DRAFT FOR REVIEW of the District Officers’ Forum notes

Our annual District Officers’ Forum, ably chaired by our new Master, Mike Winterbourne, was host to thirteen representatives from six of the Guild’s eight districts – Andover, Basingstoke, Christchurch and Southampton, Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Winchester.

Guild Action Plan. After the welcome, the floor was given to Viv Nobbs, our Master emerita and now Public Relations Officer, to give an update on the Guild Action Plan, as follows.

Guild Events: the plan was for two per year, and this year three had happened or were due: the AGM, the Striking Competitions and, in November a social event. Volunteers were always needed to help with these, and more events were planned for the coming year.

District Events were benefiting from cross-border cooperation.

Funding: events being staged, costly to run, were being generously supported – for example, on the Isle of Wight, by local businesses, but knowledge and experience of how to tap into funding from grant-making bodies was needed – a suggestion from the floor was that Jay Bunyan of Christchurch was suitably qualified/knowledgeable.

Database: The Guild Membership Database was progressing.

Website:The Guild Website was now well established, but there was a plea to ‘put the word round’ about it, so that people made it their first port of call for sharing and looking for information about events, practices, training, anything going on at Guild, District and Tower level.

ART Awards: As a result of the effective communications between the chief officers of the Guild and the Communications Committee, three applications were made for the ART awards, and Brighstone, IoW had secured the Sara Beacham Youth Award.

Youth Fund: Success in the above and other youth-oriented initiatives such as the RW National Youth Striking Competition was prompting the Guild to consider establishment of a Youth Fund [Linda Garton having ‘set the ball rolling’ by donating her expenses at the Guild AGM]. Given the cross-guild support for such an initiative, support was being sought from local businesses.

Guild Report: its future was under active consideration and was a topic for today’s meeting.

Health and Safety and Child Protection were areas of concern needing further attention/work

Communications: consideration was being given to the Newsletter, specifically to get it down to one sheet (a) for ease of consumption (b) for freshness of content.

Non-email users were a concern as a potentially disadvantage group, and thought was being given as to how many there still were within the Guild. From the floor (Ian Rees) came the suggestion of employing docmail.co.uk, which can send out single sheets of uploaded information for 39p/side.

 Education Committee: The Education Committee was working hard, and needed the support of Guild members both in administration and help on the training days.

Belfry Stewardship: the committee’s convenor urged upon members involved in, or considering, restoration projects to involve and gain the support of the Incumbent and Wardens, and also to ensure Health and Safety issues remained under review.

Association of Ringing Teachers: from next year the ART Conference will be held over two days, and the Guild will be hosting the 2017 Conference.

World War One: the Guild is planning an event to ‘offer up’ our ringing to commemorate the sacrifice of our predecessors in the Great War: the event is to comprise a service at each of the two cathedrals in the Guild in Spring 2019. WW1 is also to be discussed at today’s meeting.

Recruitment and Retention: The ‘Learning to Ring’ section of the website had had a peak of 100 hits per day for a short while following broadcasts on BBC local radio, in Guernsey, Norfolk and Oxford on 4th September: some 80 of these hits had come from non-ringers.[1] This presents us with a great opportunity for recruitment and to advertise it in a proactive way. West Meon had advertised ‘training places available now’, and drawn a response from people seeking specific information, and prepared to travel from afar in response to a specific offer, in contrast to other towers’ more generalised statements (e.g. ‘recruits always welcome’).

Districts’/Towers’ Feedback – What Needs Support, What Changes Would Be Helpful?

Liability in the event of Accident or Injury (Ian Rees, Basingstoke): prompted by a visitor having an accident whilst ringing: is there, at Guild level a mechanism for calling in the Belfry Stewardship Committee or the Towers and Bells Committee to examine the tower to ensure it is safe? Viv’s response: the responsibility – moderated through the offices of the bishops and archdeacons – lies with the incumbent, wardens and the PCCs. Thankfully, such events are mercifully rare, and a very infrequent claim on the Ecclesiastical Insurance.

Bruce mentioned the Winchester District’s ‘Best Kept Tower’ awards, which paid particular attention to safe working environments and hazard prevention. Brian added that an annual/periodical inspection by one of the founders or bell-hangers would address the safety of the bells themselves

The question arose of what the insurance in our annual subscription covered: Mike advised that it was described on the website, but basically amounted to public liability cover, not personal insurance.

Deb asked whether there was any written guidance on belfry maintenance, and was told about the Central Council Maintenance Handbook and Schedule of Regular Maintenance.

Tower Captains’ Changing Role/Character: Rosalind observed that the model of a tower captain was changing – from someone who had, maybe, held office for decades and knew all there was to know to a call-change ringer of three years’ standing, and hence needing what the Guild had to offer, e.g. via the website, and through local initiatives to improve their ringing, leading on to …

Local Initiatives:

  • Lexy and Kieran, getting ringing going at a three-bell tower on the Isle of Wight;
  • Edd Colliss’s day out: ‘Bells, beer, buns and bacon butties;
  • Sussex County Association’ Chichester District running a week-long intensive course on basic handling;
  • Christchurch and Southampton’s Youth Practice, plus a quarter-peal club;
  • Hursley’s monthly Surprise8 practice and quarter-peal attempt, and progress practices for new(ish) learners;
  • Daniel Graham’s Surprise10 practices, and
  • Tim Pink’s quarter-peal attempts in the Andover District – notified via mailing list;
  • Winchester District, the Cathedral monthly 12/14 practices, last Wednesday
  • Edmund Wratten’s ‘Beyond Bob Doubles’ on the last Wednesday,
  • Jen Churchill’s monthly youth practices and
  • Gary Davies’s Surprise Minor practices – currently in abeyance;
  • In the A&P District, Adam Greenley’s Holybourne practice.

ART Level 2 Training: Bruce put in a plea for an ART level 2 course: Andy replied that one was planned.

The Guild Report. Discussion opened with the cost of the Guild Report – £1,356 for the latest. The quantities produced – and ending up abandoned on tower bookshelves – prompt the question ‘Is this value for money’ – at which point we were all discharged, coffee in hand, to consider the question, and all the questions, about the Guild Report – what it does, what are its target audiences and what do they ask of it, and so on. Out of the groups came the following thoughts and suggestions:-

The key issues, our table thought, were

  1. The accuracy and up-to-dateness of the information,
  2. The process of production,
  3. Getting the report – or its information – out to the readership.

Production and quantities: Maybe, instead of one copy per person, two or three copies per tower and additional copies on request – a need which print-on-demand would satisfy, and directory information maintained on the website for up-to-dateness and accuracy. There is a further, small demand from offices/agencies within the church, outside the Guild. With 200 towers, the total need for hard-copy reports might be around 250-300.

There would remain a need for the report as a physical entity as a document of historical record, for the Guild Library, also the County Record Office and the Central Council Library.

Forms of the Report, ways of getting to the membership the ‘directory/current’ information: (relatively) small batch of copies printed ahead of demand and print-on-demand facility, or, simply as a PDF. The directory information to be maintained as it currently is, on the website: Guild and District Officers and committee members, tower contacts.

Content: What the report should contain – what is essential? See above: Rules, Contact details (‘extracted from the website’), and perhaps some background information on the Guild, so that the report assumes the character of a members’ handbook: with space for towers visited (the idea of a passport, maybe a stamp for each tower) and ringing milestones (progress waymarks, quarter-peals and peals) would give the handbook a more personal feel[4]

Cost Savings and other benefits: At present, the Report costs the Guild over £1300: the time-lag in its production (of the order of four months) and the risk of textual errors constitute significant challenges to the present model continuing as a template for the future. Moving to a new model would result in considerable savings for the Guild, and hence the membership, more than enough to offset the cost of optionally purchasing a copy of the Report, and differential costs dependeing on whether the peal reports were included. Secretaries, officers, tower correspondents would have access to the Report as a web entity for correction more flexibly than at present. It is noteworthy that there is a nearby guild which has abandoned its paper annual reports, and their experience could be instructive.

How to progress reform: The meeting agreed that if the questionnaire we examined for our groups were put to the membership via the website, the Executive would have a mandate and a route-map for reform. But putting the reform into practice – with all the membership indicating ‘yes or no’ might require the implementation of the Guild Database, with such a question as part of each individual profile/record.

World War One. Reference has already been made to the two Cathedral services in 2019. Other ideas include the compilation of a Roll of Honour – names of the fallen amongst ringers in the historic Diocese still coming to coming to light. Ideas on how to mark the commemoration are changing: to the original brief of finding out and recording ringing/other commemoration of the fallen – by research in The Ringing World (at the time) and Bellboard/Campanophile (100 years on) – have been added the idea of ensuring that each of the Guild’s fallen is commemorated by some sort of ringing, typically a peal or quarter-peal – at present a “Work in Progress”. The emphasis is on the individuals. But the Focus group absolutely relies upon Districts and towers. The word needs to go out to publicise the work of the Focus Group and maybe enlist some help – needed not least because Rachel Anderson, at present coordinating efforts, is due to emigrate shortly. Viv hopes to register an interest with the Heritage Lottery Fund. Copies of the Guild leaflet were distributed.

Bells for St George’s, Ypres: Bruce urged upon the meeting the claims of the £200,000 appeal for an 8-cwt eight to be installed in Blomfield’s Memorial Church of St George in Ypres.[5] £3000 (£2,400 gift-aided) would buy an inscription on one of the bells – with the potential for 64 such inscriptions. The meeting agreed to refer the question to the Guild Exec. on 12 November.

Database. The basic questions of the value of, and whether or not to proceed with, a Guild-wide database has already been considered and agreed by the Guild Exec. and endorsed by the AGM. So the task for the two working groups of the Forum was to come up with one problem and four benefits/advantages of a Guild Database. The only district to have anything like a database as membership resource was Winchester, with Tony Smith’s annual District Directory – which circumvents DPA concerns by being (a) in hard copy (b) available to a strictly limited readership.

The advantages included:-

Better communications (1) – because, with a database which included, e.g. age data, more effective targeting would be possible.

Better communications (2) – communications from the Guild and its committees, and from the Central Council would be far easier with the aid of the database rather than, as at present, the subject of a relay from Guild to District, to Tower and to the individual.

Better communications (3) – the dissemination of the Guild Report – or appropriate links to the website, as remarked above.

More effective planning: the Database would provide the Guild with the sort of statistical information (age splits, skill levels, preferred activities – long touches, handbells, etc.) to plan for anything from recruitment drives to educational provision; clearly there would have to be opt-out provisions.[6]

Communications Groups – would be much easier to set up from a database.

Problems included:-

Non-email users: Since a major function of the Database would be to facilitate communications, the issue arises of what to do about/how to reach people who don’t have/use e-mail.

DPA Compliance and security – enough said.

Cost. To produce and manage a database is not the sort of thing one could entrust to a volunteer: if the volunteer goes – then where are you? But databases with all the controls – password encryption, anti-hacking measures – is phenomenally expensive. Rosalind referred to her sailing club’s database which cost £60,000 to set up and incurred substantial running/maintenance costs.

One solution might be to involve the Central Council. If Council bore the cost, then the really expensive aspects of set-up and maintenance could be spread across the country – and indeed over the world. One model might be one database or a series of databases run by/in conjunction with Council, or Council commissioning a system which could then be cloned by each of the Guilds and Associations. Either way, costs that were impossible to contemplate locally would be feasible, shared out across the Exercise.

[1] The broadcasts – some titled ‘the future of ringing’ – gave advance notice of the Heritage Open Weekend, 9th-11th September. Radio Guernsey: Andy Hislop: bbc.co.uk/programmes/p044ykjc, featuring Mike Bubb and John David at 0h 39’-47’, Janice Firth and Duncan Loweth at 1h08’-1h30’, Kate Flavell at 1h37’-1h46’, and Peter Bevis at 1h51’-1h57’. Radio Norfolk: Anthony Isaacs, bbc.co.uk/…/p0442780; Radio Oxford: Ali Jones: bbc.co.uk/…/p045h3t8.

[2] Central Council: Practical bell maintenance: a pocket-book for steeple-keepers (1979), title on cover: Maintenance Handbook; Central Council Towers and Belfries Committee: A Schedule of Regular Maintenance (undated)

[4] If the National Trust and the Lundy Letterbox scheme can create rubber stamps for entry in a passport-style document, then so could the Guild. The cost of 200 rubber stamps is a bit of a poser! If each of the officers/tower contacts had an ‘alias’ email address – like wphonsec@gmail.com, that would get over the problem of contact details becoming outdated in a book which one would want to keep at least semi-permanently – or longer than a year, at any rate.

[5] The Ringing World, no. 5499, 16 September 2016, lead article “Bells4StGeorgeYpres – a WW1 memorial, and www.bells4stgeorge.org and further information from info@bells4stgeorge.org

[6] For example, ‘prefer not to say’ in the age-range question.