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Change Ringing for the Future

Central Council Debate

An approach to the Administrative Committee of the Central Council, resulted in a conference being held at Wellesbourne in November, 2011 to discuss the Future of Ringing. The discussions were reported in The Ringing World issue of 2nd December. Many suggestions were forthcoming regarding the recruitment, training and retention of ringers and a small group was formed to review how these might be taken forward in a plan for Future Ringing. The group comprised the Conference Chairman, Elva Ainsworth, Education Committee Chairman, Peter Dale and Vice President, Chris Mew and consultation included the Ringing Foundation and Ringing Centres Committee together with assistance from Marc McDonald, Andy Reeve and Mark Ainsworth. The product of several meetings was a paper put to the Central Council in Chester, outlining proposals for reviewing and improving the means by which new ringers might be attracted and how the whole body of ringers could contribute.

The paper, previously circulated to CC Representatives, was introduced by Elva Ainsworth who reiterated the source of the initiative and called upon those present to give their consideration and support the recommendations. Speaking to the paper, Chris Mew outlined the vision that there was a need to work as a team to achieve an improvement in recruitment, training and standards of new ringers.

Some key statistics were that in the last 20 years the change in numbers of ringers by age group were cause for concern, they were:

11-19 years of age – down from 20% to 10% of the total

20-39 years of age – down from 29% to 12% of the total

40 years of age or over – up from 51% to 78% of the total

Current attrition rates would result in 10,000 fewer ringers by 2038.

Not only was there a perceived “ageing” of the active ringing population but there was the big “gap” of younger mature ringers and leaders to take future ringing forward.

The principal immediate proposals for the Council were as follows:

1. To establish a Recruitment and Training Forum to co-ordinate the work of the many persons involved. It would not be yet “another Committee” but would try to ensure that work was not duplicated, that the resources available to the Council through its Committees, The Ringing Foundation and other agencies were used to best advantage and that the structure of the Council would meet future needs.

2. Carry out research into potential areas for recruitment as far as possible using expertise from within the Council. It was essential that new areas were explored such as schools, youth groups and U3A but most importantly that the greatest potential was identified so that efforts could be directed accordingly.

3. To develop a recognisable branding for ringing, akin to that publicly known for such bodies as Scouts and Guides. This would enhance public awareness and provide a new perception and pride amongst new ringers of the value of their pursuit.

4. Support the work of the Ringing Foundation in expanding the Integrated Teacher Training Scheme (ITTS) for training new instructors. Associated with this activity was the already established Association of Ringing Teachers (ART) to which it was hoped future teachers would aspire to belong. It was essential that new learners should receive quality teaching and learn techniques which would allow them to ring to good standards and which, in time, they would the pass on.

Most of those present had already heard the progress and initiatives set out by the Ringing Foundation at its AGM the previous day and it was important to recognise that contrary to some expressions of cynicism, the Foundation was now making considerable progress. There was a forward plan for rolling out the availability of ITTS nationally as resources, both human and financial, allowed. Like most new projects getting off the ground there had to be a build up with pilot training schemes now well-proven and course curriculum developed.

It was recognised that the Council had, very much like the Church, no means of making actions mandatory at Diocese and Parish level and that it was only the affiliated Societies and their respective members that could make things happen at local level. In this respect the needs and abilities of tower leaders were crucial to the success of any new drive to attract and keep ringers.

The Council sought the support of all Guilds, Societies and Associations in responding to the following immediate requests:

1. All territorial organisations to review their existing and future plans for recruitment and training.

2. Where existing, to review their specifically Youth-orientated activities and future proposals for the creating and development of these. In this context the existence or future proposals for specific youth development officers was seen as important.

3. Essential to the support of recruitment and training initiatives was the identification of the resources required to achieve local programmes and to what extent the Council as a service to the Exercise, the Ringing Foundation and other agencies might assist.

All affiliated societies would be contacted directly after the meeting and requested to provide a feedback to the Council on these issues by the beginning of December, 2012.

Discussion

In the limited time available, discussion from the floor raised some pertinent points some of which are summarised as follows:

Validity of ITTS as a training tool – it was recognised that the ITTS model was not a “fit-all” solution and it was not intended to be mandatory. There were many good and capable trainers in existence and there were many towers which were themselves centres of excellence. The ITTS scheme did, however, provide a standard to work to, particularly where the level of training (and therefore satisfaction and retention of learners) fell below that which was desirable.

There was a query of the “cost of teaching a learner at £200” quoted elsewhere. Whilst the traditional approach to teaching ringing had always been a “freely volunteered” one, the recognition of the value of teaching, and indeed if this were translated into fees, might actually enhance the perception of ringing as a worthwhile hobby. By the same token charging, like the fees paid by Scouts and Guides, could help to finance the books and administration associated with learning. It was a salutary fact that, for example, the affiliation fees paid to the Central Council equated to 14 pence per Guild member represented!

Reference was made to various local initiatives ranging from school visits, retrieving “lapsed” ringers and extending the recruitment from children to their parents and thus creating a ready-made “family” of ringers. The experience of high school contacts in New York was mentioned, this being subsequently reported in the RW issue of 8th June.

There was concern that there was overemphasis on young people and it was accepted that all ages could contribute to the stock of new ringers but that the imbalance needed to be corrected to ensure a succession of leaders for the future.

The importance of ringing as a church activity was reiterated as being its prime reason over and above “fun” ringing. In response it was pointed out that, quite apart from ringing for service, ringers had a tremendous “outreach” beyond their own parishes, Dioceses and even overseas, an attribute which few clergy enjoyed.

The foregoing is only a brief note of the transactions of what was itself a small part of the overall Council but it is fair to say that the general feeling of those present was one of support for a new wave of initiatives to secure our ringing future.

CHRIS MEW
for Wellesbourne Review Group

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CC
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers