– it’s not just about the youngsters says the G & B’s Ian Bucknell

On Saturday, 23rd November the young ringers of the Gloucester & Bristol DA gathered for their final meeting of 2013. This was, in fact, the first get together of the youngsters who will be participating in the G & B training group building towards the Ringing World National Youth Contest in Worcester in July 2014. Getting together so early might appear rather premature but the reality is that it demonstrates the real effect and true benefit of the RWNYC. The purpose of this article is to communicate what the RWNYC has given to our young ringers, the supporting adults and to encourage others within the ringing community to consider whether they too could benefit as we have done.

My interest was first sparked when my wife and I together with some of our ringing friends – including three teenage ringers – visited London for the Ringing World Centenary event in 2011. Included in the day was a striking contest for young bands and, whilst travelling home that evening, I wondered if the G & B could have entered a team and I speculated if our young learners would have been good enough to be selected. When the RW announced there was to be a competition the next year I thought – “someone in the G & B” should do something about this! Whilst I’m not an officer of the G & B, I made a few ‘phone calls and very quickly the necessary critical mass of support was obtained. Young ringers from Bristol, Swindon, Cheltenham, and Stroud who previously had had little or no contact with each other agreed to participate, additional expert adult support was recruited and having received the blessing of the G & B Ringing Master, we were ready to begin.

I must say at this stage how important it was for us to have a range of support. We needed to be sure of the direction we were going so having leading ringers such as Keith Scudamore and Mark Edwards heavily involved at the outset was vital. Having key parents such as Teresa Howes and Jo Dawson as ‘sounding boards’ as regards timetabling and helping with communication and transportation was also extremely important. My wife Carole did a lot of the administration and I simply planned, delegated and co-ordinated everything. At the outset we all agreed that it was fundamental that this should be a G & B team so that the youngsters could identify with what they were representing – give them a sense of responsibility and also pride. Consequently it was really important to us that we had the full support of the G & B and its officers certainly gave us that. Finally we agreed the ground rules as regards how the practices are managed with the aspiration that over time the youngsters themselves should take increasing responsibility. Simon Edwards most definitely did that in 2012 so much so that he gravitated into the coaching team for 2013 when he became too old to ring in the contest himself.

I’ll never forget that first practice at St Mark’s, Swindon in January 2012 – the ringing and striking were great but none of the kids would talk to each other! Monthly practices and a ringing outing leading up to July 2012 and still there was very little communication between the youngsters but they all kept turning up for practices, the ringing was good and they seemed happy enough so on we went.

The 2012 competition was in Birmingham. We knew we had a good band and when they rang the test piece (Grandsire Triples) shivers went down my back; I was so proud of them – they rang brilliantly and they knew it. Taking part in the contest changed everything (it did help that the G & B won) and the celebratory meal afterwards was riotous, as was the journey home on the train. Suddenly the youngsters were talking to each other!

The G & B team with the Whitechapel Trophy in Birmingham (2012)

In subsequent weeks rumours started drifting out about the gang talking to each other via Facebook and texting each other. They began to meet up at each other’s practices and arranged ringing outings together. Suddenly the G & B was no longer a big, meaningless body to these youngsters. Each year the G & B runs a Training Day and in 2013 one of the groups was especially for young ringers and the G & B RWNYC team were the helpers with only two adults being there to supervise. The youngsters within the RWNYC team now keep track of each other’s progress and achievements, sending congratulations to each other and, basically, are a bunch of friends.

Practices for the 2013 RWNYC started in January and again continued monthly through to the contest in York. Attendance was strong for every practice (these had become much more lively!) but on the day our youngsters found the bells a little tricky to ring and were a little disappointed not to reach the standards of the previous year. Nevertheless, by now friendships had developed and the real benefit of the RWNYC shone through – that is we had a great weekend, we had another lively celebratory meal together and there was plenty of talk along the lines of “we’ll do better next year!” and “when are we going to meet up again?”.

The G & B squad outside St Lawrence, York (2013)

There is no doubt that the RWNYC, for the youngsters within the G & B provides a focus which would otherwise not be there. It has given them memories and friendships which will last a lifetime and it has made the wider world of ringing seem a lot more accessible. For the adult organisers and supporters of the G & B RWNYC group the contest and the preparations for it have given a whole different set of challenges, experiences and pleasures. In fact, the adult support group is just as large as the G & B Youth Team itself and this undoubtedly contributes to our success and to the benefits of our project. It means that no one person has to take on too much responsibility, the youngsters are not the centre of attention all the time, and it reinforces the message that our youngsters are representing their Association and not simply themselves. The main challenges relate to communication and logistics – it’s fair to say that without email and the mobile phone organisation would be next to impossible. Organising teenagers brings unique challenges because you have to multiply your communication by at least three! I.E., you clearly have to arrange things with each of the teenagers but then you have to carry out the same exercise with their parents and then you have to communicate a third time to remind them all. Then there is the problem of transportation as none of the youngsters drive and 50% of the G & B team are from non-ringing families. One way we deal with this is to arrange the programme of practices so that we visit different towers around the Association so that one month might involve a lengthy journey but the next month might be a little shorter. Finally, you have to be attuned to the educational calendar – practices have to be arranged around school holidays and examinations rather than the branch and/or Association calendar.

Once you get to the monthly practices there is nothing for the adults to do but to sit and wait to take the youngsters home again (the youngsters do all the ringing, all the conducting, increasingly the “ringing mastership” and the adults get to ring only the final touch of the evening!). It has become important to arrange practices at churches where there are toilets, tea making facilities, some heating and somewhere to chat, read or knit in comfort. For the adults the practices have become very pleasant social events. Contest days are somewhat different – these are exciting, nerve- wracking, exhilarating days; days we will all hold within our memories for the rest of our lives. Contest days give such pleasure and pride of being with youngsters who you have taught to ring, brought together and moulded into a group, and helped grow in confidence and self-esteem. Then there are the youngsters from the other teams and when you are all gathered together waiting for the results the realisation dawns that, for as much as the constant letters and articles in the RW about the decline of ringing, you realise how much potential there really is – it is quite inspirational.

For the G & B as a whole the RWNYC has helped focus a light on youth ringing and ringers. Whilst the G & B knew how many young ringers were members it didn’t really know anything more about them. It is hoped that the G & B RWNYC team can be sustained over a lengthy period of time to give G & B young ringers something to aim for but it can also be an inspiration and motivation for those individuals who teach or aspire to teach young people to ring. Perhaps the longer term benefit is that the youngsters ‘feel’ themselves members of the G & B and this might be important in respect of the sustainability of the Association in the future.

A word about recruitment: all of the G & B Youth Team has been recruited as the result of recommendation and invitation – none have simply volunteered. This is not something we planned or intended but it is just how things have turned out. We have used the Association AGM, Training Days, officers’ Meetings, Annual Report and website to promote the Youth Team but it seems this type of communication doesn’t work with youngsters whilst a 1:1 phone call or face to face invitation does. Our youngsters are scattered in small pockets around the G & B, although my home tower of Bisley now contributes eight to the group (three of these approached us asking to learn to ring and the other five were recruited by personal invitation). Currently only two of the G & B team come from 6-bell towers – the rest come from 8, 10 & 12-bell towers.

So, if you are considering taking the plunge and forming a band for the RWNYC, should you go for it? Well, for Carole & I – organisers of the G & B entry, we’d strongly recommend it. Both of our children have grown up and so we are teaching, organising and transporting other people’s children, and yet it really is no hardship. We’ve had experiences we would never have dreamed of. We’ve made friends and created memories which would otherwise have passed us by. The sense of achievement and the depth of feeling we’ve had in sharing in part of the lives of our young ringers comes so very close to what we had bringing up our own children. Finally, you would be contributing meaningfully to the future of ringing. 

Ringing Master All Saints, Bisley
Manager of the Gloucester & Bristol Diocesan Association
RW National Youth Contest Team

P.S. – In case anyone is wondering: no one involved in the G & B Youth Team has had any involvement with the ART or the ITTS and none of the team has learned to ring at a designated Ringing Centre. In short the G & B Team has been taught and created using traditional ringing methods, good people skills, teamwork and lots of common sense.

BB BellBoard
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers