A former chairman of the ailing Ivy Leaf Club in Whittlesey fears it could be sold and turned into a Masonic Hall.
Tim Brown, who was Ivy Leaf chairman for seven years until 2020, believes his successor, retired police officer Mark Smith, is keen to pursue that as an option.
“Mr Smith is a freemason and so am I,” said Mr Brown. “He took me into freemasonry – he was my proposer – and when we were both members at Whittlesey, he tried to encourage them to bring business to the Ivy Leaf.
“I hear Mr Smith resigned from the Whittlesey chapter when he couldn’t get his own way and joined Peterborough,” said Mr Brown.
He added that the freemasons held a “well attended” dinner at the Ivy Leaf club last year but he could not attend “as I remain the only person banned for life. I cannot even attend funeral wakes if they are held there”.
Mr Brown said: “The Masonic Hall in Peterborough is very busy with 15 lodges so it would be ideal to have somewhere in Whittlesey able to help with meetings.”
Not a Cambridgeshire mason
Mr Smith told me: “I am not a member of Cambridgeshire masons.
“Whittlesey comes under Cambridgeshire: they already have a lodge in Whittlesey and I assume they don’t have a need for a second.”
I asked about his taking Mr Brown “under your wing and got him to join Whittlesey masons?”
He denied it.
I asked Mr Smith if he was a member of the Huntingdonshire and Peterborough Freemasons?
“Again, this is my personal business, and I would like to keep it like that please,” he replied.
“You have this masonry thing all wrong; the Ivy Leaf will never be a Masonic Lodge as far as I am concerned, and I genuinely can’t understand why that would be suggested.
“I have never had a conversation with anyone about turning it into a lodge and your message was the first that I have heard of it.
“I haven’t been accused of anything other than suggesting I want to turn the club into a lodge which is wrong in every way.
‘You need to check masonic processes’
“I have refused to comment on my personal life which is my prerogative and suggested you check the details out in full (that doesn’t mean just asking Mr Brown) it means checking masonic processes and possibly asking someone who you know about the masonry process and then you will know it’s factually incorrect without me commenting.
“I hear you drink locally I am sure someone you know better than me can assist you with local masonic processes.”
Mr Smith has called the annual general meeting of the Ivy Leaf Club for this Sunday at 10.30am. Only fully paid-up members (there are about three hundred) are eligible to attend.
“The AGM is open to current members of the club only; everyone is expected to arrive in advance of the start time as the doors will be locked and no one else admitted when the meeting has started,” says a note sent out to members.
“Officers and committee urge all current members to attend and support the club as there will be an agenda item following the chairman’s report regarding the future of the club of which all members need to be sighted as there is likely to be a vote.”
Given the club’s membership has dropped from 1,000 to around 300 in the past two years, I asked Mr Smith if he would be resigning at the annual meeting.
He said he would not be resigning.
I asked Mr Smith what happens to the club if the AGM votes to cease trading – he said that decision would be made by members.
Pressed on whether he believed the club had a future, he replied that “members decide at the AGM and I won’t comment until after that”.
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— Cambridgeshire Freemasons (@CambsMasons) March 31, 2021
I asked Mr Smith what happens to the Ivy Leaf club building and assets if the club closes and is sold. I explained that one member had referred to a potential ‘windfall’ for existing members if that happened.
“Various options which will be discussed at the AGM,” he said.
Mr Smith said it would also “be discussed” at the AGM why the club has frozen new applications for membership.
One former member, Mick Speechley, is keen to hear about memberships – he has been a member for nearly 30 years. Until this year.
“Something doesn’t sit right at the Ivy Leaf club,” he told me. “I’ve been going every decade since the sixties and been a member for over 20-30 years.
“Just because I missed the renewal date in January due to holidays and what not, I went up on a recent Friday to renew it.
“The committee said declined and told me I have to use the club more often and put in for a new membership and be voted back on again.
“If the committee is keeping the number of members down to benefit more from the “windfall” if they sell the club then surely this is seriously wrong.”
Concern about ‘windfall’ for current members
He added: “I’m convinced Mr Smith and some of the committee just want the Ivy leaf to fail just to share the ‘windfall’ from selling the club.”
Mr Brown says he was, until a few years back, good friends with Mr Smith – who he had known for many years.
Their shared interests were later to include freemasonry and Mr Brown said it was because of “brothers looking after each other” he supported Mr Smith when he was banned for rattling a fruit machine in the club.
“He was barred for trying to vandalise a fruit machine by rocking it – it was the Tipping Point machine.”
Mr Smith said the ban was made in 2012 – the year before he became chairman.
“I took over in March in 2013 and he was under his ban at that time; he rejoined in 2013 Under rules at that time someone had to be a member for 12 months before getting onto the committee. Mark joined the committee either late 2013 or early 2014.”
“As a ‘brother’ at the AGM I put forward a recommendation to shorten his ban from 12 months to six months which then got him back into the club.”
Rules were also softened later when Mr Smith joined the committee within six months of membership rather than twelve.
‘How I helped get Mark onto Ivy Leaf committee’
“I helped get him on the committee and he helped out, came into the office, got to learn book keeping at the club and when the vice chairman Dave Smith died on holiday, Mark stepped up to offer himself as vice chairman.
“A few months later it was AGM and my wife and I had already decided to walk away – we were there seven days a week sometimes and it was too much. We didn’t even go to the AGM – only later did I hear Mark had been made chairman.”
He said his wife did attend the AMG but “I sent in a written apology which would mean it was in the minutes.”
Mr Smith has a different version of events.
“I have been involved with the club for years and if you know my background this is the only business I have had anything to do with that isn’t doing that well,” he explained.
“My ban wasn’t reduced in anyway, it finished years ago and I didn’t return to the club for about six years after it finished through choice,” said Mr Smith.
“Tim Brown has never done anything for me other than berate me behind my back which I can only assume is through jealousy.
“The truth is he was chair before me, the committee lost faith in him and were considering a vote of no confidence, (I had nothing to do with this).
“He agreed to finish his term but then failed to turn up at the AGM without any notice, as vice chair he left me in the lurch.”
Mr Brown said: “He was not ‘left in the lurch’ as his name was on a nomination paper to become chairman.”
‘Tipping Point’ incident explained at Ivy Leaf club
Mr Smith said: “Just as a pointer, I would check how masonry works before taking Mr Brown’s account as accurate, in terms of which orders come first.”
He added: “What you describe as Tipping Point was the minor incident which I was expelled for a year for. This was about 15 years ago I would estimate.”
Last month Mr Smith said that “for clarity the club are not taking new memberships at the moment.
“The reason being it’s not fair on our current members if we have to close that people who join now benefit from a windfall.”
But he added that “we are looking for new people to use the club, so the process is, come up, sign in a few times, use the premises and become active and then apply for membership.
“The committee will consider it in line with the usual process and then everyone should be happy.”
As CambsNews reported Mr Smith has warned the club is under threat as numbers fall and costs rise.
He listed five reasons why the financial situation at the club has become serious.
Mr Smith says:
1: Membership has fallen considerably
2: Teams playing at the club are down
3: Attendance at club functions has dropped massively
4: As a result, revenue is also down “quite a bit”
5: The Ivy Leaf club “has been hit, like most businesses, by rising utility costs, brewery costs, food, beer and gas and ongoing maintenance to a building that is over 100 years old”
The only bright note, he reports, is that function room bookings “remain at a constant level”.
The Ivy Leaf in Gracious Street is a social club that it owned by its members and since March 2020 has been registered as a Co-operative Society.
In its latest published accounts – for 2021 – the club reported a turnover of £192,039, with seven employees and 384 members.
In its annual accounts Mr Smith noted that 2021 “has been a difficult year for us due to Covid, loss of members through death and people just not returning.
“Things are starting to improve and now and I believe this is by us providing a safe environment through rigorous risk assessments and enforcement of public safety.
“These measures have helped us meet the members aspirational requirements”.
Club ‘running at a loss for a number of months’
However, and fast forward to March 2023, Mr Smith warns that “the club has been running at a loss for a number of months and its long-term continuance needs further exploration”.
He wrote: “Sadly I must bring it to the attention of our members and the community that things need to improve over the next few months otherwise we will have no alternative but for us to cease trading.
“Whilst we haven’t put an official time scale on this yet, it’s important to be transparent and highlight the current situation so everyone is fully sighted.
“Whilst the officers, committee and staff continue to work hard to make the Ivy Leaf a success, sadly a lot of it seems to be in vain.”
Mr Smith added: “The purpose of this notice is to highlight the situation and to ask the members and community to support us more. It would be remiss of me not to explore all avenues and ask for help on behalf of the club before we are forced to close.”
Financial updates, he said, will be reported to the AGM “when we have documents back from the accountant”.
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