Adapt to Survive

This is a report from the March 2017 Association of Ringing Teachers (ART) conference by Catherine Sturgess.

600 new ringers were registered on the ART Learning the Ropes scheme during 2016, which probably doesn’t reflect the full numbers that ART teachers have taught. An average of one ringer a day during the year achieved a level one certificate (“safe and competent bell handing including raising and lowering a bell”).

Adapt to survive seemed to be a theme of the conference, and something for the NDAR to consider as an Association. As one of the speakers said:

You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it. Another used the quote: Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.

Mark Regan urged us to be more open and outward looking, and to think about ways to engage with the church and our local community. This might include positive publicity for special ringing, giving demonstrations or talks, and inviting the congregation / general public / local MP / councillors / clergy to attend a practice or celebratory occasions such as ringing in the New Year. Against a background of the Church of England reviewing the sustainability and support for its buildings, instead of hiding in our towers or apologising we should make the case for our continued access to church bells, which are such an iconic part of the English sound-scape.

We discussed the difficulties of recruiting new ringers. As well as raising awareness about ringing and our local towers, we need to make it as easy as possible for potential ringers to find and contact us.

Lesley Belcher talked about different approaches taken to group teaching such as “ringing schools”, intensive ringing events or courses, and clusters of towers working together to pool resources.

Points made included.

  • Learners value the peer support they get from such an approach, and the feeling of being valued and invested in.
  • Teachers learn from one another, can establish common standards, and new teachers can be developed and supported.
  • Experience days or holiday courses don’t produce ringers for the longer term unless it is emphasised that this is only the beginning, and continued support is provided. (A number of people expressed the view that teaching children is never wasted, because they then more quickly pick up ringing if they decide to take it up in adulthood.)
  • Longer term planning is required to integrate ringers into local towers whilst maintaining peer support.
  • Successful group teaching is based on strong pre-existing ringing relationships, where there is a drive to do more and better, and enables specialisation.

Group teaching is more successful than teaching individuals. (Is there anyone out there who would like to form a group with me?!)

ART has developed a number of workshops. So far these include conducting Plain Bob Minor, bell maintenance and simulator awareness, and further workshops including listening and striking and tower leadership are being developed. Materials and central administration are provided by ART. Non-ART members with specialised knowledge of the workshop content can be used to deliver the workshops if they are good communicators, so this might be something that the NDAR Education Committee could explore further.

It is also worth highlighting a couple of ART publications.

A Ringer’s Guide to Learning the Ropes offers a step-by-step approach to understanding the theory that underpins learning to ring, with clearly presented diagrams to illustrate each stage. Practical exercises and quizzes are included. The guide has been enthusiastically received by learners in Norwich, and is available at the ART shop.

Also available there are logbooks to support 50 Ringing Things, a challenge to help people experience a wide range of ringing activities (or “a bucket list with a purpose”), supported by a certificate scheme and available to everyone regardless of whether or not they are ART members or registered on the Learning the Ropes scheme.

Phil Barnes explained the review of the Central Council he has been leading, and the desire that the Council should become a “shining light” for ringers, rather than a flickering candle. He felt that all territorial societies should be carrying out their own review of their structures and activities.

I know that there are mixed views of ART within the NDAR, but my personal experience of it has been very positive. It’s refreshing to be part of a young ringing organisation where people are simply interested in what works and there is no “but we’ve always done things this way!”, and I came away from the conference with my own “to do” list. Further information (and videos of some of the conference sessions) is available on the ART website.