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 learners by exposing them too early to the ‘scary ringers’…
About Jonathan Couchman
Jonathan Couchman learned to ring about 12 years ago in his then hometown of Wetherby, a market town a short distance northeast of Leeds. Like David, he remembers with pleasure the tower captain saying after a period “You do know that we regard you as one of us, don’t you?”. He discovered the hospitality of ringing when he was made very welcome also at Knaresborough tower, ‘a good learning tower’. Jonathan says he was a slow learner and never mastered plain hunting while he lived in Wetherby: ‘We all learn at different speeds and I do encourage slow learners and their teachers to persevere’.
Subsequently, he moved to Wensleydale, where his wife who is a C of E priest became incumbent of a benefice having one band of ringers but two ringable bell towers. It has been an eventful time in Wensleydale: in Jonathan’s early days, he attended 2-weekend training courses that allowed him to plain hunt and then ring bob doubles. The band expanded to the point where there were sufficient ringers for it to separate into two cooperating bands (a band for each tower). The band to which Jonathan belonged undertook a restoration of the bells of the band’s tower, which he says has been most exciting and rewarding.
Whilst in Wensleydale, Jonathan was asked to become the membership secretary of his local Branch, which he did. The Branch sensibly decided to establish clusters to improve the way that towers worked together and asked each cluster to find a “cluster coordinator”. As nobody else was interested in the role, Jonathan also found himself the cluster coordinator. Thankfully, David Scrutton and his wife moved to Masham and David joined Jonathan as a co-leader of the cluster, and a changing group of other people formed an ad hoc committee with them. It was during lockdown that Jonathan stumbled upon the idea of using an online course to recruit new ringers while locked down people were often looking for things to do.
Jonathan continues to be interested in online ringing as he has a chronic illness that too often impedes his ability to ring in the tower. In fact, Jonathan thinks online ringing could be a good occupation for many others who have difficulty being active or leaving home, and this is his next project.
About David Scrutton
David Scrutton started ringing at Stony Stratford in 1998 at the Church he attended and says he was given instruction by many wonderful people. He was able to ring for the millennium. David remembers being told that he was a ‘confirmed member of the band’ – and that this was a big welcome. David progressed thanks to the help of several experts and got to ring several different methods inside and even a quarter peal or two.
There was a gap of about 8 years when another interest conflicted with Monday nights but David rang on Sundays, Weddings, Funerals and the New Year.
David remembers after a while of thinking that he was a fairly good ringer he was told by the Tower Captain ‘you are not in full control of your bell’! Thinking about it, David said ‘I knew he was right!’ He thinks it was just luck that his bell generally got in the right place. So he sorted that.
David had a second home in Masham so he always rang there – 10 bells – under the guidance of the Tower Captain and many others. More quarter peals followed. Lots of bedtime iPhone watching Mobel!
Covid meant the start of David’s involvement with Wensleydale Ringers Online Intro to Bell Ringing which has so far resulted in many new ringers to their cluster of 10 towers over three seasons (nearly 60 attended the courses and currently 35 learners are still ringing/learning).
With new learners in the Tower David was able to stand by learners in case they needed help and also to give one-to-one advice.
David has an aspiration to set up a teenage band like the splendid Yorkshire Tykes. To do this he will need training in teaching and has attended the ART course in bell handling. David thought this was so much better and safer than the way he had been taught – although he is not wanting to diminish the help and guidance from his dear friends in Stony Stratford all those years ago. So, David is now starting to apply the M1 training with a mentor and hopes to be assessed and passed soon.
Then early this year Wensleydale Ringers (Jonathan and David) won an award from ART sponsored by AbelSim in the category Recruitment and Retention for their first two Online Introduction seasons.
Top 5 Takeaways
- Check out all the other winners and runners up from the ART awards as there is plenty of inspiration there! www.ringingteachers.org/awards
- 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 materials: www.funwithbells.com/wensleydale-ringers-resource
- 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.