Make bellringing and YouTube a reality

In these extraordinary times, the ringing community has found a number of ways to keep ringing going, even whilst we are not able to ring bells for real. Practices, pub sessions and quiz nights have transferred to Zoom, “Ringing Room” appears to have hit it off rather well, and handbells are coming into their own – never have I seen so much love for Minimus!

Of course, social media – a major part of modern society anyway – is playing a not insignificant part in the current climate. However, YouTube is playing an even bigger role than most – if not all – other social media sites.

An introduction to YouTube

I am firmly of the belief that YouTube is the best platform for promoting ringing – on social media at least, but also on a wider scale. This is a view shared by a good number of other ringers. The platform strikes a chord with younger ringers in particular.

For anyone unfamiliar with the site, YouTube is a video sharing platform, with content for any and every topic from the weird to the wonderful. It is the second most visited website in the world (after Google), and the most popular social media platform – with 78% of UK internet users regularly using the site.

Unlike most other social media sites, any content uploaded is publicly available – one does not need an account to watch any of the videos. Indeed, many young people are browsing YouTube clips before getting any other social media account. Videos are relatively easy to look for; just by typing “bell ringing Swindon” into a search, say, the relevant results would likely include a video of said tower.

My Experience as a Bell Ringing YouTuber

YouTube has been a big part of my ringing social life for the last ten years. Going under the alias “simonbellringer”, I have at the time of writing 627 videos uploaded to my YouTube channel. They are almost exclusively of bells and bell ringing, featuring a multitude of towers across the UK (including a couple from Ireland).

My interest was piqued fairly early on, aged around 12 or 13, when I saw a few clips of ringing others had posted, and wanted to get in on the act. In part, this was because there was no footage of any Swindon towers online, and I wanted to show off the bells in my town! It also looked like a fun and empowering thing to do – one way to “get my name out there”.

Even then, I could also see the attraction of building a portfolio of towers from across the country, and my (and others’) interest, and as a reminder of all the places I had visited, the people I was ringing with, and the fun I was having. There is also a satisfaction in one’s work being presented, and other people seemed to enjoy my videos, which was encouragement enough to keep making them!

My first video, of some ringing on an outing to Bishop’s Cannings, was uploaded in August 2010. Back then, I used a mobile phone to record ringing – except the quality was awful; grainy footage, distorted sound. It would take a good year or two before I upgraded to a camera, and a while longer then before I started editing – but more on the technology below.

During the last decade I have made friends with a number of ringers through our shared interest of ringing videos on YouTube. I had a YouTube account a good three years before logging into Facebook; the early “virtual” ringing friendships I made all came from YouTube. One particular memory I have is from a few years ago, when Steve Rowe, a ringer in Sydney and someone who I got to know on YouTube, was in the country, and made a trip to a St Mark, Swindon practice to meet me in person.

How much ringing is currently on YouTube?

Bell ringing has a stronger presence on YouTube than many people realise. A YouTube search for ‘bell ringing’ returns 36,500 results, whilst ‘change ringing’ throws up 2,380. Whilst I do not know exact figures, I would hazard a guess that around half of towers with ringable bells now appear in a YouTube video somewhere. With a number of other– mostly, but not exclusively young – “Bell Ringing YouTubers” signing up to the site and publishing their content, that number continues to grow.

Aside from videos of individual towers, there are some of larger­ scale events and tours, which capture the flavour of ringing. In particular, the excellent “12­bell broadcasts” from the contest finals of recent years will be an invaluable resource for future generations.

Personally, I have captured some well­known and interesting ringing events down the years, both on a national and a more personal level, including: a number of RWNYCs; various ringing tours; the Isle of Wight 14­quarters­in­a­day challenge; The Grandsire Day; and a selection of towers from a 41­Minor quarter peal week last November.These have tended to receive positive feedback, and perhaps inspired others to try something new, or different. Whilst I don’t know for certain, I would like to think a fun video showcasing what a great day out the Youth Contest is – with the number of other young, like­minded ringers in attendance – has perhaps encouraged a young ringer somewhere to sign up for their local team, and experience what the RWNYC has to offer.

Hearing from other YouTubers

I have covered some of my own reasons for using YouTube, and my fellow YouTubers Alex, Ashley, Scott and Thomas, have their own helpful input here.

Primarily, videos tend to be for personal interest, showing a number of different towers across the country we have rung at, capturing memories and that moment in time – we have many sound recordings from our predecessors, but very little video footage; YouTube (and other platforms) are addressing that for future generations. Thomas in particular likes the feedback he gets– through the number of likes and comments received on his videos, and that he can leave on others.

Like me, Alex and Ashley were both inspired to start uploading their own videos having watched other people’s channels. Importantly, something all of us – and many other YouTubers beside – class as an important reason to upload videos is to promote bell ringing, featuring different bands, methods and age categories. Scott Adams started uploading his excellent clips to promote and showcase Devon call­ change ringing – a world still unknown to many ringers!

We like to present “a good standard of ringing” at the very least – something that is nice to listen or aspire to – and give a good overview of what ringing can be about. I will touch on this again later in the making a video section.

When I asked Alex why he put videos on YouTube, he raised a very interesting point that it not only makes good listening practice but has helped developed his analysis of bells’ tonal qualities. For him, it’s also the chance to expand his skills – he is keen to experiment with different technology, viewpoints, and ways of making the videos.

Above all, this is something we enjoy – making and editing videos is time­ consuming, but it is a part of our hobby, in the same way tower grabbing or peal ringing might be to others. We enjoy recording a small part of our history, and we like the interaction with others, ringers and non­ringers alike.

Resource, Recruitment and Training

A picture speaks a thousand words, and a video shows even more. A good quality film, showing ringing ina good light, has potential to be used as a powerful promotion tool – for non­ringers, or for aspiring bands. This could be an inspiring piece of ringing, for example some of Scott Adams’ Devon Call Change ringing, or some “black zone Maximus”, or even a well­struck touch of Stedman.

It could also take the form of a recruitment or training video – some exist on YouTube already, although there is always room for more. I understand that the Central Council is working with ART on a number of training videos, both ringing and more maintenance­type topics, and Roger Booth is in the process of launching a series of training videos to explain how to make the most out of Abel.

As Simon Linford pointed out to me when planning this article – and which is so often true in my experience – a number of ringers do not appreciate or use YouTube, and don't know where to look for things on the site. Young ringers who have been brought up with YouTube’s presence will have it as their first source of information. For instance, Simon recalled one of the 10­year old Brumdingers turning up one week asking if she could ring down – he had not taught her how, but she had seen it on YouTube. The first place she turned to for ringing education was YouTube.

When planning a ringing trip, such as an outing or a quarter peal day, the first place I (and many other organisers) will look is YouTube, to get a general feeling for the bells – are they any good; are they suitable for the band; is there anything of interest to watch out for? It is an invaluable resource on that front alone.

Young ringers and YouTube

It’s difficult to write a section on young ringers for this topic, as they are (mostly!) the ones leading the way here, whether by making and uploading videos, or watching, commenting, learning and developing their interest in ringing. Over 80% of all 15­25 year olds in the UK use YouTube, more than any other social media platform; one further indicator of the power of the site.

I firmly believe YouTube remains the most attractive site for youngsters to research, watch, learn and talk about ringing, as well as interact with other ringers (as opposed to, say, Facebook – which I am told is for old people these days!) Videos of young ringers enjoying ringing demonstrates to the world that ringing can be fun – it breaks stereotypes, it broadens other ringers’ horizons, and very possibly encourages non­ringing youngsters to take up ringing in the first place.

The technology, and making a video

Filming and uploading a video for YouTube is not tricky, and you do not to be wonderfully tech­savvy – all you need is something to film with (most phones do this these days) and an Internet connection.

I am rarely to be seen without my trusty Nikon point­and­shoot camera– it doesn’t just take excellent photos, but the video quality is, on the whole, remarkably decent as well. I have filmed in the belfry numerous times, and you can hear the bells clearly on the video, not pure white noise! The video quality on most phones these days is also excellent.

Some people are happy to take the footage and upload it as is direct to YouTube. But most people try to enhance the video, by editing out any unnecessary bits (e.g. chatter), or bad striking or method mistakes. With the right band, it shouldn’t be hard to capture a reasonable standard of ringing – especially if the method is within everyone’s comfort zone – but nothing is guaranteed!

On the subject of editing – it’s entirely down to the individual how they make their video, what editing software they use, and what they include in the final copy. Personally, my style is to edit the clips to show around five minutes per tower – less if making a video of multiple towers – as most people’s interest (in my experience) doesn’t tend to last much beyond that. I take time to listen back to the ringing, and pick two or three “good bits” – the inclusion of poor striking reflects badly on the band and the uploader, and does not show the ringing world in a good light either!

Finally, and most importantly, it is important to ensure permission from everyone who appears in the clip has been sought – if someone requests not to be filmed, that should be respected, above all.

For anyone interested in making their own videos, I have compiled a brief guidance video, which I hope will be useful and helpful – it can be found on the below link, or on my YouTube channel (simonbellringer): v=hT2LHqZIoa4

And finally …

For those unfamiliar with YouTube and the wealth of resources, I hope this article has been of benefit, maybe even enlightening. YouTube is well established and is a very powerful tool. It needs to be treated with respect, but when used correctly, I am firmly of the opinion is the way to promote bell ringing.

Author: Simon Edwards

YouTube channels which showcase topics addressed in this article:

  • simonbellringer
  • Bellr1nger
  • lovesguide
  • AR_RingingVideos
  • markcp81
  • Bells on film