St Mary’s Brighstone, Isle of Wight: is a rural village with a light easy going 6 and a tradition of ringing regularly on Sundays with a mixed aged band. We hit a crisis 3 years ago: a family of 3 ringers were moving away, so leaving us short. To boost numbers we held a ‘taster session’ in the February half term holiday, to include but not exclusively target pupils of the village Primary School. We felt we had good response giving us four 9-10 year olds attending the school, mostly Brighstone residents. Things changed dramatically when we were asked if the youngsters might ring for the monthly school service in Church; we ring upstairs with a glass screen looking down into the nave, with the ringers clearly on show. This proved to be a great recruiting sergeant, as the youngsters could show off to all their friends! Our numbers soon increased to 15 pupils and we ran out of practice night: so we got a simulator.
The number of new learners required a total rethink on where we were going. A second targeted evening on the simulator helped give them enough time on a rope, at an hour suitable for under 10s, and they can then progress to the other practice that is now largely for method ringing. The school’s catchment area includes several other towers, and teaching them all together created a natural “hub” for ringing, with these other towers gaining Sunday ringers when they are capable.
We soon had enough youngsters to ring all of the bells for school service. Ringers taught at Brighstone have made up half the Vectis Youths teams in recent National Youth Competitions, they have formed a complete band in Island call change striking competitions, and are fully integrated into “Brighstone” competition and quarter peal bands. This summer a teacher from the primary school got married and all the bells were rung by her pupils, with just a couple of adult “minders” for child protection & safety purposes.
Retention is always a big problem, and to help maintain interest we have introduced “progress cards” – based on the Sherborne Teaching Aids, but starting at a much more basic level: you can tick off several things on your very first session. Blank badges from ebay were customised and awarded when sufficient items are ticked off. The first card aims to get you joining in with the rest of the band comfortably for services, the next card takes on method ringing and visiting other towers, District events and “social ringing”.Using the Central Council “Permission to Ring” forms looks professional and has also provided a useful way of collecting information (e.g. Thomas’ nut allergy) as well as parents ‘phone numbers: 10 year olds are rarely in control of their diary, and setting dates with parents too is advisable.
Those that don’t pick things up so easily are encouraged to keep trying. Sometimes a move sideways maintains interest and is as good as a move upwards.
We are working to involve the local school more; pressure on the curriculum remains a sticking point but they are always positive towards ringing. The training of young ringers is forever ongoing; families move, and those now 12 are “too old” and moving on from primary school, and we’re training the next group for school services.
We are very proud of our young ringers who are well integrated with the “oldies” as well as doing their own thing. Our experience with our “over 60” band (their total age when they ring) formed a presentation to the Winchester & Portsmouth Guild.
Sundays now regularly see 12 ringers and we are contemplating augmenting to 8 bells to give the Island an easy going and available ring (with simulator) for training and gaining experience.
» The Sarah Beacham Memorial Trust
St Mary's Brighstone, Isle of Wight
Old North Bucks Branch of the ODG