by John Loveless

I was very pleased to read Ian Bucknell’s excellent and inspirational account (p.536) of the development of G & B young ringers activity over the last couple of years. What a success story!

Since it was a Bedfordshire team that won the 2013 contest in York, I’d like to update readers on progress being made here. Many of the observations made by Ian are applicable to our team so I won’t dwell too much on detail. A common thread is that success doesn’t happen by chance – it is a result of a lot of hard work by the youngsters and the support team. In this respect it is worth noting that the time and effort put in already by our team for 2013-14 contest is far greater than that invested prior to the York win in 2013.

Although it includes Luton, Bedfordshire is otherwise a mainly rural county and our youngsters are well spread geographically, so evening practices are impractical. Thus the focus is on monthly 2-hour Sunday afternoon practices, usually at one of the light eights, Campton, Clifton, Sharnbrook, Linslade or Totternhoe. These practices are open to all young ringers across the county. Around 15-20 youngsters regularly attend, some of whom are just ringing rounds with help, others proficient at Surprise Major … and all levels of experience in between. There is a strong training element and a focus on good striking as we look to develop them as individuals as well as a cohesive, effective team. The social, fun element is very important, with time to chat over lots of squash, tea & coffee and a vast array of cakes, including Malteser cake (with or without maltesers) or to play the odd impromptu game of hide and seek in between ringing! There is no magic formula here, but it seems to work because the youngsters keep coming back!

Churchyard judges mark the ringing at a practice

We are fortunate in having a team of very capable adults, several of the whom are teachers by profession, involved in running the ringing or acting as helpers, too many to mention. This is backed up by high levels of support from parents, particularly in providing transport – this really is invaluable. Linda Garton usually runs the practices and sometimes has sudden bright ideas and ‘wings it’ as only experienced teachers can! Many of the support team are actively involved in teaching ringing across the county. All are positive influencers who are good at encouraging and motivating others. The Brett family deserve a mention in this respect – all teach or support/help and spend vast amounts of time teaching new ringers, and Lyndsey Brett’s work results in a constant supply of new people coming into the group.

The likely team line-up for the RWNYC evolves during previous months but, given that we do have such a talented and enthusiastic pool of young ringers from whom to pick a team, there are usually one or two difficult decisions to be made by the team coaches, Linda and Lyndsey. Because of the upper age limit, it is always emphasised that there will be future opportunities for those that don’t make the team this year. Where these choices have to be made, and assuming most other factors are equal, we adopt a policy of including those who won’t have another opportunity, which is seen as fair. The inclusive ethos means the only dedicated practice session by the competition band will be an additional practice in June.

A brief word on the history. Until 2008, apart from an annual special Young Ringers’ Event in November during the previous couple of years, any focus in Bedfordshire on young ringers was at tower or district level. It was largely unplanned and ad-hoc. Soon after the new bells at Campton were installed in July 2007 I suggested to Michael Barnicott-White (then Bedfordshire Association president) that the time was right to create an Inter District Young Ringers’ Striking Competition to stimulate activity amongst young ringers. Shelagh Melville (see RW 2014 p243) duly donated a splendid cup and the first contest was in 2008 and has remained a fixture in the Association calendar ever since. Bedfordshire entered the RW Centenary contest in 2011, followed by Birmingham in 2012, and of course York in 2013. Sue Silver’s focus during her presidency of the Bedfordshire Association on developing young ringers has been a constant over this time, and she takes on most of the organisation, with direct email contact with the youngsters and their parents and tower captains, ensuring that everyone knows about events and that any necessary permissions are sought.

At our most recent practice at Campton in May, we were delighted to welcome the Right Reverend Richard Atkinson, Bishop of Bedford and one of the patrons of the Bedfordshire Association. Bishop Richard spent what he described as a very enjoyable afternoon chatting with the youngsters and helpers, admiring the Whitechapel Trophy and Melville Cup and finding out more about ringing in Bedfordshire. There was the inevitable impromptu handling lesson, culminating in ringing a few rounds (with a little bit of help!) with last year’s winning RWNYC band.

So, the Bedfordshire team will be keen to defend their title at Worcester on 5th July. Worcester is familiar ground – we have had two or three excellent days out with our Bedfordshire Young Ringers to the Cathedral Training Centre and to other towers in and around Worcester. (Thanks Worcester!)

The back 8 at Old St Martin’s is actually a sister ring to Campton – the two rings even match pound-for-pound, though, despite pleas by the Campton young ringers, we don’t yet have lots of different coloured sallies! Whatever the result of this year’s contest, it will be a fantastic experience, particularly for those young ringers who are new to it.

The Ringing World deserves a great deal of credit for its vision to include the Contest in an already busy schedule at the centenary celebrations in 2011. For me, this is now without question the most important event in the ringing calendar and it will definitely play a major part in the future of the Exercise. Every ringer has at some time learnt to ring (can be easy to forget!) and encountered difficulties and challenges, particularly during those critical early stages of their ringing career, so the RWNYC resonates across the wider exercise. If you are an experienced ringer and you haven’t been along to this event then why not give it a try? You’ll have a great day out and there’s every chance you’ll come away from it inspired by the experience.

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Central Council of Church Bell Ringers