In January 2021 the idea was conceived of using an online course during lockdown as a recruitment campaign; the course to be run by the Wensleydale cluster for the benefit of all the towers in the cluster. The primary goal was to get more ringers into the towers of the dale. The existing ringers were overwhelmingly male and we aimed to recruit more women ringers.
The cluster had some towers containing individuals with the skills, energy and time to undertake recruitment but other towers without. A key objective was to use the freedom from geography granted by the internet to use personnel from two or three “leadership-rich” towers to recruit across the entire cluster. A series of interactive PowerPoint presentations was envisioned to present an engaging course.
A core committee of four was formed to undertake preliminary work, including development and posting in the real and virtual worlds of promotional material. The committee liaised with captains of the six towers in the Wensleydale cluster to ask them to undertake to train recruits. Other cluster members contributed to the project variously, for example in publicising the programme or presenting sessions.
At that time (during lockdown), the cluster was running two online practices each week, and the immediate aim of the online project was to teach recruits to ring call changes and plain hunting in Ringing Room. The recruits could then join our online practices until tower ringing re-started. The recruits were then to be introduced to their local tower captains to commence instruction in bell handling.
A programme was developed that consisted of five PowerPoint presentations to be shared over Zoom, with each presentation concluding with a session in “Ringing Room”. The PowerPoint presentations were based on earlier online courses developed by an Australian ringer, Laura Goodin, whose foundational work was duly acknowledged and thanked. We did not know of Laura’s good work until we started developing our course. Laura did not use PowerPoint presentations and these were a novel aspect of our programme.
The programme proceeded as planned, with the first online course taking place on 1 March 2021. Twenty seven people responded to the 2021 course publicity, of whom 17 were women and over 20 undertook the online programme. At the end of the 2021 online programme, we had 16 recruits remaining to learn to ring in the tower; 7 of these now remain with three different bands.
The online programme was run again in early 2022, starting in February. As well as recruiting generally for the dale’s towers, we had three specific goals:
All of the above three goals were achieved, at least in part. Thanks to the course over its two years, the two dales today have 21 additional regular ringers. The 2021 programme additionally attracted several “out of dale” participants, from as far away as Kent. The 21 recruits are divided amongst 6 bands, as follows:
Of the 21 additional ringers, 10 are women, a marked improvement in the proportion of women ringers!
The Kirkby Malzeard bells were in need of maintenance. This work, undertaken by a team from elsewhere in the cluster, was completed last month. One of the Kirkby team intends to start a fuller restoration project.
Following the successful recruiting drive, two dales ringers from different towers attended the Bradfield ringing course. On their return, they established an extra practice night to enhance plain hunt skills in the clusters. This group has been well supported by the cluster's towers, including by more proficient ringers. It is intended that the plain hunt group will develop into a method group.
The core cluster committee of 4 included only one tower captain, so we realised that the cluster could be used for leadership development outside the organisation of the towers. In 2021, one cluster ringer said that he would like a leadership role but felt blocked from leadership in his own tower: this individual was recruited to the committee in part to create a leadership role for him. In 2022, a further ringer without a leadership role in his home tower was invited to join the cluster committee and has been active subsequently, in particular in establishing the plain hunting group.
Individuals who run a programme like this will be of a type to be concerned about succession planning, personal development and future generations. Moreover, although the cooperation of local tower captains is required, the programme can be run outside the existing tower hierarchy, making it an excellent vehicle for personal and leadership development without being constrained by hierarchic individuals who perhaps lack the time or inclination to run the programme.
As well as recruiting locally, we wished to encourage online recruitment nationally and therefore published an article in Ringing World. Twelve towers responded and were provided with copies of the presentations, these towers being spread across the country between Cornwall and East Lothian. After a presentation at a YACR event in Harrogate, copies were sent to 4 further towers and to the YACR education committee. We have given a Zoom presentation about the course to 5 tower captains and to the Leicester Guild.
A critical success factor has been publicity. The online course was publicised by email, posters, local radio, local newsletters, news websites (e.g. Richmondshire Today, The Stray Ferret) and Facebook groups (e.g. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1227228913968643/permalink/4130349193656586/). We had a piece broadcast in the BBC regional TV news programme “Look North” – see https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1169778913811841.
A further factor critical to success is the use of an interactive online course as a bridge to the bell tower and to remove geographic restrictions. An online course is an easy and non-scary way for an individual to be introduced to bell ringing and bell ringers. It certainly proved more successful in attracting women than prior recruitment. As an online course has no geographic limitations, it enables an active recruitment group from 2 or 3 towers to recruit for 6 or 8 towers, and even start a new band.
The achievements of the programme are:
It is intended to repeat the online programme in 2023, especially to build a band at the village of Sharow, where there is only one ringer, and to increase the Kirkby Band so there is at least one ringer for each bell.