Transcribed by Emily Watts, using Sonix.ai
LESLEY: And I saw two people arguing very strongly about whether ART was a good thing or ART was a bad thing, and I was thinking, I don’t know what ART is. Because it all started whilst I was not involved in ringing at all. So, at that point, being curious, I thought, I’m going to go on one of those ART courses, and I went and I was a convert straight away. I thought, this is a really wonderful thing.
[Bells Ringing rounds]
CATHY: Hello, my name is Cathy Booth, and this is a podcast for bell ringers. The Association of Ringing Teachers celebrates its 10th anniversary today, the 4th of March 2022. So, I’m delighted to be interviewing Pip Penney, who explains how ART came into being followed by Lesley Belcher, the current chair of ART, about what ART is doing now and its plans for the future. First of all, Pip. Hello Pip.
PIP: Hello, Cathy.
CATHY: So, Pip, how old were you when you started to ring?
PIP: I was 48 when I started the ring.
CATHY: And why did you take up ringing?
PIP: It was on the back of the Millennium project to recruit new ringers. My husband had been a ringer as a child and become quite advanced, ringing Surprise Royal, and he met somebody at a Christmas party that said the bells in our local church were going to be restored. So, he decided to go down and join the new emergent band. And after I’d sat at home by myself for a few evenings, I thought, well I might as well go down and learn as well. So I did.
CATHY: And how did you find that?
PIP: A totally hopeless experience.
PIP: Well, there was no dedicated teacher. The teachers didn’t seem to know quite what they were doing. They repeated the same thing back-strokes again and again and again without progressing. So, in the end, my husband said, I haven’t taught anybody for about 30 years, but I’ll teach you. That proved even worse. We broke two stays in a few weeks between us, and I thought, I don’t think they understand how a physical skill like handling a bell rope actually develops. Because I’m a physiotherapist, I do understand how physical skills are built up, so I thought I put my mind to it. Meanwhile, I joined the Central Council and went onto the Education Committee, where I met two great teachers, John Harrison, who was the chairman at the time, and Heather Peachey, who was very influential. She was trying to write a resource, but she didn’t have time to do it, so she passed it on to me and I started doing that work. And then that eventually became all joined in with the resources for ART.
CATHY: And so how do you develop a physical skill?
PIP: There’s many coaching principles, but basically you have to remember that the body remembers what it’s done. So, you have to be able to enable the body to experience the accurate movement. Not allow it to experience the inaccurate movement because if you do, it’ll learn the inaccurate one. And then repeat it until it becomes established in the brain. First of all, when you learn a skill, you have to think about it – it’s in your consciousness. You have to concentrate on it. And just like riding a bicycle, with experience and getting the feel of it, gradually the brain knows how to do it automatically, and at that point, it transfers that movement pattern into the automatic part of the brain called the cerebellum. Now, the problem with that is that if it transfers the inaccurate movements, then you’ve got a handling problem.
So, you have to be very careful as a teacher to not let the body think it’s got it right until it really has got it right. There’s a coaching theory where with a complex skill like handling bells, you practice all the little components separately to start with, before joining them together. Now we used to do that anyway, with bell ringing in the form of we do the back-stroke and the hand-stroke, and this just takes it further to develop the smaller skills and then recombine them together. And then to notice the whole skill together and see where the issues are of inaccurate handling. And then to go back into the whole pattern and pull out just that one part that needs sorting out and practising to get it accurate and then reintegrating it back into the whole movement. So, the teacher really needs to understand how to use observation, how to use feedback and how to encourage somebody who’s making progress but still getting things wrong to make them feel encouraged to keep pursuing their art.
CATHY: And I know when I interviewed Nic Boyd, which was a couple of years ago about her going through the Learning the Ropes, she told me that you have a lot of tick boxes, and you tick off the boxes of what you’re doing and you get this feeling of progress.
PIP: Yeah. So basically, to help teach, especially new teachers, who haven’t taught before, we identify all the different points of the movements. And John Harrison did a lot of that work, and he put it in his book – The Tower Handbook. It’s all in there. But we identified them, so you can say, I’ve started teaching this skill to this new learner, and then eventually this skill is fully formed so that you can see at a glance where you are. Now that means that if I teach my learner today, and one of the other teachers in our tower teaches them the next time, they can automatically see how the progress is going so that teachers can work together and share the teaching. And of course, the students always get much more benefit from shared teaching because they get the input from different teachers and different teachers will inevitably pick up on different things. But it also means it reduces the stress on the teacher because they don’t have to be there 100 percent of the time if they can’t get there or something, and they can share the teaching with others.
CATHY: Hmm. So, you’d picked apart the different aspects of ringing and then put them into an approach so that people could learn the bits and commit those to memory?
PIP: Yes, the approach is taken from the world of sport. It’s a coaching approach called ‘whole part whole’. You demonstrate the whole action, so that the person knows what they’ve eventually got to do. You split it down into its component parts, which you teach, and they learn individually and then you put them back into the whole movement. And then, because that won’t be fully learned at that time, it’ll be inaccurate. You then take them out of the whole movement and put them back into the individual parts of the movement, whichever ones need practicing. And then you reintegrate it back into the whole movement. So, you’re going constantly into the whole movement so that the brain knows what the overall task is, but practicing the individual parts separately so they can be done with accuracy.
CATHY: So that’s the thinking behind the training approach. How did ART grow from you having developed this approach?
PIP: Well, the Ringing Foundation was formed, and the Ringing Foundation set out three briefs. One was to work with youth. One was to develop a teacher training scheme and one was to develop some sort of guidance pathway in the form of, not exactly a curriculum, but a guidance pathway in a logical chronological order for teachers to work through. And I responded to, not the youth one, but the other two, and the Education Committee didn’t want to run with it at that time. So, I started it off by myself and a few people like Paul Lewis from Herefordshire and Graham Nabb came on board with it and we gradually developed it. And the demand was so great that we literally could not keep up with it. I was doing all the printing and I couldn’t keep up with that. My friend and neighbour who set up the first online facility for what became ART, and which was an interactive site, a Moodle site started doing the printing, but even she couldn’t keep up with it. And so we went to the Ringing Foundation and said, we need professional help. We need an administrator to do deal with all this admin. And they said we’ll give you a grant for two years to pay somebody so that we can set it up more formally. But then what happened? Everywhere we went, people came with us.
There was a young man called Rob Parker, who came on board to help us with the interactive side of it so we could do things online. And we had a Moodle site, and the Moodle site was very good for interactiveness, but it wasn’t very good for the admin. So, he set up a new website called Smart Ringer, which enabled the administrators to do the background work and the data collection and everything that was needed – organise the courses and get online feedback, et cetera. Meanwhile, we set up the learning process and developed a little handbook for learners, which was called Learning the Ropes. Another young man called Bolingbroke came on board and did a website for that. It was quite incredible how everywhere we went, people just came on board with us. They just came out of the woodwork to come and help us. So, we basically skilled people with skills we didn’t have all joined together and made us quite a force because we had Graham Nabb, who is very good on the management side. We had me who was good on the imaginative side if you like. We had Les Boyce, who was very organised, having been a librarian from Oxford University to organise this, and it was just incredible the people that came out to help.
CATHY: And then, how did you decide to form the Association of Ringing Teachers?
PIP: The Ringing Foundation wanted a formal body to be established. I think they wanted it to be called the Federation of British Bell Ringing Instructors, and I thought that was rather dull. So, I thought it would be much better if it was ART, the Association of Ringing Teachers because ringing is the ART. So, they were happy with that. So that’s why we set us up like that. They were pressurising us to set it up about six months before we did. And the reason was because, it was going so fast that we were beginning to get resistance because people couldn’t get their head around the changes quickly enough. And so, I said to them, the more we thrust this down the ringing fraternity’s throat, the harder they’ll resist. So, we need softly, catchy monkey. I was always in these committee meetings saying softly, catchy monkey. You’ve got to go with hearts and minds. You’ve got to get the hearts and minds on board and then you can roll it out. But you can’t force it down people’s throats. You’ve got to show them what it is, entice them and then they’ll join with you.
CATHY: And so, to summarise, what is ART?
PIP: ART is a training scheme to help ringers become teachers. It offers two courses. One is how to teach the handling of a bell. And then after that, one is on teaching the very early stages of change ringing and the scheme originally set up went through to Bob Minor because once somebody can ring a competent Bob Minor and a couple of other methods, then there are lots of people all over the country who will take them forwards from that point. But the most loss in bell ringing is from the beginning through to early change ringing. So that’s the area we covered. I produced a video called Teaching Bell Handling, but now a lot of it’s done on YouTube and everything, so it’s changed a lot.
CATHY: Hmm. Hmm.
PIP: But I think the important thing is just the fact that we had a product that everybody wanted to come on board with. We paced it sufficiently slowly that they gradually joined us. More and more tutors came on board, bringing more and more skills with them. People like Simon Linford came along and offered us a venue for our conference.
CATHY: Thank you to Pip Penny for telling us about the thinking behind the ART approach and how ART was formed.
Now I’m going to introduce you to Lesley Belcher, who’s the current chair of ART. Lesley, my first question is: when did you learn to ring?
LESLEY: Oh, I learned to ring when I was 10 years old, but I think it was almost inevitable, that I was going to learn to ring because my mum rings and my grandfather rings. And it was my granddad who taught me to ring, which was a lovely experience. He used to pick me up on a Sunday morning and take me to the tower, and we used to ring for service. He used to ring one bell and I used to ring a bell up and down until I felt uncomfortable. And then I come back down again, so that’s how I learned to ring. In retrospect, I wonder what that must’ve sounded like outside.
CATHY: Was there just the two of you ringing?
LESLEY: Yeah. [laughs]
CATHY: All right. Oh, okay. Ah lovely.
LESLEY: But it was great, to actually be taught by your Grandad was fantastic. And even now, sometimes I do think about him and wish that we’d rung more together before he died.
CATHY: Ah yes, yes that must be a lovely thing to have shared with him.
LESLEY: It was.
CATHY: So how does the ART approach compare to how you learnt to ring?
LESLEY: There are some elements of how my grandfather taught me, such as ringing from a bell that was down, which are part of the ART approach, and were probably quite unusual in the time that he was teaching me to ring. But aside from that, I think it’s much more the emphasis on splitting down things into small parts and understanding the theory. I remember very strongly being introduced to things like Grandsire Doubles and Plain Bob Doubles, and I just knew a blue line and I didn’t know anything about structure. And I think with my scientific mind, it would have helped me an awful lot if I’d had methods broken down and taught to me in that way. And in fact, my method ringing really took off when I started to ring handbells. And the way that you ring handbells is through understanding the structure of methods. Yeah, being introduced to that earlier, that would have helped me a lot.
CATHY: So first of all, what does ART do?
LESLEY: We teach other teachers how to teach, and ART also provides progressive learning scheme for new ringers, which allows them to see that, first of all, they’re progressing. That because they’re the new ringer in the tower, they are not necessarily the worst ringer. They can really measure their progression and in a way, they can take control of it as well so they can go away and see what’s going to come next in the scheme and actually teach themselves using whatever method they like. Some people like reading books, some people like websites, some people like YouTube videos, so we provide all that sort of support to actually help ringers progress and see that they’re progressing.
CATHY: Hmm. So how did you get involved with ART?
LESLEY: I took 18 or 19 years off ringing went to where there was no ringing, started a family abroad, and when I came back, I didn’t have time for it and suddenly I don’t know how eighteen years lapse, but it did. And I think when the children were old enough that I was doing slightly less taxi service than I had been up ’til then, I decided that I’d really like to go back to ringing as a hobby that I enjoyed. And before I knew it, I was Ringing Master of the local branch and I went on and for the first annual general meeting, instead of it just being a boring meeting, we decided to have breakout sessions and I was really interested in the training work group. So I went in there and I saw two people arguing very strongly, about whether ART was a good thing or ART was a bad thing. And I was thinking, I don’t know what ART is. Because it all started whilst I was not involved in ringing at all. So, at that point being curious, I thought, I’m going to go on one of those ART courses, and I went, and I was a convert straight away. I thought, this is a really wonderful thing, and that’s how I started getting involved in ART. And that’s how I met Graham Nabb. And that’s how I said I wouldn’t mind volunteering to doing something more with ART over and above the teaching. So, it happens probably in less than a year after I came back from ringing that I was elected onto the Art Management Committee.
CATHY: Can you tell me a bit about your background that explains what skills you were bringing?
LESLEY: I had a career of almost 20 years working for BP, and I’d done quite a lot of different roles within BP, including the role that took me over to France and meant that I had to stop ringing. But I did a lot of work in program management, strategy and change management. And those were the skills that I said that I quite like to bring and see if I could apply them to helping the teaching of ringing through ART.
CATHY: That explains it. [Laughs]
LESLEY: Explains a lot. Does it, Cathy?
CATHY: It does. It does. How did the pandemic affect ART?
LESLEY: When the pandemic started, I think the whole of bell ringing, including ART, was in shock. And at the beginning, we weren’t thinking that much about ringing. We were thinking of ourselves as: How is this going to impact the country? How is this going to impact our families? And to be honest, I thought that ringing was going to start again, probably in the Autumn. And then we were going to have six months off where we could all have a bit of a relax. But that’s not how it turned out at all. Obviously, from an ART perspective, we couldn’t carry on doing the activities in the past, such as running courses, progressing people through the Learning the Ropes scheme. And I think it was probably in the August that we really got ourselves organised, realised that this was going to be longer than we thought, and we started thinking, so what are we going to do to help people get through the pandemic? And how are we going to help people recover from the pandemic afterwards? So, to help people get through the period when we weren’t ringing, we started looking at the Ringing Room and Ding and some of the online ringing that was going on. And we actually produced workshops and ran probably about 20 workshops for ringing teachers just to come in and find out about it and not just how to use it, but how to teach using these particular tools.
So, we ran a whole series of those. We also decided to build and launch a project called 50 Virtual Ringing Things, which was things that people could do in addition to online ringing to further their own learning and to keep them interested. So, we launched products like that. And in addition, we were thinking. So, what’s ringing going to be like once we can start again? So, we looked at things like online courses for teachers, refresher courses so that those people who had not been teaching say for 18 months could go and remind themselves in a very safe environment how to do it. We also put together physical refresher courses, which we have been rolling out, where people can get together on the end of a rope and they’ve have been very well attended since ringing has resumed, since October probably. And we’re also been looking at new product developments as well, so developing a call change scheme. So, for Learning the Ropes traditionally has been for method ringers. But now we’ve put together a call change pathway, which we’re just about to launch after a very successful pilot.
CATHY: What’s the reasoning behind that?
LESLEY: We had found in the past that quite a number of people who were registered onto the Learning the Ropes method scheme were stalling after level two, which is a level when you actually get into method ringing; start Plain Hunt, covering and then ringing quarter peals. And so we had done some surveys of people asking why that was, and it was for two reasons, one of which was that there wasn’t enough helpers around. And that quite often happened in towers which were all learning together at the same time. So, there weren’t enough helpers around to be able to practice the methods very well, or there weren’t enough people to ring the quarter peals associated with the Learning the Ropes scheme. So, we realised that we were putting too much emphasis with a lot of bands on method ringing when there was an alternative pathway available based on Devon call change ringing. And at that point, we realised that if we built a Learning the Rope scheme around that, it would be a lot easier for new bands to be able to progress all the way through and learn together. And on top of that, Devon call change ringing is very performance based, very strong emphasis on striking and performance. And again, that’s something that we really wanted to encourage. So when I started networking this scheme, once it had been developed with people, who are in many cases, very high powered method ringers, they immediately saw the value of it and were saying, “I know where this would work really well.” So when you hear people who have not really been involved in Devon style call change ringing at all, knowing which bands that would help you think actually this, I think, is going to land really well.
CATHY: I say, what’s ART going to be doing in the next 10 years? We’re celebrating the first 10 years.
LESLEY: I think ART’s got an incredibly important role to play over the next three years, and that’s really what ART is concentrating on at the moment. I think the response to the pandemic and how ringing is incredibly patchy across the country. Some parts of the country, they have come out of it really with all guns blazing. And whilst we have some areas of the country where it does feel that ringing is struggling, and I think that what ART has to do is really help all areas of the country get motivated and get trained up and really try and facilitate ringing recovery. So that’s exactly where we’re looking at the moment. We’re looking to put on more courses and the demand for ART courses at the moment is higher than I’ve ever seen it in the past.
CATHY: So, ART supports a lot of people. How does it do that?
LESLEY: Okay. We can only deliver what we do because of the volunteers that we have working for us, and I feel very privileged actually to be working with an organization such as ART where so many people want to volunteer. And I think one of my roles as ART chair is to facilitate that, is to give people the opportunity to do the things that they want in order to be able to help ringers and ringing. And I also want to be able to support them as they do that, whether that’s through giving them opportunities, whether it’s through giving them resources or whether it’s through the contacts that we made. The other thing that really makes ART tick are two part time administrators, Rose and Denise, who do an absolutely fantastic job in terms of looking after people, as they interact with ART in all its various ways and do the regular stuff every day that’s needed for a delivery organization like ART to be able to give the customer service and the support that people as ringers, teachers actually need.
CATHY: Hmm. To be an ART teacher, do you have to have a teaching background?
LESLEY: No, you don’t have to have a teaching background in terms of being a school teacher or a university lecturer or anything like that, although it does help to understand some of the softer sides of teaching. No, it’s really people who just want to go and learn some different ways of teaching bell ringing.
CATHY: And since Pip introduced the process, the way you teach, has it evolved in any way or-
CATHY: Has it needed to?
LESLEY: The ART principles which were defined by PIP right at the beginning, such as the “whole part whole” approach are exactly the same, because you’ve defined the right ones. What has changed and will continue to change is the delivery mechanism, so we’re always looking at ways of doing our courses differently. So at the moment, we’re doing some pilots around pre meetings where we do some of the online theory, beforehand with an ART tutor, which actually leaves time on the day course for people to spend more time on the end of a bell rope and actually practicing some of the techniques. And we have developed over the last two years, which again was a bit of a pandemic project, YouTube videos, which are both targeted at teachers and ringers, and we have developed a whole online learning portal which is all around being able to teach yourself. And it varies from things like we have refresher courses for teachers. We have call change ringing, how to speak in the tower, which goes all the way up to being able to ring a quarter peal of Plain Bob Doubles. So, ringing’s the same, the principles are the same, delivery mechanisms – that’s where we are really developing over time.
CATHY: Can you tell me a little bit more about the Learning the Ropes festivals, the plans for those?
LESLEY: Okay, so we’ve had one Learning the Ropes festival, which was in the August before the pandemic. It was an idea of Nikki Thomas, Catherine Sturgess and Ruth Suggett over in East Anglia. And it was a fantastic day, actually. It’s on days like that that you realise exactly why you’re volunteering. There was 50 people who came along to the festival, took part in workshops, took part at the end of a bell rope. There was presentations. There was ringing at the Mancroft. There was various rope splicing workshops there. The atmosphere was fantastic. The people wandering around feeling they were taking part in something, learning an awful lot, getting out of their towers, and really enjoying being part of the wider ringing community. And on top of that, we had 50 helpers, tutors, volunteers who just came along. A lot of them had never been to an ART event before and went away thinking, again, this is why I want to teach, this is what ringing and learning can be like. It was just such a positive experience for everyone who took part. I’ve just been to a meeting where we are looking at the next Learning the Ropes festival, which will be in Norwich on the 20th of August. We’re looking to put together a different set of workshops, but it will be exactly the same principles involved, exactly the same atmosphere. And we’re looking to invite some people along who are looking to host Learning the Ropes festivals in different parts of the country.
CATHY: So this is going to be an ongoing explosion of festivals, hopefully?
LESLEY: Explosion? [Laughs]
CATHY: Maybe that’s not the right word. Ok, OK-
LESLEY: Yes. But the idea is to have more of these festivals going on so that people can join them without having to travel vast distances to Norwich. We have people there who came from Birmingham, we have people who came from Sussex and Somerset last time and they made a little holiday of it. But actually, it would be nicer to have more of these festivals happening in different parts of the country. So that’s that’s our vision.
CATHY: What difference do you hope ART’s made to the world of ringing?
LESLEY: I hope that ART has allowed people who never thought they could teach ringing to not only be able to teach it safely and confidently, but also very well. And instead of being scared of it, they are actually really enjoy doing it. And I talked to quite a lot of teachers whose names are not known anywhere on the national or international stage, who are just absolutely delighted with what they can do now, which they never thought they’d be able to do.
CATHY: That’s a great place to end. Thank you, Lesley.
[Happy Birthday organ melody played in the background]
We’ll continue the celebration of our 10th anniversary of ART in our regular slot on Thursday, the 10th of March, with an interview with Tim Sunter, who took up bell ringing seven years ago and is now on the Art Management Committee. He has a very interesting tale to tell. So, listen out for that.
[Happy Birthday organ melody played in the background]
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 and John Gwynne, Lesley Belcher and the Society of the Cambridge Youths for the recording of their ringing.
[Bells ringing rounds]