The Freemasons have set up a scheme to recruit more university staff and students, writes Chloe Stothart.
Under the scheme, Masonic lodges in Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, Manchester, Oxford and Sheffield are trying to improve links to higher education. If successful, the scheme is likely to expand to take on more university cities.
The scheme will focus primarily on recruiting students. Under-25-year-olds make up about a quarter of 1 per cent of the membership but their numbers are growing, say the Masons. Fees have been halved to make membership more affordable for young people and the minimum age limit for members has been lowered from 21 to 18.
Philip Drury, a former academic at Sheffield University and chair of the local group, said the scheme was responding to increased interest in Freemasonry from young people. It also aimed to recruit more young people to ensure its future.
He said: "We have started seeing the average age of people joining getting dramatically younger in the past couple of years. A lot of people in their twenties and thirties are joining, and the student thing is just a continuation of that trend. We have said that if young people really want to join then let's ease the route."
He said he did not know why more young people were attracted to the Masons, but added: "Maybe young people today are looking for something, maybe they feel a bit aimless."
He thought the majority of young Masons had parents in the movement, and several said they would have liked to have joined a lodge at university.
He said some lodges had advertised their open days in universities, while others, such as Sheffield, relied on existing young members to spread the word. Some young Masons might decide to have a stand at a freshers' fair, he said, although he did not know any who had done this so far.
Chris Connop, media relations manager for the United Grand Lodge of England, said he was interviewing some three to four applicants a week to join the Masons, and three quarters of these were between 20 and 30. In the past, he had interviewed one a fortnight. He said: "They like the idea of being part of something that has been part of society for hundreds of years."
Aubrey Newman, emeritus professor in the School of Historical Studies at Leicester University who has researched the history of the Freemasons, said: "There have been very eminent academics who were Freemasons. For example, Duncan Knoop, who was professor of economic history at Sheffield University, was a respected historian and Mason."