• Alison Hodge
    88
    Now that covid restrictions have been relaxed considerably, what is the pattern of ringing organised by ringing societies / guilds and their branches / districts?

    Have they returned to the traditional quarterly meetings face to face, or are they virtual or hybrid meetings? Ringing, service, tea, business meeting, ringing?

    Or is a different pattern emerging, perhaps with different types of event, so that people can meet together again socially? Are numbers participating back to former levels or are people still hesitant about mixing?
  • Nick Lawrence
    5
    Everything back to normal in the Dorset County Association, although attendance numbers are slight down.
  • A J Barnfield
    127
    From my very limited view of the world the push is to get back to the old [pre pandemic] normal, which to a large degree is happening. Not much sign of steps to address the crisis in method ringing. [crisis, what crisis?]
  • Simon Linford
    152
    There are quite a few territorial associations which are taking a long hard look at their purpose or structure. Carlisle DG has had a major reststructuring and others are thinking about it or doing it as well. The St Martin's Guild did it a while ago and no longer has the 'traditional' form of ringing meeting described above.
  • A J Barnfield
    127
    Any chance of the Carlisle DG writing up an article for the RW? Some more positive examples of where restructuring has taken place, with perhaps a bit of a nudge from the CCCBR, might encourage some of the others.
  • Tristan Lockheart
    18
    Is it time for a more local approach? I hesitate to suggest adding another level to the hierarchy, but clusters/sectors may be what is needed to provide progression opportunities on a local level without leading to excessive centralisation of the upper talent in a small number of towers nationally. More formal organisation of clusters/sectors could lead to a greater understanding of their activities and greater buy-in.
  • A J Barnfield
    127
    I would take out branches. Have clusters of towers for the day to day running and social stuff and the association sorting ot T&D for method ringing with some social stuff thrown in.
  • Tristan Lockheart
    18
    Yes, although I would suggest that you could retain the branches as geographical entities and as sub units for the purposes of district masters and sub masters who could act as area coordinators (particularly for the guilds with many towers and a broad area such as Yorkshire).
  • Roger Booth
    19
    Some Districts are active, but these were the more active ones before Covid. Others, particularly the more rural ones are struggling. At tower level a number of the rural towers round here have lost key personnel, and those left are content to ring three (in a six bell tower) on Sundays. They have no one to teach new ringers, and these towers now increasingly rely on social media to source ready made ringers for weddings and special services. As parishes are amalgamated into larger benefices and clergy numbers fall, Sunday services are becoming less frequent. It is not unusual in some cases round here to just have one Sunday service a month to ring for. It therefore seems that in the long term local bands ringing at these more rural towers will die out.

    At Guild and District level numbers have fallen, and it has proved difficult to find bands to enter striking competitions. It seems that the more experienced ringers are being more choosy on what they do with their time. As an ART Tutor I have also delivered a number of ART Module 1 courses (how to teach bell handling) since Covid. It is noticeable that most of those attending are keen to learn to teach, or are inexperienced teachers who are keen to improve their skills, but this is not matched by the number of experienced teachers who are willing to support and mentor these delegates in the period after the day course. This is essential to help the delegates gain experience and complete their logbooks. If societies don't build on the enthusiasm and train new teachers and tower captains, it's not going to help with the recovery.

    I fear that post Covid, ringing will increasingly become concentrated on fewer towers in the larger towns and villages, and the trend for the more ringing to take place outside the traditional structures and Saturday afternoon meetings will continue. The traditional culture is still quite strong and I suspect that its supporters will continue to struggle on and resist meaningful change and improvements. They will be missing out.

    Round here we have re-activated a silent tower in a large village over the last nine months. They now have a band of twelve ringers aged 12 - 65, the more advanced of whom are just starting to plain hunt. They are very keen and we have held a number of social events. They have also gone out to ring at some of the other neighbouring towers and we are talking to the local school about using the tower's large set of handbells for tune-ringing.

    Whilst a couple of District members helped with intensive teaching of bell-handling in the first few months and we persuaded the District to buy a portable simulator, there has been limited involvement from the District. Practices focussed on methods up to Cambridge Minor and the Standard eight, striking competitions against 'expert bands' and quarterly meetings over half an hour's drive away are of little interest to this band. We have just started holding regular 'Improvers' practices (call changes, kaleidoscope and plain hunt) focussed on this group and others in our local Deanery, and they have proved very popular. By being regular, local and sociable, they will make faster progress than the usual annual training day.

    It's adapting to retain the interest of keen new ringers like this that the exercise desperately needs, rather than things returning to the old 'normal'.
  • A J Barnfield
    127
    Perhaps we are reaching a point in some areas then where local bands have collapsed to a point where not even viable clusters can be formed in which case the branch or district becomes the first level building block of formal organisation.
  • John de Overa
    72
    As an ART Tutor I have also delivered a number of ART Module 1 courses (how to teach bell handling) since Covid. It is noticeable that most of those attending are keen to learn to teach, or are inexperienced teachers who are keen to improve their skills, but this is not matched by the number of experienced teachers who are willing to support and mentor these delegates in the period after the day course. This is essential to help the delegates gain experience and complete their logbooks.Roger Booth

    That matches my experience. I organised an Art Module 1 course in our tower before COVID and subsequently was teaching two people when the pandemic brought everything to a halt. For various reasons they've not restarted but I do have a new learner who is making good progress. I'm time-limited as I'm working so I can't take on more than 1-2 at a time and give them the 1:1 time they need at the start, even if we desperately need more ringers in the area.

    There is an ART teacher I could reach out to if I needed help, however I was one of her pupils when she was being accredited and helped her with her subsequent pupils, so I was aware of much of ART teaching practice before I went on the Module 1 course. As for ART teacher logbooks and accreditation, I suspect that's more important to ART than it is to me and frankly I don't think I'll bother - the hassle my teacher had to get accredited has put me off, and she is much more connected to the ringing community than I am. If there was an assessment day then I'd consider going on that. The ART teaching scheme is really good for the handling stages, it gave me the techniques and confidence I needed to teach handling quickly and safely and I certainly won't be going "off piste", but I think it's unlikely I'll ever be an official ART teacher.

    Practices focussed on methods up to Cambridge Minor and the Standard eight, striking competitions against 'expert bands' and quarterly meetings over half an hour's drive away are of little interest to this band. We have just started holding regular 'Improvers' practices (call changes, kaleidoscope and plain hunt) focussed on this group and others in our local Deanery, and they have proved very popular. By being regular, local and sociable, they will make faster progress than the usual annual training day.Roger Booth

    Again, exactly the situation here. Two band members have just become association members but that was hard to arrange and required a drive over the Pennines to one of the occasional branch practices, I think it's marginal as to whether they'll go to any future ones. The same two people have also been going to the monthly Plain Methods sessions at the diocesan ringing centre although that's on the limits of being practical - it's a 2 hour session with a 1-hour drive each way. The rest of the band aren't really interested.

    It's adapting to retain the interest of keen new ringers like this that the exercise desperately needs, rather than things returning to the old 'normal'.Roger Booth

    A big yes. And it's not just new ringers either, since resuming and a change of TC my home band people who have been ringing for many years have a renewed interest, there's a band BBQ at the church next month and there's been talk of arranging a tower outing. And for the first time in probably 40 years, the tower band rang something other than CC's & PH at a service yesterday. Yes it was only an easy Minimus method + 2 covers, but the positive effects of getting to that point have been huge.
  • Roger Booth
    19
    That's not what I was advocating. The local District is quite large (34 towers with 4 or more bells) and covers a large area. It can take over 45 minutes to travel from one end to the other by car. There are several large towns and a city with active bands capable of ringing surprise, and rings of 8, 10, 12 and 14. They might be down a few ringers, but can still ring surprise.

    However the northern half of the District is more rural in character and consists mainly of 5's and 6's. It's no good holding 'all welcome' practices as the standards of competence is world's apart. In my corner of the District we are concentrating on the twelve towers in the Deanery, and that is a perfectly viable building block (so long as we are not trying to hold surprise practices, striking competitions, Saturday afternoon meetings, annual training days etc.).

    There is a lot of enthusiasm amongst the new ringers and I fear that this would be dampened down if what were trying to do needed to be at District level. The new ringers might only be ringing call-changes and plain hunt now, but I am sure that quite a few will be ringing surprise in a couple of years, and several currently silent or near silent towers will have their own local bands
  • John de Overa
    72
    Perhaps we are reaching a point in some areas then where local bands have collapsed to a point where not even viable clusters can be formed in which case the branch or district becomes the first level building block of formal organisation.A J Barnfield

    If local bands have collapsed to that point then I suspect the branch/district will have as well.

    The current formal organisations were fine in the long since gone halcyon days, and they tend to be run by people who learnt during those days. Where I ring they don't reflect where we are now and attempts to "improve" things seem to be to just to try to do more of the stuff that worked in those days - exactly as Roger said: "Practices focussed on methods up to Cambridge Minor and the Standard eight, striking competitions against 'expert bands' and quarterly meetings over half an hour's drive away"
  • John de Overa
    72
    sounds similar to here - 35 towers in the branch, mostly small towns & rural and over an hour to the towers most distant to us. We are on the boundary of 4 associations (Derby, Yorks, Chester & Lancs) so the majority of the towers nearest to us are not in our association, so if we were going to form a cluster, it would make no sense for it to be based on our association. But the situation in most of the surrounding towers in other associations is even worse than ours.
  • Tristan Lockheart
    18
    By being regular, local and sociable, they will make faster progress than the usual annual training day.Roger Booth
    I think you have hit the nail on the head here. I am the representative for a university society, and regular practices, a tower local to the students (how else would you get them out of bed for it!) and sociability (see our events page) underpin our model for success. We often organise joint practices with other bands in the area to enable our learners to experience different bells and people, and provide opportunties for the more experienced to ring with others at a similar level and do more advanced methods. Our crowning moment of the year was probably ringing at York Minster with York and Durham unis.

    At tower level a number of the rural towers round here have lost key personnel, and those left are content to ring three (in a six bell tower) on Sundays. They have no one to teach new ringers, and these towers now increasingly rely on social media to source ready made ringers for weddings and special services.Roger Booth
    Yes. Ringing is an ecosystem. Many places are relying on existing ringers to move into their area, as there are no longer enough people willing or able to teach. This is increasingly happening in the urban areas too. But the net result is that we are relying on a dwindling number of people to provide the new blood the exercise needs, and that comes with the risk that they'll burn out or age out, and then we will be stuck. A good exercise to conduct is a "bus factor" calculation - i.e. how many ringers in your area getting hit by a bus would it take to make things go seriously pear-shaped. It may be less than you think. Is it the same people steeplekeeping, leading practices, teaching, and providing the energy in the district? If so, you need to consider what you would do without them. We cannot afford to be relying on one or two people to keep ringing going in a large area. Ask too how many people are attending multiple practices in the area. If they move away, how many towers will be below-strength and thus not have attractive practices, thus declining?

    It seems that the more experienced ringers are being more choosy on what they do with their time. As an ART Tutor I have also delivered a number of ART Module 1 courses (how to teach bell handling) since Covid. It is noticeable that most of those attending are keen to learn to teach, or are inexperienced teachers who are keen to improve their skills, but this is not matched by the number of experienced teachers who are willing to support and mentor these delegates in the period after the day courseRoger Booth
    Again, it's an ecosystem. We need to act now before we don't have the capacity to train up new teachers, let alone new recruits. Once we lose critical mass, then I wouldn't want to be the one coming up with the solutions.

    Perhaps we are reaching a point in some areas then where local bands have collapsed to a point where not even viable clusters can be formed in which case the branch or district becomes the first level building block of formal organisation.A J Barnfield
    If we've reached this point, then we might as well throw in the towel now! We do need to act before we reach this point though. The trouble is getting people to admit that we are heading in that direction without action - people go on about "it's a cycle", but how else do areas revive but with people taking action and working hard to build things up again?
  • John de Overa
    72
    Round here we have re-activated a silent tower in a large village over the last nine months. They now have a band of twelve ringers aged 12 - 65, the more advanced of whom are just starting to plain hunt.Roger Booth

    I'd be interested to hear how that was achieved - what worked, what didn't, what sort of existing ringers you need to support the process etc. I think the "Bootstrapping problem" is going to become more and more common.

    I'll also be interested to hear about what happens beyond the PH stage. My home band has been stuck at that point for the last 40 years and when we've asked for advice it's almost always been "Plain Bob Doubles", which in my experience is usually a disaster for bands that can't already ring it.
  • Roger Booth
    19
    We achieved this by:

    • At Cheriton we had the active support and encouragement of the vicar. We have also been invited to meet the other clergy in the Deanery at a breakfast meeting to discuss how we could help other villages in a similar way and this be reflected in their action plans. Districts and Branches are often very inward looking and have limited contact with the church structures in their area.
    • We used the Charmborough Ring at the Parish Fete. Five people left their contact details. We contacted them afterwards and fixed up a 'taster' evening. (too often ringers wait for prospective learners to get back in touch, or just turn up at a practice, but they rarely do. It's about showing an interest in the learner, personal contact and making them feel wanted).
    • We followed the taster evening up with three weeks of intensive bell-handling sessions. We had the support of two very experienced peal ringers from other towers in the South of the District (one has rung over 3,000 peals) but neither are ART members, and we are not pushing them to be, but they are very good at teaching bell-handling. In my experience many excellent ringers are only too willing to help, provided that the teaching is done in a structured way.
    • We were able to give each pupil two or more one-hour handling lessons with an instructor in the first few weeks. They all had 6 - 8 hours 'rope time'.
    • During the first few weeks several more people came forward to learn. They were either friends of the others, or found out through our posts on the village Facebook group
    • Around half the pupils were early retired, semi-retired or working from home, so we were able to offer afternoon as well as evening handling sessions. We used Doodle Polls and Google forms to check availability and fix these up.
    • We also used the colourful A5 CCCBR flyer with pictures of young people on it. This caught the attention of two teenagers in the village (they soon caught the adults up!).
    • We have lost three of the learners, but have taken the trouble to find out why. One was a medical issue, another changed jobs and could no longer come. A third was just too busy and couldn't make many of the practices, and they didn't want to waste our time.
    • We have concentrated on good bell-handling and developing listening skills first. Also the concept of knowing which place you are ringing in. We are letting people learn at their own pace and getting the basics right, instead of pushing them too early into method ringing. It takes far longer to un-learn something and then get it right.
    • We are in the fortunate that at New Alresford just up the road we have a band that can ring Cambridge Minor, Stedman Triples etc. We need to be careful not to dilute the practices there with a large influx of learners, so we are holding sessions focussed at different levels at different times (Beginners, Improvers, Intermediate, Advanced). Our experienced ringers are helping out with the learners, and the learners are comfortable with visiting neighbouring towers for sessions. We are also developing good social links between both groups of ringers. This is all something which would work less well on a larger scale, such as the District.
  • John de Overa
    72
    completely sensible things that I've seen suggested before, but it's good to know they work in practice :smile:

    Things that stood out in particular from the above are the initial intensive handling sessions, the importance of place and the concentration on good handling and listening early on and not pushing people on before they have those skills.

    Based on experience from my first two learners I've decided it's better for me to take on one learner at a time and give them 1:1 sessions rather than have 2-3 people spending more than half the time sitting about.

    Although my current learner is only just beginning to ring unassisted we've already spent a lot of time on the importance of position on the rope to control the bell. My own experience was that after I'd got to the stage where I was unlikely to kill myself, I was more or left to get on with it, where "it" was call changes, where you can fluff your way through even with poor bell control. Then learning PH took an absolute age because I hadn't really learned how to make sustained changes in speed, and trying to move on to PB5 nearly finished me as a ringer because it required even better bell control, plus ringing by place, ropesight etc - skills which I simply didn't have. I've seen exactly the same problems as I had with both other learners and long-established ringers. If we want to train people as change ringers then I think we need to be training for that from the very start.
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