The Durham University Society of Change Ringers was founded in 1959 and originally existed alongside the Durham College Society until the two merged in the 1960s.The Society practices on Wednesday nights at St Brandon's, Brancepeth, and rings for Sunday service there each week. We also regularly ring quarter peals, ring at other towers in the area, including special practices such as for surprise and 12-bell ringing, and organise regular outings, which local ringers also attend. We happily welcome ringers of all standards, including complete beginners, and are currently teaching several new learners. One of the Society's main aims is to promote bell ringing in both the University and the local area; we have several strategies in place to achieve this. Currently, there are 9 regular members of the society, 4 of whom are learners. Other society members attend less regularly, and the society is also supported by local non-society ringers.
In recent years, the Society has struggled with both recruiting and retaining ringers, particularly those who had not rung before. This meant that the Society had dwindled in size, and was at risk of not being able to stay ratified by the University. Following discussions between the executive committee, we identified that this was due to lack of awareness of the Society in the student body, and lack of a clear strategy for teaching and encouraging progression.
To address these problems, we developed a clear plan to put into practice in the new academic year. To improve recruitment, we produced leaflets to be distributed at the Fresher's Fair, with information about bell ringing, the Society, local practices, and contact information. These leaflets were also placed in the Student's Union and some local pubs, to raise awareness of ringing and the Society after the Fresher's Fair and in the wider community. We found the leaflets to be highly successful, with several people at our introductory practice saying they only heard about the Society through them.
We also installed a mini ring outside the Student's Union building, in order to give both students and local people a hands-on introduction to bell ringing. This was advertised on social media, and supported by local ringers. A wide variety of people had a go, and we feel that the event was successful in promoting ringing to the wider community. The event was also successful with attracting students to the Society, as several people who attended the event subsequently came to our introductory practice and regular practice nights.
Next term, we will hold our first 'Give it a Go' session. This is a scheme run by the Student's Union that helps societies attract new members by raising awareness and helping cover the financial costs of extra practices. This provides an additional opportunity for recruitment and raising awareness, after the new students have settled into University.
To keep ringers - both old and new - engaged, we hold ringing tours, which learners are encouraged to attend, an annual dinner, and regular socials. These events help foster the social element of university ringing and help bond the group. Ringing tours, often supported by local ringers, help learners experience the wider world of ringing.
We also maintain interest on a weekly basis by having confident teaching with clear progression. We had some practices before the start of term to learn to teach and to plan our approach. This strategy includes special 'learner' practices, the use of teaching aids such as a separate tail end, and promoting integration with the band by encouraging learners to ring with others at the earliest opportunity and encouraging them to attend ringing tours. We also provide reading material, and will shortly start working through the One Per Learner books, having obtained a grant in order to buy these from the student union. We also engage learners in bell handling challenges, such as standing at every stroke, and some seasonal tune ringing to promote bell control. We also ask them to point out more experienced ringers' bad habits, to help them focus on their own technique and encourage improvement in the whole band, no matter their level if experience.
For new members with more ringing experience, we have collaborated with Durham Cathedral to hold practices with their band, so that they could ring on higher numbers. One of these ringers has gone on to ring inside in his first triples quarter peal this November; whenever a society member becomes able to ring a new method, we help cement their learning by organising a quarter peal.
To avoid interest reducing as the speed of the learning process slows, we have begun handbell practices. Previously, only one member of the band was able to ring handbells. She has guided other members of the society to ring plain bob minor, and will start teaching newer ringers in the new year. This will not only help retain the interest of new ringers, but also provide new opportunities for progression for the more experienced members of the band.
These approaches have proved successful, and not only are our regular learners now starting to ring on their own with the rest of the band, but they have been integrated into the society in all aspects, from joining us in the pub afterwards, to coming on tours, to holding roles in the executive committee. We feel that the most successful parts of our recruitment and retention strategy have been the use of leaflets to spread awareness of our society, and integrating new members into all aspects of the Society, including executive committee roles and social events. Having lots of different things to get involved in, like handbell ringing, will help maintain the interest of new ringers as well as providing a new avenue of ringing for more experienced members. In the future, we will make better use of social media to raise awareness of our society, and engage in university-wide events such as hosting the Student's Union quiz night to raise awareness. We will also get feedback from our current members to find out what went well with our strategy, and what we can improve.