If you want to encourage more ringers to District practices they have to be relevant and fun, and the District Committee need to be visible and accessible; encouraging and building relationships. I consider it to be part of my job as Chairman to visit the towers in the District to see what is going on – acting as a link between towers and the Guild. All too often I find towers, just “doing their own thing” in quiet (or not so quiet!) isolation. They can have a jaundiced view of their Guild, and even their District representatives – often stemming from an historical perceived lack of interest from those holding office.
So we travel round, establishing where help is needed, encouraging ringers to join us at the District practices when we ring with them and reassuring them that we will be there – familiar faces and support.
I am also convinced that the social side of ringing is as important as the actual ringing itself, and so all our practices involve the pub, or tea or even breakfast, and plenty of banter. Over the years we have added other activities to District practices to make them more attractive. At one practice we did a short morning walk, a pub lunch and afternoon ringing, so anyone could pick and mix how much of the day they wanted to take part in. Twenty one ringers joined us that day; the walk was lovely, the pub great and the little ring of five which normally might manage a handful of visitors was packed out!
On another occasion we held a morning practice, starting with breakfast at a fabulous local farm shop, followed by ringing and then to the pub for lunch. Twenty nine members of our District come along that day … it works!
More recently we have moved into specific training sessions as an add on to some of the practices – we held belfry maintenance instruction for an hour before the regular monthly practice at a tower with a difficult eight which previously had struggled to get enough to ring all eight, but we had twenty three members join us for that event.
Our practices are averaging twenty one attendees, with as many as twenty nine on a couple of occasions; more would be good but you do want to make sure that everyone gets enough time on the end of a rope. One thing we no longer include at District practices is “Method of the Month” – we have learned that this was putting off less experience ringers, so now we ring whatever we can with the ringers we have on the day.
So, it’s no good just opening the tower door and waiting for ringers to come in, you have to shove from behind! You do that with personal contact and the promise of the pub after! The old style of the unfriendly, intimidating, serious ringers have had their day. Who is going to turn out on a cold, wet, dark November night to be shouted at and intimidated? We are not at school, no one has to be there and no one goes wrong on purpose.
It’s all about the carrot and not the stick, the carrot being in the shape of a pub glass, preferably full!
Basingstoke District, W&P