"One of our ringers showed me the programme for your G&B Summer School and I thought we might do something the same. So how did you organise it all?"CW, Greater London
Splendidly, lots of people have been asking me the same thing. Come the end of Covid, we'll have lost significant numbers of active ringers if we're not careful, so to help tackle this, back in August we ran the first ever week-long Zoom Summer School.
And the full programme is on the right – with 39 different seminars on all aspects of ringing, including particular methods, ringing skills, conducting, maintenance and general matters.
The 39 of them were divided into blocks – with three taking place simultaneously each afternoon at 3.00, and three more taking place each evening at 7.30. The alternatives in each block were aimed at different audiences.
And importantly, no previous experience was needed. No seminar needed a pre-achieved level of expertise. Attendees could simply absorb any theory they wanted. Plain hunt ringers could learn all about Stedman Caters, and rounds ringers could learn to conduct.
There were no Ringing Room sessions as part of the Summer School – although we've certainly been running a huge number separately. There's absolutely no doubt that Ringing Room is a stunningly brilliant system, and of enormous benefit to us all – particularly at the moment – but anyone new to Ringing Room takes a moment to adapt, and a single session wouldn't have been long enough.
All the sessions were free – since after all, the cost was only £43 for the three pro-Zoom licences. But we didn't take bookings through our website in case one or two people ticked lots of boxes and then didn't turn up on the day. Instead we asked students to email their choices.
Of course, almost all ringers are extremely reliable, and in the event, very few people indeed didn't turn up. And even those few, all apologised in advance and had very good reasons.
Finding seminar leaders wasn't a problem at all because, like all Associations, we've got lots of talented teachers and presenters. I simply asked some of them and they nearly all said yes – although I could have asked many others too.
But I definitely didn't tell them what to do. Indeed I didn't even make any suggestions. Each presenter delivered their sessions in their own style and in their own format, and the result was a set of varied and stimulating seminars that was every bit as excellent as I expected.
And as well as presenters we had welcomers. The welcomers opened each session 15 minutes before the seminar was due to start, welcomed all the attendees and got them to introduce themselves to each other.
And there were important technicalities too that were every bit as vital as the seminars themselves. It would have been no good if dozens of people had been left looking at blank screens – or had been connected to the wrong seminar, or on the wrong day or at the wrong time. And with more than 500 applications this was a serious issue.
So rather than just hope nothing would go wrong we had multiple back-ups. The summoning emails were all set up in advance – sent as blind copies to conform with GDPR – and these emails were backed up because computer failure, connection failure and power failure were always possibilities.
All the seminars had a back-up presenter too – ready in case the presenter's computer failed. And the welcomers stayed with their seminars in case the presenter's internet connection failed temporarily. That way they were ready to encourage general discussion until the presenter was back on-line.
In fact, almost none of these back-up systems were called upon. The only problem was a short power failure during one seminar.
And the result? Put simply, it was way beyond my wildest dreams.
The presenters were all so good, so well-prepared, so professional and so friendly that I received a veritable mountain of thanking emails. Over and over again, I was told that every single seminar had been absolutely brilliant. All the students wanted us to do it again – and soon – whether or not we get back to normal ringing.
So splendidly, we will be doing it again. In January we'll have the G&B Winter School, and in August we'll have another Summer School. And we're planning to hold Zoom theory sessions before our normal Training Days too.
And with luck we'll have even more students. 500 applications was certainly splendid, but next time, who knows? Could it be a thousand?
Steve Coleman, G&B