President’s Blog #79

When I started reading the Clerical Guild’s new book about the position of bells in the life of the church I had a sinking feeling, and before I got to the end of the first chapter I was feeling really quite low. ‘The Voice of the Church’ is actually excellent – the issue was with my new garden bench, which I really shouldn’t have positioned on sandy soil as I had already dropped four inches without finding solid ground. It caused a break in my enjoyment of the book while I fashioned some pads on which to sit the feet.

I gave away my courtesy copy to the vicar of Moseley on Bell Sunday. If you didn’t latch onto Bell Sunday this year as an opportunity to increase your congregation’s appreciation and understand of bells and ringing, consider it for next year. At my church we had a good turnout of ringers to the service, the organist really bought into it, selecting all hymns with bell themes, bellringers did the lessons and prayers, we had a handbell touch in the service and tower tours afterwards. Coming just two weeks after the Coronation ringing, the appreciation of ringing in the church is at an all time high.

My Weekly screen activity was up 24% on the week that included the Coronation, clearly indicating the amount of time on BellBoard, sending up performances and checking to see how long our midnight peal at Birmingham Cathedral was Top of the Pops before the Abbey inevitably took over. The social media reach of the Abbey ringing couldn’t have been bought. A minute of ringing shared by the Abbey Press Office got half a million twitter views, over a thousand retweets, and 10,000 likes on Instagram.

Big peals dominated the featured BellBoard performances but the real story lay further down the listings with the incredible number of bands posting performances of rounds and call changes with pictures of happy bands and lots of learners. BellBoard did creak and groan but then the ringing community gave it a pretty stern test. Will this gives us some indication of how many active ringers there actually are?

Last week was the first time my Facebook feed picked up a Devon call change competition, so it must realise I am interested. I have learned the lovely phrase “being behind the pencil”, meaning to be a judge. I am looking forward to the National Call Change Competition at Moseley on 3rd June when we will have Ian Avery and Paul Pascoe behind the pencils, deciding between 11 teams that have entered. On giving the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter trophy manufacturer Fattorini a specification for a trophy I realised I might have over specified it a bit when they came back with a lead time of 14-16 weeks and an estimate of £25,000. We will have to settle for something about 100 times more modest.

Talking of call change ringing, the first person has got to Level 5 of ARTs Advanced Call Change scheme and I was able to present 10 year old call change afficionado Max’s certificate on Coronation Sunday. This was at a party marking the 10th anniversary of the start of the Birmingham School of Bell Ringing. The School has recently been running additional weekly sessions with up to eight teachers accelerating through all the RftK learners.

At the beginning of my term as President we created a set of Strategic Priorities that have guided our work over the last nearly four years. They have been very useful and given us focus. Not all the ideas have been implemented by any means – we would have needed at least twice as many volunteers (see below), but the Strategic Priorities have helped good things to happen. The Ringing 2030 project has now led us to revisit the Strategic Priorities and develop a new strategic plan that will be in line with the 2030 vision. To this end I have been holding consultation events with groups or CC Reps, sharing the work so far and asking for feedback. I’ll report more in due course but good ideas are flowing.

Much has actually been learned from the Ring for the King experience: the role of the Council in high level promotion of ringing, the importance of local promotion to turn this general interest into recruits, the strength of the relationship with ART, the difficulty of mapping centrally generated enquiries to potential teachers quickly, and how the demographic profile of recruits reflects the media coverage gained.

The revised Council strategy is based around three fundamental “pillars” which support ringing: attracting good recruits, making sure they are taught well and then their progress aspirations met, and putting a wrapper of quality around all aspects of ringing to improve retention. There’s a bit more work to do but the new strategy will be published by the summer.

Ringing is however based on volunteers, and a recent article in the Guardian following the experience of the Big Help Out has highlighted an issue all organisations that rely on volunteers are facing – that volunteering is at a historic low (in England at least, which was the basis of the research). One research report found that since the pandemic the number taking part in or raising money for sponsored events has fallen 48%, and those organising or helping in an activity has dropped 52%. That is certainly the experience of many a branch district or association struggling to fill posts on committees.

Ringers at Brightwell-cum-Sotwell made it into the pages of the Guardian, reporting on a certain high profile family which had moved into the nine bedroom manor house next to the church. “Locals described how the Johnsons were met with a 90-minute practice session for church bellringers on their first evening.” Who knows they might be able to recruit a a whole family – Carrie and the children will probably be looking for any excuse to get out of the house…

Simon Linford
President CCCBR

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