issue 44.