St Thomas’s, Salisbury where I am Tower Captain, has suffered a major reduction in both numbers of ringers and their capability over recent years. Illness, death and people moving away have been the cause to the extent that in the last few months before the lockdown we have on occasions not had enough ringers available to meet our service obligations, and our service repertoire has reduced from usually well struck Stedman Triples and occasionally Yorkshire to not very good Call Changes.
Anticipating the need for more ringers, my wife, Alison, and I attended the ART Module 2, Bell handling course early in 2017 and soon found ourselves teaching seven learners from scratch at our tower. In the next couple of years, three of these dropped out for various reasons and we acquired one more. Two of those remaining are well under twenty but the rest are in the more usual mature category.
A couple of years ago, Alison started running an extra practice each week at Wilton for our learners and the much diminished Wilton band, and we soon acquired a further three learners to teach from scratch at that tower. The Wilton bells are much lighter than ours hence easier for our learners for some aspects of ringing.
Come the lockdown, I was obviously very concerned to try to avoid losing these learners and our established ringers. So I invited members of our tower and Wilton to take part in a course. The idea was that I would provide material, suggest what each person started with and answer questions. Given the capabilities of most of the target audience, I chose the excellent A Ringer’s Guide to Learning the Ropes as the written material and Abel for the interactive.
Alison worked up simple instructions for getting started on Abel. I have been sending out a weekly general ringing interest email; the first one included the piece about ringers in the Middle Ages being at risk from lightning. One of my hopes was that some of our older learners might make good listening, striking and even method progress using the interactive programmes while not having to commit lots of brain capacity to just handling their bell; I will be very interested to see if this has actually happened when we get back in the tower.
I was concerned that I might be overloaded with tutoring so limited the extent of the invitations but word spread and we have 16 course members from 6 towers.
So, how has it gone? The book was much appreciated by most of the recipients and many of them are using Abel.
I had ordered 12 copies of the book and had to order a further 6 – all very promptly posted to me, thanks ART. One of the course members is learning Bristol and another is working on touches of Stedman Triples but the rest are at Rounds and Call Changes or the Plain Bob Doubles stage. I have been inviting feedback and the first week or so I got a fair amount but it has tailed off. I have had very few questions. I like to think that this is because of the high quality and usability of the book and Abel but suspect a reduction in course members’ activity. After all, perhaps, like me, they are succumbing to the ‘there’s always tomorrow’ syndrome, exacerbated by the continuing extension of the expected lockdown period.
The book was provided to all the course members. It contains reminders about handling which it pays all of us to refresh from time to time. There is advice on how to practise at home. The sections on changing speed, listening, rhythm and striking can all enhance the value of using an interactive programme. There is an explanation of our jargon, essential to ringing with others.
There is theory and advice on counting places. It moves on to Plain Bob Doubles. So it covers all the ground that the majority of our course members need to reinforce their current capabilities and to move on. As it ends with calling touches, it is also relevant to developing the couple of more advanced ringers on the course, neither of whom calls touches at present. It is very well explained and illustrated; hence perhaps the lack of questions I have received.
A lot of good material has become available from ART and the Central Council since I started this course and I have passed on the links to the course members. The three videos about using Abel by Roger Booth are especially useful and go much further than our initial basic guidance.
I know that at least two signed up members are completely inactive. At least half of them I know to be still working on their ringing and I haven’t managed to get a recent update from the rest. With all the good material now available online, I have wondered if it is worth my continuing this local effort. I have concluded perhaps that my regular chasing may encourage the course members to keep going and I act as a conduit for relevant material; many of them are registered learners with direct access to ART material but perhaps need it drawing to their attention.
With members from the towers where we do not teach, I cannot enrol them as pupils and I certainly do not wish to tread on the toes of their tower captains or teachers.
I have considered doing a course Zoom meeting but have not done so yet, nor for our St Thomas’s ringers of whom very few were regular after practice pub attenders. I’d be interested in others’ experiences with such meetings.
Following this year’s ART Conference which we both attended, we started, with Alan and Maureen Frost, developing plans for a big recruitment drive. This included installing a dumb bell and simulator at St Thomas’s for which I quickly submitted a paper to the PCC seeking their permission to develop the plans and start the faculty process. Unfortunately, the March PCC meeting was not held owing to the lockdown and the next is not scheduled until September. We will continue developing other aspects of the recruitment plan.
Best wishes to all in these difficult times.
Author: Nigel Orchard
“I'm up to page 42 now. This guide is so easy to follow and I feel I may be further ahead in my understanding of it all by the time we get back to ringing instead of back at square one. So for that! Using Abel has allowed me to hear the bells and be more aware of what position I am in without the stress of trying to control a rope and muttering 2453 2453 lead lead etc.
In the week I shall practise Plain Hunt on Abel whilst saying my PLACE out loud forwards and backwards instead of the bell I am following. I think I may have had a small lightbulb moment.”