Neon postit notes with ideas of competing activities to ringing. These are grouped by similar suggestions

Understanding ringing from the external perspective 

The second in a series of articles detailing the results of a branding collaboration with Yellowyoyo. 

In the first article in this series, we introduced the ringing branding project as the first part of Ringing 2030, an initiative led by the Central Council to address the long running demographic trends of ringing in order to help ringing to survive into the future. A common theme for most if not all associations, branches, districts and towers is difficult to recruit, ageing bands, and lack of enthusiastic volunteers. We want to help with this. 

As the marketing of ringing to new audiences is actually quite a big challenge, the Council has engaged a commercial branding and marketing agency to help. We as existing ringers do not necessarily know how best to describe ringing to new recruits, or how to get to the message to the places we need to get it to. Gone are the days where putting a notice about learning to ring in the church porch (or more often than not on the tower notice board!) is going to pull in the punters. Recruitment of the sorts of people who we want will make good bellringers has got harder since the church stopped doing it for us through choirs, Sunday schools, etc.. 

Appointment of Yellowyoyo 

Yellowyoyo were appointed following a selection process that began nearly a year ago, run by a team of ringers all with professional experience in marketing. One of these, Elva Ainsworth, had worked with Yellowyoyo before, and indeed had started interesting the agency’s founder, Bryan Wright, in the marketing of ringing 10 years ago.  

All of the agencies had done their homework, looking for what they could find about ringing online, and even posing as someone who might be interested in learning to ring. A common theme from this research was that it was very varied. “It’s a bit disjointed isn’t it?” was a polite analysis. It is very confusing to the uninitiated how ringing ‘works’ – how you go about getting taught, why you might want to learn, and what your pathway would be.  

Think about what might happen in your area if someone wanted to learn to ring and did a standard search on Google for instance for “learn bellringing [town]’.]”. Some searches find, which is good, some find the Central Council, some find a local tower, quite a few find the Birmingham School of Bell Ringing. In many instances, the top result will be a territorial association, but sometimes that is a dead end if the website doesn’t actually tell the searcher what they need to do to learn. Does yours? 

Discovery Workshop 

Yellowyoyo’s projects always start with what they call a “Discovery Workshop”, where a group of usually between six and eight people from the ‘client’ along with all members of the Yellowyoyo team spend a day brainstorming and answering questions introduced by Yellowyoyo to help them get an understanding of the subject, and the particular challenges of marketing it.  

Members of the YellowYoYO discovery workshop site around a table with whiteboards and postit notes discussing ideas

The team for the Discovery Workshop comprised: 

  • Simon Linford, Central Council President (at the time), architect of the Ringing 2030 vision 
  • Elva Ainsworth, Ringing World board member, member of former Ringing Trends committee, professional experience in human resources and marketing 
  • Vicki Chapman, Council PR Officer (at the time), leader of the PR Workgroup and architect of the Ringing Remembers campaign 
  • Catherine Lane,  Master of the Oxford Diocesan Guild, and representing the less experienced ringer  
  • Andrew Kelso, Master of the Essex Association 
  • Tristan Lockheart, CC Rep for the Leeds University Society, member of the Council’s Volunteering and Leadership Workgroup 

We were also able to feed into the workshop the results of a number of consultation exercises which had been held with groups of ringers previously, getting as many viewpoints as possible.  

The questions we considered were very thought provoking. For each one we were given a pad of Post-It notes in a unique colour and asked to write down words without consultation. Each of us then put our Post-It notes on a white board, along with a bit of flipcharts, explaining on our thought process, and these. These gradually started to build up common themes as we (usually) broadly agreed with each other.  

Post-it notes addressing the question of why is ringing important

The first question we considered was “Why is bellringing important”, our answers to which were summarised by Yellowyoyo as: 

  • Bellringing brings a sense of community and friendship to all who take part, although maybe this is not shared enough with the wider local community.   
  • It’s part of the English heritage and soundscape and important to continue the tradition into the future.  
  • It’s available across the world – wherever you take part in the activity there is always community to be found 

More telling and challenging though was the discussion of the question “What puts people off ringing?” 

Whiteboard with neon-coloured postit notes with ideas of what puts people off ringing

That the Church puts people off ringing is clearly a bit of an issue! Of course, none of us were or are put off by the association with the Church, but there is plenty of evidence that non ringers think that one has to be religious or a church goer to learn to ring church bells. Simon had a direct experience of a child not wanting to learn because he thought he would have to go to church and be taught by the vicar! 

Another general agreement was that bell ringing as an activity is often viewed with a perception of “geekiness,” which may put off some individuals, particularly youngsters concerned about their image.  

There’s also the requirement for continuous dedication to hone the skill, and the need to commit significant time at weekends, which may not be feasible or desirable for people who have other time-consuming pastimes, such as music making or sport. Time is better spent teaching recruits who will have the right amount of time available to become valued ringers. 

After purposeful discussion on what skills we thought bellringers needed, including the need to have a positive attitude towards learning and be receptive to constructive feedback regarding their progress, and some analysis of what we currently do to attract new ringers, both successfully and otherwise, we settled into a particularly interesting discussion on competing activities and what we could learn from them.  

We are all aware of other activities that are trying to recruit the same people as us, and whose marketing or attraction seems better.    

Neon postit notes with ideas of competing activities to ringing. These are grouped by similar suggestions

As Yellowyoyo said in their summary minutes “In order to draw new members to the bell-ringing community, it’s imperative to identify the competing activities in the market and craft messaging that is distinct enough to set the bellringing community apart from those rivals. This will help to ensure that potential members are attracted to join in with bellringing rather than the competing activities.” 

The competing activities are different for different age groups. Whereas the middle-aged learners might be looking at things like railway preservation societies, social sports (cycling, parkrun, etc) or acting as chauffeur for busy children, youngsters are very driven by things that are on their phone. Our top young targets might be gaming and coding, they might do other things their parents actually pay for and hence value more highly, and they might be being encouraged to get lots of different experience and not get obsessed by just one. Bellringing is not currently part of the school programme, so there is the added issue of how to market / communicate within this demographic and rise above the ‘noise’ in their everyday lives.  

Brand values and perception 

Perhaps the most important part of the day was beginning to develop the ‘brand values’ for ringing, or what Yellowyoyo described as “the rules that will guide behaviour for towers or bands of ringers.” They explained that while these cannot be imposed, having values which are published will help attract people who will share those values. Therefore, they help attract the right type of people and make groups of ringers more cohesive and successful. 

The final words chosen by the team were the following (the top 5 are in bold, the second tier in italic):  



Discovery / growth / adventure   


Empathy / inclusive / kindness / mindfulness / friendly / openness / warmth 

They encouraged us to live with these words for a while, which we have done. A few of them got used in the media interviews around Ring for the King – Simon Linford definitely used “adventure” quite successfully!  

What next? 

In the next article we will go into a bit more depth on these words, their selection, their subsequent review, and how they will be used to guide the process going forwards, accepting that the chance of brand value words being posted on ringing chamber walls is zero! We are conscious of the fact that when we start talking about “brand values” in a ringing context it might seem as though we are moving into a ‘corporate speak’ world which is losing its relevance to our day to day ringing. However we think it’s important to help Yellowyoyo with the way they need to understand ringing, and trust their experience. Suffice it to say that all the team are happy with the way Yellowyoyo are approaching the project, and that they “get it”. We will try to make sure that any corporate speak stays behind closed doors. 

Tina Stoecklin (President)
Vicki Chapman (Deputy President)
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers 

This article originally appeared in The Ringing World issue 5868 (13th October)



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