Working with retirees

You may find yourself teaching older people who have just retired from a long career where they were “good at” something. Headteachers, University Lecturers, Management Consultants, Company Directors – and unlike children, it’s been a long time since they were a total beginner at anything.

Being severely self critical, feeling a failure if they don’t grasp something instantly and constantly apologising are all common reactions from mature people who are faced with a bell rope for the first time. This doesn’t mean they are slow at learning, just that their own high expectations for themselves can be a barrier to progress. Children are quite used to being in a teaching situation where they’re a beginner, so they aren’t nearly as hard on themselves as an adult. Give your mature ringers plenty of supportive feedback!

Advantages of teaching retired people

People who are no longer in full time employment or with childcare commitments obviously have more free time to devote to their hobbies and interests. They are likely to enjoy the social aspects of ringing as well as having the intellectual insights and understanding which can mean they easily comprehend the concepts involved in ringing. Mature people are likely to be conscientious with learning a new skill, turning up to practices regularly and ringing on Sundays. If they’re involved in the Church, they’ll be there anyway, or they may have an appreciation of ringing as part of a very historic tradition.

Daytime practices may be possible, and retirement age ringers may well enjoy midweek ringing outings. Older adults can also contribute their wide skill sets to other aspects of tower life, such as bell maintenance, publicity for events, website design or looking after the accounts.

One newly formed band consists of two retired engineers, a former head of science at a girls’ school, a graphic designer, a retired maths teacher, a nurse, a surveyor and two company directors – as a team of people, their skill base is quite a force to be reckoned with and their outings, open days or ringing related events are always extremely slick and well run.

As older learners are usually settled in the area, they are likely to become long-term members of the band.

Perception of older learners

Despite the many advantages of recruiting people of retirement age, there are sadly some towers where older people aren’t always welcomed with open arms. Some mature ringers report being only given "a quick, token go" at a practice, whilst the young ringers are offered many opportunities and invited to other towers.

Perhaps the misconception is that older ringers learn slowly, or won’t be ringing for very long, or may give up due to ill health – but one thing is for certain, older adults can become competent ringers and form the backbone of many Sunday service bands. In many ways, they will play a significant role in shaping the future of ringing.


Working with the U3A

We were already aware of the U3A from different sources and decided to research the idea of a ringing group. The only one we could find was in Twickenham and exchanged emails with the group leader who gave us some information. We had a year to plan this as our church was out for re-ordering, new floors, seating and heating etc, so we joined the U3A as members and went to a coffee morning where I gave an introduction to ringing talk. I spoke about the benefits of the gentle exercise and thought processes that ringing brings and that this type of activity is believed to help ward off dementia. I also stated that we were fully insured, we have risk assessments, DBS certificates and it’s only 12 steps up to the ringing chamber with a panoramic view into the church. I also wrote a piece for their monthly magazine.

Myself and my wife Margaret, the tower captain, are joint group leaders and we started at the end of May. We currently have 3 regular members learning, and a fourth now and again, and have help from two additional ART ringing teachers and all learners are on the LtR Scheme. Currently we ring on tied bells through a simulator but eventually we will ring open. We meet on a Tuesday 2-4pm and we take things easy so it’s not too taxing. We talk, and laugh a lot between ringing and break for refreshments half way through. The group is self financing as we put £1 in a kitty which funds our expenses and the balance is donated to our rope fund – their idea, these people are very generous.

The group is completely outside the traditional ringing structure and we do not promote membership of the association or press them towards service ringing – it’s primary function is a U3A social group that enjoys ringing. Our overall aim in Bridgwater is to open up ringing as wide as possible as an interesting hobby that is not just about attending church service.

Richard Lee

What's next?

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» Return to read more about other groups you can work with

» Find out more about the differences in teaching adults and children