The Sarah Beacham Youth Group Award - Bedfordshire Young Ringers


Prior to 2007 there was no activity at all in Bedfordshire specifically aimed at young ringers. It was thought that there were a few youngsters at towers across the county, though with no clear idea of numbers. It is probably fair to say that at the time the Association was reticent and unwilling to respond to changing needs, with a favourite mantra at meetings being “We’ve always done it like that”!

However, in 2007 the then recently elected President, Michael-Barnicott-White, brought along a new broom, recognising that the development of the next generation was vital, and made it the focus of his term of office. Providing opportunities for young ringers to develop has remained the key priority for his successor, Sue Silver.

The first event for young ringers was an afternoon’s ringing at Kempston. This was planned as an annual event, and for several years we held an afternoon of varied activity at Campton (a new 7cwt eight), covering listening skills/Abel, handbells and tower bells. 30 people attended the first of these, split 18 young ringers, 12 adults. There was nothing particularly special about this, apart from the provision of a lot of squash, biscuits and cake which you wouldn’t find in more traditional environments. The objective was really twofold: to get young ringers together so that they could get to know each other and to open up the wider world of ringing to them. It was recognised that in an afternoon once a year not much could be done in terms of individuals making progress. The first aim was an abject failure - they didn’t speak to each other at all at first! - but as the same young ringers kept coming back each year (we were obviously doing something right!) it was clear that there was a need and scope for more regular activity.

In 2013 we started a monthly 4th Sunday afternoon practice, 2pm-4pm, usually but not always at one of the lighter 8’s in the county. The aim of this was not just to provide more and better ringing opportunities for our “regulars”. We were sure there were more people out there who could join the group and we wanted to encourage some of them to come along. More contact time would strengthen existing relationships and help new ones to develop.

The young ringers are all by recruited local towers - as yet Bedfordshire doesn’t have a co-ordinated recruitment strategy - and they come mainly from 6 main centres where they are taught bell handling and learn to ring as part of the local band. We fill a key need because we can often provide opportunities to advance that aren’t available to them locally. This may be about advancing from Plain Hunt to Plain Bob but it can also lead to achievements such as a complete band of young ringers achieving very good quality Cambridge Surprise Major which is impressive to witness. One comes along because it’s fun although she can’t remember the names of the methods she can ring!
With these regular practices, it has been possible to focus much more on enabling those attending to progress, both individually and as a group. On arrival each young ringer is asked what they have been ringing at their home tower since the last practice and there will be at least one opportunity during the practice for each of them to work on this or to try the “next thing” (in consultation with their mentor as appropriate).

In addition to the Sunday practices, we have outings once a year in the autumn – venues, from 2011 to 2016, have included Worcester (3 times), City of London (including St Mary le Bow, where the 42cwt twelve were competently rung by a band of under-17’s, a real highlight!), Cambridge and Bucks/Northants.

Bedfordshire has also entered a band in the RWNYC since its inception in 2011, and this has been a huge motivational factor, and we are in the very fortunate position, given our numbers, that there is competition to be in the team. The team has changed over this time but a major strengthening factor for the group has been that 4 of the team have rung in all four winning teams, with 15 having rung in at least one winning team. The only dedicated practice for the team is an additional one held the week before the RWNYC event, but throughout the year there is always an emphasis on good striking and all of the group know that even if they are not picked for the squad this year, if they continue to attend regularly their time is likely to come. The squad is picked at the May practice. We usually have 10-12 people in the squad and use the status of ‘reserve’ for those who don’t make it into actual the team this time. In the event of a true 50/50 situation, typically the older person will be selected as the younger one will have future opportunities. Linda Garton, as Team Leader, will have a conversation on a one-to-one basis with those not picked for the squad and their parents/mentors. Very rarely is there any disappointment. Commenting constructively on handling, ringing and striking during practices is the norm so all of the group are realistic about their expectation of being in the squad.

Over the past two years a monthly Twelve Bell Practice has been organised at St Paul’s Bedford, also run by Linda Garton. The objective of this has been to give Bedfordshire ringers of any age who are already competent at ringing changes on 8 bells the opportunity to progress onto higher numbers – however, it’s fair to say that the 8 or so regular BYR attendees have been the greatest beneficiaries.

Safeguarding is very important to our group, with adults involved DBS checked. We use an attendance register at all BYR events. We have one vulnerable 15 year old whom we brief thoroughly at the various events and to whom a responsible adult is assigned. We are aware of potential problem areas but remain vigilant both within and outside of the group.

What resources (technological and other) support these objectives and the group / centre or individual?

Very few resources are used, other than lots of cake and drinks! Linda always brings along her “Young Ringers Bag” containing a large rubber dice for what has become known as “The Game” (ringing a certain no of rounds then setting at hand or back), various books/worksheets which may be useful, pencils/grids (for “marking” listening exercises from time to time), and a camera/mobile phone for videoing/photos either as a teaching tool or general “feel good” publicity!

How many people are involved? Please describe the mix of those involved.

28 young ringers have attended at least one event during 2016, with a usual attendance of 18-20, ranging from those still learning to handle to those who are now competent Surprise ringers, and everything in between! A recent outing to the 4 towers in St Albans was attended by 40 people, split 60% young ringers/40% adults. A similar ratio applies also to the Sunday practices. The young ringers are all accompanied by either parents (some ringers, some not) or adult mentors from their own tower. The practices are run by Linda Garton who uses the ringing adults, as appropriate, to stand behind the young ringers to give guidance/support or to make up bands so that the young ringers can achieve a particular target. If not required, the adults are allowed to drink cups of tea! Though rare, if Linda is away there are two capable deputies and also a 17 year old young ringer is very capable of running good practices.

What has particularly inspired or prompted the nomination?

Bedfordshire Young Ringers’ 4th successive win at the RWNYC (ringing in the Method Category for the first time); continued growth of the group; progress made by individuals as a result of their participation in the group.


Success at the RWNYC

Bedfordshire Young Ringers’ have entered every contest from 2011 to 2016 and have won the contest in 2013 (York), 2014 (Worcester), 2015 (Oxford) and 2016 (London). Until 2016 the ability and experience of the team was such that we could only enter the Call Change Category. However, in 2016 we were able to enter the Method Ringing Category for the first time, ringing 2 courses of Plain Bob Triples. We have been incredibly proud of all of the wins in the RWNYC but we were particularly delighted with the 2016 success in London for a number of reasons:

  • The fact that we were able to enter the Method Ringing Category, and still win the contest, is a clear indication of the progress made by the group as a whole and individuals within it.
  • The Team Leader is in the tower with the team during their test piece, but cannot coach in any way. (Keeping quiet for 15 minutes is a considerable challenge for Linda!) However this year she was particularly proud of the way in which the team really took responsibility for their ringing, with the conductor confidently putting in the calls, one of the more experienced ringers making a few well placed and constructive comments about striking and speed during the practice piece and an encouraging and motivational comment immediately prior to the test piece, and with other members of the band smiling at each other when dodging together or mouthing “Dodge with me” if anyone was looking uncertain! Making comments during ringing to improve the quality of ringing is something that we have encouraged and practiced as a group during our Sunday sessions, so it was really good to see it being put into practice at the Contest and the positive effect that it had on the ringing.

Growth of the group

Although there hasn’t been significant growth in numbers attending since we began the monthly practices (ie the number “on the books”/average number at practices) our numbers have been maintained. This reflects group ‘throughput’, as older members leave to go off to university (though often return in the holidays), others stay as regular attenders over 3 or 4 years, and we welcome new arrivals – 5 new members in 2016 who only started ringing this year. The collective strength of the group has grown over time – what we see now bears no comparison to when we started in 2013.

Progress made by individuals

All of the group have progressed well with their ringing during the time they have been attending BYRs, but to what extent this is attributable to being part of the group is difficult to assess. They all ring in towers which are, on the whole, progressive and all have capable, encouraging and supportive mentors. I have therefore just picked out a few examples of where progress is, if not solely the outcome of attending the BYR practices, this has been a major contributory factor:

  • Parents of 2 of the young ringers have said, independently, that their daughters would probably have given up ringing were it not for BYRs.
  • One young ringer, C, able to ring rounds and call changes but very lacking in confidence, was chosen to be a Reserve for the 2013 RWNYC at York. A week before the contest one of the team dropped out. According to her Mum, C panicked all week, and even more so on the day itself when we were drawn to ring last! However, when the results were announced, not only did Bedfordshire win, but the judges said that the treble and second (rung by C and her older sister) had been rung particularly well – the only ringers singled out for particular praise across all the teams! Since that day, her self-assurance as a ringer has soared to the extent that this year she called the test piece for the winning Bedfordshire Band.
  • From being unable to ring plain courses of Plain Bob Triples without adult help a couple of years ago, a well struck course of Cambridge S Major with no adult interference is now regularly rung at practices.
  • Over many months we have been attempting to ring Cambridge S Maximus at the Bedford practices, sometimes managing 1, 2 or (on a good day) 3 leads! In November we were delighted not only to ring a creditable half course for the first time, but also that this was with 5 young ringers in the band.

Are the achievements in line with the original objectives – short and longer term? How has progress been measured and assessed?

These achievements have certainly been in line with the original (2007) and later (2013) objectives:

  • To get young ringers together so that they could get to know each other – from hardly speaking to each other back in 2007, breaks in ringing are now full of noise and laughter, the group are all really supportive of each other (eg messages on FB and texts of good luck to the RWNYC team on the day).
  • To open up the wider world of ringing to them – all have rung many different towers, on different numbers of bells, have rung with some of the country’s leading ringers, have been encouraged to read to the RW (a number of them subscribe), and appreciate that there is a huge world of ringing beyond their local tower!
  • To provide more and better ringing opportunities - this is clearly illustrated in points made elsewhere.
    What barriers /obstacles have been overcome and how was this done?
    Funding – we don’t “charge” young ringers to come to the Sunday practices, but we get a grant from the Association’s “Ronald Sharp Fund” which can be used for educational purposes.

What have the critical success factors been? What do you believe have been the main reasons for the successes achieved? What has really made a difference?

  • Cake!
  • Enthusiastic, committed and inspirational leadership in Linda Garton (Please see separate application) and fantastic support from adult mentors/parents.
  • Setting high (but realistic) expectations of the group and individuals, communicating these clearly, and encouraging a belief that they “can do”. Young ringers don’t come with the sometimes pre-conceived “fears” or of adults, and respond to instructions and challenges. A 12 bell outing to London in Nov 2014 (with a group most of whom had never rung on more than 8) began at St Martin-in-the-Fields with an explanation of how to ring on higher numbers (“Really pull the handstroke, let the backstrokes go up”) with 3 or 4 young ringers initially in each touch, supported by experienced 12 bell ringers, on to St Sepulchres (“Really, really pull the handstrokes”) then on to Bow (“Really REALLY …) where we concluded with good rounds rung by a band of under 17s.
  • A culture of commenting constructively on bell handling, ringing and striking during practices, including encouraging more experienced ringers to stand behind less experienced ringers as mentors.
  • Recognising and celebrating progress and achievements made by members of the group during the previous month … “Well done to X who rang his/her first quarter of … “, followed by a round of applause from their peers.
  • Making it light hearted and fun! If it wasn’t then young ringers would certainly vote with their feet. They don’t!
  • Irrespective of their age we try to treat young ringers as young adults, with respect – we see this as perhaps the single most important factor in retaining young people in ringing.

Have you innovated? Have you effectively used social or other media or technology in your approach

  • We don’t use social or other media or technology, and haven’t felt the need to do so (other than to celebrate achievements with others, and to publicise our practices). However, it is intended to use the new Biggleswade Ringing Centre for some practices in 2017 and we will certainly make use of the facilities there if we feel that it will help us to meet a need. We do innovate in terms of doing things which they wouldn’t necessarily do at their local practice. Examples of this include:
  • Marking faults/judging at our own ‘internal’ striking competitions, particularly close to RWNYC time, and encouraging them to learn to conduct and comment on the ringing.
  • mentoring the more experienced young ringers on how to run a well-structured practice which gives everyone an opportunity to progress, and giving them experience of running ringing, especially on outings.
  • Use of listening and other “exercises” eg facing outwards, and other activities before ART was invented, though we have embraced new ideas from ART too!
  • Firsts Day: BYR’s activity around the ‘FirstPeal2015’ anniversary on 3 May took the Central Council theme of ‘First’ and adapted it to make it more inclusive so that all of the group could take part. We had a day of firsts: peals (3 firsts) and quarter peals (2 firsts) and 4 assorted other firsts (calling call changes, Plain Hunt on 5, course of Plain Bob Doubles) followed by lots of pizza! All participants were presented with a certificate to mark their achievement. Following a write up of the “Firsts Day” in the RW, Linda was contacted by Viv Nobbs, Master of the W&P who subsequently used Linda’s idea and organised a very successful “Firsts Fortnight” in her own Guild.

How have you linked the group’s ringing activities within the wider ringing community? As a result of the group activities, how is ringing perceived in the wider local community? How has this changed?

Dedicated activity for young ringers operates as an integral part of the Bedfordshire Association’s wider activity. The achievements of the group, particularly at the RWNYC, are publicised, via the website, Facebook and by encouraging members of the team to go to their District ADMs and the Association AGM, with medals and the Whitechapel Trophy, so that they can be congratulated in person. Whilst it’s difficult to quantify, the success of Bedfordshire Young Ringers has, at the very least raised the profile of what is a very small Association, and a “can-do” attitude, support for events and willingness to embrace change are much more in evidence.

To what extent and how have you managed to involve the wider ringing community (and other stakeholders)?

We are heavily dependent on high levels of support from a number of people. There are some particularly active supporters, tower captains at the young ringers’ home towers and mentors who work week by week helping young ringers to progress.

We have some non-ringer parents who help provide transport to the various events and others who provide the food and drink. These are dedicated people and they are always there.

Any “lessons learned” that you would like to pass on?

We don’t think that there is anything that we would do differently.

We know there are gaps to fill, particularly in providing more experience on 10 and 12. There is the monthly 12 bell practice at St Paul’s Bedford to which the more experienced are invited, but that is not enough - we need to provide more opportunity. Similarly, the Cambridge Major referred to earlier needs to be stretched to London, Bristol and Spliced.

We would like to organise more QPs (or peals) to build on and consolidate progress made at the Sunday practices.

And the future? We’ve come a long way - Bedfordshire Young Ringers did not exist 10 years ago. Then we had no dedicated focus on or activity for young ringers and things were not great. So we need to keep growing and developing the group and we certainly need to think about developing our recruitment activity. At the moment we have little control over the numbers joining us and leaner times could return. Perhaps there’s an opportunity to grow some of the more experienced youngsters by teaching them to teach bellhandling. But for now, we celebrate current good times!

Please make clear what specific progress has been achieved during 2016:

  • 4th consecutive win in RWNYC, ringing a method for the first time
  • Ringing courses of well struck Cambridge S Major with no adults in the band.
  • 5 members of the group ringing in the same well struck half course of Cambridge s Maximus
  • Attracting 5 new members, all of whom have only started learning in 2016 and have been regular attenders since joining. (All now ringing rounds and call changes competently)

Sponsored by the Sarah Beacham Memorial Trust

» The Sarah Beacham Memorial Trust

Winner: Abingdon Society of Bell Ringers

Highly Commended: Bedfordshire Young Ringers