Creating the Walsoken Hub

I have not been ringing long. My better half (Jeanette) has been ringing longer than me. I learned to ring secretively on a crash course in South Suffolk without my wife knowing. I was taught in what I have come to know as the ‘traditional method’ which I have also called the “learn by your mistakes” method – if learning by mistakes really works on its own I’d be a great ringer by now.

My wife and I took stewardship of the local 6-bell tower (Walsoken). We wanted to design and create a place to ring that:

  • Was equipped to teach bell handling. We, like many other towers, actually lived in fear that somebody may turn up and want to be taught to ring from scratch (the horror!)
  • Possessed a ringing environment where it was mandated to be friendly. I remember when I first went out in the big wide ringing world after learning a few Call Changes only to be ridiculed for my general lack of ringing knowledge (I can’t believe this still happens!)
  • Had a growing reputation as the local place to come to learn bell ringing. It is fair to say that the tower we adopted had some problems in years past (all towers do but, trust me, ours was probably worse!)

So: how can you take on a failing tower? By wiping the slate clean and starting again? Well here’s how we did it.

We both got full membership of ART. If you are not careful there are seemingly rows of people who say “You can’t teach bell handling unless you have been ringing for 100+ years”. This is not true. If you want to teach experienced ringers how to ring touches of “Treble Bob-Gobbledegook Major” then sure 100+ years is recommended but for teaching bell handling that is not the case. Jeanette and I work as a team ensuring that from close up and from a distance bell handling is taught well to ART standards.

We all know towers where things can get a bit tense. We all know towers where the person running the session loves to be thought of as a ringing-tyrant. I can’t think of a quicker way to lose a new ringing student than to have to teach in a horrid ringing environment. We created a vision statement for our tower and we stick to it. What does it say?

  • Everybody will be welcome to ring at Walsoken tower. In the past visitors were frowned on. Ringers from nearby towers never visited and you were made to feel unwanted if you could ring methods. This change has worked. Ironically the only people who now feel less welcome were those that used to make others feel unwelcome!
  • Ringing should be fun, challenging and rewarding. We have fun. We ring a lot but at the end of each session we want people to think “That was good”. Simple really.
  • We’ll have an active, inclusive, recruitment process. Each year we teach many new ringers - mostly ringers that won’t ever ring at our tower. We advertise for learners and we never turn anybody away (that’s a big change from living in fear of learners.)
  • We’ll promote a safe, respectful and supporting tower. The old idea of “Mr. Shouty” as the Tower Captain is gone. We encourage ringing progression and will support anybody in whatever they want to learn.
  • Practical tower arrangements will consider our vision. Whatever we do in the tower will always be gauged against what we are trying to achieve. We don’t change anything unless it aligns with our vision.

We became an ART Teaching Hub. We recognised that in our area and considering our own ringing capabilities that we would only teach up to and including LtR Level 3 for the time being. What I do know is that in bell ringing you need to focus on the achievable. It was not that we ‘settled’ on being a teaching hub rather than a teaching centre it was what we decided to. It shows the flexibility of the ART approach. In our local ringing district we needed somewhere to teach bell handling and that is what we set out to do and with the support of ART we have achieved that!

We intend to gently progress with some new initiatives this year

  • We have just fitted a ringing simulator
  • We are teaching for “Ringing Remembers”
  • We are looking forward to (just in case) somebody wants to gain LtR level 4

The marriage of support from ART and genuine enthusiasm from all concerned has made the Walsoken ART Teaching Hub a successful reality.


Bob Cox