The Docklands Ringing Centre is a federation of thirteen towers in a compact area of East and South East London. As an area at the corner of three Districts in three different Associations, these towers have a lot in common with each other. However, being at the far end of their Districts, receiving meaningful support from other towers in the Districts, which can be over an hour away, is difficult, so the Docklands Ringing Centre was formed to help this group of towers support each other. One of our key objectives is to promote and teach the art of change-ringing in our area. We had noticed that we receive a steady stream of enquires through the internet from people wishing to find out more. The application for this award revolves around how we set about seeing how we could increase the stream of enquiries and make ourselves more effective at tapping into this source of new ringers.
As a result, we have moved from a traditional approach of putting articles in local newspapers and parish magazines to reaching a much wider local audience through local social media. We have also moved from a passive position where we simply advertise our practices on a webpage to one where we actively engage with people via social media in our local community, and offer an intensive introductory course of six one-hour introductory lessons to get people bell-handling, so that they can join in meaningfully at practices.
Raising the profile
We believe that the recruitment of ringers is assisted by raising the profile of ringing in the local community, especially in urban areas like ours where, unlike a rural village, significant numbers of local residents have no tradition of ringing in their family or come into contact with ringers.
Therefore we regularly post items in local social media including Streetlife, SE16.com and local Facebook ‘groups’ such as the Canary Wharf and Isle of Dogs Facebook group and the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Facebook group. We have also set up an RSS feed from Bellboard so that peals and quarters are ‘Tweeted’ with an appropriate local ‘hashtag’ such as #Bermondsey or #IsleofDogs.
We also use ‘WordPress’ for our Docklands Ringers website and our members regularly post items of interest to the ‘blog’ on the website. These posts are also tagged with appropriate tags.
A hastag makes it easier for users searching social media to find messages with a specific theme or content, so this means that our ringing activities will appear whenever anyone searches on these key words on social media and the web.
On-line TV channels, providing on-demand access to wide variety of content in short videos, are also becoming popular with young people. During 2015 we followed up enquires received from on-line producers and as a result featured on two on-line TV channels:
OnTV a community channel based in the East End:
Tele in Liguria – an Italian web TV channel:
We also Tweeted and blogged about these on-line videos, helping to reach a wider audience. Another innovation was to design an 8’ x 2’ banner which we displayed in a prominent position on the church railings for around 12 weeks. This banner included the URL of a website for a ringing school that we were trying to establish. As a result, Melanie Powell started learning to ring in January 2015 (During November 2015 she completed level 3 of Learning the Ropes).
People looking for hobbies and pastimes
Searching under ‘hobbies and pastimes’ on Google also reveals a number of social media that introduce people to new activities in their local area. We therefore decided to advertise our practices on one of these - meetup.com - which caters for all sorts of activities including wine tasting clubs, walking, dance and sports groups. A total of 61 people joined our meetup ‘group’ and of these about a dozen came to one of our practices for a ‘taster’ session during the year.
Only one came past the initial ‘taster’ session and they needed to give up after a few months because of a problem with their hand. We never got to the bottom as to why many of the others did not come at all, or why those that did come for a ‘taster’ did not come again. One of the issues was that ‘meetup’ was advertised across London and the people came from quite a wide area (from asfar afield as Sydenham to Romford and Highgate). The problem was finding suitable local towers that we could refer them on to.
The interface on meetup.com was very good and allowed the organiser to message individuals and the whole group. We should have made more use of this facility. In addition we noticed that quite a few people joined quite a number of groups, so we needed to do more to make our ‘meetup group’ stand out. In addition users could see how many people were coming to each session. As none of our existing ringers were on our meetup group it seemed that only one person was coming each week.
Whilst ultimately meetup was not success for us, we learnt a lot. We could see that there was a lot of potential and it could work very well if we were offering something along the lines of the Birmingham School of Ringing in London. In addition, the messaging interface on the site was very good and it would be very good if something similar could be developed for ringing. There also other sites offering similar services and we plan to experiment with these in the future.
Social media in conjunction with open days and recruitment events
We also used social media to promote recruitment events. We used the Charmborough Ring on two occasions during 2015 to demonstrate ringing to the public. The first was in April, where the ring was erected on the London Marathon route. All of the runners and members of the public in the vicinity saw and heard the Charmborough ring. We advertised the presence at the marathon beforehand on the Canary Wharf and Isle of Dogs and Facebook group, which has 2,160 members.
We also advertised the Rotherhithe tower open day in June on the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Facebook group with 5,695 members. This attracted 22 likes and 7 comments from local people. The one from Christine Simpson “Wish more churches would ring their bells, love the sound” was typical. This was good PR, and we want to encourage more of this through similar postings. It is much better than the negative publicity that we can sometimes get through noise complaints.
Although we do not know how many came along because of the social media postings, we estimate that around 100 people took the opportunity to come up to the ringing room and watch the ringing on the open day and then climb to the platform above the bells to watch the bells being rung. Trisha Shannon was particularly good at engaging with the members of the public and collected the names and email addresses of 18 people who were interested in learning.
Our second use of the Charmborough ring was at the Bermondsey Carnival on 4th July, The carnival was held in the local park and attended by over 10,000 people, so we had good exposure in the local community. We were able to give members of the public a short ‘taster’ by ringing some backstrokes on their own and then ringing rounds with a band of ringers. One innovation was to give each one an ‘I rang the bells today’ sticker, containing our URL which they then wore as they walked round the carnival, helping to draw further attention to the bells and our website.
We also arranged an open day at Limehouse as part of the parish barbecue on 6th September. Before this open day we posted an article on the Poplar Limehouse and Isle of Dogs Facebook group. The article attracted 75 likes and 33 comments from local people. We know through talking to them that a number of those who turned up came specifically because of this. Although we showed around 80 people up the tower, we were short of experienced ringers to demonstrate ringing. There was significant local interest but we learnt that we needed a more integrated approach to successfully convert this interest into ringers. We had previously discussed holding some dedicated handling lessons, but a significant number of our experienced ringers were reluctant to commit to helping until we had found some people to teach. As a result, it took several weeks to arrange. Although three new people came to the first one, most of those who expressed interest never came, and those that did just came once or twice.
We also learnt that follow up to expressions of interest generated through social media, our websites and our recruitment events is critical. We should have made the people feel much more wanted. The Internet can help a lot with this, but we also learned that leaving people to handwrite their email address was not ideal. Some people’s handwriting was indecipherable and around 20% of the email addresses bounced.
Improving our follow up
In addition to recruitment events, we receive a steady stream of enquiries through our own website, the ART website, the Discover Bellringing website and the Middlesex Association website. We tended to follow a traditional approach and invite people to practice but few, if any, came along.
Having learnt from the various initiatives that we had tried earlier, we decided to adopt a more innovative and pro-active approach, offering each person an individual course of six handling lessons over a period of 2 to 3 weeks to get them up to handling a bell on their own, ready to start ringing rounds with the rest of the team (Learning the Ropes - Level I).
This innovative approach has been particularly successful. It seems that non-ringers are quite bashful and can find attending a practice with a group of ‘expert’ ringers quite intimidating. Offering a course of individual lessons, followed by a gradual introduction into the band is a far more attractive option. Of the five enquiries received through these websites in October and November Claire Saddleton, Dave Webb and Stephen Bryan have come along two or three individual lessons each week and reached level 1. Two others are not far behind.
As a result of our activities, during 2015 we have added eight new ringers to the group that ring at one or more of the three towers in the cluster, expanding the group to eighteen ringers, with two more ready to join soon, making ten new ringers. All but three of these have come through social and other media. During 2016 we will continue to refine our approach to recruit yet more new ringers. There is no sign that the stream of enquiries is slowing down. In the last few days we have received a further enquiry from someone who has learnt to handle a bell before, which we will follow up at the beginning of the new year.
We are also proud that by adapting our approach from a passive one of advertising our regular practices to a more pro-active one of enrolling people on an intensive course of lessons, the outcome has been a step change in our conversion rate, as well as boosting our Sunday service band within a relatively short period of time.
There is no shortage of potential recruits. We have used social and other media to draw ringing to the attention of tens of thousands of in 2015 and interacted personally with several hundred of them. As a result we have shown that there is significant interest in ringing in our local community and we were able to generate a steady stream of around 40 people who expressed interest finding out more. We were finding it difficult to convert that interest into new ringers, but we have now found a way to improve our conversion rate.
Our presence in social and other media has generated interest, not only from people wishing to produce on-line TV videos, (we have a third enquiry pending for 2016), but we have also recently received an enquiry from a local history group who would like a tower tour and demonstration at Limehouse and another ‘community’ who help 18 – 30 year olds sample new hobbies and skills and who would to hold a session at Bermondsey. Networking with local groups like this is another area that we are keen to explore.
We believe that sharing our experience, both good and bad, will help others. We particularly want to work with our local Guilds and Associations to help them improve their internet presence and use of social media, so that they can put similar ideas in place. There seems to a case for broadening the role of ‘webmaster’ and integrating this much more with training activity. We also want to continue to experiment with posting on other hobbies and interests groups, so that we continue to expand the number of ringers in our local towers and roll this out on a London wide basis.