Applying on behalf of Abingdon Society of Bell Ringers (ASBR). Abingdon has two towers, both affiliated to the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers (ODG) and within the Old North Berks Branch (ONB), one of the fifteen branches of the ODG. Typical attendance on a Sunday morning is 12 to 17 ringers.
The ASBR also runs a group of handbell ringers who start practising in October each year and concentrate on ringing Christmas Carols at old people’s homes and church services just in the run up to Christmas each year. Currently the handbell group contains 16 active members, all but four of whom are active tower bell ringers in Abingdon. About half of them are school aged.
St Helen’s church, Abingdon has a ten year old ring of ten bells (16 cwt) with a sensor on each bell connected to a computer running Abel and speakers in the (upstairs) ringing chamber. St Nicolas’ church, Abingdon has a ring of six bells dating from the 1760s (7 cwt). The two towers are rung each Sunday morning with a five minute gap while the band walks between the towers, and open practices take place on Tuesday evenings, alternating between the towers. The band in Abingdon has been strong in the past and still had the core of a strong band when the bells were replaced with a new ring in 2006 but it was noticeable that nearly all the ringers were over 60 years old.
Briefly, the objectives of the ASBR are to promote change ringing and tune ringing on handbells, to improve the quality of the ringing and to care for the bells in Abingdon. While only implicitly in the objectives, training new ringers has been seen as a priority, at least since the new bells were installed at St Helen’s in 2006.
When the new bells were installed in St Helens the tower captain delegated training to one of the younger ringers, Kevin Beer (in his 40’s?). He was keen to teach young people and started in January 2007, with an extra (silent) practice at 5 pm each Friday to fit in before choir practice. Three ringers, me, my husband, Brian and Tim Pett helped at the extra practices each week. We averaged about six young people each week and taught lots of young people. Kevin was already studying to become a priest in the Church of England and warned us that he would be leaving. It was suggested that I, with my past in running Girl Guides might like to learn how to teach ringing and to take over Kevin’s work when he left in summer 2012 to become a curate.
.I attended one of the first ART Module 1 courses at Steeple Aston in October 2010. Pip Penney’s instruction to find new learners and start teaching was taken seriously – from Jan 2011 a further practice was started at 4 pm on Friday afternoons for the boys of Abingdon School. (This was and continues to be only possible because one of the teachers at the school is an active ringer and was willing to walk the boys to and from the school and to take responsibility for the club with the school.) That club continues to this day but with barely forty minutes in the tower once a week, unless they ring at their home towers as well, the boys progress slowly.
The boys attend the school from a wide area so it is not possible to integrate those boys into the local band, but there have been some successes, notably James who was already a keen ringer at his local tower, Benson, about ten miles away. He started with us at about LTR 3 level in 2011 and left the school in summer 2016, well above LTR 5 level. Similarly, William from Shiplake learned with us and now helps teach the younger boys.
The Abingdon Society of Bell Ringers has been very successful in recruiting young people. See the attached sheet Retention of Young Ringers. This shows the young recruits since 2011/12.
We find that now we have a thriving group of young ringers it is not too difficult to persuade other young people to come and see what we do and possibly to have a go. We often organise visits to the church and bells for groups of Scouts, Guides, Cubs and Brownies as a means of exposing young people to bells and young ringers. Interestingly, 18% of our current young ringers are the children of lapsed ringers, who, while supportive, are not keen to resume regular ringing themselves.
In 2012 we suggested that we should run half day outings for the young ringers of the area in the name of the branch. With the branch’s permission, Tim, Brian and I started organising a short outing in each school holiday, starting with one in April 2012. That one involved an hour of ringing at a six bell tower, some cake and soft drinks, and a guided visit to Whites of Appleton’s workshop. Seven young ringers aged between 12 and 14 years old attended representing five towers.
The Young Ringer Outings continue to this day with six outings a year. They are organised primarily by members of ASBR for ONB. The aim has been to increase the number and enthusiasm of young people for ringing in the towers in our branch. We make sure each outing involves besides ringing a social activity of some sort to increase the friendship bonds between the young ringers. As a result there is a lot of friendly fun among them and consequently they stay in ringing longer than might otherwise happen. See attached sheet Young Ringer Outings.
The events for young ringers are run primarily by three ringers from Abingdon mostly with help with refreshments from Daphne, tower captain at nearby Radley. The branch helps financially – any small costs or surpluses from the young ringers’ events are absorbed by the branch.
In 2013 we started holding intensive ringing courses in school holidays using the LTR syllabus. Initially the courses were for one child at a time. They have gradually increased to three or four learners at a time. The Easter 2016 course was the most successful with up to six young ringers learning and hourly sessions on nine mornings in the holidays. Four of the young ringers achieved LTR 1 within a month of starting ringing and remain in the band.
Our intensive ringing courses are more fun than might be imagined because we invite all our young ringers to attend the sessions. Brian runs what for them is a normal (tied simulator) practice with all sorts of fun and games while two of us teach on other bells which are not sounding on the simulator. This way, the new ringers become part of the social group more quickly than if they were only meeting the older teachers. See attached sheet Intensive Ringing Courses.
We encouraged other members of the team to attend ART courses and now have two fully qualified ART teachers (one 19 year old taught in Abingdon in 2011) and several part-qualified ART teachers. Some of the new teachers are unable to help with the daytime intensive courses for young people, but we are developing an intensive course for adults in the evenings and are finding those new teachers very useful.
The original objectives were vague – just to recruit and train ringers. We in Abingdon have provided a service for our branch in encouraging all young ringers. Initially the plan was to teach ringing just once a week, but introducing intensive training has been a great success.
The critical success factors have been:
Indeed the core activity is the popular 5pm Friday practice. It’s a challenge to cater properly for all the young people attending. It can sometimes be almost too lively. Typically we might teach handling on the two trebles in parallel with, for example, call changes or bob doubles on the middle six, with perhaps a learner silently covering or ringing up or down on the ninth. We could do with a dumb bell with its own computer for helping to allow more individual striking practice. (The better youngsters compete with each other over Abel scores.)
I believe that the young ringer outings with some activity other than ringing were an innovation because I am not aware of anyone else deliberately doing that. I have swapped favours with Youth Organisation leaders to make it possible for us to undertake a wide variety of activities (I’ll take your Scouts to see the bells, to pull on a rope, to ring tunes on handbells and to do a quiz sheet in our church one evening, if you will help my young ringers to cook on an open fire …)
The Old North Berks Branch has led the way in organising events for young ringers, but in 2016 at least two other branches have held events for young ringers. Additionally we have held joint young ringer events with the Ely Diocesan Guild in 2015 and 2016.
We do have some rather underused Facebook groups set up by one of the young ringers and by one of the parents. I understand that the young ringers use social media quite a lot to keep in touch. It seems that emails, our main means of communication, is rather old hat these days.
Our local branch is delighted that we now have so many young ringers in the branch and are quite willing to support the young ringer activities financially. However many older ringers are scared of the protection issues and do not want to get involved in permission forms, registers, etc. We make an effort to offer lifts to the young ringers and take them to Branch and Guild activities. As they grow older, they take themselves to otherringing opportunities by bike, bus or train and are generally well treated by other ringers. One mother/daughter pair of our ringers made enquiries before their holiday in rural Cheshire and managed to attend two practice nights during their week away. They were thrilled to find their not particularly good rounds and call changes were welcomed on a par with the best in the tower and that both mother and daughter were the youngest people in the tower by a large margin!
There are now around 20 – 30 young ringers in our branch in nine of the 28 towers. They have almost all attended the branch young ringer outings we organise. Gradually the branch is realising that they have something rather special. As Branch Chairman, I am trying to make sure that our branch activities are all configured to be as teenager friendly as possible. And that the branch newsletter gives the young ringer events plenty of publicity. It has not gone un-noticed in other branches and young ringer events are beginning to occur in other places.
Our ringing chamber is on the first floor and is not visible to our congregation. But in the run up to Christmas the handbell team (almost all of whom are our ringers) is seen in lots of places in smart silver waistcoats. And about half of them are school-aged. The impression I get is that the congregation are proud that the ringers have so many young people among them. The rector has noticed that the ringers are succeeding in bringing new young people into the church but that the choir is not. In early 2016 the rector wanted publicity for a church event so we offered to arrange for a mini-ring to be installed in the market place one Saturday and to get the young ringers to ring its bells. The congregation pushed their leaflets – and we came away with a list of contacts of young people who would like to learn to ring! Perceptions of ringers as old men are, we hope, changing.
In summary, the efforts of the Abingdon Society of Bell Ringers mean that we are now seen as a beacon of how to work with young ringers in the Oxford Diocesan Guild. Our branch is seen as a “hot spot” of young ringers. A Sarah Beacham Youth Group Award would recognise this success (and support our aim to install a dumb bell).
In 2016 we held a very successful intensive ringing school during the Easter Holidays but have felt that we could not absorb any more young ringers into our Friday practices until now, when those four can manage good rounds and call changes and do not need to spend so much time on one to one handling lessons. So we will run our next intensive ringing school in the Easter Holiday 2017.
In July/August 2016 we also ran a successful pilot project in the Abingdon area: a six week ringing course involving two evening sessions per week to teach adults to ring from scratch, involving teaching sessions at several branch towers. We have plans to run a similar course in another part of the branch in summer 2017, using as many of the branch teachers as we can persuade to help.
A particular landmark achievement this year was a peal of bob triples involving five of our teenagers. For three of them it was their first peal. (http://bb.ringingworld.co.uk/view.php?id=1002402)