The ART Award for Inspiring Leadership in Ringing

Highly Commended: Nikki Thomas

Mancroft Ringing Discovery Centre is located in Norwich, within the church of St Peter Mancroft and is a purpose-built teaching centre with eight dumb bells linked to computers. It holds an abundance of teaching material and resources, as well as a wealth of historical material accessible.

Nikki Thomas is employed as the Centre’s Manager. She is employed for 20 hours per week and while at first glance it may seem inappropriate for someone to be nominated for carrying out a role they are paid for, it is in fact the case that Nikki is being nominated for her inspiring leadership which she brings to this role because of her outstanding personal qualities and vision, and not because she is carrying out tasks set by her employer. She is also an outstandingly loyal and dedicated ringer, who prioritises other people’s achievements and goals in her whole ringing life.

As the Centre’s manager, Nikki does excellent work, always giving 100% to the job. She provides excellent leadership in that role. But on a 20 hr/week contract, the success and popularity of the Centre is down to all the extra things Nikki does and her development of a high performing volunteer team drawn from local ringers.

The Centre runs an active programme of teaching sessions and events, covering all of the Learning the Ropes Levels one to five (both method ringing and advanced call changes), as well as extending opportunities to other ringers wishing to pursue other goals, for example the Ringing World Pathways, Project Pickled Egg and handbell ringing. Bell handling and focused bespoke sessions are also offered, as well as tuition on using technology to aid ringing progress.

Sessions are held at various times of the week to enable full accessibility by ringers, so there are lunchtime sessions, evening and weekend sessions. There is a core regular programme of Tuesday and Thursday lunchtimes, Junior ringing and School Groups on Wednesdays, and Friday Use the Simulator for individual practice, as well as a monthly Surprise Major practice. In addition one-off sessions are arranged and there are usually several of these every week.

Away from MRDC, which is only one part of Nikki’s busy ringing life, she encourages and supports other ringers whether in the tower or on handbells. She is active in her local Association, her own tower and at St Peter Mancroft where she is also part of that band. She is active in the Association of Ringing Teachers, and has promoted ringing in all sorts of ways such as giving talks, running Open Heritage Days as well as numerous outings and events.

Key Figures for 2022

At MRDC, 229 sessions have been held, and a total number of attendees is 5,109 although this number includes returning/regular attendees. However, what this amounts to is 3,141 hours of volunteer time. There are typically 5 students per session and a minimum of 4 helpers which includes the main tutor for the session. The Junior Ringers group has a core of 12 young ringers and the separate School Group currently has 8, again these are supported by a minimum of 2 helpers. The age profile of attendees ranges from 6 through each decade up to 70+.

Leadership skills

One of the Central Council’s Strategic Priorities is to address barriers to progress in ringing. This objective is shared by MRDC but it is Nikki’s leadership of the volunteer team which makes this happen at every level of ringing. The team which she has nurtured and developed is exemplified by the personal contributions of many dedicated individuals which allow ringers to progress, to remove barriers, and to inspire growth and positivity. All of this has a significant impact on ringing, not just in Norwich and Norfolk, but in the region. The Volunteer Team is a wide and varied group based around a core team of 12-14 people who teach/help/support/attend on a weekly basis.

A key attribute of the Volunteer Team is that it is made up from a wide range of ringers who are not exclusively Mancroft ringers or from Norwich. Nikki makes everyone welcome and this fosters a welcoming atmosphere and counteracts the unfortunate effects of ringing being focused around a single tower. Members of the Volunteer Team carry out a wide range of roles, from direct teaching to ‘behind the scenes’ work such as maintenance, promotion and fundraising. Nikki’s leadership ensures that they share a common goal and the same priorities of mutual respect for the teacher and student, great loyalty to the Centre of which they feel extremely proud and a willingness to learn and adapt. Nikki runs the Centre in a constructive and consensual way, and each volunteer feels valued and able to contribute positively to the teaching sessions. Anyone who has a good idea is encouraged to try and implement it, whether it be a useful exercise, a different approach to a persistent handling problem or to achieve a goal.


There have been many positive achievements:

  • Entry to the Ringing World National Youth Contest in Exeter. In a large, rural area as East Anglia, getting young people together to practise is problematic, but Nikki has had the vision, the drive and determination to make it a reality. The Youth Team evolved from the Junior Ringers sessions described in Section 1. The Youth Team were subsequently empowered to run their own summer practices in 2022, which included an outing to Cambridge and a day in Great Yarmouth. There is no question that the young ringers were set a great example by Nikki and moreover that they enjoy her friendly style and her indefatigable sense of humour. Two of the older young ringers are now part of the volunteer team supporting the Junior Ringers weekly practice, and help to make it a self-sufficient group. Nikki is an excellent facilitator to help others realise their own leadership potential.
  • Learning the Ropes Achievements. Working towards and gaining the skills for any of the LtR levels takes time and effort on the part of both student and teacher. Many of the LtR students do not have the opportunity to progress through LtR at their home towers and Nikki and her team have facilitated several successes. This year, four students achieved Level Five, one Level Four and three Level Three. Some of these have also gone on to do the Module one teaching course and are now supporting the School Group ringing.
  • Quarter Peals. In particular for young ringers, Nikki has initiated a regular Monday evening quarter peal attempt, which has resulted in several ‘firsts’, as well as an opportunity for helpers to take part in some consolidated ringing, and everyone shares in the subsequent success. This is very motivating for all volunteers and ensures that there is continuing goodwill and reward. Happy volunteers will continue to come and support if they feel valued and that their time is well spent. One young ringer achieved his Duke of Edinburgh Award by being given (and completing) the task of assisting with the Junior Ringers and ringing quarter peals of the six 2nds place Cambridge methods.
  • The Learning the Ropes Festivals. Two of these have been held in Norwich, entirely run by Nikki and volunteers. On both occasions (in 2019 and 2022), a full day’s programme was devised of Masterclasses aimed at students at various Levels of LtR, as well as some additional and experimental sessions, such as ‘Ring Something Heavy’ which gave students an opportunity not only to ring some heavy bells but to receive expert coaching on techniques and style.
  • Regular Focused Foundation Skills Sessions. Nikki ensures that all volunteers are familiar with the technology used at the Centre and can gradually build their own skills. They are encouraged to be much more than passive helpers at all the sessions and actively contribute. The Foundations Skills sessions in particular break the mould of the Plain Hunt – Plain Bob progression and make full use of the ART Toolboxes and other exercises in carefully planned sessions using the available technology. These sessions are very rewarding and build good relationships between all ringers. This in turn creates a sense of equality and camaraderie among students and volunteers alike.
  • Relationship with the Church. The positive presentation of MRDC as personified by Nikki is greatly valued by the church which appreciates not only the additional footfall to the church but also the enthusiasm of the volunteers, and their obvious pride in being part of it. The church too shares in this, and the vicar is often to be seen popping into MRDC, frequently proudly showing it to a visitor. One of the curates is now assisting with the Junior Ringers, which is the only youth group active in the church at present.

Away from MRDC, Nikki has been instrumental in introducing many people to the art of handbell ringing. In particular she has been part of a group which has achieved first quarter peals in Plain Bob Minor and Major, St Clements’, Kent and Oxford Treble Bob and most notably Stedman Triples, which was conducted by the newest ringer in the group. This took much dedication and teamwork but also leadership to keep the project alive and focused, and ultimately successful. It is a measure of her contribution that a group of people she had nurtured rang a handbell quarter as a tribute to her.

Particular Areas of Innovation

Nikki is always looking at new ideas and thinking about how old problems can have new solutions. For example, Surprise Major and the Pickled Egg practices have been established with an open and welcoming atmosphere. These started as a ‘thank you’ to volunteers for their support and have now developed into regular sessions, enabling focused practice and quarter peals with a solid band, similar to the idea behind the ‘Cast of a Thousand’. Nikki is very sensitive to the needs of her volunteers and never takes them for granted or undervalues them. For her, everyone is important and she will do all she can to help each individual reach their goal, whatever that may be.

Nikki also plays her part with the Norwich Diocesan Association, for whom she is General Secretary. The Norwich Diocesan Association’s AGM in 2022 included a Foundation Skills session at two of the towers prior to the meeting, and the Junior Ringers met in the morning at a suitable tower. These events were open to all members of the NDA and added a new way of meeting up and ringing than the traditional tower grab before the AGM. These innovations all proved to be very popular.

There has been a beneficial effect on other towers. Thanks to the inspiring leadership of Nikki, local practices have been run making much greater use of techniques from M1 and M2 and Learning the Ropes, and introducing focus practices outside of regular practice nights. These include South Walsham, Ranworth, Wroxham, Holt, Upper Sheringham, and Reedham. These towers regularly visit MRDC either as group visits or individuals from the towers attending practice. The learners who attend the sessions enjoy having a more focused style of teaching rather than a quick go at Plain Hunt once a week. Quality teaching addressing handling faults is also a benefit which is appreciated.

Nikki has ensured that there is access to all at MRDC. Lunchtime sessions mean that learners benefit from attending MRDC but can still be part of their local band. The MRDC sessions are timed to not clash with other ringing so that local ringing is enhanced rather than diminished.

The Junior Ringers. This started with just two children from Mancroft Minors (the junior choir). It was slow to start and it is due to Nikki’s perseverance that 12 children now attend and 4 attend the separate School session. As it grows in success, it also attracts more offers of help from the volunteers and it has become a highlight of the week for everyone.

Nikki is constantly evaluating and reviewing what she does and thinking of ways to improve, not only at MRDC but also at her local practice night where she is Tower Captain. At MRDC, numbers are increasing at the Thursday method sessions while there is progression from Foundations Skills to Methods. Where learners are not already registered with Learning the Ropes at their own tower they are now added onto the MRDC list. Feedback is sought and actively encouraged and sessions are continually evaluated for their benefit and success.

Nikki is someone that many ringers in the region look to for advice, support and with the knowledge that she will take things seriously and come up with some good ideas. Furthermore she will support the development of those ideas. She is an encouraging and imaginative teacher. Her role at Mancroft is only one small part of what she contributes to ringing and her easy going, friendly and inclusive style, as well as her infectious enthusiasm makes her a worthy recipient for the Inspiring Leadership Award.

Sponsored by Talent Innovations


Winner: Debbie Phipps

Highly Commended: Sonia Field,

Nikki Thomas and Hayley Young

Nominated by: Edward Carter