Continuing CCCBR Reforms

Progress report – updated 18th November 2020

We have had sixteen consultation events to this point. Eleven of these have been primarily attended by Council members, covering virtually all the affiliated societies.

The discussions have all been held over Zoom, with the number of attendees ranging from eight to fifteen, including three CC Executive members (Alison Everett, David Kirkcaldy, Simon Linford). 75 members have taken part in total and we think we have received a good representation of opinion.

More recently we have had two sessions with more recent recruits to ringing, including some who learned to ring as a result of the Ringing Remembers campaign. We have had two sessions with groups of school age ringers, and have had the first of two sessions with slightly older young ringers. We have three more consultation sessions left.

A survey has been produced that will shortly be sent to all the direct subscribers to the Central Council, and then will be made available more widely. We have also received some direct contributions by email and read the extensive debate that has taken place on social media and email lists.

We aim to conclude this research by the end of November as initially planned, before analysing all the input we have received and presenting the findings, some of which are presented below.

Direct membership

The majority of the discussion has been on the first of the three questions posed – the merits or otherwise of direct representation or of a direct membership organisation (DMO). This is the concept of ringers being members of a central ringing organisation in much the same way as they might be members of other national and international organisations and societies such as Ramblers, CAMRA or the National Trust. Critical to this question is

  • What is the role of the existing associations in such a structure?
  • If it were desirable, is it actually possible to get there?

At its most basic, direct membership is about establishing a direct communication channel with ringers, and that was done a while ago. Over 1000 ringers now get news emails directly from the Council rather than waiting for the traditional ‘cascade’ of information through associations by registering on the website.

However this discussion has been about something far greater.

About 80% of consultees have seen the benefit in some form of direct membership organisation, with new branding. Note this is not necessarily about being a direct member of the CCCBR because it would no longer be a Council as such – it is about being a direct member of “Bellringing”, which itself would have some form of executive body as we have now. That is not about doing away with territorial associations – the value of local organisation is universally acknowledged. This organisation, which is referred to as the “DMO” only because no one has come up with the best name for it yet (the CRAG report https://cccbr.org.uk/crag_full_report_final_for_web/ referred to it a Central Ringing Organisation (CRO), could collect subscriptions centrally even if some of that then gets passed back down to local organisations, although another option suggested is that local association would collect more subscriptions and pass some up, if the DMO’s value and activities were clear.

A number of benefits are seen in this, and they are shown in the table below along with the arguments in favour of the status quo.

Arguments put forward in favour of a direct membership organisationArguments supporting the status quo
Some people are not affiliated to any territorial associations and are hence underservedEveryone should be affiliated to their local association in order to support it (extreme minority view)
There aren’t any such people
Difficulty in communicating with all ringersIt might be even worse because a lot of people would not affiliate to a DMO
Some territorial associations are failing their members and providing limited supportSome are very good, and how would a DMO be any better given it needs local activity
This is what you would have if you designed a ringing organisation from scratchBut we aren’t designing it from scratch – we are where we are
Better access to information on ringing activities in neighbouring areas (quite common to find people being a member of multiple associations for this reason) 
A better centralised comms system could enable members to subscribe to location based and ringing level informationSome associations are working on this
Centralised collection of subscriptions which would reduce the burden on treasurers – some (maybe equivalent to current subs less insurance) would be passed back to associations It could be the other way round – collect a bit more locally and pass some up. People are more likely to subscribe to something they can see clearly
Duplicated expenditure across multiple associations, particularly on insurance 
Better external branding would be possibleThere is something nice and traditional about old ‘Guild’ names (small minority view)
Potential to bundle in a number of services for instance insurance and The Ringing World 

If we were to develop a DMO, the questions to consider include:

  • What kind of services and opportunities might potential members want that they are not already getting?
  • What would cause ringers to join?
  • How can we segment the audience and include the vast majority or ringers who are only really interested in very local activities, and those who are actively engaged with ringing further afield and developing their ringing?
  • What would be the unique selling point of the DMO be? Could it perhaps bundle in insurance and The Ringing World into an overall membership fee? (Note that bundling in the RW is not within the Council’s gift – that would need to be agreed with the Board of the RW)
  • Could it be achieved if it was a transition over time?

We have considered what people might be prepared to pay for such a membership. Similar membership organisations charge from £30-£100 a year but ringers are used to getting their ringing for next to nothing, largely because we provide a service to the church and hence get to use the bells for free, but also because ringing has been built on a culture of volunteering.

Might people subscribe more to a central organisation out of pure altruism, because they believe that a properly funded body could achieve a lot to promote and sustain ringing?

“Just make me a member of a national body, with insurance and The Ringing World thrown in, and make sure it does a proper job. It’s a no brainer.”

Branding

The consultations have also considered the question of branding of the Council or of the ‘DMO’. No branding expert or marketeer would come up with “Central Council of Church Bell Ringers”, but then they also would not come up with any of the names of our currently territorial associations, some of which have up to ten words in them not including the word bell!

The rebranding of the National Federation of Music Societies as “Making Music” has been considered with interest – they changed their externally-facing name 20 years ago (the legal entity name is still the same) to simply reflect what their members do. Our equivalent might be “Ringing Bells”.

A name that works everywhere is difficult. In North America the term bellringing is first and foremost associated with tune ringing on handbells rather than changeringing. “Ringing World” would be a good name if it wasn’t already taken! The less said about “Bells ‘R’ Us” the better…

There has been good support for the idea of a single website template that would enable all (or as many as want to) territorial association websites to be consistent in terms of style and content, easier to administer and keep up to date, but also present a more unified and professional message to the outside world. At the moment we have at least 65 webmasters trying to maintain association websites, ranging from the very good and keen to the reluctant and under-resourced. It was a particular comment of the young ringers that too much of the contact information for towers is unreliable.

Young Ringers

Young ringers were by and large well served by their territorial associations whilst recognising that in some places there were not very many young ringers. Some were surprised that there wasn’t an overall membership organisation as they are used to in other things they do, and felt ringing was worse for that. They saw a lack of coordination between all the different groups organising things – a fragmented picture.

Whilst not seeing particular value to them of being in a national or international body as opposed to being members of their local association, there was a very positive reaction to the possibility of some form of national youth ringing society, which they saw as having very strong benefits. This could make young ringers much more aware of how many and where other young ringers are, increase communication and mutual support, help transition post-school either into university ringing or a different tier of the same society.

This was such a strong proposition that further meetings have been organised to explore this more fully and see how it can be made to happen. This has been an unexpected bonus to come from this process that we hadn’t expected, but could be highly significant.

Size of the Council

The final question under consideration has been the size of the Council, number of members / Reps, and need for them to attend the AGM.

There hasn’t been any support for needing as many members as we currently have or requiring them to go to the AGM. One or a maximum of two has been thought to be adequate, but that a form of meeting that included the ‘roadshow’ or conference elements from the Goldsmiths meeting in London 2019 were valuable, especially if combined with a shorter AGM with fewer than 100 members needing to attend.

The Executive is already considering whether the Nottingham meeting in 2021 can combine physical and virtual participation.

Next Steps

The team will complete the last few scheduled consultations through to the end of November. There is still time to contribute to that if this is something you are particularly interested in or have a view on. Please send emails to consultations@cccbr.org.uk.

After that, the team will start to analyse all we have learned and report in the new year.