Monday morning, 18th September, and a mixed bunch of ringers met at Tulloch Ringing Centre for a new venture, described as a 'Learn to Ring week'. The mix contained four visiting teachers, led by the amazing Helen McGregor, and a couple of friends, supported by the local Tulloch ringers, and the people we were going to be working with, for the next five days. Although this was intended to be for those who had never rung a bell before, the only one in that category was unable to come at the last minute. However, Phil, a non-ringer who was there with his wife and son as beginners, was persuaded to give it a go and Helen ended up teaching him to handle a bell, giving him sessions before the day started and when he came to collect them! Hope he continues, as ringing is a great family thing!
The plan was to start at 10am each day, with tea breaks planned and also taken as needed and a delicious buffet lunch with home-made soups every day, a mix of practical, theory, watching videos, each day finishing at 5pm. However, all the students were so keen we were starting at 9.30 with a half hour doing what they wanted - just ringing up and down or balancing, taking the first coil, ringing with the simulator, etc or just talking about their ringing. As soon as 5pm came, we rang quarters with Tulloch ringers to boost their LtR levels, two getting to grips with treble bob hunting and ringing the treble to quarters of Cambridge, and one even learning it inside! We rang 1st handbell quarter peals for Chris, Sue & Ian, two weekday evening practices for Tulloch and other ringers, one or two of the more advanced improvers joining those, and most days didn't finish till 9pm or even later! Very tiring but so fulfilling for all!
Both weeks our first task, after introductions, was to check handling and work on any difficulties we found, also to make sure everyone could safely ring a bell up and down. As those in the first week were very new ringers and Tulloch bells felt different to what they were used to, there was quite a bit of work on these, watching, practising taking and losing the first/last coil, watching the new ringing up and down video from ART.
The second week, described as the "Improve your bellringing" had a wider range of abilities, and started off in the same way, but separating into groups after the second day so that they could work at the level they individually needed. Most in both groups had not actually been taught how to lead or that there was a relationship with the tenor's sally at both strokes to watch for as well listen. Little things like what to do when rounds are called, to get them in order within one pull, how you need to transfer the weight of your pull to the sally once the bell is up, so that backstrokes didn't flop, how you need to main tension on your rope at all times, how there is a wedge towards the top of the bell's swing when absolute control can be used - Helen's name for it was the 'cheese'! Get to this point, slow down the bell to gently lower onto the stay - not just drop it on. How to manage a strange bell the first time you ring it, instead of struggling for control over a few pulls .... and loads more!
We worked on ringing up and down in peal, and Helen's innovative step before doing it was to model the changing speeds and rope lengths, then get all the group to ring a bell at the same time as her, trying to match her exactly. Some also did this to a course of plain bob doubles before trying it for real.
From the first day we looked at how changes were constructed, why and when speed changes were needed and how to make them, both at back and hand. They rang call changes, saying what place they were in. When not ringing, we asked them to point out what place a target bell was in or what order they were ringing in - all aimed at building ropesight skills. They worked out their own way of calling the treble to 4ths place, then called it, first from the floor, then some whilst ringing the cover bell; this moved on to reversing 1234 with a 5th as cover, and calling it, some even from an inside bell. No-one had called call changes before.
To help them visualise plain hunt and think about places rather than numbers, they not only wrote it out but walked through it change by change and talked about what was happening. This always got a laugh when people bumped into each other!
We tackled Plain hunt on 4 and 5, calling it change by change and then in half pulls. All the time we were challenging the students to focus on places, both when ringing and standing out. The slow pace helped them all to cope with the difficulties of ropesight and improve.
Everyone rang handbells to Plain Hunt, some managing more than one pair. This helped them towards ringing it on tower bells, which none of them had done before.
We spent a good deal of time in the simulator room, using it in a variety of ways. We started by ringing rounds to teach them to listen for their bell and to identify what striking too early or late sounds like. With the simulator bells ringing evenly, this helped them to adjust and quickly get into place. The simulator is excellent and gives a visual feedback page on their striking that helped improve consistently slow backstrokes for example.
We moved on from rounds to covering to doubles, using all Abel's clues to help them improve their striking. They also tried facing away from the screen to improve their listening skills. We recorded everyone's scores and subsequent improvements in them!
We used the simulator a lot for developing ropesight skills by:
All in all it was a very successful and happy couple of weeks. It was great to work so intensively with people and see them improving before our eyes. It was lovely how well they all got on together, supporting and encouraging each other, with plenty of clapping! We had fun, ringing Twinkle Twinkle, then Westminster Chimes - perfect bell control needed to balance or set the bell at every single stroke. We laughed at Helen calling “Oh no you don‘t” or “come back here Peter!” as he tried to sneak off unnoticed! We saw so much pleasure as they gained in confidence and in some cases got over crisis moments, with real success over and over again. We had ringers abandoning their numbers and ringing by places instead. One of those even managed to ring touches. Many of the ringers had their first efforts at raising & lowering. There were more lightbulb moments than you could shake a stick at e.g. realising that everyone 'worked' when the treble led in plain bob, realising that because the treble takes 10 blows per circuit but the working bells take 12 then the work happens earlier every lead, and one of the very best moments was when we worked up to a complete band of our learners ringing rounds on 12! The Tulloch band had a good week, too. They came in to help every day with the guest ringers and the extra sessions for them included 10 quarter peals: 3 first handbell quarters, one first Bob Major, one first of minor, two firsts of trebling to Cambridge Minor, one of them just 364 days after first touching a bellrope! We all found that we gained more teaching ideas and techniques working together. I wrote down about 20 tips to remember and use!
Feedback has been very positive.
"You and the other teachers have ironed out most of our bad habits and helped us to feel in control of the bell instead of the bell ringing us! I feel confident about ringing the bell , changing speed and ringing up and down, we got a chance to see and hear many things and are beginning to understand and use rope sight and the start of listening skills."
"Meeting up with like minded bell ringers - what a lovely group they all were.
The enthusiasm, inspiration and unfailing patience of yourself and all the tutors. We all managed to achieve so much over the course of the week thanks to you all. Having the opportunity to immerse ourselves in ringing at whatever stage we were at."
"I found the Improvers Week absolutely fantastic and it exceeded all my expectations. It was also great fun!! I thought you and your team of tutors showed almost inexhaustible patience and the structured learning worked really well."
And from home towers, saying how much someone had shown improvement in their ringing.
Chris de Cordova
with contributions and corrections from Stephen Elwell-Sutton and Helen McGregor, and un-named students!