What, if anything, is worth keeping from the COVID lockdown period? Well definitely the Wensleydale Clusters online ringing course! Host Cathy Booth hears from ART award winners David Scrutton and Jonathan Couchman, who tell the story behind their successful recruitment scheme, now in its third year.
In just five hours of online learning and practice in Ringing Room, the course gets wannabe ringers up to the stage of understanding plain hunt and eager to be matched with a local tower captain so they can begin ringing for real in a nearby tower. The retention rate is impressive too!
Lots of tips here for any ringing project - bring together talented people with towers in need, keep things friendly and informal, and don’t intimidate leaners by exposing them too early to the ‘scary ringers’…
Top 5 Takeaways
- Check out all the other winners and runners up from the ART awards as there is plenty of inspiration there! 2023 ART Award Winners
- Committees and formal structures can sometimes put people off – keep your project agile with just a small team at the top
- Interested in following Wensleydale’s example? Check out their step by step guide on how they recruited 20 new ringers in 2 months:
- Think about timing for any recruitment, or project come to think about that. People need something to do and look forward to in the cold, dark nights in January and February
- Consider the benefits of online ringing for people with health conditions, carers and others who find it hard to leave the house. So much potential to bring ringing, and the wider community, together.
Comment from the legacy website:
Bridget Taylor-Connor: (2023)
A brilliant interview. These courses have been very beneficial to me personally and our tower at St John’s Sharow. A well deserved award.
Sponsor: This podcast is sponsored by the Association of Ringing Teachers (ART). To find out more about learning to ring, learning to teach or other resources to support your ringing go to bellringing.org
[00:00:00] JONATHAN: I, thought of this idea when I was out walking the dog one day as it happens, and it came to me that those dark February nights that people were looking for diversions. And it'd be a really good time to do some recruitment.
[00:00:21] CATHY: Hello, this is the Fun With Bells podcast and I'm Cathy Booth. Every year the Association of Ringing Teachers gives awards to teachers and learners. The teachers' awards are to recognize people and groups who are leading best practice and innovation in the teaching and development of ringing. They're open to everyone, not just ART members or those using the Learning the Ropes scheme.
This year, David Scrutton and Jonathan Couchman won one of those awards, the ART Award for Excellence in Recruitment and Retention. This interview is to find out what they did to win it. And will be of particular interest to anyone in an area wanting more ringers? Hi Jonathan, can you introduce yourself please?
[00:01:02] JONATHAN: Hi Cathy. Yes. I'm Jonathan Couchman and I am one of the two cluster coordinators for the Wensleydale cluster.
[00:01:10] CATHY: David could you introduce yourself, please?
[00:01:12] DAVID: Hello I'm David Scrutton. I'm a bell ringer in Masham. And I work with Jonathan and I've been ringing for 20 something years now.
[00:01:20] CATHY: David, could you describe the Wensleydale area for those that don't know it?
[00:01:25] DAVID: It's the valley, that has the river Ure in, which starts further west than Hawes. And it goes all the way down to Ripon and then on into York. And there's lots of fabulous, beautiful villages. I'm a bit reluctant to say it's the most beautiful part of the country because lots of people will then want to move here. But it's a lovely area. And in our area, there are towers with ten bells and six bells, and maybe a few with no bells.
[00:01:53] CATHY: About how many towers do you have there?
[00:01:56] DAVID: Our cluster started with six towers and then the following season we extended it to eight, and then this year we've repeated the courses and there are now ten towers in our cluster.
[00:02:09] CATHY: So we're going to get onto, what you are referring to when you say your course covered this.
But first of all, is there anything else that the area of Wensleydale is famous for that people might heard of?
[00:02:21] DAVID: Oh, yes. Masham of course, is famous for beer. You've got Theakston's and Black Sheep. Two breweries in one town. That's probably not unique, but they're lovely beers. Jonathan. Can you give me a little bit of the background before David moved into the area of what was happening in ringing during the time you were there?
[00:02:40] JONATHAN: I've been here about ten years and when I arrived, there were isolated towers, and the benefice where I moved into had two ringing towers, but one team, we managed to set up a second band for the second ringing church, which was a very good step forward.
The cluster was formed at the behest of our branch of the local association of the Yorkshire Association. The idea was that each cluster would find a cluster coordinator and nobody else wanted the job so I stepped into the role. And initially, we had a small number of joint cluster practices.
[00:03:28] CATHY: What's the definition of a cluster?
[00:03:30] JONATHAN: The cluster is a group of neighbouring towers. The difficulty we have in North Yorkshire is that it is a huge area. Now I think I saw recently that it's something like the, as big as, I probably got the counties as wrong, Kent plus, Sussex plus half of somewhere else.
So it's massive and very rural with widely spread towers. And the clusters were introduced to provide, more geographically accessible grouping of churches. And we had our six towers form into a cluster to cooperate together for the development of the ringing.
That was called the Wensleydale cluster. David has been fantastic since he arrived. David is a great organizer and implementer and I was rather on my own, organizing things until David arrived and he has been brilliant in stepping in and helping, in fact, undertaking more than the lion's share of the cluster organization and administration.
[00:04:39] CATHY: What was it that was decided at that point was needed? What was the situation at that point before you implemented this solution that we're going to come to?
[00:04:49] JONATHAN: I saw the problem that most of the towers, perhaps I could say all of the towers, needed additional ringers. Locally in my tower in Middleham, we had successfully undertaken a bit of recruitment in connection with the First World War CentenaryI saw was that there were some towers where there were some excellent ringers, but there was nobody with the leadership skill or ambition to undertake recruitment projects. And elsewhere we did have one or two people who did have the ambition, and time and so on to undertake recruitment. And I felt that it would be good to try to put those together. To use the talents within that cluster for the benefit of the cluster as a whole.
When I thought of this idea when I was out walking the dog one day, as it happens. And it came to me that those dark February nights during lockdown were a time that people were looking for diversions. And it'd be a really good time to do some recruitment.
And I was actually quite frustrated cause a lot of people in Ringing World in the spring before there was some unlocking in the summer, that must've been in 2021. A lot of talk of getting ready to recruit when people got back in their towers. And I thought no, actually this isn't right. You need to recruit now beforehand.
So that was the background to where our project started really.
[00:06:19] CATHY: And then the project was?
[00:06:23] DAVID: I can recall that we would meet on Zoom and I think it was about the time that Covid started. and I remember Jonathan, you saying that, I think what we need to do is to do some recruitment and perhaps we could use, Zoom and Ringing Room to do this.
[00:06:40] JONATHAN: Yes.
[00:06:41] DAVID: And we also knew that Laura Gooding in Australia had been doing very similar things. So we contacted her and she gave us her notes. And I thought crumbs, I don't think I could do presentations on Zoom just with some notes. And also some methods that I wasn't at all familiar with. So I thought, maybe if I could use PowerPoint to do the presentations that will give me a rock to use to present information on, to potential new ringers.
[00:07:14] JONATHAN: I had rather forgotten the Covid background, which actually is very important; it's remarkable I've forgotten it. So in 2020 obviously we went into lockdown and my tower initiated some Zoom meetings. Initially without Ringing Room cause Ringing Room didn't exist.
And then when Ringing Room, started, obviously we added online ringing to our Zoom activities, David's Tower at Masham, you also started a Zoom group
[00:07:43] DAVID: -That, that's right-
[00:07:45] JONATHAN: Tower-based Zoom groups then changed into cluster Zoom groups with one which was more basic, and the other was more advanced.
And so I was attending two, cluster Zoom ringing sessions a week during the lockdown period.
[00:08:01] DAVID: And we met, about six or seven of us met on a few Zoom meetings, and we got together a list of places we could advertise and, publish the opportunity to join an online bellringing course.
And, we decided on a date and we did all the publicity.
[00:08:19] CATHY: Where did you publicize it?
[00:08:21] DAVID: To Facebook groups, personal email contacts, posters, and of course social media played a big part. We could contact village and town newsletters.
[00:08:32] JONATHAN: We did get onto, local television, So we had a core committee of four people who is formed. And some other people who dropped in and out as time went on. Perhaps I should say that the cluster has no formal organization whatsoever.
We have a committee, we have no elections. of course elections always, a bit of a non-event, for ringing organisations that I know of because there are more candidates than places and possibly it's the other way around. More places than candidates. And so David and I have, taken on ourselves, the organisation of the committee and called for people to step forward and volunteer when we've wanted volunteers.
And thus we ended up with a core committee of four people. Because we're in a rural area based with, small towns and villages, all these settlements have their own Facebook groups. That made Facebook a very good tool for publicity, and posters in shops and on notice boards, personal email to the cluster members and asking everybody to email their friends. In fact, in 2020, quite a lot of the people who attended were personal contacts within the cluster.
[00:09:44] DAVID: I think we got about 30-something emails from people saying they wanted to take part. And we felt that it was best, to group people into groups of five or six potential ringers so we could then talk to a smaller group and involve them in the use of Ringing Room.
It's important to involve people in, in thinking rather than just listening to a possibly dull PowerPoint presentation. To get people to actually ring using Ringing Room so that, we probably had about five or six groups of potential learners, anywhere between two and six or seven people in a group.
We got very good attendance. I don't think many people left. Each course consisted of five PowerPoint hours with Zoom and using Ringing Room. And at the end of that, Covid was still in force. And so we continued online meetings, with the existing ringers in the towers who joined in.
And then we would introduce the potential ringers to their tower captain, during the course and say, please go along and meet your captain and watch and maybe start your teaching practice being taught how to ring a bell.
And it was great on subsequent Zooms to talk to the people to say, how did you get on at your local tower? And I think, without exception, they were all very enthusiastic and pleased to have gone into a tower. And a lot of wonderment on some people's faces that, such things go on in a tower, they were delighted.
[00:11:21] CATHY: Have you got any idea of the numbers of people that took up ringing subsequently?
[00:11:27] DAVID: Yes. We run the courses in spring and this last spring was our third set of courses. And we've had a total of 80 emails asking for information and wanting to join in the courses that's over the three years.
And I've asked the tower captains of our cluster to let me know how many of those people are still ringing. And I've got a total now of 35 people have joined, their local tower and are still ringing.
[00:11:55] CATHY: One thing I read was that one of your aims at the beginning was to balance the number of men and women that you had in your towers.
To what extent has that happened?
[00:12:04] JONATHAN: It was very evident that some of the towers, my own tower, for example, was overwhelmingly male and it wasn't anyone in that situation where there would be perhaps one or two women amongst however many men, eight or ten male ringers, I had no idea obviously, whether our online course would work, but it seemed to provide a potential to contact a different group of people from, those who one might reach out to normally. And, indeed did work. I think probably more than half the, those who attended the online courses were women.
But during the attrition, we've lost them at a slightly higher rate. So when I submitted our application for the award, and I totted up the numbers, I discovered at that stage that there were 21 new ringers across the cluster, and 10 of them were women. So roughly 50%. which I think is a really good balance.
I do count that as a success.
[00:13:11] DAVID: I suppose you could say we didn't really do at all well in getting younger people. But a distant, intention of mine is at some point one day, to try and encourage youngsters to come to our cluster and learn to ring.
But that's an aspiration.
[00:13:29] CATHY: So the format of the lessons was a PowerPoint presentation followed by a Ringing Room session. what was the sort of proportion of time to those?
[00:13:37] DAVID: The sessions I tried to mix up, I'd give an explanation, I'd show some videos, I'd ask questions of the students. Then we go to Ringing Room and, ring rounds perhaps, and then the next online course session might be to do a bit of a revision, some more videos, and then look at the aspect of making places and then dodging.
And then we'd go to Ringing Room and the co-presenter would allocate people to bells and we'd use Ringing Room to illustrate what I'd told them about making places and dodging. We were very lucky to be allowed to use the videos of George Perrin, which explains very clearly with excellent graphics, the different blue line features of knowing where bells change their places in a method. The penultimate course we described the aspect of Plain Hunting, the theory of it, and then in the final, fifth session.
We get ringers one at a time to ring Plain Hunt in Ringing Room. and probably with, Wheatley, the automated ringer, ringing most of the bells. so the learner will be on bell two, for example, I would be on bell six and we'd ring plain hunt on five with Wheatley filling in. And I think everybody actually succeeded in doing it.
I remember the first time we did the course, three seasons ago, we had estimated 40 minutes, and of course we got to 40 minutes and I'd say, we've got to 40 minutes, but I'm afraid I've not finished and without any question they'd say, "Oh, please carry on." So that was also great to get the enthusiasm of the students.
[00:15:22] CATHY: And you carried on this spring, I'm interested in, there's something that you're doing this spring, even though Covid is not around anymore.
[00:15:28] DAVID: Yes, there, I was thinking that maybe people now that Covid had stopped, they'd want to do other things in their evenings, but they still continued to join our learning groups. I did two learning groups of five or six, and Paul at Grinton, he was a new presenter, and Sharow has joined us as a new tower. They haven't had any ringing for two or three years because of a pigeon poo problem.
And the lady there, Bridget O'Connor has organized immense activities to get the funding to clear the tower, and she's now got the start of a band. Some of them have been on this online course.
[00:16:06] JONATHAN: What's happened at Sharow was that I became aware of the situation in Sharow because from my, many sins, I'm the branch membership secretary and, I learned what she was doing at Sharow.
Remarkable woman, Bridget, because single-handedly more or less, she has with some assistance from the church, but she has masterminded, I think they're raising about 9,000 pounds for the professional removal of pigeon poo from the, belfry. And we went to her and said, "We think you need help, basically, can we help you?" And, having cleared out the pigeon poo, she needed ringers and she had very actively supported us and involved herself in marketing the online course. and I think it's been a really good example of, cooperation between towers and people working together.
[00:17:01] DAVID: And we went to ten towers this spring, didn't we? And I think the other tenth tower was East Whitten, which had a dwindling band. And there are now four people who took part in the online course who are expecting once they finished learning, to ring at East Whitten.
[00:17:16] CATHY: I'm interested in how you manage to on the internet effectively target the specific tower that you are interested in recruiting for. Because the internet has a propensity to spread; did you get people from outside your area who wanted to join as well? What have you done with them?
[00:17:33] DAVID: Yes. the the first spring that we did it, we had a lady from just south of Manchester.
[00:17:38] JONATHAN: Somebody from Kent, didn't we?
[00:17:41] DAVID: Kent yeah. Somebody from Kent. And a lady from, Stoke.
[00:17:45] CATHY: Do you know whether they've taken up ringing locally to them?
[00:17:48] DAVID: I believe they'd already started, the chap in Kent, I think he's a tower captain, so he wanted to see what we were doing and the lady in South Manchester and Stoke, they had just started to learn to ring and then Covid stopped.
So they obviously found out about our courses and wanted to join in. We weren't going to exclude people who didn't live in Wensleydale.
[00:18:11] CATHY: Jonathan, I wanted to ask you, is this something you would recommend other towers take up now, even though it's outside the restrictions of Covid?
[00:18:20] JONATHAN: Yes, I was pleasantly surprised because it has worked and it's worked very well in the two subsequent, springs or winters. What I think is really important is to do it over the winter. Because people will be in front of their computers when it's wet and dark and gloomy outside. And this is not something to do in the summer.
And we've just found it convenient, to do it after Christmas. And so we've often kicked off the planning at the beginning of January. That's given us about 4, 6, 8 weeks, to get the publicity underway, before starting the course. So what I would recommend to people is, search Wensleydale ringers on Facebook, and you can find us and ask us for copies of the PowerPoint presentations.
And then you need to start planning probably in this autumn. And then undertake the serious legwork, either just before Christmas or perhaps just after. Because I think the months of the year when people are most in need of entertaining diversions are in January and February.
There's nothing to look forward to. Christmas has passed. It's dark, it's miserable and all just waiting for spring and everybody will love to be doing some online ringing then.
[00:19:41] DAVID: Just to say, I wrote a 15-step, A4 page describing how we have organized ourselves and of course, any other tower or cluster of towers anywhere could maybe follow what we've done.
[00:19:56] CATHY: And if people want to get hold of that?
[00:19:58] DAVID: I can easily make it available in a Dropbox
[00:20:01] CATHY: We'll put that on our show notes.
[00:20:02] DAVID: And there'll be the five PowerPoints plus sample publicity posters, emails inviting the learners to a session. And an introduction email describing what to expect if you want to start on the courses, and various other items to record details of the people who inquire.
[00:20:23] CATHY: That sounds really useful. So how would you say that you've kept people interested and how have you retained these people subsequently? What's been the organization of that?
[00:20:33] JONATHAN: There has been no cluster level or organization. We've fed people into the towers.
So part of the, crucial support for the online course has been the tower captains or whoever in the towers does their training. And so we asked every tower captain to confirm before we started the course that, if they wanted to be involved, that they would be happy to receive trainees, or novices to undertake that initial training in bell handling.
And then we've left the towers, broadly speaking, to do their own thing. The cluster does have some events. We've had, from time to time, what we've called first Fridays, first Friday of the month, a cluster practice. But it has been the towers which have taken up the task of training our novices, and, integrating them into the world of ringing.
Controversially, I think one advantage we've got in Wensleydale is that we don't have any really high-level ringers and we're all very much, struggling to improve ourselves.
And we don't have an issue, which has been coined as scary ringers, the inexperienced ringers do find exposure to more experienced ringers rather a daunting experience. But we are all at a kind of non-scary level. And that helps. And I say that because I think that those who might be perceived as scary ringers, need to think about how to break down this barrier.
But I, I do already see the scary ringer issue as, quite a serious impediment to the development of ringing.
[00:22:14] CATHY: David, you were saying something,
[00:22:16] DAVID: Yes, I'll just say that because we've got large numbers of learners, I've decided to start to learn to teach myself.
So I'm doing the M1 course, with Simon, who was one of our helpers in our courses. and I think Simon has four learners. He's looking after and I'm teaching one.
[00:22:34] CATHY: The M1 course is the learning to teach course from ART, isn't it?
[00:22:38] DAVID: That's right. The bell handling, you teach the student to be able to ring up and ring down and ring safely on their own.
[00:22:45] CATHY: Apart from the courses, has virtual ringing continued? Do you still use Ringing Room now?
[00:22:50] DAVID: As far as I know, it's only on the courses.
[00:22:53] CATHY: David's talked about his ambition to set up a teenage band. But I was wondering, Jonathan, do you have any other ambitions as well?
[00:23:01] JONATHAN: Yes I do. So I'm in a rather unusual situation that I'm often restricted from ringing by a slightly exotic health condition.
And in fact, unfortunately I've barely stepped into a tower since last September when I went down with Covid. And, I've actually become much more interested in online ringing and in using online ringing as a tool for providing a social life and an intellectual life, for people who, for one reason or another, have difficulty in leaving home whether health conditions or perhaps people who have caring responsibilities. So I'm quite interested in exploring that, as a different way both to provide, something for me to do when I'm physically restricted, as well as for, a wider benefit. And I hope also that, it might have some wider benefit in terms of the Ringing community.
[00:24:01] CATHY: That sounds interesting. If somebody else said, oh, that's something I'd like to be involved with, how would they get in touch with you?
[00:24:07] JONATHAN: I would be delighted if anybody would get in touch with me. The easiest way to get in touch is, just to do a search on Jonathan Couchman on Facebook.
[00:24:19] CATHY: We'll also add yours and David contact details to our show notes, which people can find on the episode notes at funwithbells.com. What have you guys done with the prize money that you won from ART?
[00:24:32] DAVID: We met, at a local hostelry when in fact it was Tenants. We met and had coffee about seven or eight of us from various towers and said, what can we do? We had some ideas like, a simulator. One suggestion was that we buy, some ART, books on learning how to ring.
We've already got two simulators, and of course, they are dependent on a particular tower, so you'd have to go to those towers to make use of them. So it's quite difficult to try to decide what to spend it on. We did think about inviting and paying for ART instructors to come towers to teach, but that happens anyway. We decided we'd go ahead with, inviting the ten towers to. choose books and if they choose, eight or nine books, we might get near the 400 pounds Is there anything else that, either of you wanted to say before I go on to my final two questions?
All I'd just like to say that, what we've done is not been possible with just Jonathan and myself. It's a team approach. and of course the tower captains at the various towers, they're part of it. We're very pleased that they've been able to take our learners and teach them.
[00:25:49] CATHY: Jonathan, was there anything else that you wanted to comment on?
[00:25:52] JONATHAN: Yes, I think I would just like to emphasize that again, that as David has the team aspect, but particularly it's trying to play to the strengths of different towers within a group. And if you have people who have ambition and time and skills to lead projects.
They can help their neighbouring towers who perhaps don't, but those towers might have people with other skills like good ringing skills that they can bring to the table. So everybody, can work together. You do need to look outside to see what's happening to your neighbours.
[00:26:24] CATHY: So, Jonathan, my last two questions for you.
First is, Apart from the towers that you regularly ring at, what's your favourite ring of bells and why?
[00:26:35] JONATHAN: Unfortunately in recent years, because of this illness I have, I've actually done relatively little physical ringing, and especially not outside the locality. so actually my favourite ring of bells is in Ringing Room!
[00:26:51] CATHY: Excellent. And then my last question is, has anything remarkable happened to you that wouldn't have happened if you hadn't taken up bell ringing?
[00:27:00] JONATHAN: That's a very difficult question to answer. I'm going to say, sharing and leading a bell restoration project. My local tower Middleham, had some beautiful bells, which were installed just before the first World War.
But when we started the band there, we found there were a need of, some serious work doing to them. And we raised about 25,000 pounds, which I know other people have done more, but it was a daunting thought at the start. and when somebody from the branch said, "Ooh, why don't you, restore the bells and have, new bearings put in and, the frame sorted out," et cetera, et cetera.
It seemed huge and mammoth and I had no idea how we were going to raise the necessary money and find the people to do the work and all that. But we did, I found that a tremendous and very satisfying achievement to undertake that project over some years, and I'm sure many other people have done that and had the satisfaction of achieving something, which to the outset, they probably had no idea how they were going to achieve and perhaps feared they wouldn't achieve, but did.
[00:28:10] CATHY: Excellent. And we had your clock ringing in the middle of that, but we'll leave it in cause that's fine. So David, apart from the towers that you regularly ring at, what's your favourite ring of bells and why?
[00:28:22] DAVID: I would say that the bells of St. Mary and St Giles in Stony Stratford, where I learned to ring, and without the wonderful help and guidance of the people there that taught me to ring. I wouldn't be where I am now ringing, being part of this project.
[00:28:38] CATHY: And has anything remarkable happened to you that wouldn't have happened if you hadn't taken up bell ringing?
[00:28:43] DAVID: Being part of, not just Masham, but being part of the cluster, and knowing Jonathan and Simon and Brian and all the ringers in our cluster. And I'm looking forward in the summer to be able to visit the towers in our cluster and meet in three dimensions, the people I've seen in two dimensions on screens.
I'm looking forward to that.
[00:29:05] CATHY: Thank you to my guest, David Scrutton and Jonathan Couchman for telling us all about their innovative approach to recruitment.
If you've enjoyed this episode, then please share it. This podcast was put together by a team. Special thanks go to Anne Tansley Thomas, Emily Roderick, John Gwynne, Emily Watts, and the society of the Cambridge Youths for the recording of their ringing.
[Bells ringing rounds]