Promoting bell ringing and recruiting – A personal perspective

 Phil Ramsbottom is a member of St. Martin’s Guild. His recent opinion piece on learning methods was remarkably popular so I asked him to follow up with some more thoughts.. this time on promotion and recruitment. Post your comments below! RM

Simply talking about bell ringing

“Let’s start at the very beginning..” so the song goes, and ringing is no exception. Getting people interested in our craft is something we should all be doing, and the way we talk to about it, if we get it right, can make a positive difference.

We’re very good at being quite boring at this though and all to quickly tell our audience how desperately short of ringers we are at Much Binding on the Ribald and would they like to learn to ring, – not the best way to start. Yes, there have been recent publicized occasions when people have responding to the call of a struggling tower, but are these people are target market? Are younger(er) people interested in supporting a struggling organization for the sake of preventing something from dying out? I feel the people we need are usually more keen to join a thriving organization than a struggling one. There are better ways to engage with our audience, (even if it’s only one to one), in a way which we are more likely to attract them into our ranks. If asked about ringing, mention that super little tower you rang at recently WITHOUT MENTIONING THE BELLS! Try the tack of what a cracking place it was, the gorgeous scenery nearby, the pub next door to the church, (must squeeze that one in), When technical questions are asked about ringing, try not to answer too fully, maybe that’s the time to suggest that a trip to the tower one evening would help to explain.

Open days – are these necessarily a good thing?

A few bullet points, – can the visitors access all parts of the tower including the roof to see the view? If the bell chamber is not accessible, be sure to have a model bell available or a good video, – there’s plenty on Youtube. Make sure ringing is demonstrated, (seems obvious I know but I’ve known cases where this doesn’t always happen), with provision to offer a few backstrokes should anyone ask if they can have a go, – don’t push it. Should anyone express an interest in wanting to learn, make a note of their contact details and write to them following up with a later ‘phone call. The usual, “Oh well come along on Tuesday” is all well and good but if they don’t show, there may be no way of finding them again.

Many’s the time I’ve seen towers organize well promoted and attended open days which result in more people signing up to learn to ring than the particular tower could manage. Six months later most if not all have packed up. Right idea and probably well run but better to manage attendees in the first instance and any interested persons, suggesting some may have to wait a month or two before they can start. Start teaching the younger ones first, they’ll be out of the way more quickly in order for the potentially slower learners to follow afterwards.   

Private tower visits

– similar to above but to a smaller invited group, say half a dozen at most. This could be a separately organized event or arranged to take place say 30/45 minutes before the usual practice night.

When in the tower always find a way to engage, – my particular favourite is, with the aid of a wipe clean board, (every tower should have one), work through with your guests the time taken to ring on the changes on x number of bells, – don’t do the maths for them but be prepared to talk them through it.

Talking of wipe clean boards, I have a small one I take around with me to workshops and the like, very cheap indeed as was the coloured pens bought with it. Wouldn’t be without it and recommend that any peripatetic ringing teacher do likewise.

Whilst we’re on the subject, in what sort of state is the ringing room? – many’s the tower I’ve been up towers which look as though not a living soul has been up there in the last 100 years! We’ve all been there, old photo’s, (REALLY old in many cases), unreadable peal boards, threadbare carpets, in fact nothing up there at all to give the impression the place is in use a couple of times a week. If the photo of old Joe Higgs who rang at the tower in the 1800s’ is of no current significance and his descendants no longer live in the village, then get rid of it or maybe store it in a cupboard. Oh, and on the subject of rope mats which all too often are edged samples from a long gone carpet shop, (and look it!), not sure if they’re currently available but IKEA offer a range of 70cm dia pure wool rugs at around £7 each. Ironically they’re called “Ringum” – you couldn’t make it up!

Social media, (more on this later), parish magazine/the church – a notice in the church porch will no longer be noticed after a few weeks. Is ringing practice mentioned in the notices usually given out during morning service? Mention that non-ringers are always welcome for no other reason than just that. Through general conversation make the parishioners aware they can come along to any practice night if they so wish. They may say they don’t have time for another hobby, (been said to me loads of times), but then who’s asking them to learn? (Furthermore, the “I haven’t got the time” excuse is exactly that, it’s a way of saying they don’t want to learn, so don’t push it. People who do want to learn, the candidates we’re really after, will find the time). Point out it was just a one off but open invitation to come along. Bearing in mind ringing isn’t really a spectator sport, suggest they arrive say 8.30 ish to see the last half hour prior to going to the pub, – that usually works. If your band doesn’t usually go to the pub, just make sure you do when you’re expecting visitors. They will be wanting to ask a lot of questions so have a good environment in which to answer them.

One recurring theme above is to invite people to the tower and in doing so, make sure it’s planned and organized, including the pub afterwards, – it can be the same plan every time if it works or a different plan for different group size. Larger groups can be split, eg half go upstairs, half stay in the ringing room, then all swap over.

Is it worth using the parish mag to give notice of Guild meetings at the tower, peal attempts, special quarter peals? Would anyone locally like the bells rung for a special occasion? If you do ring for such an event, make sure the people concerned come along to the tower to meet the band, – oh, and go to the pub afterwards.  Engage with those whom you already have around you.

If people do ask about learning to ring, suggest just one or two lessons first during which they can decide if they like it and also a good teacher should be able to see if they have the right hand/eye co-ordination and motor skills to become a ringer. New pupils should be made aware from the start that not everyone can learn to ring, just in the same way that not everyone can learn to ride a bike say?  

Whatever option or combination of options is chosen, – don’t make the “learning to ring” bit the obvious intention.

Phil Ramsbottom


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