Ringing World National Youth Contest 2012
at St Paul’s Church, Birmingham
by James Forster
Exactly one week after some of the country’s most gifted ringers gathered at Melbourne to contest the Taylor Trophy, talented young ringers from high-and-wide flocked to Birmingham to compete for their very own Whitechapel Trophy. Not only was Birmingham bustling with hoards of ringers on Saturday 30th June, but the Olympic Torch had come to town. Bell-ringing may not be an Olympic sport (yet), but the Ringing World National Youth Contest was providing its own special opportunity for enthusiastic young ringers to test themselves against their peers, push the limits and perhaps defy the odds. And for those who hold lofty ambitions to truly excel, they arrived in a city which was still brimming with pride at winning the National 12-Bell Striking Contest at Melbourne just seven days earlier. Young ringers could be safe in the knowledge that if anywhere could provide them with the inspiration to prevail in a national striking competition, it would be in Britain’s second city.
After such a resounding success in its debut year at the Ringing World Centenary celebrations in 2011, The Ringing World decided to hold the National Youth Contest again and thus firmly establish it in the calendar as an annual event. Many will agree that this is an excellent idea – it will continue to galvanise young ringers (the future of the Exercise), give them something tangible to work towards and of course allow competitors from previous years to return in order to right some wrongs! But of course even those who return home empty-handed will have experienced new challenges, met new friends and sampled some excellent bells.
Simon Linford returned as Chief Judge once more. However there was a shuffle-round with the rest of his team which saw three debutants sitting at the Judges’ table. Jonathan Agg (Guildford), Heather Forster (Staines) and Louis Suggett (Bury St Edmunds), now all in their early 20s, provide an excellent role-model to young ringers everywhere as to what can be achieved with the right mix of talent and hard-work. This was their opportunity to ‘give back’ to young ringers and perhaps give this year’s competitors the belief that they, too, could be judging national striking competitions in the future.
And so to the venue. On a day where the word ‘development’ was an important one for the competing teams (and for ringing nationwide), it was also synonymous with this church and area of Birmingham city centre. St Paul’s Church lies in the historic Jewellery Quarter and is set in the centre of a leafy and elegant Georgian square. The church was designed by Roger Eykyn, a surveyor from Wolverhampton, and consecrated in 1779. Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter has experienced great change over the centuries as Birmingham transformed from an industrial powerhouse to a commercial centre. Many of the old factories have given way to shops, bars, restaurants and modern apartments in order to serve the thousands of professionals who live within easy walking-distance of the city’s main business and shopping districts. In 2005, as part of the celebrations to mark the St Martin’s Guild’s 250th anniversary, a new 12cwt ring of ten was cast by Taylor’s. As a result Birmingham city centre has a pleasant light ten, with the back-eight being ideal for these young bands to ring.
Fifteen teams took part, coming from as far afield as North Yorkshire and the Isle of Wight. The results of the draw were published at 9.30am which allowed a prompt start at 10am. Each team was allocated a 20-minute slot to practise and ring their test-piece. Twelve teams rang call-changes whilst three teams fulfilled the method category. The ‘Jammy Dodgers’ were first up. Once they had ascended the steps of St Paul’s the waiting-game began for the remaining 14 teams. For those of us unlucky enough (or just too old) not to be taking part there were plenty of activities to keep us amused. In fact, this was not simply a ringing competition – it was tantamount to a ringing festival. From mini-rings to hand-bell tutorials, hot-dogs and tower grabs available, there was more than enough for a whole day’s entertainment. Even if you were too young for all of these you could always resort to playing hide-and-seek in the beautiful churchyard surrounding St Paul’s.
Perhaps the most popular attraction of the day was the Charmborough Ring – a portable belfry with 6 bells hung for full circle ringing. Many thanks go to Roger Booth and his band of helpers for erecting and dismantling this valuable resource. Groups of ringers came in waves throughout the day for a bit of fun (and a challenge). Some proved that the skill of ringing little bells is a coveted one, as we experienced many bells going over and so the dash for the ladder in order to claw-back ropes ensued. Fortunately most people acquitted themselves very well with many bursts of competent rounds and call-changes being rung. Some bands were more confident and ventured into method-ringing with touches of Grandsire Doubles, Bob Minor, mixed Doubles and Surprise. Generally, we enjoyed some very acceptable weather throughout the day – however when we did suffer the odd shower the Charmborough Ring unfortunately did not act as good an umbrella as some thought it might!
Handbell lessons were also available. Philip Earis and Tom Hinks did a splendid job (all day) of promoting the art of handbell ringing, with many participants having never picked up a handbell before. This was very informal tutoring with ad hoc groups of people invited to ‘have a go’. This all took place at the east end of the church by the altar and gave those up in the church’s galleries a constant slice of entertainment to pass the time whilst sipping cups of tea.
The gallery was indeed a hive of activity all day long as it acted as the day’s refreshment hub. Ably coordinated by Clare McArdle and assisted by a team of efficient volunteers, dozens of young ringers and supporters were suitably refuelled so that they were best equipped to enjoy a full day’s ringing. A plethora of choice was available – sandwiches, hot-dogs, cup- cakes, crisps, chocolate, teas, coffees and soft drinks. Sadly there was no beer tent, but considering this competition is aimed at young ringers I was not surprised!
General ringing took place around the city centre throughout the day. St Philip’s Cathedral and St Chad’s R.C. Cathedral provide their own challenges but the vast majority of touches were of a very commendable standard, with rounds and call-changes mostly being rung. St Martin-in- the-Bullring proved to be the greatest attraction of the three towers as the lure of a 16-bell grab proved hard to resist. There must have been upwards of 70 people forming a snaking queue through the west end of the church. The church was colour-rich with an array of ringing polo shirts on display.
These young ringers clearly have an insatiable desire to cross new frontiers in their own ringing, experience new challenges and broaden their horizons. This passion and dedication has got them to where they are today – ability can only take you so far.
It was only once the results had begun to be announced that the scale and enormity of the Ringing World National Youth Contest 2012 became fully apparent. St Martin’s Church was full – there must have been more than 300 people to hear the results which really puts the importance of this now annual competition into perspective. With programmes to the ready and competitors on the edge of their seats, it was time for them to learn their fate. This was not an enviable task for the judges due to the fact that there were 15 test-pieces to mark and that the overall quality of the ringing was very good. Simon Linford and his team delivered an articulate and well-balanced set of comments. These comprised the perfect mixture of praise, where it was due, coupled with constructive critical remarks in order to help these bands improve for next year. The now familiar group of ‘B’s and ‘C’s were announced, followed by 2 ‘A’ grades for the call-changes category: Derby Tups (67%) and the winners Sussex Young Ringers (70%). For the method category, Suffolk Guild achieved a ‘C+’, Oxford D.G. a ‘B’, and the winners – and new holders of the Whitechapel Trophy – with a score of ‘A*’ (76%) were The G. & B. So congratulations in particular go to Sussex Young Ringers and The G. & B.
The Editor presented all competitors with medals, and Alan Hughes of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry presented the Whitechapel Trophy to Simon Edwards, the conductor of the overall winners. The customary team photographs were taken expertly by Peter Harrison.
And that was it. Bell-ringers galore dispersed and made their way home – a thoroughly good day enjoyed by all. The fourteen teams who went home trophy-less could hold their heads high, safe in the knowledge that every team had provided a solid piece of ringing. The G. & B. team could return home as champions, content that the Brummie magic had rubbed off on them. As for next year, the Ringing World National Youth Contest will be held on the first Saturday of July in the north of England. Until then these teams have another 12 months to practise and potentially blood-in new members to counteract any retirements (18 is the maximum age). For those reading this who did not take part but would like to do so – get in touch with your District or Association committee to inquire if there is a band of young ringers in your area. If there is not then there is nothing stopping you creating your own! Striking contests are an integral part of ringing as they allow bands to become more familiar with each other through practising, push the limits of their abilities and, most importantly, bring this higher quality through in their Sunday service ringing. Based on what was on display at the Ringing World National Youth Contest, the Exercise is continuing to produce eager and talented youngsters – their gain is our gain.