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Change Ringing for the Future - The Wellesbourne Conference 2011

Initiated by the Education Committee of the Central Council, this national conference was held on Saturday 12 November 2011 at Wellesbourne, Warwickshire to gather a wide range of varied, possibly controversial, ideas with a view to formulating a set of recommendations for consideration and action by the Central Council.

A particular focus was on how to attract and retain many more young people to ringing, and we intend to encourage as many young ringers as possible to contribute to the discussion.

Paul Flavell has provided us with an interesting account of the proceedings.

Change Ringing for the Future - a review of the Wellesbourne conference on 12 November

The Wellesbourne conference was conceived by the Central Council Education and Ringing Centres Committees and The Ringing Foundation, and masterminded and chaired by Elva Ainsworth.  The conference was intended to bring together interested parties to discuss how the art of bell ringing could be secured for future generations and act as a catalyst and focus for action.  There were approximately 115 delegates and speakers/helpers who enjoyed a stimulating day of discussion and ideas.   All the speakers are renowned exponents of teaching ringing or other skills and the conference did not disappoint. Over 27 societies ringing societies were represented.

After opening comments from Elva and Kate Flavell (CC President) on the objectives of the conference, proceedings started by an address from Alison Hodge of the CC Ringing Trends Committee on the very real threat to the future of ringing if we do not recruit new young ringers.  The stark facts are as follows:

                                                            1914                1959                2008

Number of ringers in the UK               40-50,000        >41,000           <39,000

  • In this time the UK population has increased from 40 million to 60 million which would suggest the number of ringers should have increased pro-rata
  • Two thirds of ringers are over 50 and the majority are over 40, many fewer youngsters now
  • The increased lifespan of people is masking the reduced number of recruits
  • Three quarters of tower captains are over 50
  • One third of new learners are over 50
  • Number of ringers could drop to 20,000 in 20 years if nothing is done, restricted to a few centres of excellence but with many silent towers

Alison asked if ringing (and the church) was keeping track with society.  Society is global, 24/7, technology based.  Other organisations such as Youth Hostels (property sale, refocus) and The Croquet Association (simpler game, player lifestyle) had rebranded themselves.  It was vital that the CC and ringing changed the image of bell ringing to be more attractive to the public and recruit and retain new members.

The conference then broke into a number of seminars which were repeated several times to keep the numbers to manageable levels and ensure everybody saw the seminars of their choice:

  • Who do we want to attract to ringing and how can we do that? (Andy Reeve)
  • How do we ensure we retain the young ringers we want? (Pip Penney and Sue Faull)
  • How does local leadership make a difference? (Mark Regan)
  • What can we learn from the church and other youth focussed organisations? (Richard Crossland and Sarah Trinder)
  • What opportunities does new technology offer us? (Norman Mattingley and John Harrison)
  • How can we organise ourselves for the future? (Nigel Herriott and Brian Meads)
  • Forming the Youth Forum and panel (Graham Nabb)

There was an excellent address from Rev Richard Crossland who asked whether the CC could consider the following – which could be eligible for government art/development funding - to demonstrate that bellringing is a beneficial activity for youngsters for following reasons:

  • Develop physical and mental coordination
  • Improve learning skills to get better grades at school
  • Encourage responsibility and personal development
  • Develop team work and social skills
  • Demonstrate these performances with facts

Parents are happily taking their children to dancing lessons, piano lessons and paying for the privilege, because there are trained people with recognised qualifications and a formalised learning program.  This should also apply to ringing.

The clear issue that kept being raised in the seminars is that there are no consistent standards for teaching in the country.  Thus some people are taught to ring very well but others are taught badly who would have no chance of teaching good ringing in the future.  It is essential to ‘train the trainers’ to a recognised standard, probably in the ringing centres or on specific courses. The difficulty is some tower captains could resent being told they had to take the training course; this would need careful handling at a local level. 

The star of the show was a young ringer from Newcastle who made everybody laugh by his references to ‘dust and pensioners in the tower’ but he and other young ringers attending the conference made thoughtful remarks about how ringing could be more attractive to youngsters;

  • Don’t insist on Sundays, they’ll come if they get interested
  • Give the youngsters responsibility and treat them like adults
  • Do social things as a team e.g. 10 pin bowling as well as bringing together youngsters from different towers
  • Make bell ringing websites available on Facebook
  • Don’t try and make ringing ‘cool’ (e.g. by getting celebrities to learn to ring)

 So what actions were proposed?

  • Consider refocusing the Central Council as a service organisation with clear leadership to implement the following:
  • Draw up a business plan and seek funding from appropriate bodies to implement these plans
  • Use the funds to transform towers from dark dusty places to an attractive place to learn and to facilitate the recruitment of leaders and trainers
  • Brand bell ringing as an attractive and interesting pastime
  • Create an attractive national logo
  • Create central and local recruiting material
  • Advertise ringing events in the media e/g/ by involving local newspapers/radio stations
  • Make bell ringing websites more visible to e.g. facebook and more focused at recruiting new members
  • Sell bell ringing to schools/community by outreach, e.g. by setting up mobile belfries, showing videos , use youngsters to promote ringing
  • Integrate bell ringing into community activities selling the benefits of physical activity, team work, enhanced learning, fun etc
  • Create a formalised training system for trainers with a recognised national qualification
  • Create a formalised training system for learners with recognised grades of progress that are rewarded by badges, award schemes, certificates
  • Form a youth panel that would attract young members

The findings of the conference should be reported back to local associations and a plan drawn up to implement this at local level.

Thanks were expressed to the organisers and speakers, and also to the Wellesbourne ringers for providing the excellent lunches and the superb facilities in the church hall.