The ART Award for Inspiring Leadership in Ringing

Highly Commended: Sonia Field

Sonia established eKenton as a virtual training band in April 2020. As soon as the relaxing of lockdown was announced for 17/5/2021, Sonia began planning a graded return from virtual to ‘real’ eKenton ringing. With the Vicar’s permission she measured distances between ropes and organised a steeple check at All Saints, Harrow Weald (ASHW), a previously almost silent tower, then created a rota for Sunday service ringing.

To increase available rope time, Sonia arranged ringing for the midweek service too, a totally new initiative. Now, after some initial teething problems, it’s an established and popular part of ASHW life. Sonia also immediately reinstated the ‘third Sunday’ foundation skills training that she had introduced just prior to the lockdowns See Father John’s supporting statement.

Simultaneously, Sonia was planning how to cater for eKenton members belonging to other local towers that were now silent, or likely to become so. With the Ruislip Tower Captain’s support, she established monthly training there. By adjusting the timing to an afternoon, and encouraging a social dimension over lunch after ASHW morning service ringing (non-ringing friends, family and church members all welcome) she capitalised on support offered by the Association Master and other experienced non-local ringers.

Next, Sonia approached Bushey-Heath and re-established a monthly practice there. See Derek Croxall’s supporting statement. In June 2022 she approached a fourth also now silent tower (Edgware) and included this in eKenton’s monthly training circuit. By utilising pre-existing practice timings at both towers, consent was easy to obtain and potential conflicts reduced. Her vision for the training circuit was to:

  • Keep otherwise silent towers ringing
  • Enable local ringers with no active band to ring at their ‘home’ tower
  • Create a collegiate pool of ringers that support local towers and attract recruits
  • Promote experience of a variety of bells and towers

A monthly circuit of towers can be confusing. To address this, Sonia clearly communicates information by publishing a rolling calendar with monthly overviews, and monthly newsletters. Reminder e-mails are sent out before each session, with lists of those who have committed to attend, with details of methods/training activities planned for that practice, so that participants can revise beforehand. Follow up e-mails thank participants and summarise what has been practised and individual/band milestones achieved.

eKenton and ASHW membership is growing steadily with several ringers travelling some distance to participate in the training that Sonia provides. Tristan Lockheart (Leeds university student) reports: ‘Sonia was most helpful in directing me to suitable practices in North London. My initial experience at eKenton was so welcoming and organised (thus useful for my progression), that I now travel for a considerable time to attend her practices.’ Celia Workman says: ‘Sonia always has a plan for everything, whether it’s progressing the band as a whole or for the progress of individual members of the band. Her plans are delivered with imagination and a huge element of fun and enjoyment.’ She uses the Learning the Ropes scheme as a teaching framework, setting high standards and organising events with the best possible outcome in mind. See Dave Bassford’s supporting statement.

Sonia is passionate about providing quality teaching in a supportive learning environment. Teaching a band of almost entirely new ringers is challenging. So she recruits experienced ringers to assist her, deploying their strengths to promote progress…providing a different voice in initial handling, tips for specific skills, supporting developmental Quarter Peals. Two of these have appeared in Ringing World’s ‘What’s Hot’! Sonia wants to promote top quality teaching within her locality and shared responsibility for the delivery of this, so she organised an M1 day-course in April 2022 for six attendees whom she is now mentoring. She runs a monthly zoom teaching/mentoring discussion group to support this, which has attracted participation from further afield too. See David Smith’s supporting statement.

Sonia’s wider activities include: co-tutoring at the inaugural NW ringing course, see Chris Rimmer’s supporting statement, delivering interactive bell ringing talks to community groups, helping to lead a local tune handbell band, representing her Association as a CCCBR rep, co- editing Tower Talk and the Education Column. Networking and insights from these activities support Sonia in encouraging others to assume responsibilities and immerse themselves in wider aspects of ringing: steeple keeping, Association training, residential courses, leadership. See supporting statement from Jo, Wendy, Jean. Tristan Lockheart says: ‘Her guidance as to the ways of the Central Council has got me involved with leading a team within a Central Council workgroup.’

Sonia encourages two-way interaction between the church and ringers. Initiatives include awarding Birthday Certificates to members of the ASHW community thus raising the profile of ringing and the ringers, and issuing Thank You Certificates to ringers supporting ASHW during the year. Both are well received. Caspar Kennedy wrote: ‘My Mum loves this [birthday certificate] thank you; thanks from me too. We are a credit to your teaching and so you can be rightly proud.’

To conclude, since 17/5/21, Sonia has established a circuit of first-class training in our local area which has an outreach far beyond the confines of our community. She delivers quality training with regular ringing at towers (in two Associations and three Districts) that would otherwise be silent, and supports the development of ringing at other established towers. From Jan – Nov 2022, she has delivered 62 training events with 452 attendances from 62 participants, ringing at ASHW on 97 occasions with 576 attendances from 39 participants, and led her novice band to second place in the District striking competition (see attached ‘Favourite moments’ pdf).

As tower captain of Harrow Weald, I have no hesitation in saying that Sonia fully deserves this award in recognition of her dedication and commitment to the development of individual ringers and ringing within the wider community. Sonia came to Harrow Weald at a time when the band was very diminished and the bells rarely rung. She has re-established a regular Sunday band here, augmented by many other ringers for the Wednesday service and at the weekly training events, and this has given many of us the opportunity to improve our handling skills and our method ringing, in a situation which is great fun and very sociable.

Additional supporting statements

Father John; vicar of ASHW

When I arrived as Vicar of All Saints Harrow Weald in June 2019, I inherited a skeleton bell tower team that was able to ring once per month before our Sunday worship. Everything changed when Sonia volunteered to join the team as Ringing Master. We very quickly found that we could have bells before each Sunday service, and then also for our Wednesday morning services.

Put simply, Sonia has been an inspiration for the ringers. We now have monthly training sessions that are very popular for beginners, and we have regular quarter peals.

Of particular pleasure for me is the improved mutual understanding between the tower team and the congregation. Full credit for this goes to Sonia who has become a regular member of the congregation, with her family. She has also introduced an initiative to ring peals to mark birthdays and other memorable occasions for congregation members. This is much appreciated.

The renaissance of ringing at All Saints has coincided with two sad milestones of national significance; the passing first of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and then of our beloved monarch. Sonia was of indescribable support to me on both occasions, organising a full programme of ringing which involved regular muffling and demuffling of the bells and ensuring that we had full teams of ringers throughout the periods of mourning. I cannot over emphasise my appreciation of Sonia’s energy, enthusiasm, and organisational ability in support of worship at All Saints and I commend her without reservation for an ART Leadership award. She is a natural leader, leading by example and with respect for the differing abilities of her team.

Jo Harris, Wendy Crampton, Jean Power; ASHW & eKenton members

Sonia has been the driving force behind building up a thriving network of active towers from ones which were previously mostly silent, some with only one member on the books, so that we now enjoy ringing at a circuit of towers: Harrow Weald, Bushey Heath, Ruislip and Edgware - with a practice at a different tower each week, which not only keeps the bells ringing for the community to hear, but also affords us a huge range of experience on vastly different bells, which has increased not only our ringing skills but also our confidence in ringing in different towers.

She has helped ensure that not only is there training taking place at the towers, but that there is also support for ringing for services, weddings, funerals, Christmas and Easter, and major national events such as the Queen’s funeral.

She has led our team from strength to strength over the very difficult period of Covid by immediately starting online training sessions using Ringing Room and Zoom when physical ringing was not available. This not only increased our theoretical knowledge, but also ensured that we all kept our usual ringing time for ringing, so once we were able to ring physically again we all returned.

Many team members that Sonia has been training over the last two years have gone forward and moved into leadership roles in other areas of ringing, for instance two of our team have taken on leadership team roles with the Ladies Guild Central District, which we gained the confidence to do due to Sonia encouraging us to start to help to run practices, which is something she encourages from all the ringers in the Tower, thus ensuring future resilience and strength within the bands at the towers we ring at.

Sonia is also involved in organising the ART M1 training, which several team members have attended, and which others of us hope to do in the future. This will allow her to extend the capabilities of our team, and allow for an increase in the numbers of students within the towers, as the initial teaching at least will be shared among those she has taught.

Sonia at the same time continues to successfully recruit, and retain, new ringers, and provides excellent training and support for them, whilst ensuring that they feel a part of the team and are encouraged to progress, and even at the earliest stages take part in calling changes etc as their ability allows, building a skill set which is not often found in novice ringers.

Derek Croxall; Bushey Heath Tower Captain

With the covid lockdown, bell ringing at Bushey Heath came to a halt. Up until then we rang for a Sunday service with a weekly practice. However, many of our ringers were elderly and ringing never resumed after lock down. Sonia Field came to our rescue bringing a band to Bushey Heath once a month for a practice and to ring for special occasions such as the funeral of one our previous ringers and for the Bushey Acoustic Festival. She has done amazing work in training new ringers. The sessions we have at Bushey Heath are well attended, enjoyed by everyone and ringing abilities are noticeably improving. The ringing fraternity could do with more people like Sonia.

Dave Bassford; President MCALDG

From a chance online encounter with Sonia and her gang early in lockdown I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing both her and her ever-expanding team grow in confidence and skill.

After 42+ years as a ringer, starting with being tower captain at age 14 and holding leadership roles in a variety of ringing bodies since then - there has barely been a time in this 40-odd years when I haven’t been an officer of something - I think I have probably seen the best (and worst) that ringing has to offer but I have literally never seen such a thoughtfully run, thoroughly organised and, above all, highly effective long- term training programme as that which Sonia is running in NW London. Since the easing of lockdown, I have travelled over to ASHW and Ruislip as often as I can - at least once a month - to be a part in the training. This is a journey of over two and a half hours across London and means a very early start for me. I wouldn’t do this if it were not for the hugely positive experience that awaits me at the opposite end of the Jubilee Line: a friendly and happy group, all keen to improve and happy to celebrate their own and others victories and, above all, high quality learning which takes place during every session. Sonia provides the most rigorous training of the Association.

It’s also worth noting the fact that Sonia's group has a strong female demographic and as a result of this and being run by a woman there is a culture of mutual support and understanding that is not always present in more male-dominated ringing environments. A number of the women in this group have recounted bad experiences in other towers as a result of their gender - being patronised and put down at best, sometimes much worse, and this sort of behaviour simply does not exist in the culture that Sonia has created for her group. Equally, this is no women’s-only group and all men are welcomed but there is none of the traditional behaviour so often found in towers where it is assumed that the men will take the lead, ring the bigger bells and generally be in charge simply because of their gender. This is incredibly refreshing and always a real pleasure to see.

Above all, it is vital to note that, while there are many people involved in this and putting in much hard work, Sonia is absolutely the driving force behind all of it, from hours of work co-ordinating training sessions, networking and building strong links with other towers and their clergy to planning each session to ensure learning is maximised for everyone every time and above all, setting the tone of friendly, supportive but extremely focused and driven learning that everyone is part of.

Chris Rimmer

I co-tutored with Sonia at the North West Ringing Course in August of this year in the ‘Moving on in Minor’ group. I was left genuinely impressed by Sonia’s ability to galvanise our group into a supportive, friendly unit, in which everyone including the volunteers felt included and excited to make the most of the time we had together. Sonia clearly demonstrated she knew exactly when, and importantly when not, to push students a bit outside of their ringing comfort zone. Another example of Sonia’s dedication to the students’ learning was that she would hold a one-on-one conversation with each of them, every day to discuss their goals and progress. She achieved all of these things and more over just a few days at the ringing course and clearly has a lot more to contribute with her leadership to the wider ringing community.

David Smith

It has been great to observe how eKenton, Sonia's creation in the early stages of Covid, has blossomed during the last year or two as restrictions have eased. Not only is there now regular practice and service ringing at All Saints Harrow Weald, which had been without regular ringing for several years, but many other towers in the area have benefitted too. Instead of the post-lockdown decline in numbers and enthusiasm that has plagued some regions, this area of Middlesex has seen fresh recruitment, heaps of enthusiasm, and towers that were struggling being actively inspired to re-start and then increase their ringing. Sonia even managed to convene one of the first-ever ART modules for Middlesex, held at Harrow Weald in April 2022. While many people have played a part in all this, it is unquestionably Sonia's vision for what could be achieved post Covid, followed up by her leadership and hard work, that have been the catalyst and the main driving force. I therefore have no hesitation in strongly endorsing Sonia's nomination for the Leadership award.

Sponsored by Talent Innovations


Winner: Debbie Phipps

Highly Commended: Sonia Field,

Nikki Thomas and Hayley Young

Nominated by: Charmian Baker