Transcript for ‘Ringing in Redundant Churches (part 2)’

Transcribed by Emily Watts

SIMON: So it should be a really good destination and it’s relatively, conveniently not far from the railway station. And of course it’s a pub! And I’ve often thought, what’s the ideal ingredient of a ringing destination and a ringing centre? And why not have one that’s actually in a pub?

[Bells ringing rounds]

CATHY: Hello, I’m Cathy Booth, and this is the Fun with Bell’s podcast. The Churches Conservation Trust is the national charity saving historic churches at risk. They empower and support local communities to care for the historic places of worship. Their collection of English churches includes irreplaceable examples of architecture, archaeology and art from 1000 years of history. Some of these churches contain bells, and bell ringers have been supported by the CCT in some rather interesting projects, which I explored in the last episode and I’m going to explore further in this episode when I will be talking to Andy Cope about his work with All Souls, Bolton and Simon Linford about the plans for a national ringing centre in Northampton. First, I’m talking to Andy. Andy Cope. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

ANDY: I am retired and I live in Bolton in Lancashire and have been a bell ringer since 1963 when I first started at the very young age of 13. And apart from a break in my ringing career, as we might call it, when my children were young. I came back to bell ringing in 2015, and from then on I’ve obviously picked up from where I left off and I’ve done so many things in the last six or seven years with regard to bell ringing in the local community.

CATHY: And one of those is at All Souls.

ANDY: Yes, this was quite a by chance situation for me. I was ringing in Blackburn, which is where I normally ring, and the president of the Association of the LACR, Martin Daniels, just asked me one day, “Andy, could you pop in to All Souls? I’ll give you a key. And can you just check on the bells, make sure they are okay. Give them a ring and check up on the maintenance.” So I took the key from Martin and popped into All Souls Church. What a wonderful place it is too, and got absolutely hooked to the place and talked to my partner and said there’s an opportunity here for starting bell ringing, especially as the building was closed in 1981/82, and therefore the bells, apart from the odd occasion, had not been rung for over 40 years. My thoughts were “Why can’t we start up a team of Bell Ringers in All Souls?” For listeners, it’s a fantastic building that of course the Churches Conservation Trust have put a fortune into, including local charities and Heritage Lottery fund, and turned it into a superb community centre with a café and also a business centre where there are four or five business pods, conference facilities. So basically it has it all and they kept it as a perfect church, apart from putting in these pods into the building. So the building stands as it was and as it looked over a hundred years ago and has become quite a popular centre for the community, which is lovely. And the community, by the way, is very much an Asian community around that area.

CATHY: Do you have any Asian bell ringers?

ANDY: We’ve tried to attract a few and we’ve had one or two come up and have a try, but we haven’t got any Asian bell ringers at the moment, although one of the things that we have been doing at All Souls and I can talk about, is our training sessions that we do for Bolton school. Bolton school is a local public school and they approached us with regard to voluntary services where their lower sixth form has to complete at least 20 to 30 hours of community service. And they thought it was rather appropriate that we could be involved in this particular project. So we went in 2017 to a recruitment session in the school and recruited half a dozen youngsters from Lower Six and spent the next year training them to be bell ringers. And since then, apart from COVID intervening, we have actually been recruiting each year and training lower sixth pupils on a regular basis, recruiting normally in September.

CATHY: And how many have you recruited altogether?

ANDY: We’ve had about 25, 26 now that have gone through the system, which is lovely. I’m not saying that they will continue, but as you know, the skill involved is there for life. And we obviously put them in touch when they go into upper sixth with the university that they’re going to. So at least they know that there’s a Guild of Ringers, and most universities do have Guilds of ringers. So we put them in touch with them. And at least then if they feel they can or they’ve got the time to continue at that particular point, they will go on to ring at the university or again, when time frees itself after university. They’ve got the opportunity to do that as well.

CATHY: Can we just confirm All Souls, is that in Bolton?

ANDY: All Souls is in Bolton. Yes. It’s just north of the town centre, about a mile out of the town centre going north.

CATHY: And what is there for ringers, of particular interest?

ANDY: We’ve got a tower with eight bells. They are 23 hundredweight. Or shall we say we better talk modern and say 1300 kilograms, if I remember. I think that’s right. And when we first went in there, this is my partner and I by the way, I must stress that the pair of us have been working as a team and completing all the work we did. We did some little bit of maintenance work in the bell tower to start with, to make it a little bit more user friendly. And then we did local recruitment. This is aside from Bolton School with the locals doing tower tours and taster sessions, and we managed to recruit 18 learners in our first year. Those 18 learners have all now achieved their Association of Ringing Teachers level one, and some have moved on to level two. Obviously, with all hobbies, you’re going to lose one or two for various reasons. But we’re really pleased that out of that 18, we still have seven or eight of the early learners and we’ve been recruiting all the time through our tower taster sessions. So they’ve been really quite successful.

CATHY: So what else have you done in the Tower?

ANDY: We felt because the tower bells are so loud in volume, out into the community, and they haven’t been rung really for such a long time that there’s a complete generation of people living near the church who have never heard those bells. So firstly, we felt it necessary to board up the louvres and put soundproofing in to make it acceptable to the community. And then secondly, we purchased a Bagley simulator, television speakers, large speakers we put into the top room as this gives us the facility for even individuals to come and ring on their own and practice, not just rounds and call changes, but they can practice any methods they want to. And the simulator has been our most useful tool in teaching ever since we put it in, because we do tend to teach with the bells tied and we do use the Bagley simulator all the time and we’ve actually recorded our own bells onto it. So for all intents and purposes, it sounds very much like our own bells.

CATHY: So are there any future plans, what you’re doing over the next year or so?

ANDY: What we’ve done this year so far? Last week, in fact, we went to Bolton school. We’ve done our annual recruitment session. We’re intending in the autumn term to run another tower tasting session. That’s booked in through CCT into the church, which is very useful because people can walk in, sign up. And then we do these hourly slots through the whole of the day and give people a chance to have a go. You make sure that they know they’re not committing themselves necessarily and just give them a chance, because we always have this feeling with bell ringing. It’s never really seen unless you’re in a church where the tower is downstairs and the congregation walks in through the door and can see the bell ringers. Unfortunately, they’re nearly always upstairs and out of the way. And it’s amazing how surprised people are when they come upstairs and they see what actually goes on. I never realised they say, never realised that sort of thing went on, how amazing. And of course you can get them hooked as long as you’ve got the enthusiasm.

CATHY: My last but not least guest is Simon Linford, who needs no introduction as the president of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers. Simon is here however, although I could talk to him about quite a lot of things. He’s here to talk to me about St Peter’s, Northampton, as one of the redundant churches looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust. So Simon, could you tell me a little bit about it?

SIMON: Can I tell you a bit about the background of the relationship with the Churches Conservation Trust? It actually started before my time as president. It was Christopher O’Mahony first came into contact with Peter Ayres as the chief executive of The Trust, and Peter went and spoke at the council AGM in London three years ago and met bell ringers and thought bell ringers were nice people, good to do business with. And I think Chris had for a long time had an idea of a national ringing centre or somewhere where the ringing could have a base and I remember it being discussed. I own a couple of churches in the Midlands and there was a possibility of using one of those as a ringing centre. But when I became president it turned out I happen to know Peter Ayres from my business life and went to see him and he lives in Northampton. And the idea came about that the regeneration of the old Black Lion, which is a derelict empty pub right next to the church, the Trust had raised lottery money to get it restored and turned back into a pub and they were looking at various heritage outcomes and I suggested that perhaps we could have the National Ringing Centre there because as part of the complex of buildings next to the church there’s a barn and they didn’t really have particular use for the barn other than I think they were going to put a barbeque in it, which I thought was an awful idea compared with putting a ring of bells in it.

SIMON: And the CCT were quite taken with the idea because as part of the overall project and to justify the fundraising from the National Heritage Lottery Fund, it was necessary to tick as many boxes as possible with the heritage outcomes and actually having something that introduced to heritage activity, especially a heritage activity that could be of interest to youngsters possibly on school trips etc. was a really good addition to the project. And also that didn’t really require the CCT to do very much. So they got very excited by the idea and we got excited by the idea and we’ve taken it from there. It’s just taken an awful long time because it’s partly COVID got in the way. They got the original grant of money pre-COVID and it’s taken a while to design, so they had a bit of a break. And of course construction prices have gone up. And then there was a delay to drawing down the grant, which meant that the NHLF wanted to revisit it. And it goes on and on and on. But they have now got to the point where they’re in discussions with contractor and the detail design works with the architect and it has a potential to come to fruition. So that’s the project. And what we’re now looking at is exactly what we put in this barn and how we tie it all together with the bells at St Peter’s next door.

CATHY: And what’s the time frame going forward?

SIMON: The building works. They’re starting on site in the New Year. Probably not before Christmas. Contractors never like starting on site before Christmas, so they start in the new year and it’s about a year. So we’re looking at the beginning of the year after next. So first quarter of 2024 for it being finished.

CATHY: And what do you envisage being there?

SIMON: It’s very timely you should ask me that question now, because the last meeting we had with the Trust’s project team and the architects, they were asking what we were putting in there and we were describing training bells and showing them forces and they’re really keen to understand exactly how much weight we were going to be putting in the roof space of this barn, because it has implications on how they repair the roof. And it’s really got us thinking about what exactly do we want to have in this ringing training centre, because we’ve got to balance two things. There’s lots of ringing training, Northampton is a very good place for this because a lot of ringing training goes on in Northampton already and they’re very good at it. So we’re adding another facility to good things that are happening already. So it’s a case of what could we add that helps serve the local ringing community, but also what makes a good destination for ringers as a whole to say, we’ve got an outing this June, where should we go for the weekend? Ah Northampton. We can go to the ringing centre because there’s other rings of bells in Northampton. So we really envisage that there’ll be a small ring of bells, whether they’re training dumbbells or actual bells, which don’t make very much noise, is the key question. And whether there are six or eight is another question.

SIMON: But anyway, to take for granted that there will be a ring of bells of some sort in this barn and it’ll be a nice environment. And we also want to have the Adrian West’s bell simulator, which a number of people have been to go and see, which is in his garage up in Warley, which is a bell ringing simulator which is using servo motors to simulate the movement of the bell. And it’s extraordinarily good and very clever in its ability to simulate any weight of bell. So you can practice ringing a forty hundredweight bell or practice ringing a two hundredweight and hooked up to a ringing simulator, of course. But it’s very interesting for learning to ring on because, and I had a go on it when I was up in the Northwest on holiday. Because if you lose control of the bell, which is something that scares lots of learners and teachers alike, it just stops and you reset it and it puts the Sally back into the safe position and you carry on. And it’s really interesting and you can actually turn it to work in, for instance, I mean it’s got lots of features. But another thing which really caught my imagination was you can turn it on to slow motion and you can practice the motions of transferring your hand from the sally on to the tail end in slow motion with a rope going up slowly.

SIMON: So it’s a really interesting thing, but it doesn’t really have a long-term home yet. It’s quite an expensive piece of kit, to be honest. But if we could put that in the ringing centre so that more people can come to use it, I think it’d be really good. Another thing we’ve talked about is the Central Council has for a while been looking for a new home for the Central Council Library. Central Council Library is currently stored in a private house in Shropshire, of the librarian. But that needs to change shortly. And we’re looking for a new home and not all of the library because a lot of things in the library are archive material and things that are stored because they need to be stored. But there are lots of very interesting books, which I think it’s a shame ringers generally don’t get to see more often. And actually, if there was a small, nicely curated collection of ringing books and memorabilia somewhere where people could go and see it, I think that would be really good and the CCT is keen on that as well. So we’re looking for a space. It might not actually be in the barn in the little ringing centre, but certainly in bookcases within the Old Black Lion it will be there.

SIMON: So a combination of ringing facility and of course there’s the ring of 8 Bells next door, which the Peterborough Diocesan Guild is looking to do some work on improving them and making them really, really good. And there are light eight. So between St Peter’s and the Bells and seeing a bit of the library and the Bell simulator, it should make something that would be a really good place to go. The Old Black Lion also will have a meeting room, so small meetings and ringing meetings could be there as well. And the church is set up. They do big functions by putting a floor on top of the pews so they can do really large dinners. So it should be a really good destination and it’s relatively conveniently not far from the railway station. And of course it’s a pub and I’ve often thought what could be what’s the ideal ingredient of a ringing destination and a ringing centre and why not have one that’s actually in a pub? So they’ve just been interviewing the tenant/manager for the pub and although we can’t say what it is, it is a cask ale focussed operation, so hopefully it will be the sort of pub which bell ringers would really think, okay, we’ll go there for a couple of hours, do some ringing and then we don’t need to go any further.

CATHY: I’ve talked to four people now, you’re the fifth. And one thing that had been mentioned to me before, but nobody’s mentioned is glamping in redundant churches. Is that a thing?

SIMON: Glamping is definitely a thing. This was something, Peter Ayres, as I should say. Peter Ayres left the Church’s Conservation Trust about maybe six months ago and he has just been replaced by a new chief executive. But it doesn’t change any of their interest in ringing. But one thing glamping is like champing. They open up a small number of their churches, which you can rent for any night’s stay and basically sleep in it. It’s not many. I think there are maybe a dozen glamping destinations, but they put beds down and sleeping stuff and they market it as champing. And it’s an unusual experience. And again, we were due to go just before COVID and unfortunately it got cancelled. But it is something they are pushing and we like the idea. I couldn’t name them off the top of my head, which churches do champing which have bells. But it was one idea we had with the Trust was to run, learn to ring weekends where a family could go to the church, stay in the church, have ringing lessons on the Saturday morning, go off and do whatever they want to do on Saturday afternoon and make a weekend of it with a nice tutored ringing session as part of the deal. And they were really taken with that idea. But there are so many ideas flying around of things we want to do with the Trust. That isn’t something we’ve actually crystallised yet, but it’s definitely a thing. And if you search for champing, there is a deal. We’ll probably have to resurrect it. We did a deal as well that anybody who is a bell ringer could get a 10% discount on champing, which I can’t believe isn’t still available, but I don’t know if it’s on the website, but it’s worth asking.

CATHY: So just to Google champing.

SIMON: Yes Champing. Church Conservation Trust and champing its bound to come up. Yeah.

CATHY: And then the other thing is I’m just stepping back a bit from this. Does a Churches Conservation Trust church need to be adopted or have a point person as a bell ringer for these sorts of things to happen? How does that work? Because I’ve talked to several people who’ve said, “Oh, I was appointed the point person, the contact person for this church”.

SIMON: I think it varies. The Churches Conservation Trust works regionally and they have volunteers and people who are responsible for a number of churches. And in some cases there is a very clear relationship with somebody who’s sort of equivalent of the tower captain, the person who’s got the keys and a volunteer and some churches there is a very active relationship between whoever the Churches Conservation Trust person is and the bell ringers. Some places it’s not quite so strong for whatever reason. Maybe it’s just not a church that had much ringing at in the first place. So it’s very much, it varies from church to church, but certainly there are some very active Churches Conservation churches, and somewhere where there’s not a lot of ringing. It was some time, again, COVID did get in the way of stuff, didn’t it? Another thing that was on the blocks to go pre-COVID was a recruitment campaign using Churches Conservation Trust churches. And we did some research even they didn’t actually know which churches they had. They couldn’t give us a complete list of all the churches with bells that was accurate. But we went through and looked at all of them and to try and identify which ones were really good places to teach. And unfortunately, it wasn’t as many as we’d hoped, really because without active congregations or active local ringers that the bells aren’t necessarily being looked after. But there were enough where there is active ringing. So we easily got a dozen or so, which we thought could be a really good focus and a few others where we said these could be really good, but you really need to clean the mould off the wall or you really need to replace the carpet because you want to create a good experience.

SIMON: And I should say that overall the the Churches Conservation Trust are very generally very pro bell ringing. And that’s because their purpose is to attract people to heritage buildings and to engage in heritage activities. And bell ringing does that, not only in attracting bell ringers as visitors, but also of course, advertising that the building is there from people hearing the bells and more visitors means the church is better looked after. So they are very pro bell ringing. Sometimes there are difference of opinions from a heritage conservation point of view. Maybe that the trust would argue for preservation of a bell frame or a ring of bells where bell ringers might think that replacing a bell frame is more important. So there is that conservation/heritage angle where we might have a difference of opinion. But generally the Churches Conservation Trust is a good and important partner and potentially growing if more churches become redundant, which is of course an ongoing possibility. It’s only the very important ones to Trust. I think only gets Grade I listed churches. It might get some Grade II stars, but it’s the more important ones from a heritage point of view that go into the Trust rather than go for disposal.

CATHY: My thanks to Andy Cope, who told us about All Souls Bolton and Simon Linford, who told us about the plans for the National Ringing Centre at Northampton. 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, Lesley Belcher and the Society of the Cambridge Youths for the recording of their ringing.

[Bells ringing rounds]