The Guild Education Committee decided to hold an open event ‘Have your say’ during Holy Week in the Undercroft of Winchester Cathedral to consult with members, and all those with an interest in education, to develop a strategy for the delivery of training by the Guild Education Committee into the 2020’s, and how this dovetails with the training provided at District and tower level.
We particularly wanted to find out how we can help local bands, how we can recruit and retain more young ringers, and how we can best support individuals who wish to make progress with their ringing. This could also feed into the updating of the Guild’s three year action plan. To help with this we circulated a link to an on-line survey form to which almost two thirds of the church towers with ringable bells in the Guild responded.
- Service ringing: One of the objects of the Guild is to encourage ringing for Divine Service. Of the ringable towers that had a morning service 12% had no local band, 38% did not ring all their bells and just 50% were able to ring all the bells. Almost a quarter (25%) of the available bells were not rung.
- Recruitment: Is a big issue for many towers. On a scale of 1 – 10, where 1 is very difficult and 10 is easy, there was an average response of 2.6.
- Foundation skills: Another object is the cultivation of change ringing. A third (33%) of the ringers are at the foundation skills stage and either learning to handle, ring rounds and call changes, or plain hunt. A third of the towers that have a local band (35%) rang no more than one doubles method on practice night (e.g. Plain Bob or Grandsire Doubles), and often less. Over two thirds (69%) rang nothing more than plain doubles.
- Assistance with teaching: It is surprising that many of the comments received related to the need for assistance at the more elementary levels, even though rule 18 is that Districts are requested to compile a list of instructors who are willing to assist towers. Rule 16 is that the first charge on District funds (after administration) shall be for instruction (whenever possible) in change ringing. In answer to the question about assistance, only 26% of towers did not require any assistance from the Guild.
- Demographics: In terms of age, 58% of ringers and 66% of tower captains are over 60. 7% of ringers are aged under 20. Twenty years ago, in the Guild report for 1999, the percentage of Over 60 and Life members was around a third of this (20%). It seems that there has been a corresponding decrease in the number of Full members as the baby boom generation who learnt as teenagers in the 1960’s and 1970’s are now aged over 60. Around 25% of ringers are “less active” and come less than 50% of the time.
- Leadership skills: The baby boomers form the backbone of our existing tower captains and teachers and there will be a need replace these tower captains when they retire, However, currently 7% of ringers are aged under 20 and 8% aged 20 – 40. Therefore there will not be the same bulge coming through.
- ‘Active’ ringers: It is widely reckoned that there are about 40,000 ringers worldwide and about 32,000 of these are members of territorial societies such as the W&P. What surprised us is that when we compared the reported number of ringers in local bands, this was about 8% less than the number of Guild members listed against those towers. We had expected this to be the other way round. In addition, when asked how many of the local band could be relied on to attend at least 50% of the time, there was a further 25% reduction. Based on this the Guild has around 950 active ringers and if the same elsewhere, there are about 32,000 ringers of whom 24,000 are ‘active’.
- Surprise ringing: Another unexpected result was that the number of ringers who could ring more than one Surprise method was 22%. A further 7.5% were learning to ring their first surprise method. In ‘Room at the Top’ in 2002 Simon Linford estimated that only 10% of ringers could ring surprise. It therefore seems that there is a large pool of accomplished ringers, who may be able to help with training the next generation.
Feedback from tower correspondents:
- Small village, we’ve tried recruiting from the congregation/leaflet drops/general appeals/open days, scouts and guides, nothing seems to bring them in! Tried over many years, but now feeling too old to put the effort in again, and there are only 2 of us left. Most helpful would be an area ringing school where, if we could drum up interest, recruits could go for initial tuition before joining our tower. But we need to find a core of perhaps 10 prepared to learn, then 4 or so might stick at it, and that would be a good start. Just teaching the odd single individual is of no use now!
- 1 or 2 good ringers visiting even only once a month would make a huge difference.
- In the past, there has been too much emphasis on difficult method ringing, peals and quarter peals, with no or little support for learner bands, such as ours. As far as anyone knew, we didn’t exist, and we had given up our Guild membership, due to lack of interest by the Guild.
- It is nearly impossible for one competent ringer to stand behind six learners to try to teach them change ringing. But we have succeeded, in getting as far as Plain bob doubles with our own efforts. Without such ringers like ours, and people like me, prepared to spend hours teaching the basics, without resorting to complex methods, then bell ringing will die out.
- Training: are we doing it at the right level? I can’t see how anyone can learn anything much in a day unless they almost knew it already and the day course reinforced it. Would a series of sessions, probably organised at District level, be more effective? I would be interested in hearing the experiences of the Portsmouth District that used to have their “hit squad” approach, and if that was worthwhile.
- I feel that we may be able to recruit, but with nobody willing to teach, recruitment would be a waste of time. It would be great if there were a group of roving teachers or a place to go for lessons. And pay expenses etc. For those teaching.
- More help on how to get ropesight and listening skills – not for our tower but as a general overall training for all.
- I would never turn down any help/advice with gaining new recruits. Of my 4 new recruits in 2018, the 3 over 50 all gave up. The 11 year old, after 3 months, is ringing plain hunt triples. Pre teens and teenagers should be our target group for recruitment.
- I have answered the question about retention because it was a required field but the real answer is “not known” because there were no new ringers to retain.
- Courses to teach ringing, introduction to ringing course, bell handling etc. so we could move forward if we had recruits.
- We have tried to recruit e.g. at the end of 2018 we took part in a village event where about 6 people indicated interest. However, despite being followed up, it is not the right time for any of them!
- I believe what would be of benefit, bearing in mind we have ringers who are deaf etc. etc. is a visitor with tact, diplomacy and encouraging manner to visit our tower to help us ring up and down better together as a band.
- I would welcome the opportunity to learn how to teach, support others handle a bell, coordinate a taster course to encourage ringers etc. To deliver any bell handling with interested people we would need support from someone competent.
- None of the ringers actually live in the village & we only practice once a fortnight, alternating with another tower. There is very little service ringing because we are all committed to other towers although we usually manage weddings & the carol service.
- We would like support with recruiting new and younger members as the average age of the ringers who ring at our tower is quite high.
- Localised courses for Basic Doubles Methods (Plain Hunt, Grandsire & Plain Bob).
- Qu 6: leadership roles – yes others could run practices; but they would not want to teach or to train to teach. Comments: our ringers cannot progress because we do not have enough competent ringers to support them. We are currently stuck at call changes!”
- The age of the band is a concern and assistance with recruitment would be welcome.
- D of E scheme provides most learners, but they don’t stay after 3 months.
- We would like to thank all those involved in the Guild who have given us all those recruits during the ‘Ringing Remembers recruitment drive, as an indirect result we have acquired a further three recruits. The seven remaining recruits are making good progress and are very enthusiastic.
We also looked through Guild annual reports over the past 20 years to see how the profile of membership has changed. There was a substantial increase between 1998 and 2000 because of the ‘Ring in the Millennium’ campaign. However ‘Ringing Remembers’ seems not to have had an impact on the same scale. The two coordinators have commented that of the people expressing interest in learning only about half turned up to the first lesson, and about 50% of them have given up learning since. It would be interesting to find out more, by contacting them direct to carry out a further survey.
Junior membership before 2001 was for people aged under 16. Therefore the number of ‘student’ members is not directly comparable.
Probationary membership was introduced in 2000 and enables new ringers to benefit from Guild insurance. We have looked at the progression of Probationary members in five Districts and of those who were Probationary members in 2015, 49% ceased membership in 2016 and a further 12% in 2017. Only 34% became Full members, with 4% remaining Probationary.
From responses to the survey, we estimate that around 175 people started learning to ring at Guild towers in 2018. This compares with 150 Probationary members in 2018. This represents over 10% of the Guild membership, and a key segment for us to ensure are well catered for. It would be interesting to survey this group direct to find out more about their opinions.
The survey questions were based on a similar survey undertaken in Kent about 18 months ago, and a previous survey undertaken in the North Bucks Branch of the Oxford DG. Tower correspondents were asked questions about their Sunday and practice ringing during a typical week in March 2019. Initially District Secretaries were invited to ‘cascade’ an e-mail to correspondents, or opt for this to be sent out centrally by the committee. Approximately half the initial e-mails were sent out each way at the beginning of March.
Following this, those Districts who had opted to cascade were sent a list of non-responders, in order to send out a reminder. The other correspondents were sent an e-mail via ‘Survey Monkey’, a free online GDPR compliant service which enables the sender to see which e-mails have bounced and which have not been opened. Where no-e-mail address was published in the Guild Annual Report, e-mails were sent out using the contact page on the Guild website. There was also publicity on Win-Port and the Guild Facebook group.
A third reminder was sent out to all non-responders during the third week of March, either by Survey Monkey or the contact page. Hard copies of the survey form, and a stamped addressed envelope, were sent to six towers where there was no electronic means of making contact.
We did not expect all towers to respond, and a 65% response rate is very good, far better than some of us feared. However a number of correspondents complained about not receiving the initial e-mail, and from Survey Monkey we can see that a significant number did not even open our e-mails. This raises questions about the ability of the current systems to ensure that communications from the Guild find their way down to individual members.
Conclusions & recommendations
- Many towers expressed frustration with recruiting and retaining ringers. Many wanted more help with teaching. This is one of the primary objects of the Guild.
- With over 58% of ringers and 66% of tower captains aged over 60, many will retire as active ringers over the next decade or two. Succession planning is a key issue.
- On the current trajectory, there is a danger that many more towers will become silent over the next 10 – 20 years. 10% of towers with a local band did not hold a practice.
- The scale of support required by local bands is extensive. It is difficult for the Guild and Districts to have a significant impact on this with existing practices, meetings and training events.
- Ringing Remembers seems not to have had the same impact on Guild membership as Ringing in the Millennium.
- The Guild currently invests a limited amount in recruitment and training. (The Guild has a Bell Restoration Fund an unrestricted balance of £82,835 and a Training and Development Fund of £898 – as at 31.12.2017)
- Communication is an issue. The usual channels may not be finding their way down to ringers at tower level. In addition, although the Guild has 1,472 members, there are only 211 subscribers to Win-Port and 282 to the Guild Facebook group.
- A third of Guild members are at ‘foundation skills’ stage, either learning to handle, ring rounds and call-changes and learning to plain hunt.
- Another third are either learning to ring their first method inside or learning other doubles methods inside.
- Another third are learning to or can ring surprise.
- Opportunities exist to progress past doubles methods, with around 30% of towers with a band reporting that they ring surprise minor or beyond on a typical practice night.
Possible future strategy (for discussion)
- We need to encourage towers to help themselves, with like-minded towers voluntarily grouping together at a local level to help each other. This already happens on a small scale, but needs to happen on a much wider scale.
- The Education Committee to provide the teachers/tower captains in these local groupings with the training, tools and support to run effective practices at foundation skills level (handling, call changes & plain hunt).
- To maintain interest, help with progression and maximise retention, there is also a need for regular practices and training sessions focussed at the intermediate levels either locally or in each District.
- To overcome the ‘helper shortage’, people who have successfully completed each stage to be encouraged to help with the preceding stage. Also to learn how to conduct simple touches, and help with organisation. These people often better understand what it is like to learn.
- To help with future succession, set up a ‘young leaders’ programme for 14 – 21 year olds, to introduce them to teaching, conducting and other leadership skills.
- The Education committee, PR Officer and Communications committee to work together to develop new material and make available additional financial resources to help local bands with recruitment, training and retention.
- To maximise retention, adequate tuition and follow up should be in place before recruiting new ringers. Tuition also needs to meet modern expectations, with dedicated lessons, rather than a few minutes between touches on practice night.
- There is a debate to be had about the benefits of recruiting older vs. younger people. However if there is to be a balance there is a need to recruit many more younger ringers, not only those in the under 20 age group, but also the 20 – 40 age group. Parents could be encouraged to learn alongside their children.
- There are other questions that we would like to have asked in our survey, but these can only be answered by individual ringers and by tower captains. For example we would like to find out more about our Probationary members and the experiences of the Ringing Remembers recruits. A central membership database, with the option to opt-in/out of different types of communication would both facilitate this and help with communication generally.
- Districts can help with the establishment of local support structures and on-going assistance. For example by holding regular ‘foundation skills’ and intermediate level practices, and setting up their own District young ringers groups. Foundation skills practices held elsewhere prove very popular and are often oversubscribed.
A PDF of this report is available to download here.