I have used various approaches to recruit young ringers and no one method is better than another. Generally I find that there is a narrow window at around 9 and 10 years old when children are just about big enough to start ringing but before they have started secondary school. At that age they are more likely to give ringing a try. They are not yet under the peer pressure not to try things that might later seem uncool (or whatever the current youngsters call unusual hobbies).
We ring in an upstairs ringing room so we are not visible to the public or even the congregation. So we try to have a corporate presence by wearing ringers’ sweatshirts and polo shirts whenever we are ringing. We should perhaps look into the possibility of a video link between the church and the ringing chamber so we can be seen as we ring for services.
I try to promote ringing, particularly among young people so that ringing isn’t seen as so unusual.
I make a point of talking to the adult leaders and offering to organise a meeting for them. Generally I organise three or four activities and split the young people into groups (each with an adult leader) and rotate them round the activities during the evening.
The activities I use:
I make sure I allow 5 to 10 minutes at the start and end for the leaders to organise the groups and give out notices and time the changes of activities so everyone tries each activity on offer. It is surprising how many of the adult leaders have been ringers in the past and are not averse to ringing a few rounds to demonstrate this.
The adult leaders tell their friends and this brings in further requests, spreading the word among the more active children in the area.
After running such sessions for the uniformed organisations for several years, we are finding that a trickle of young people are asking to learn to ring after encountering us through these sessions.
I run a group of handbell ringers in the run up to Christmas each year. We meet weekly and practise carols in the Church Hall in preparation for ringing at a variety of events, carol services, old peoples’ homes, etc. We invite all our young ringers to take part and most of them do, so approximately half the team are school-aged.
At performances, we wear attractive matching waistcoats. When introducing the group we make it clear that we are almost all church bell ringers. We try to incorporate a simple demonstration of change ringing into each performance (by lapping and/or by ringing Plain Hunt by physically moving the ringers).
I have found that younger siblings like to join in (8 or 9 years old). And that those who join the handbell group are often keen to give tower bells a try when they are big enough. We have recruited several young ringers in this way.
I confess that I find the most effective way of recruiting young ringers is to constantly be on the look out for young people of around ten years old, preferably with their parents, so I can get to know the parents and when I have gained their trust, then ask if their children may come and try ringing.
In particular I suggest inviting the families who already know you through the church, and particularly asking lapsed ringers whether we may teach their children to ring. Even though the parents may no longer wish to ring, they are usually happy that their children should try it. Often it is better that the lapsed ringers don’t come up the tower too often so that the children don’t see ringing as a further area of their parents control over them.
It is rarely any good approaching the children without their parents. The children are often keen to try anything on offer, but when they ask their parents if they can attend ringing lessons, the parents are suspicious of religion/expense/time commitments and say no.
And of course there are children who arrive out of the blue with a strong interest in bell ringing – a bonus!
But the best possible recruitment tool is a group of happy young people in the tower already. Just make sure you arrange the occasional school holiday ringing course. Ask the young ringers each to bring a friend to the course.
Susan Read, Abingdon
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