Oddfellows in conversation podcast: We interview Grand Master David Ogden

Updated: 21 Oct 2021

Guest presenter Dom Burch chats with our latest Grand Master and Chairman of the Society, David Ogden, about his new role, his take on the past 18 months, and what he feels makes the Society so special.

Headshot images of Dom Burch and David Ogden

Listen to 'Oddfellows in conversation' on the OddfellowsUK YouTube channel now.

The Oddfellows' Grand Master position is one of the most prestigious and respected top roles in the Society, and requires a considerable commitment. Find out more about how members can progress within the Society.

Interview transcript

Dom Burch 00:10
Welcome along to Oddfellows in conversation with me, Dom Burch. I'm delighted to have the opportunity to introduce our new Grand Master, David Ogden. We'll be finding out a bit more about David and how he first became involved in the Oddfellows, how he feels about the new position, and what the next 12 months or so has in store for him as Grand Master. David, welcome along to Oddfellows in conversation.

David Ogden 00:37
Thank you, Dom. Pleasure to be here.

Dom Burch 00:39
So let's start. Why don't you tell us a little bit about how you first became involved in the Oddfellows?

David Ogden 00:44
Well, it's very simple in that back in 1949 when I was born, I was made a member straight away because of family tradition. And, believe it or not, I can actually go back to my great, great, great grandfather, James Scott, who was made a member in 1851. And coming up through the years, there's been a variety of members in different positions culminating in my eldest brother [Eric] being Grand Master in 2000. So I'm very, very honoured to be able to follow in his footsteps, so to speak. It was quite easy, being made a member so early on allowed me to go into the adult Branch when I was 16. Eric was the Secretary of the local Branch in Southport where I live and from then I got more and more involved straight away. And so I went through the Branches part of the Ormskirk and Southport District, and then I started doing national events, and it grew from there. A few years ago, I was made a Member-Elected Non Executive Director of the Society and now I've progressed through to becoming Grand Master.

Dom Burch 02:02
And you must be extremely proud to have got to that role, as you say, as Chairperson of the organisation and Grand Master, and with that rich family history in the organization?

David Ogden 02:12
Yes, and also being able to go through considerable change. There's been change over the years, and none more so than in the last 18 months to three years. The governance of the Society as a whole has changed, but also the way the Oddfellows operates has changed considerably over the last 18 months.

Dom Burch 02:34
And I guess that was brought into sharp focus, most recently, when you were actually made Grand Master? There would have been lots of pomp and ceremony wouldn't there in days gone by, but obviously, [it wasn’t possible] with COVID restrictions. Just talk to me about that ceremony and, I guess, what you're hoping to do over the coming months?

David Ogden 02:52
The annual conference that we have, it moves around the country, and it should have been in Southport, but we had an electronic version that was available to non-Deputies via YouTube. And this was in itself a first time. It was a little bit strange, talking to people and not being able to see them. Usually we've got up to 300 Deputies on the floor of the conference and you can gauge reaction from that. Whereas when it's electronic, it's a little bit different. But, by the same token, it meant that the actual conference, but also when I was installed, was available to a lot more people. And the installation ceremony was made even more [special] because the Senior Past Grand Master that was available at the time because of COVID restrictions, was actually my big brother. It was very personal and very enjoyable. To some extent, this has helped us look to how we contact people in the future.

Dom Burch 03:56
And that's the thing, isn't it, about what's happened over the last 18 months – ways of working and having to connect to people in different ways, and using things like Zoom and YouTube are actually making some of the things that we do more accessible to more people? Is that how you found it?

David Ogden 04:10
It certainly is because the original motto of the Oddfellows, when it was formed back in 1810, was under Friendship, Love and Truth. And that's what everything has been built on. These days, we use the strapline of ‘Making Friends, Helping People’ and the pandemic has brought this into focus even more because part of the benefits of being a member are non-contributory benefits of care and welfare. The impact of COVID has changed the way we view things. We've been able to reach out to a lot more people. Part of the arrangements that we have is that we have a care and welfare section within the main offices in Manchester, but also we sponsor a dedicated Citizens Advice Line. These have greatly helped people, members and non-members, because they get in touch with us and build from there.

Dom Burch 05:11
That brings us nicely on to what's your view about the Oddfellows today really and its place within society. Because as society has had to change and shift quite dramatically over recent years, and you've talked a little about how the Oddfellows is also transforming how it's run, and then technology is also enabling us to do things in slightly different ways – what's your views about the Oddfellows’ place in society and how it can be most relevant and powerful as an organisation?

David Ogden 05:38
The thing about the Oddfellows is that everyone is welcome. It's an organisation where you'll be able to meet other friendly people. You can do this through social events, by volunteering, fundraising, and social involvement. And when we get back to face-to-face meetings, that will be made easier, but there are provisions for those that don't have electronic means to be able to make contact with them. One of the main bits is that you'll always have someone to turn to. I've mentioned the Citizens Advice Line and the Care Helpline, but there's also matters that are convalescence benefits. If you choose one part of the subscription, it includes dental or optical benefits, and there's financial aid and legal aid, that are all part of the package.

Dom Burch 06:28
We're just off the back of Volunteering Week aren't we? Where we like to celebrate just that effort and work that goes on from volunteers across the country actually. And as any not-for-profit organisation, there's a big reliance isn't there on the volunteers across the Society who put that sort of extra effort in to help things, help events, help things tick along? You must be really proud of the volunteers.

David Ogden 06:54
Certainly, we are, because as well as having the central Care Department, every Branch has its own setup on care and welfare. And this relies heavily upon the volunteers who will receive training on how to deal with matters. But it then becomes that personal, individual contact with somebody [that] can help them [a member] through [a difficult time]. And certainly during COVID, there are many instances [of this]. One member recorded finding a recent letter on a doormat when she came home from hospital and was prompted to seek help when she needed it. And she wouldn't have thought about it otherwise. And this had come about because every member was contacted right at the beginning [of the pandemic], and has had updates since then. And then the Branches all make personal contact with the individual. Also is that by having Zoom meetings, it means that somebody can see the friendly faces at the other end of the line rather than just a telephone call.

Dom Burch 07:56
And that makes such a difference, doesn't it – just that personal touch and being able to share some time and listen to one another? I think, you know, one of the things that really comes across from the Oddfellows is just that real humanity of caring about other people, and being that friendly smile and that listening ear.

David Ogden 08:15
Yes. And certainly the electronic improvements that we've had has been able to reach a lot more of the membership. I'm part of the Ormskirk and Southport District. One of the elements of the District is actually the Isle of Man. Now, of course, that creates its own [geographic] problems. But by using electronic meetings, we're actually seeing a lot more people. And they're seeing more of what we're doing. This is happening up and down the country. There are national events now, over 100 a month, that any member up and down the country can join in. And this is making a big difference to a lot of people.

Dom Burch 08:55
And that must be really exciting for members who have got clearly things they have in common with people in different parts of the country that they wouldn't necessarily normally come into contact with. They must be making some really interesting and fun connections with one another.

David Ogden 09:10
Well, yes, and all sorts of activities that they wouldn't have thought about. There is so much that an individual can look at, and they can pick and choose what they want to do. And one of the good things is that if anybody travels up and down the country at any time, they know that they can check to see if there's any local activities in an area that they're going to.

Dom Burch 09:33
So let's move on to you really, in this role. I mean, being Grand Master, it comes with a huge amount of history and, I guess, importance. Is it a bit daunting taking on the role of Grand Master?

David Ogden 09:46
Apart from being such an honour, it can be daunting because we don't know where we're going exactly. Normally, by this time after just being installed as Grand Master, you would know what you need to do for the next 12 months or so, but that is not the case [now]. But at least it keeps you on your toes. It means that we can build on the new normal. We can have greater contact with members. And that the talking and listening to members through social events, be it online or when we get back to face-to-face, is going to be the important part. And it's to get the balance because some people are concerned that we'll just go back to the old ways of just having meetings face-to-face. But we are committed to having a mix so that we can reach as many people as possible.

Dom Burch 10:37
What's the thing that you haven't been able to do over the last 18 months that you really look forward to being able to do again, particularly in your role as Grand Master?

David Ogden 10:45
Attend dinners and speak to people, and get to know individual members throughout the country. All the Directors are invited to speak at meetings and particularly dinners, and this is one of the best ways of getting a good idea of what the individual member wants and needs up and down the country.

Dom Burch 11:09
And, as somebody who has been involved, right from the moment you were born – if there was somebody watching or listening who perhaps doesn't know a lot about the Oddfellows, but it's been sort of, you know, you've piqued their interest, and they're considering becoming a member, or perhaps know other people they'd like to recommend to apply to join, what would you say to somebody who's listening? What are the things that really make it special for you?

David Ogden 11:32
Personal contact. That we're not just sending out newsletters and being centralised, that everything is available up and down the country, that it is a personal matter and that you've always got somebody to speak to – and this is the main thing. Sometimes people don't appreciate just what they get for their money. One of the things I've not mentioned is the social history, that we have an archive system, and if you’re a member you've got free access to that at any time. And this is going back a couple of 100 years. Having the opportunity to be able to talk to somebody when you need it. This is what we want to encourage people more and more is to make contact with the Branches or our central office in Manchester. There's always somebody there that can help and signpost them in the way that they need.

Dom Burch 12:25
And just knowing that that support of somebody who's like-minded and shares your values, and has a real sense of pride in the organization – that must be such a warm feeling for people.

David Ogden 12:38
Well, yes. And this is the thing is that you meet many people who don't have the opportunity of meeting people in the same sort of situation. They take comfort by being at meetings, going to social events and talking to people who are very much like themselves. Getting together as a collective, they feel even more of [the] benefit to it.

Dom Burch 13:02
And that's the other thing that some people might not know is just how much money is raised for charity as part of the organisation and that giving back to local societies, to local communities.

David Ogden 13:15
We do have charity begins at home because we have one fund that started back in the 1800s [which] is the Orphan Gift Fund. Any member who is a child, or is the child of a member, and loses a parent are entitled to cash grants while they're in education. And this will not only be just cash for general purpose, but for specific items, clothing, school educational trips. We have a central fund known as the H A Andrews Memorial Fund. This is our third year of an £85,000 total going to King's College London and Guy’s Hospital The Lupus Unit on [research into] mechanisms underlying the loss of B cell tolerance in lupus and we are now looking for a new medical research project to fund for the coming two or three years. Up and down the country, all the individual Branches will have their own local charities. They will take part in all sorts of activities. And usually it's the social activities that raise the most and they all enjoy having their own fundraising, and it's part of the process because, again, people get to know other people when they're at these events.

David Ogden 14:35
Well the society operates its commercial business under the brand name of Unity Mutual, which has its own website. It has a variety of ways in which people can invest money, such as for retirement or the first time purchase of a house through the Flexible Lifetime ISA. We also have Guaranteed Investment Bonds and full details can be found on the website. We’re also looking to develop further products as time goes by.

Dom Burch 15:04
I just like to say thank you, David, for joining us on Oddfellows in conversation. It has been an absolute pleasure getting to know you and hearing about your plans for the coming months and years ahead. And I look forward to you to be able to attend at least a few more dinners before you end the role. Once again, thank you for coming on to Oddfellows in conversation.

David Ogden 15:26
Well, thank you Dom. It's been very interesting having this conversation with you. And I just hope that people will look at us and decide to join. Thank you.

End of interview.