Nich Wilson is tower captain at Maidwell, Draughton, Great
Oxendon, Kelmarsh, Haselbech, Naseby and Clipston (all ringable), and Lamport
and Harrington (unringable). In April 2016 Nich took on the task of teaching six people from
the village who had never rung bells before. This has now expanded
Nich has used an innovative approach in taking on the teaching of six newcomers to bell ringing in one group. His short-term goal was simply to teach them to ring. His long-term goal was to ensure that, through making ringing a fun and enjoyable activity, they would be encouraged to continue ringing and form a band which would breathe new life into the local ringing community. There is no doubt that he has achieved this goal.
Prior to 2016, there had been no bell ringing band in the village for at least ten years, the previous band members having retired due to age. The tower captain at the time continued to chime for services, but no ringing took place. When Nich, a bell ringer from the age of nine, moved to the village he was asked to take over as Tower Captain, which he did in 2015. He was keen to revive bell ringing in the village and in April 2016, following a discussion between Nich and three people who lived in the village, it was decided to try to form a new band. Three others were also recruited and Nich set about teaching the art of bell ringing to the six of them, all novices.
To teach six new people without any support from more experienced ringers was a tall order, but one which Nich took on with patience and enthusiasm. This was a new experience for him too, to teach so many ‘non-ringers’ and he made sure that he adapted his teaching methods to each learner’s needs.
Practice was each Friday evening and Nich spent considerable time with each one, ensuring that they fully understood not only the techniques required, but safety aspects too. As you can imagine, initial progress was slow – fitting in time in a one-hour practice for each one to have sufficient time to learn how to control the bells, whilst ensuring the other five standing watching didn’t get bored or distracted was an art in itself. However, Nich’s calm and easy-going approach, where he gently pointed out errors and never made anyone feel inadequate, made them determined to succeed. Before long they were able to ring passable rounds. Quite how much they benefited from Nich’s approach became even more evident when some experienced ringers from the local guild came along to ‘help’. Their approach was somewhat different in style and the annoyance and impatience they displayed when anyone went wrong made them value Nich’s manner even more. The former tower captain has commended Nich’s inclusive teaching style, saying it is a world away from how he was taught: “I was taught by being shouted at, as my teacher had been shouted at by those who taught him.” Nich’s friendly, but firm, approach noted each person’s difficulties, gently leading them in the right direction.
The nine-year-old son of one of the new ringers also joined in. He started well, but then lost confidence in his ringing abilities. Nich put in extra time, working with him on an individual basis until he regained his confidence. When he left primary school, he joined in ringing for his Year 6 leaver’s church service. The bell tower door was left open and he was really proud that his fellow pupils could see him ringing. He is now a competent ringer and, despite the pressures of being at secondary school, attends practices regularly and is keen to challenge himself.
Nich’s encouragement and confidence in his recruit’s abilities promoted their willingness to help at four neighbouring towers. The tower captain was very grateful for their assistance and, as a consequence, started to attend their Friday practices with one of his experienced ringers and with a new person he had been teaching. The previous tower captain of the tower also started to attend practices, which meant they now regularly had eight ‘new’ ringers and four experienced ringers in a six-bell tower!
As a measure of progress, by the summer of 2017 some of the recruits were sufficiently proficient to ring for weddings in the village, quite a responsibility on a couple’s special day! They also did a day’s ‘tour’ of ringing at six local churches, which further cemented their learning and ability to handle different sets of bells.
Nich had been keen for his learners to progress to ringing call changes and, having experienced ringers join in, enabled them to have good, stable ringing on the majority of the bells whilst one or two of the new ringers at a time tried to master call changes. Given the number of new ringers, Nich had to adapt his normal teaching methods as each one picked up the call change process at a different speed. Instead of simply calling the first change, he called the changes for every bell involved. This proved very successful as it has given each one the time to work out where they should be and, as time went gone on, he was able to stop calling the changes for those who now understood the process.
In 2018, the three original new ringers moved away from the village but were replaced by two new people from the village who wanted to ring. Whilst this initially meant that the progress of the whole band slowed, once again Nich’s patience and approach meant that the two new ringers made very good progress and were much quicker to advance to call changes than the rest had been. The tower captain from the neighbouring benefice also moved away, but one of his experienced ringers, now in his eighties, started to join in for practice and ringing for services. Finally, they were joined by another tower captain from a neighbouring village and a new ringer she had been teaching.
Throughout 2019 they have become a settled group of ringers with:
Nich has been keen for all to progress to method ringing and, in a staged approach, has ensured that they have all learnt to Plain Hunt. Where appropriate, he has asked members of well-established bands to join in for practice so that his learners can hone their skills. Whilst each has his or her favourite bell, he ensures that they ring a variety of bells, which is particularly beneficial when doing call changes and Plain Hunt as it avoids complacency and means they really have to think about and understand what they are doing.
This year Nich has also instigated having the first practice of each month at a nearby tower with eight bells, to ensure that they are able to master ringing on different numbers of bells. Where necessary, he has given up time for individual tuition, including taking time to teach the techniques of ringing down in peal, something learners often struggle to learn in group practices.
Ringing has progressed to the point that, in addition to those churches for which Nich has responsibility, this Summer, members of the band were invited to ring at weddings at other churches where other bands lacked numbers, again giving them a real feeling of pride that they are considered competent enough to take on this task on a couple’s special day. This is entirely due to Nich’s persistence in gently, but firmly, pushing them forward.
In May this year, they joined in the ringing for Notre Dame at their
own tower and two local towers. For one ringer personally, France has been a
huge part of her life and it felt very special to be able to be part of this
national undertaking of solidarity with the people of France. Without Nich
having taught her how to ring, she would have had no means of marking this very
To summarise the lessons learned, it is clear that, with persistence, patience and encouragement, it is possible to take a group of complete beginners and develop them into a cohesive, dedicated band. From a daunting undertaking to teach six new ringers, Nich’s innovative and adaptable teaching abilities and enthusiasm have ensured that, not only has he been able to recruit sufficient people to form a band for the village, he has engaged others from their own and their neighbouring benefice to the extent that, where there was little or no ringing previously, there is now regular ringing at services at eight local towers. This is much appreciated by the congregations, who regularly thank the bands for ringing. Nich not only recruited the original six ‘new’ ringers, but has augmented the numbers and retained their interest. His dedication and passion for ringing has moulded the band into competent, committed ringers who really enjoy ringing, even in a freezing cold tower in the middle of Winter or when dashing around the countryside to ring at two or three different services around the two benefices ridiculously early on Sunday mornings!
In addition to increasing the band’s overall skills and competences (including ringing up in peal,) Nich is keen for them to progress to method ringing and to participate in competitions, with a view initially to them entering a striking competition in the summer of 2020.
At present the band practises at two different towers and Nich organises bands to ring for at least one, and often up to four services on Sundays at any of eight different towers. They will continue to look for ways to contribute more widely, both through supporting more towers and recruiting further members. To assist with the latter, Nich will be starting a group for new ringers in Clipston in 2020.
Nich has taken on considerable extra responsibility within the past two years. Not only is he Tower Captain for five of the seven towers in the benefice but when one of the Tower Captains in the neighbouring benefice moved away, Nich became Tower Captain for four of the towers in that benefice too. He continues to extend his own teaching practice, including taking part in an ART course in 2018. In between all of the above and a busy job as a project manager, he also finds time to fit in bell-ringing for his own pleasure and has undertaken sixty peals this year, including a peal based around St Nicholas Day that featured in an article in Ringing World on 13 December 2019.