The ART Award for Inspiring Leadership in Ringing

Winner: Debbie Phipps

My involvement with St Mary’s, Lytchett Matravers’ tower began about seven years ago when I moved to Dorset, as member of ART’s Management Committee it was my ambition to increase awareness of ART and its activities within the County. Mainly in collaboration with Debbie, hosting teaching Modules coupled with her enthusiasm, we achieved the greatest, annual number of teaching accreditations of any region/county (see Lesley Belcher’s Article, RW, 16/23/30 Dec., 2022, p.1184).

In my 60+ years of ringing I have not met anyone with a greater commitment to the leadership role – she has been described as a 'force of nature' by one of her band; in a recent conversation with a member of ART management they observed "We need a Debbie in every County". Debbie’s commitment is for the long term, cosmologically speaking her approach is Continuous Creation rather than Big Bang.

The scope of her achievements and contributions is evident from the Tower Annual Reports, 2021 and 2022 in particular. Her work is recognised at Branch and Guild level, the wider ringing community and ART. The following is by no means a complete list of specifics:

  • Level 5 Learning the Ropes (LtR).
  • Second ringer to achieve 50 Ringing Things (RT) Gold-Plus. Also achieved Gold in the Virtual 50 RT.
  • 33 quarter peals including 8 in Ringing Room (Item 2, LAP).
  • Number of the band’s LtR Level and 50 RT, real and virtual, achievements (see Annual Reports).
  • SDGR Joint-Bell Ringer of the Year Award 2018
  • Increased band numbers 5 fold (gaining 2 recruits during the lockdown virtual practices), 100% retention since 2019.
  • Set up the tower’s Facebook account and integrated the Tower web site pages within the Church’s web site (which she also manages).
  • Project management/fund raising for refurbishment of bells and safe tower access (£34,500 raised from grants and events).
  • Instigated and project managed the installation of the simulator, associated AV equipment and the CCTV system for viewing the bells from the Nave (funded from excess raised during refurb). She is always looking to maximise the use and functionality of these systems for the band’s benefit.
  • Created a self-sustaining band with succession in mind, this she maintained during lockdown regularly using Zoom and Ringing Room platforms.
  • Article in Ringing World, 4 March, 2022, page 201, “Resources for a Dorset Village Band”.
  • ART/CCCBR Recovery Convention (Item 3, LAP) – one hour Zoom presentation “How to Re-establish Ringing in Your Village Band”. A masterclass in my opinion.
  • Contributes to Tower Talk.
  • Contributed to 50 RT Team version.2021 – Became Co-Branch Training Officer and encouraged her deputy to become Branch Secretary.

Initially her objectives were for the local band to ring called changes well on all bells for Sunday services and to maximise retention of recruits. Post-pandemic this has changed to having a band that could ring Plain Bob Doubles well for services. The retention objective remains work in progress.

The main challenges

How best to manage and retain a large number of learners: being very organised; hard working; using the structured teaching-learning approach of LtR; making enough rope and theory time; encouraging a band member to become M1 & M2F accredited; use of computer and web based resources as effective management and training tools; knowing what’s achievable and makes each learner feel valued; creating a strong social bond amongst the band; delegating technical, admin, social responsibilities to other band members.

No experienced ringers: cultivates and encourages friends from other towers to regularly attend practices and contribute their technical knowledge, expertise and experience; extending her own ringing abilities; bespoke, in-house practical and theory training sessions; regular outings to other towers as ringing and social events, often inviting ringing friends from other towers; encourages attendance at Branch, Guild, ART training events; encourages participation in Branch events.

Retention and continuity during the Covid pandemic: Her implementation of a virtual based band network for training and socialising resulted in 100% retention, she also maintained the band’s strong links with St Mary’s church during this period.

Main leadership qualities

Debbie’s success in the leadership role is based on her:

  • Hard work and effective time management.
  • Knowing what she wants to achieve and having well defined plans and ideas.
  • Assimilating and organising the human and technical resources, innovating where necessary.
  • Being able to tailor the training to each band member and celebrating their achievements.
  • Capitalising on the talents available and enthusiasm within the band and further afield (the Branch Ringing Master in particular).
  • Creating an enjoyable, inter-active ringing culture with a strong social element.

Debbie has been key in developing a team with a sound infra-structure; which is viable and self sustaining. The work-load is shared amongst 8 others taking on roles such as PCC liaison/Teaching/Simulator/Social Media/Tower Web-site/Doodle/Steeple Keeping/Minutes/Catering-Social/Librarian/Treasurer/Safeguarding/H&S). Two other band members are seen as a potential Tower Captain and a Ringing Master; this year she instigated a 3 monthly regime whereby she and her deputy alternate running practices. Continuity and succession are relevant issues as Debbie is asked to take on more commitments in the wider ringing community.

Engagement with the Church, village and community groups is very important with social events and presentations, these have proved beneficial in terms of managing projects, fund raising, PR, raising the profile of ringing and achieving a greater awareness of ringing locally.

  • Afternoon teas, talks by Dorset Wildlife Trust, Quiz night, Teddy zip wire, medieval church and bells lecture.
  • Messy Church, WI, U3A, Cubs, Schools (Key Stage 2), “Thursday Group”, Village art group, Day Centre, Conservation Group and regularly uses community social media platforms.
  • The 8 fund raising events accrued £4,500 during 2019.
  • I know from personal involvement how much effort she puts in to making these events successful (see also her YouTube video of her rehearsal for a school’s presentation (Item 4, LAP).
  • Although Debbie will readily consider using ideas and resources suggested by more experienced ringers nor available via ART there are times when she will innovate, for example:
  • Monthly regime allowing each tower member, including novices, to be ringing master for 20 minutes during a practice (with some coaching beforehand). As well as being learning experiences it gives everyone a greater appreciation of her role. All are recorded in the Annual Tower Report.
  • Buddying-up each less experienced learner to talk about their ringing with a more experienced band member, this has proved successful. For 2023 each pair will be given a challenge to visit a tower they haven’t visited before and note useful tips and ideas that could be tried out with their band.
  • Use of MasterMind pegs and board to explain Plain Bob Doubles or, say, a 50 RT subject like Place Notation (Items 5 and 6, LAP).
  • Arm exercises for bell ringers (Item 7, LAP).
  • Ringing for a virtual service (Item 8, LAP). Arranging virtual ringing outings, via Ringing Room, with break-out groups and refreshments, visiting towers such as Hogwarts Castle.
  • She continues to regularly uses the Zoom platform and video presentations for teaching purposes.

Debbie attributes her success in maintaining a cohesive band to the involvement of all the other band members keeping it all together and willingly taking on roles and tasks. She also draws on help from other ringers and the Branch. Her original ambitions have been exceeded and her objectives are recalibrated as she gains more experience and the band progresses. Assessment of progress such as LtR Levels, 50 RT awards and Guild memberships are recorded in the Annual Tower Reports. Achievements are always celebrated with certificate presentations during Sunday services. During 2022: LtR - 7 x Level 1, 6 x Level 2, 2 x Level 3, 1 x Level 5; 50 RT - 2 x Bronze,1 x Silver; New Guild Members - 3. The key lessons Debbie says she has learnt as Tower Captain are continuous assessment is essential and keeping the number of ringers and learners manageable.

Despite her modest ringing ability and experience when she became Tower Captain Debbie has proved over a relatively short period of time to be an inspired, hard working and committed leader, respected by ringers far and wide and of all abilities. She is able to make strategic decisions whilst attending to detail and keeping the personal touch very much to the fore. Coupled with her communication and organisational skills she has produced a template for tower leadership that will be difficult to better.

Sponsored by Talent Innovations


Winner: Debbie Phipps

Highly Commended: Sonia Field,

Nikki Thomas and Hayley Young

Nominated by: Alan Bentley