Strategic Priorities 2020 and beyond

The Strategic Priorities were developed during the first four months of Simon Linford’s Presidency and became the focus of the Executive and Workgroups. A working document was produced which is reproduced below – it was never intended to be formally published, but was circulated to Affiliated Societies in February and March 2020. It is constantly evolving and updating.

  1. Find alternative long-term sources of recruits who have the potential to be good ringers
    We can no longer rely on the church to supply us with recruits, particularly youngsters, and we have to work harder to attract and retain them.
  1. That no ringer should hit a barrier to their own progression
    If a ringer wants to progress, they should always be able to find a pathway that helps them, although it will probably not just be at their own tower.
  1. The pursuit of excellence in everything we do
    The pursuit of high quality performance is something that binds together all the different strata and styles of ringing. To achieve this we need the best possible ringing environments, organisation and leadership.
  1. The sound of church bells remains part of our cultural soundscape and is appreciated and understood
    The sound of church bells is quintessentially British, although it exists more widely. When people hear bells it should not only remind them of the presence of the church, but they should recognise and appreciate the skill involved.
  1. The pursuit of method ringing is not the only measure of success for a ringer
    No one should feel a failure if they do not do method ringing. All ringers are valued.
  1. The Church continues to value our contribution
    We must retain the Church’s goodwill in order to continue to have access to their bells.

Find alternative long-term sources of recruits who have the potential to be good ringers

Synopsis

Ringing no longer gets potential recruits handed to us on a plate – decline in church congregations and particularly young members of church congregations has put a stop to it.

Catching the attention of young recruits is particularly difficult when other activities and interests complete for their attention.

The task of ringer recruitment and teaching is much harder than it used to be. Territorial associations didn’t have to do recruitment and few were or are set up to do so – recruits came to us (from the church).

Recruitment and training is much harder than it was and the Central Council needs to help, even though this will be new to the Council as well!

Ringing is still seen as predominantly white, able bodied (and male in some places!) – diversity and improved community engagement and benefit is critical, especially for connectivity with the church and grant awarding bodies. Diversity also opens up a bigger pool.  

We need to inject more young ringers into the system and stop them giving up.

Strategies are needed for each of the following:

Schools and Youth Groups

New Schools Workgroup to be established comprising people actively involved in schools, and those currently running youth groups.

  • How do we get ringing into the curriculum?
  • Handbell ringing as an easier way of establishing after school clubs?
  • Learn from successful school initiatives
  • How do we get ringing more firmly bedded as a DofE activity?

Scouts / Guides

Boys / Girls Brigade

(there may be others that are not themselves struggling to gain members)

Universities

University Workgroup to look at strategies for preventing loss of ringers at the point of going to University. Relationships with Students Unions for funding, etc

University Workgroup to establish links with universities at current undergraduate level, and with broader groupings such as the NUA and SUA. Must comprise members currently active in universities.

Young teachers

ART to deliver M1 and M2 courses to young teachers

Pilot a summer school that has Year 12 ringers learning to teach in the first week and then younger learners to be taught by them in the second week. This is aimed at getting more ringers going to university with the ability and confidence to teach those recruited at Freshers Fayres.

Mobile Belfry

Investigate a truly mobile belfry that can be taken round schools, music festivals, etc. and set up quickly. Needs to be proper bells so it is a realistic experience. Maybe on the back of a truck, or towed.

Additionally commission a standard permanent mini-ring design that could be rolled out to multiple secular venues after first being built at the NaRC.

This is a possible target for large scale funding.

Demographic Profiling

We also need to continue with recruitment of older ringers who form the mainstay of many bands. The group that is missing in so many areas is the 25-50 age group, which probably has the most lapsed ringers. Most of our current marketing is indiscriminate. We may be more effective if we target our marketing better.

There are probably complementary hobbies which could identify potential recruits with the right profile. This might be different in different types of community – city vs rural town vs village. Crossword puzzlers, train spotters, musicians and choir members, young farmers, engineers, scientists, mathematicians (started to show dominance in Trends survey) etc. Social media marketing could be very targeted if we understood where people with the sorts of traits that make good bellringers are also active.

That no ringer should hit a barrier to their own progression

Synopsis

Towers and even territorial associations are struggling to fulfil the aspirations of all ringers.

There are now too few local bands that are strong enough to develop ringers beyond rounds and call changes, and there are lots of places where a Surprise practice is a rarity. Some ringers travel many miles to advance their ringing.

This situation is prevalent at most points on the learning curve, but it is particularly true at the point of getting ringers past basic methods such as Grandsire and Plain Bob – the limit of the majority of local bands. Many associations are addressing more basic training needs than they have in the past.

There is a huge amount of unfulfilled ringing potential, ringers who desperately want to improve or extend their horizons but lack the opportunity and/or guidance to do so.

Sometimes towers try to “keep” the few ringers they have, rather than recognising that this may in fact lose them indirectly if they don’t encourage them to find opportunities to progress.

The borders of territorial associations are often poorly served as they seem to form a barrier to cooperation, although there are definitely exceptions.

(“My four closest towers are all in different associations so we cannot co-operate” – actual comment on Facebook)

In many places, groups of towers form themselves into ‘clusters’ – a unit smaller than a branch or district, and not necessarily towers affiliated to the same society. This is usually just to have enough ringers for the basics, rather than a critical mass for more advanced ringing. There are also examples of where ringers themselves form themselves into new groups specifically to practice more advance ringing.

We are not managing to energise enough ringers to help other ringers, although we should be mindful that not everyone actually wants to be helped.

There are too few teachers, especially good ones

There are too few good leaders

(In addition to what branches, districts and associations already do)

More places could be encouraged or given the tools to establish ringing ‘schools’ that provide regular (weekly if possible) training and longer courses, particularly targeted at the ‘Twilight Zone’ (see diagram on following page). There are a number of models that are starting to work. A Workgroup could focus the expertise of those who have made it work and then help establish other groups.

Organise more Bradfield/Hereford-type courses. Ringers will pay for training. There is probably enough demand for an intensive residential training course once a month if they were spread around the country! This would need a team to organise them, working with local ringers, and energising helpers. Let’s start small and build on the success of existing courses.

Investigate running residential courses at Churches Conservation Trust churches where they run ‘Champing’.

ART Hubs and other Ringing Centres to be encouraged to run regular courses that ringers can sign up to. These could be publicised more widely. Weekly focus is ideal if possible.

All this needs to leverage more people willing to help. We could target untapped potential to help with training. Specifically how about finding 1000 ringers who would be prepared to do two hours on a Saturday morning once a month to help with training? Set up a structure that will organise them and ask them, and then maybe reward and recognise them appropriately (not necessarily financially).

  • Lapsed ringers
  • Retired peal ringers
  • Active ringers outside territorial associations

The College Youths and Cumberland Youths could be specifically invited to help with development of ringing for the untapped potential of young ringers who have outgrown local opportunity (Stephanie Warboys’ “Talent Bank”). This could be like the LtR Masterclass but at a higher level. (Not implying their members don’t, but they have the organisational capacity to make a difference)

There should be much more focus on quarter peal and peal ringing as a mechanism for providing opportunities to up and coming ringers not only to cement method knowledge but to attain prolonged exposure to better striking with competent bands. Quarter peals for evensong used to be a way that lots of bands provided extended practice for learners. Somehow we need to get the giving of opportunities to others ranking at least as highly as pursuit of personal goals and numbers.

Leadership Academy

A Leadership Academy needs to have broad support. A set of recognised leadership principles could be established under which different organisations (Guilds, Associations, Ringing Centre, ART) can deliver courses / material.

ART is already developing a leadership course in recognition of this need

We are good at recognising ringers who have been in charge for a long time. We should however also celebrate new leaders, and those who create other leaders.

Good leadership is not a subject restricted to leadership of ringing. Nor is progress in ringing liited to increasing knowledge and skills in method ringing. Leadership of tower and bell maintenance is also important, as is more understanding of engineering, bell history, and social history associated with ringing. All this will help with retention of ringers, but keeping those with different skills interested and valued. This will require more proactive creation and organisation of courses targeted at these areas.

This all needs to be supported by comms and marketing that enables those ringers looking to progress their ringing to find the sources of help.

Pursuit of excellence in everything we do

Synopsis

There are now two quite distinct bodies of ringers and we need to recognise this because it might guide our recruitment and retention strategies.

Group 1 or ‘Service Group’
Primary motive is to provide a service to the church locally, and to have a sociable activity. Characteristics of ringers and ringing in the service group are as follows:

  • Operate predominantly in Green/Blue Zones (up to Bob Minor but stopping short of Cambridge Minor)
  • Sociability driver
  • Service ethos
  • Unpressured ringing environment
  • More mature learners
  • Much heavier teacher requirement
  • Recruitment through church or as lifelong hobby
  • Not really that interested in the wider world

This probably represents 70-80% of ringers.

Group 2 – pursuit of progress
This group may have much the same motives as Group 1 in terms of the importance of providing a service to the church and wanting a sociable activity, but in addition sees ringing for the challenge of making progress. Ringers in this group are going to further the ‘Art and Science’ of change ringing. Characteristics of ringers in this group are:

  • More likely to be recruited as teenagers
  • Will learn rapidly when still young and will retain the ability and desire to learn
  • See ringing as a ‘secular sport’ but with the service obligation
  • Support through transition to University
  • May have variable commitment
  • Predominantly (but not exclusively) urban
  • Practising on handbells as well as tower bells
  • Doesn’t actually need the church organisation, and the church is possibly a hindrance (as in, if all rings of bells were not in churches, many of this group would still ring, and might ring even more)

In most of the ringing community ‘progress’ is measured in terms of method ringing, with call changes being an intermediate step, however in parts of the south west of England the group also exists but develops its skill in call change ringing.

One thing that can link these two groups other than the physical act of ringing is the pursuit of quality performance.

Unlike in the South West’s call change regions, where the pursuit of good striking is the sole focus, in the rest of the country, eagerness to progress in method ringing is often done at good striking’s expense.

Many factors contribute to lack of focus on the quality of the performance. Struggling bands often recruit older learners, who in turn take longer to learn, who may well be encouraged to ring more difficult things before they are ready. Able learners migrate elsewhere, leading to a downward spiral. More experienced ringers don’t tend to support towers where standards are low, leading to a further downward spiral.

There is a culture of it being acceptable to correct another ringer’s method ringing, but not their striking. Correcting striking is also more difficult both for the corrector and the corrected.

The ringing we do should be of the highest quality in terms of performance – it is better to have one tower ringing well than two towers ringing badly. Possibly not everyone thinks this is true and it depends on whether the public can tell good ringing from bad, and whether a vicar would prefer to have his bells rung poorly rather than not at all.

Whatever the level of ringing, ringers must feel welcome and encouraged in any tower where they ring of visit. We cannot enforce that, but we can suggest good practices and publicise good examples.

Whichever group, excellence is also required in tower operations and tower infrastructure – many potential ringers are lost and many ringing performances seriously sub-standard because of the poor conditions and environments in towers. Once again, we cannot enforce that, but we can suggest good practices and publicise good examples.

Increase the importance of Excellence in the Council’s vision/mission.

Can we encourage more striking competitions? Regional six bell striking competitions maybe between clusters of towers to be encouraged although that is effectively what branches and districts already do. Practicing for competitions gives very good focus.

Increase the awareness of and use high-quality Call Change ringing as an end in itself in the rest of the country, as a distinct skill and part of ringing.

Suggest good practices and publicise good examples of how ringers should be made welcome in towers. Encourage the view that ringing can be fun.

Provide advice and publicise good examples of how to improve and maintain the “go” of the bells, and good environmental conditions in towers.

Excellence in teaching – we need to get away from people being taught badly. Being taught by good teachers at a limited number of towers is ideal. The thing to crack is a tower that has a new recruit not feeling they have to teach that learner themselves. Increasing the number of teachers known to be good would underpin the importance of quality teaching.

A recruitment-oriented website could then give location-based recommendation of where to learn to ring.

Then we need to make sure that the importance of striking becomes a focus at the foundation level. Listening exercise should go hand in hand with the other aspects of learning to ring.

ART is already working on increasing the prominence of striking and the testing of striking in the early stages of Learning the Ropes.

The sound of church bells remains part of our cultural soundscape and is appreciated and understood

Synopsis

The role of bells in actually calling people to worship is not particularly strong. The sound of bells is however associated with churches and with ‘Britishness’.

When people hear ringing they should appreciate the skill involved – too many members of the general public think the bells they hear are being rung by a machine!

Broadening the understanding of what we do will make ringing more respected and potential recruits keener to learn. It may also let recruits know what is involved, igniting their curiosity, and managing their expectations.

We need to consider how people would find out about bells and bell ringing and then make sure they are properly informed when they do, as well as proactively raising awareness.

YouTube is the ‘go to’ place for videos of anything people might be interested in. Although there is now a lot of ringing on YouTube, the likelihood of a member of the general public finding something on YouTube that really explains or demonstrates what we do is slim. There are at least two things we could do:

  • There needs to be a curated collection of historic videos of ringing so potential and new learners can get interested in ringing and its history
  • There needs to be much more good change ringing on YouTube. At the moment there is hardly any because the best change ringing, or at least the best method ringing, is rarely filmed, and if it is, it doesn’t necessarily make it to YouTube.
  • We could create and distribute more content that explains the art and science behind change ringing which would get a different audience interested

A ‘National Ringing Centre’ could act as a focal point, providing a place where school trips, club outings, or other interested people can go and learn about bell ringing.

“Friends of the Bells” – this concept would be something to encourage people who are not going to become bellringers to be supportive and value their bell ringers and the sound of the bells. It could encourage legacy giving.

“Band of the Year” – similar to the previous point, we could run an annual competition for non ringers to nominate a local band who makes the most difference to the local community?

Both those two ideas, which are about raising awareness of the general public without overtly trying to recruit them, could be done in association with the church.

We could try and promote ringing by linking it with BBC Music Day, perhaps with a National Quarter Peal week.

The pursuit of method ringing is not the only measure of success for a ringer

Synopsis

The ‘Service Group’ referred to earlier (ringers whose primary motivation is service to the church at a local level) does not need method ringing in order to fulfil its objectives. However much of what we currently do implies that someone who does not progress into method ringing is a second class citizen.

For those not cut out for method ringing, its pursuit will just make their ringing worse, which in turn will lead to dissatisfaction and undermine their overall contribution to ringing. We also need ringers whose special aptitude is for things other than ringing, e.g. bell maintenance so it would not want to lose such a person.

A focus on excellence in call changes is more likely to meet the needs of the Service Group. Parts of the West Country successfully have the pursuit of excellence instead of the pursuit of complexity, and it is the sole focus of the Devon Association.

Call change competitions need greater exposure – perhaps have more associations challenging some of the bands from the West Country. Striking competitions in method ringing areas tend to discourage the more experienced bands from ringing call changes.

Could ART Hubs or Ringing Centres have mini call change challenges between them? Geographical challenges to overcome but more will form.

ART could consider amending the Learning the Ropes programme so that the achievement of call changes is an end in itself rather than being part way towards something ‘greater’.

The CC website to be much clearer on the distinction between different styles of ringing.

Review of recruitment and training material to see whether it would be desirable or indeed beneficial to separate ringing up to call changes from method ringing.

We should do more to recognise achievement in aspects of the wider ringing environment, which the Westley Awards has started to do for instance.

The Church continues to value our contribution

Synopsis

The vast majority of bells are in churches and we need to maintain the goodwill of the Church to give us continued access. We are fortunate that the Church recognises that ringing other than for service still advertises the presence of the church and its place in the community.

Ringers’ contribution to church life often extends beyond the belfry. Ringers often multi-task in churches, singing in the choir, acting as churchwardens, even taking the service! Together with their families, ringers represent between 8 and 9% of the CofE weekly congregations.

Church organisation is decentralised. Dioceses act independently. Other bodies are also important to us – the Church Buildings Council advises churches and dioceses on care, conservation and development of church buildings. Dioceses have their own Advisory Committees which make decisions on bell-related matters. Cathedrals tend to talk to each other as a network. Heritage bodies such as Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland and Cadw have an interest in bells and frames which may conflict with our own. And ultimately an individual Vicar or Rector has jurisdiction over their own church.

Safeguarding needs to continue to be taken very seriously. Issues at major cathedrals have highlighted that ringers could be seen as disproportionately troublesome for the value they add. Ringing is the icing on the cake for these institutions – not an essential.

The Central Council must maintain and develop its high level relationship with all relevant church and advisory bodies, as well as other stakeholders.

Somehow this needs to filter down to Diocesan level and individual churches so the importance of bells and bell ringing is appreciated by all clergy. Bells are the church’s most powerful external voice and something that cements the church’s position in the community.

If there is a service, we should try and have bells rung, provided the incumbent actually wants them (not all churches with bells want them rung for services).

Safeguarding needs to remain a number one priority. One major safeguarding issue could make recruitment of youngsters impossible.