Mancroft Ringing Discovery Centre is in Norwich, Norfolk, East Anglia. It opened in 2018.
The Centre is an innovative and imaginative facility providing extensive opportunities for all ringers, from novices to accomplished ringers, to learn and improve, including gaining teaching skills. It is also available to anyone interested in discovering the culture of bellringing and trying it for the first time. It is part of a wider ambition to bring the art and science of ringing to the widest possible audience. The Centre has eight training bells attached to a computer system, which can be rung individually or all together and is located below the magnificent ringing room of St Peter Mancroft, known to many as the 'home of the peal' – the first recorded peal being rung there in 1715.
The Centre employs one Manager (who is also a ringer) on a part time basis, but this belies the reality that over 80 volunteers have given freely of their time and expertise and this number is growing. People are not just asked to help – they eagerly volunteer. As for recipients, it is estimated that well over 200 individuals have directly taken part in MRDC activities or benefited from its support, and many more have visited or attended at least one of the MRDC activities. A footfall of over 2,700 has been recorded to date. Enthusiasm for all aspects of MRDC work is growing, and it is infectious, so the more people who encounter it, the more they spread the word that it is a great place to learn, to teach or to improve.
The Centre is open and available to all. However, specific Junior ringing events regularly take place in every school holiday with an average attendance of 12 young ringers (plus parents) – at such events the whole place is buzzing with excitement and young ringers travel from counties as far away as Northamptonshire and Warwickshire. In fact, the Centre is particularly suitable for introducing younger children (younger than 10) to ringing.
The Centre offers the following regular activities:
In addition to regular organised activities, an important aspect of the Centre is that it is open for any individual or group to come and hold their own practice – which many groups have taken advantage of. In 2019, 28 such groups came.
Naturally there are very close links with the St Peter Mancroft Guild and the Church of St Peter Mancroft, where the Centre is located. Also, the Norwich Diocesan Association of Ringers, the Suffolk Guild of Ringers, the Ely Diocesan Association of Ringers and the Essex Association of Change Ringers. All of these links have been hugely beneficial to the availability of opportunity in the whole region.
Located centrally, and near the Tourist Information Office, the Centre has close links with the City Guides and the TIC who are all fully aware of what the Centre offers and its timetable of events, and who contribute to MRDC events by providing city information. The Centre is also located near to the offices of the local paper – the Eastern Daily Press and also the BBC. This proximity has been greatly to the benefit of the Centre which has featured regularly in news – print, TV and radio. In fact, it has been noticed that radio presenters and journalists now know all about MRDC and are familiar with its purpose and presence and it has featured regularly in local news.
The Centre is forming an ongoing network of contacts and connections with other groups – for example the U3A has recently come for a talk about the history of bellringing and one of the newer ringers who uses the Centre has links with the WI which she has developed by writing articles and inviting visits as well as taking on the job of organising a commemorative quarter peal for the formation of the WI. The Centre runs an ambitious schools outreach project so there are excellent relations with school not just in Norwich but in Norfolk as well. Norfolk County Council has featured bellringing in its magazine and on its website 'Active Norfolk', and in fact some users have started ringing as a result of this.
The MRDC has transformed attitudes to ringing and ringing development in East Anglia. It has been able to support many towers following the wave of recruits which came as a result of the Ringing Remembers campaign. This has been crucial to most of these recruits continuing to ring, as they have been able to participate in the wide range of sessions on offer at the Centre. However, it is not just Ringing Remembers recruits who have benefitted but many other new and improving ringers from all over the Eastern region. It is truly innovative and embraces the best aspects of centuries of ringing tradition, with all the newer, inclusive and interesting ideas of the present. Even in its first year it has had a major impact and this is felt in both the newest bands and in the most established. It provides a focal point for all ringing which cuts across territorial boundaries and is respected as delivering high quality events. All the feedback gathered from the numerous events have been very positive. (Feedback is requested via a written form after every session, and data is collected after each session.)
What is unique about this Centre is that it is an attractive and easy to use resource for everyone and is not tower based. This enables the Centre to help anyone, and it greatly supports the work of towers by allowing ringers the time to practise things intensively, which they would not be able to do on a practice night. New teachers can gain confidence find the training bells a real bonus in taking their first steps in teaching and the positive attitudes which underpin the work of the Centre have a beneficial effect on ringing practices in the whole area.
The Centre has got off to a flying start making an impact on ringing in East Anglia, especially in its open, friendly and encouraging approach which is particularly beneficial to new ringers needing to gain confidence. The Centre is adaptable and aspires to be a leading example of what can be achieved in a different environment to a regular tower, without in any way believing it has a monopoly on this. So, for example it is a great credit to the approach of the Centre and the positive influence it has had, that now other smaller groups are springing up – for example, a Surprise Major group, Striking practices, Doubles and Minor practices around Norfolk and Suffolk. These really cement progress for many ringers at a point in their ringing when many either stagnate or drop out. The objective of the Centre is to ensure that the skills, traditions and language of change ringing will flourish among future generations of ringers in the east of England and this is achieved by responding to what new ringers want and by offering a wide range of focused practices across the range of skills required up to LTR Level 5 – and more- for example, anyone wishing to follow the new Pathways has the opportunity not only to participate in quarter peals of selected methods but also to be supported if they want to conduct them.
The Centre aims to build on all this good work by:
There has been a growing number of ringers from all levels, and indeed from areas outside the city of Norwich, joining the team at the Centre as volunteers which enables the Centre to be more accessible and to offer a more varied programme. There is no reason to believe that this will stop, as more ringers become competent, they also want to contribute more to the community they have joined. And for many established ringers the Centre has offered them a means of fulfilment of their ambitions for nurturing and developing ringers, as well as their own ringing. The Centre is at the forefront, with other innovative ringing centres, such as the Birmingham School of Bellringing and Worcester Cathedral, of national and regional initiatives to deliver new and motivating events and programmes and a second Learning the Ropes Festival will be held in 2020.
The MRDC is a focus for good practice in recruitment by providing a welcoming, encouraging and structured environment for any new ringer to make their first steps in ringing. The fact that it is not a tower in its own right which wants to retain 'its own' ringers for Sunday service or to maintain a tower practice night, means that individuals or groups can come and use the facilities and make the most of the expertise available as and when they need it, whether that is regularly or just as a one off. This approach is far more supportive to new recruits and indeed to new bands (several of which were formed as a result of the Ringing Remembers campaign) than the usual model of a single tower practice night aiming to cater for all needs. The wide variety of practices and workshops enable recruits to be supported at each stage of their learning and thus support the retention of new ringers. The use (though not exclusively) of the Learning the Ropes teaching scheme also greatly increases the chances of new ringers staying and becoming committed members of the ringing community and allows easy transfer between teachers and towers.
The Centre is only in its second year of operation and many valuable lessons have been learnt:
Certain parts of East Anglia may have been described as a 'ringing wilderness', but with the establishment of the MRDC, this is very definitely changing.
There is now a place where new ringers can start from the very beginning, where ringers can go to consolidate or build their skills, where conductors can gain confidence, where teachers can develop confident teaching skills and work with other teachers, and where ringers can mix and experience all the benefits of the ringing community. But more than that, it is a shining light of good practice and encouragement which has a hugely positive effect on local ringing and local practices. It has very much been a two-way exchange of benefits and therefore ringing in the whole area has been revitalised.
Landmark achievements have been outlined above, but to summarise: