This application is made on behalf of the St Martin’s Guild, nominating Simon Linford, our current Master. The Guild, formed in 1755, now comprises over 280 members. The objectives identified in our constitution state that our purpose is: to maintain ringing for church services; to practise, encourage it and advance the art of change ringing in the Diocese; and to provide a fund to support belfry restoration and improvement projects within its area. During the last eight years, Simon has spearheaded a radical rethink about the Guild’s aims. He realised that the focus on providing funds for bell projects was misplaced when there were not enough ringers to ring them and sought to re-focus the Guild’s prime aim into one simple maxim: to provide enough ringers to ring every bell within the Guild. The leadership Simon has demonstrated in changing the way the Guild has worked towards this goal is the reason why we would like to make this application.
The Guild supports ringing in the Diocese of Birmingham and has forty-seven affiliated towers. We have strong links with our neighbouring associations: Lichfield and Walsall Diocese; Worcester; and Hereford. In 2013, Simon was one of the driving forces behind setting up the Birmingham School of Bell Ringing; a nationally recognised teaching programme.
The Guild’s members comprise a diverse group of people. At one end of the spectrum, the members include the Birmingham 12-bell band and, through St Martin’s tower, is an internationally recognised centre of excellence for 12-bell ringing. At the other end, there are many grass-roots members keeping their local towers going and sometimes struggling to teach new recruits. Simon has been instrumental in building up relations between these different groups, and ensuring that the opportunities to ring with excellent ringers are available for all.
Simon Linford deserves recognition as one of bell ringings most innovative and inspiring leaders. This application primarily deals with Simon’s time in Birmingham, and as Master of the St Martin’s Guild, although it should be noted that Simon has been instrumental in developing ringing nationally and internationally through the College Youths too.
When Simon became Master of the St Martin’s Guild in 2009 there was limited enthusiasm for the Guild – many did not see it as having much of a purpose. Successful towers often felt they could achieve what they wanted to achieve on their own; less successful towers did not see the Guild as offering any solution. Indeed, Simon was encouraged to stand for the position of Master on the understanding that the Master actually didn’t have to do anything. Yet Simon saw the potential the Guild had to offer to improve and develop ringing within Birmingham, and he was certainly not going to do nothing! He sought to reinvigorate the Guild, believing that his role as Master could be instrumental in leading on this. Simon publicly made it known that his aim was to remain Master until the Guild had as many ringers as it had bells.
This renewed focus of the Guild’s prime objective – indeed its raison d’être – has been the driving force in changing the Guild’s activities. Simon was clear. Any activity the Guild hosted was re-examined. Anything held simply because of tradition was abolished and replaced. The Guild was re-structured: the Northern and Southern Area Ringing Master posts were suspended and activities were centralised. Generic Guild practices were replaced with focused sessions to help ringers develop in specific areas. Simon, himself an outstanding ringer, sought to bridge the wide gap between the less experienced ringers within the Guild and the highly talented members of the St Martin’s band. One of Simon’s first initiatives was to start a quarterly newsletter. He worked hard to get contributions from as many people as possible. The first edition ran to five pages; the newsletter for the first quarter of 2016 was thirteen pages long and Simon was beginning to complain that he was struggling to fit everything in. The newsletter has put names to faces, keeps members informed and celebrates all that is good in the Guild.
In 2012 Simon brought grass-roots and top-end ringers together on the first Adult Learners’ Event (ALE). The idea was simple – a locally based ringing outing, accessible by public transport, giving less experienced ringers the opportunity to listen to and take part in ringing that would be better than the ringing in their own tower. In preparation, Simon targeted some of the best ringers in the Guild and invited them along. The first of these outings identified some serious shortcomings in the teaching that prevailed at local tower level and many of the ringers were struggling to ring competently in rounds, but crucially, it was an immensely enjoyable social occasion for all concerned. Drawing participants from all over the Diocese, friendships began to form and a social network began to develop.
The ALEs have continued twice a year and are one of the highlights of the Guild’s calendar. They have developed to the extent that Simon no longer needs to ensure that there are enough experienced ringers in support, as they look forward to each outing as much as the members who are benefiting from the support. Over the four years since their inception there has been a huge improvement in the standard of ringing of the less experienced ringers.
The early experiences of running the ALEs were one of the catalysts that brought about the foundation of the Birmingham School of Bell Ringing, the Guild’s flagship training and recruitment programme. Key members of the team that Simon has built around him came together and the idea was mooted, thrashed out and, with Simon as one of the driving influences, the School was formed in September 2013. It is highly unlikely that this would have happened without Simon as one of the key players. The Guild now has a consistent purposeful training programme which has seen the training and development of sixty-one ringers through BSoBR. Eighty-five Learning the Ropes certificates have been awarded and the Guild has twelve tutors accredited through ART. Simon plays a core and regular role as a tutor to students and mentor to teachers in training.
In addition to these three core initiatives, Simon has led the way in the provision of numerous other ringing activities, each with an individual focus. In particular, Simon has promoted the need to appreciate the theoretical side of ringing along with the practice. Every one of Simon’s initiatives involve pre-set homework. These focus practices are almost too numerous to mention, but include: a Surprise Minor workshop which focused on how such methods are constructed; serial Surprise Major practices with built-in progression; how to conduct Plain Bob Minor; how to conduct Stedman. Simon’s initiatives are invariably successful and feedback is, almost without exception, excellent. To ensure this success he uses what has become his trademark formula – prepare by securing the ‘buy-in’ of experienced ringers and the rest (enhanced, of course, by his expertise as a teacher and communicator) follows.
Simon has never been afraid to stand up to resistance within the Guild, and the wider ringing community, when he has felt change has been necessary. Simon is a conciliatory man, preferring to achieve change through persuasion rather than by force. He will lead discussions at Guild meetings, seeking opinions from a wide range of people. However, Simon is also determined when he feels change is essential and will seek out, prior to a meeting, those he feels may be resistant to hear their views and explain why he feels as he does. The respect and regard people have for Simon mean that when he wishes to see something happen, it invariably does. Simon is the absolute ‘go-to’ man for all of us on the Standing Committee when we have a difficult problem which needs solving!
Simon himself defines inspirational leadership as encouraging others to do things they did not think they could do. Simon embodies the spirit of generosity with a selflessness that has inspired others to come together and reinvent the St Martin’s Guild as a forward thinking association with its members at the core. Simon prides himself on his many outstanding peal records, especially on completing many “all the work spliced” records. What is equally remarkable is the sheer amount of time Simon gives to helping others achieve their peal records, especially for those to achieve things they did not think they could. A commonly articulated complement paid by many of the less experienced ringers, in particular those who engage with BSoBR, is that they really appreciate the help they receive from those ringers whom they regard as ‘on a par with international sporting heroes’. Simon certainly fits that description (even if some of the rest of us don’t!). He has brought about a culture of ‘sending the elevator back down’.
Under the leadership of Simon Linford, the St Martin’s Guild has begun to flourish. Membership has increased by over 25% (circa 220 in 2009 to 280 in 2016). There are 347 ringable bells in the Guild – we sincerely hope that Simon intends to fulfill his promise to continue as Master until they all have ringers.
Simon has been instrumental in supporting the Association of Ringing Teachers, believing that the overall objectives and direction of the scheme was exactly what ringing needed. It was Simon who promoted the notion that the Guild should adopt the Learning the Ropes teaching programme, and Simon publicly supported ART through what were at times often challenging obstacles formed by other ringers.
On an international front, Simon has led ringing, in a manner which no one else has. In 2005, Simon masterminded the College Youths International Tour to encourage ringers from around the world to participate in ringing with UK members. Despite original scepticism from some within the CYs, these tours have continued every three years and in 2011 and 2014, Simon organised those tours within the St Martin’s Guild, providing networking activities for ringers from the USA, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia and South Africa. Harm Jan de Kok from the Netherlands describes the reasons he enjoyed the 2014 tour as ‘it meant I got opportunities to extend my method repertoire and improve my striking abilities on higher numbers. Simon would always motivate me to improve my skills by giving me a specific point where I could improve on’. Furthermore, ‘the tour made a group of international individuals into an international group of friends’. Simon has organised two College Youth tours abroad, but again changing the focus and mindset of those traveling. Rather than the usual “peal-tick” organised tours, Simon ensured that ringers went over with the intent to help ringers abroad who did not have the same opportunities that UK ringers have. Simon truly has inspired change for ringers all around the country. UK ringers regularly travel out to support bands abroad; and the UK tours continue to go from strength to strength.
We believe Simon deserves recognition for his inspirational leadership, primarily to the St Martin’s Guild but on the national and international ringing front too. He has pioneered change, re-directed the thinking of others, and his changes have been a direct benefit to numerous ringers.