The ART Award for Innovation in Recruitment or Retention – Mancroft Ringing Discovery Centre


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:

  • Monday lunchtime drop-in session (2 hours)
  • Friday lunchtime drop-in simulator session (2hours)
  • Monthly Foundation Skills practice (2-3 hours).
  • Regular outreach visits to schools in Norfolk with the Carter Campanile, a portable mini ring – 26 visits have been made to schools with a further 20 visits to youth groups and village events.
  • At least every month (or more), a tutor-led workshop focusing on raising and lowering/ plain hunt/ Plain Bob/ Conducting/Listen and Strike.
  • ART day courses as and when there is demand.

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.

Qualities & Achievements

  • The dedication and commitment of the Centre Manager Nikki Thomas engenders a serious, yet light hearted and 'can do' approach to everything the Centre does and is one of the main factors in its success so far. As a Manager, Nikki takes her responsibilities very seriously but she does everything with a smile and with total encouragement and positivity. Therefore, the volunteers who come to help and the students who are there to learn, all take away the positive benefits of this approach to their own towers.
  • The Centre communicates very effectively at every level via social media and has created a presence in several groups and communities online – not just information but also friendly observations, tips and encouragement, all of which foster a sense of belonging. This is a crucial factor in retention of new recruits and has proved to be very effective in creating friendship and commitment to each other. The use of technology makes it very accessible to many different types of users and can be tailored to suit individual needs or requests. It also eliminates the 'fear factor' which might often stop new ringers from progressing.
  • The Centre is independent – based in Norwich but it is not simply an arm of the NDAR or the SPMG (St Peter Mancroft Guild). It is there for everyone and accommodates all ringers from anywhere who are keen to learn. There are no barriers or boundaries which prevent anyone from taking advantage of the opportunities and support offered at the Centre.
  • The easy availability of the Centre and the easy go of the training bells allow precious time to be spent consolidating basic handling skills which would not normally be possible, or so easy, in a tower. Intensive sessions can be easily arranged and can result in significant progress.
  • The high quality of the teaching/training delivered is integral to the work of the Centre. The collective expertise and experience of the St Peter Mancroft Guild and NDAR members as well as at least 18 ART trained teachers all contribute to the teaching team.
  • To date the Centre has helped approximately 65 novice ringers start ringing or advance their skills. There are more people not included in this figure who are known to have decided ringing is not for them, but have at least had introductory lessons. Of these all are still ringing and, from the types of comments they make on social media, are loving being part of the ringing community. The Centre has also hosted 9 talks about ringing and its history to groups such as the WI, the Norwich History Society and the U3A.
  • Coincident with the Ringing Remembers campaign, the newly opened Centre was able to handle and support a significant number of new recruits and towers. It was also able to offer on going, tailored support to those individuals and towers as they progressed in their ringing.
  • Any ringing recruitment event in Norwich, such as Heritage Open Days and similar, and the wider area is able to quickly refer interested recruits to MRDC, set up teaching and importantly, give continuing support as teaching progresses.
  • The regular programme of drop-in sessions along with workshops, day courses and focused sessions encourages greater retention among new recruits. The eclectic programme offers something for everyone at whatever stage of learning they are at, and is also responsive to needs. It has been observed that the recruits who use the Centre have a sense of excitement at having this facility available, and also take pride in being part of something which is innovative and motivating. Some of the new ringers have started to volunteer at the Centre to help keep it open as much as possible.
  • The Centre has enabled at least 30 quarter peals to be rung, which includes 14 'firsts'. This includes quarter peals of methods from the Ringing World's Method of the Month list, which has offered progression to several of the ringers who come to volunteer and who may not have those opportunities at more rural towers. Several new recruits have progressed through various levels of Learning the Ropes and at least one has reached Level 5.
  • In August a Learning the Ropes Festival was organised based around the Centre and including other city centre towers, which attracted 50 new ringers from many different places such as Birmingham, Northamptonshire, London and Essex, as well as local ringers.
  • The Junior ringing event which takes place every school holiday has proved to be really popular with young ringers and their parents, some of whom travel a fair distance to attend. They are given lots of opportunities to do things they might not be able to at their home towers such as ringing the tenor or ringing on 8, calling touches or changes, practise 'being in charge', as well as more obviously practising methods or techniques. They take this excitement back to their towers and many of them return every time. Some of the local young ringers then have the opportunity to ring on the 12 at St Peter Mancroft, while others have rung in their local teams for the RWNYC.
  • Innovative practices, such as a novice 12 bell practice at Great Yarmouth, 'Ring Something Simple' practices and a planned nationally co-ordinated Ringing for Special Occasions practice to be held in May 2020.

Future Plans & Aspirations

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:

  • running more tutor-led focused practices at the Centre
  • developing the youth ringing events with the aim of entering a team to the RWNYC
  • developing a series of workshops, building on the ART workshops model, which can be used by other groups in different settings
  • acting as a focal point for regional or even national training/teaching events
  • encouraging and supporting more towers to run their own focused practices and events
  • supporting more ringers to get involved in teaching
  • building on the successful schools outreach programme to develop bands which might ring for school special occasions, such as Carol Services and Prize Giving days

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:

  • Making new ringers feel valued and not a drain on practice time is really important to building new ringers' self-esteem and therefore their willingness to try new things and progress.
  • The need for more people to get involved in teaching at all levels, or in other words, teaching or coaching to become an integral part of any ringing practice.
  • Build on connections which are made with schools so that we tune into the schools calendar more carefully. This would enable us to offer more continuity to the schools outreach programme so that, for example, we could plan to ring for special school events such as Carol services, Harvest Festival, Mothering Sunday, Easter and so on.
  • New teachers need a lot of support to build the particular skills needed for teaching children.
  • Engage with the local associations even if it might first seem as if there is no interest.
  • Have a strong presence on social media.
  • Take note of comments made in feedback.
  • There is a willingness among ringers to pay for quality teaching/rope time. (Modest charges are made for all MRDC events).

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:

  • The creation of a purpose-built teaching and training centre in the heart of Norwich
  • Regular drop-in sessions every week
  • 30 quarter peals
  • 65 new ringers taught or given additional support
  • 4 new bands got off the ground and still going (increasing)
  • Regular focus practices covering a range of skills and also responsive to needs and requests
  • 28 visits by whole towers or districts
  • Successful Learning the Ropes Festival and another planned for 2020
  • New ringers returning as helpers/volunteers
  • 26 schools visited and 20 villages via the outreach programme
  • 12 Junior Ringing events
  • Novice 12 bell practice at Great Yarmouth established
  • 6 ART day courses, workshops and assessments held
  • In 2019, there were 2,876 visits made to the Centre by individuals and 563 visits made by volunteers
  • 208 people participated in quarter peals

Sponsored by AbelSim


Winners: Mancroft Ringing Discovery Centre and Chris Wardell

Highly Commended: Jo Elliott and Nich Wilson