(In which the president tempts the perils of ignoring older ringers, considers the amazing volunteer army that does All the Things, and randomly drops some handbell references)
By the time you read this, I will have survived another Scottish Handbell Day. But as I write this, I am in the midst of getting our disorganised house ready for 20 handbell ringers, and for a change we aren’t ringing any Plain Bob (we are ringing a LOT of Kent). We have been hosting these twice a year for more than 10 years (with some breaks for COVID and the interruption of a Coronation), so it is now a pretty smooth operation. It has been a great way to keep in touch with handbell ringers from all over Scotland, who we don’t get to see very often, so these events are important.
But it still requires some work and planning for it to stay smooth. And so it is with the many everyday activities on the Council. To help keep focus on Ringing 2030 initiatives, Vicki, Ernie, Ian and I have been looking at the core activities and what is necessary and what isn’t. And do you know, the ordinary, day-to-day, ‘keeping the lights on’ business covers a lot. Vicki did a rough count and came to 89 volunteers, give or take.
There are more if we consider the small army of subject matter experts who are not named in workgroups, but who are happy to be consulted on specific issues. Most of them are not council representatives. When the CRAG proposals were first debated, the idea that one could volunteer without the burden of ‘doing the whole Council thing’ looked pretty attractive. It has been very effective.
Some of those amazing volunteers have started to express some dissatisfaction about being heard, and for being properly recognised for the work that they do. Also, several association reps have approached me with the idea of not having named Representative Members, but a case where associations have representation by sending who they see fit at the time. To Fergus, our esteemed Treasurer, this suggested a dual model of individual direct membership and association representation that looks pretty attractive. It needs some fleshing out, and we’d like to hear your thoughts as well – emailing always works.
I started off this blog with handbells because I’ve been thinking about Mary Jones, who came along as a helper at a Handbell Stadium workshop I ran in Ipswich. Mary is a regular blogger and has recently explored the emphasis on young ringers in Ringing 2030.
She makes the point that older ringers are valuable and important to the exercise. As an older ringer myself, I am not ready to retire, and still feel I have much to learn and progress, and plenty still to pay forward to the Exercise. “Sideline us at your peril’, she writes. Well, quite.
Let’s set aside arguments about number of ringing years available, relative brain elasticity and all of those generalities. None of that predicts, in any perfect way, whether you are teaching a new lifetime ringer or spending time doing some intensive one-to-one marketing.
The great thing about ringing is that you get to do it for a long time, and the multi-generational aspect of ringing is a huge strength. However, instead of staying truly multi-generational, it seems, as a group, we are just getting older. We don’t have much a problem recruiting more mature learners. But we are failing at recruiting younger ringers.
The last Ringing World National Youth Competition saw the involvement of around 250 young people. This is amazing. But what does that tell us? Are those 250 just the visible end of an entire army of young ringers, or are they actually most of the young ringers we have? I suspect it is the latter, and early results from the Ringing Survey and earlier research bear this out.
In the Scottish Association, for example, we expended a significant amount of resource (in time and funds) to train and send a team to the competition once by identifying all the young ringers we could. We did not have a single spare ringer, and a couple of people getting too old to qualify ended our brief run. Was it worth it? Totally. Even my son, who no longer rings, had a great day out. But the competition alone did not help us increase our young ringers. Possibly my son kept ringing for a bit longer than he might have on the back of that positive experience.
Were he just starting to ring now, he might have a different experience. In the last couple of years, our band at Glasgow has enjoyed an influx of younger ringers and it has been great for all of us. When both my children were learning to ring, they were the only young people in the tower, and that excited them not one bit. That critical mass is, well, critical.
So, yes, Ringing 2030 has a hard focus on recruiting and supporting young ringers, because that is the group where there is the greatest need. And we want to turn young ringers into lifetime ringers, which means ensuring they can find ringing at university, when they move to a new area and when they return to ringing after a bit of a break.
This is why the Young Ringers Hub is important – it is a concept to draw together contacts and resources for young ringers to keep in touch, especially in the transition from secondary to further education or apprenticeships. One of the goals is to provide some support for areas, like Glasgow, where there aren’t enough students to create a student ringing society, and indeed where not all the young people are students.
Did I mention volunteers? I could do with some younger ringers to help kick this off, define what it will be, and ensure it meets actual needs (and not what a 50-something Council president might think it needs). However, our standard communication channels aren’t reaching those ringers – so I may be asking in vain! My next step is to try and fix that, and it will involve a steep learning curve in new social media for me. I can’t wait.