The ART Award for Excellence in Recruitment or Retention

Highly Commended: Tom Farthing

Tom Farthing, who has been mastering the art of change ringing for 40 years, retired last year with the stated objective of sharing the joy of ringing with newcomers across North America. He has made remarkable strides towards that goal. This nomination will describe Tom’s good work, accordingly recommending him for the ART award for excellence in recruitment and retention.

Tom understood well that COVID lockdowns had led to the suspension of ringing in many towers. His initial response to that was to try to develop a virtual ringing program of his own. When became available and became widely adopted, he hastily shifted his focus to the use of that program. He vigorously recruited students at the University of Chicago as well as Chicago-area high schools to take advantage of this new way to learn ringing. Building upon that, he set up virtual ringing sessions several nights each week, and with those he pulled in remote ringers of a range of ages and abilities from across the continent, superbly teaching them the basics and then building their capabilities with a progression of more challenging methods. He developed thumb bell devices to go with so that the online ringer could experience handstroke and backstroke tangibly. In his online ringing he implemented a “pub time” so that people who had been isolated by COVID lockdowns could develop friendships while ringing. He also spent one entire week logging into every online group across the U.S., helping to build camaraderie among the ringing community.

Once lockdowns were lifted Tom has expanded his efforts by offering himself as ringing recruiter in residence in several parts of North America. He launched this strategy in October, 2021 with a lengthy trip to the Atlantic Seaboard of the U.S. At each of six towers, he met with the local tower captain, extended invitations to ringing newcomers encountered in the local areas as well as experienced ringers, and gave lessons on rope handling and handbell ringing. In Princess Anne, Maryland, for example, he taught the owner of the local B&B to ring handbells, hosted a professor from a nearby university who invokes change ringing when explaining permutations, succeeded in getting the church’s pastor to ring after an absence of several years, and inspired a recent university graduate to resume her ringing. On the same trip he took part in a quarter peal of Bristol Major at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and then negotiated with several of that band to reopen the tower at the Virginia Theological Seminary and ring there for the first time in two years.

In the spring of 2022 he spent a long weekend in Indianapolis, helping build enthusiasm for ringing there. On this trip he brought with him his remarkable tower bell simulator, an invention he developed over ten years with his brother. With its upper and lower wheels, it provides a realistic simulation of the action of a tower bell, and the lower wheel allows the teacher to slowly move the “bell” so that the new learner can develop the sense of rope handling in a well-controlled way.

In the summer of 2022 Tom drove all the way from Chicago to Quebec City in Canada. He stayed in Quebec nearly a month, reinvigorating ringing for the local ringers with some experience, and inviting the uninitiated to experience tower bell ringing via the bell simulator. He even taught himself some French so as to better approach the local population. Seven days a week Tom would set up either his simulator or his handbells and invite passers-by to experience the joys of ringing. Each evening Tom would review the day, considering how to teach better. The appreciation in Quebec is clearly evident in the description of Tom’s residence there below, excerpted from a report written by Donna McEwen, local tower captain.

In Quebec City we were the lucky ones this past summer. Tom mentioned briefly at an on line practice last winter, that he was thinking of spending a few weeks in various areas to help them in recruiting, training, ringing, conducting, etc. Well! There has been an EXPLOSION of ringing around Quebec City, due to Tom and his many friends and family (all ringers!) who came to visit. The photos below show some of the ringing around the city in the last weeks.

Tom was EVERYWHERE in town: in the towers, with his dumbbell set up here and there (probably 6 or 7 times!), and ringing handbells in many nooks and crannies of the city. Tom, thank-you for your enthusiasm, your advice in teaching, ringing, conducting, your patience (no question was too stupid), the hours and hours you spent amongst the bells to set up the simulator and also ringing with us. To everyone else, we have a rare pearl in Chicago. Say “YES!” if he wants to visit, and treat him like gold.

The photos show Tom in a multitude of places, inviting people to try ringing and giving them enough of an introduction that they would want to come back for more. This trip introduced Quebecois by the dozen to the wonderful world of change ringing.

Between journeys across the continent, Tom created and implemented the Young Ringers Award for the North American Guild of Change Ringers. This award explicitly targets ringers under the age of 22, encouraging them to help build ringing programs locally as well as achieving a quarter peal of their own. In the couple of years that this program has been in place Tom has developed at least four teenage ringers to that high level of ringing proficiency. Finally, Tom led an excellent discussion on the teaching of beginning ringers at the AGM for the NAGCR in Oct 2022. As a result of this discussion a committee within the NAGCR has been set up to work on the recruiting and retaining of new ringers.

I hope you will agree that Tom has done exemplary work to recruit and retain ringers, and I respectfully and wholeheartedly submit him for the award.

Sponsored by AbelSim


Winners: Wensleydale Cluster

Highly Commended: Tom Farthing, Bob Woods

Nominated by: Bill Cummings