We last met for practice night on Thursday 12 March when we talked about handwashing and sanitising, but noone was particularly concerned at the time or knew what would unfold during the coming week. We rang for service on the following Sunday but very soon afterwards all churches were closed and the lockdown had started.
St. Bartholomew’s Great Gransden, Cambridgeshire is an active tower with an enthusiastic team at the Call Change, Plain Bob stage, with a smattering of more experience, ringing for practice and Sunday services as well as visiting other tower practices and arranging outings. Not all our outings are for ringing. Last year we had tours of three different local churches just to see the bells and clocks, but that is another story. We were due to visit Peterborough Cathedral for their practice on March 23 but this, and our weekly ringing routine came to a juddering halt.
My immediate thoughts were about how to keep together as a team and to maintain enthusiasm and learning during a period when we could not practise our art. Doing nothing was not an option and the first thing to do was to expand our online communication. We were already using WhatsApp to share notices and information with each other between ringing sessions and this initially became our main modus operandi.
We had recently taken delivery of our new branded clothing featuring our new tower logo. We were due to have a group photo on Thursday 26 March but were locked out by then so I asked everyone who could to take a selfie of themselves sporting their teeshirts for me to make a group photo. We launched our new logo on Facebook at the beginning of April and this can also be seen on our website.
The next plan was to get together online. We used WhatsApp for a few oneonone video meetings but it became clear that Zoom was best for the group meetings. We first tested it in small groups of two or three, mainly to become familiar with it, and our first whole team meeting was on Thursday 16 April when we were all able to chat together for the first time in four weeks.
During our meeting I ran Abel on the desktop and between us we rang call changes on six bells, each ringer taking turns to make a call. This was a very rudimentary system but was successful and we all enjoyed the experience.
Since then the Ringing Room application has been developed and we are introducing this into our meetings. Initial trails have been entertaining as we continue to learn Zoom, how to drive Windows and getting used to group conferencing in general.
Zoom comes into its own for small groups and Sheila (my wife) and I have held successful theory sessions with individuals working through the theory sections of their respective Learning the Ropes levels. Under normal circumstances we cover a lot of theory during our weekly daytime tied bell practices when the white boards in the tower are in constant. Working online has perhaps given even more time for questions and answers to help fully understand the theory of ringing.
These sessions are open to everyone of all abilities and so far, two ringers have completed their LtR Level 5 theory and I expect that two others will complete LtR Level 2 and Level 4 theory during the lockdown.
The Cambridge District of the Ely DA of Church Bell Ringers is holding weekly webinars which Sheila and I are attending. Subjects have included blue lines, composing, conducting, tower maintenance, history of ringing in Cambridge and the history of simulators. We advertise these to our ringers and several have attended different modules.
During lockdown Sheila and I usually ring a quarter peal of Minimus on handbells every week. We post these to BellBoard and also on our personal Facebook pages to maintain a high a profile of ringing as possible, albeit a different discipline to tower bell ringing. On Easter Day we rang a quarter peal on our patio and video recorded it, posting a clip on YouTube with appropriate social media publicity. We received favourable comments from neighbours and the wider local community. We are also submitting recordings of the church bells and handbells to be included in our weekly benefice church services online at www.bluebellbenefice.org.uk/
Other ringers in the team are responsible for posting to Twitter (@GBellringers) and Instagram (greatgransdenbells) for brief news items which supplement our Facebook page (Great Gransden Bell Ringers) and website at http:// gransdenbells.btck.co.uk/.
It seems very unlikely that we will be able to return to the tower in the near future and we have decided to hold our annual tower meeting via Zoom in May, which was postponed from Holy Week. We are determined to keep together as best we can and maintain online contact with the church and village communities in these very difficult times.