The Old North Berks Branch of the Oxford Diocesan Guild contains 32 ringable towers, but around half of them don’t really have an effective band. As Branch Training Officer, I have the opportunity to address the problem and with the help of the other Branch Officers, I have been organising the towers in a collective effort. The many experienced ringing teachers in the Branch have helped immensely.
Between May and July 2017 we ran a six week “Learn to Ring” course. We gave an hour’s one-to-one teaching three times a week, each at a different tower for half an hour before the tower’s practice night. Four people joined the course. After six weeks the learners could almost ring solo; we had rung at thirteen towers and seventeen teachers had taken part.
From July to December the lessons continued circulating round our branch towers, but just once a week, with fewer teachers and more participation by the ringers at the practice nights. The learners progressed and were joined by lots of other learners from around the branch.
We use the ART Learning the Ropes syllabus to structure our teaching, with the bonus of certificates for the learners at strategic points in their progress. We named this group the LtR2 (Foundation Skills) group of our Branch Ringing School. The LtR2 group continues to this day. We use lots of games and exercises to help the learners proficiently control their bells, to listen to their striking and to raise and lower confidently.
Meanwhile we set up further LtR1 (Handling) courses for new learners in January and October 2018.Saturday mornings 9.30 – 10.30 am seems to work well, again visiting a different tower each week. We recommend that each new ringer is attached to a branch tower where they receive an extra lesson each week between the Saturday sessions. We taught three learners in January and three more started in October.
Some of the new learners are very well-motivated, support their towers enthusiastically and are out at other practices several nights a week. There have of course been a small number of learners dropping out through illness and moving house, but more than half continue to ring. Many of those attending the LtR2 group are now learning to ring Plain Hunt in their own towers.
I have been acutely aware that it would be easy for me to upset the experienced ringing teachers if I treated them any differently from the few who have trained with ART. I have trained new ringers together with teachers I had never seen teach before.I looked out for any I wouldn’t want to teach with again, and I know they watched me. And gradually I am seeing other teachers use the ART techniques. By recognising the contribution which could be made by the experienced teachers who had had no contact with ART and teaching with them, I have (I hope) gained their respect, not only for me but for the teaching techniques I learned from ART and for ART itself.
Overall I am delighted with the results. The Branch Ringing School is gradually making a difference to our branch: introducing novel exercises to our towers, raising awareness of striking and helping our teachers and Tower Captains to gain new teaching and ringing ideas from each other. We haven’t managed to repopulate any of the towers in the branch yet, but we have made a start.
Susan Read, Abingdon