I’ve mentioned the importance of finding a tutor to help you. Unfortunately, the current structure of the ‘exercise’ (as the old ringers called it) is not helpful. It is still largely based around individual churches, or towers as they’re called. The concept is that you are trained to ring at the church that you attend, primarily for Sunday service ringing. Modern communications mean that this insular approach is breaking down – it’s easy to find out what is happening in nearby towers and where bands are making good progress. Ambitious ringers will drift away from towers where the learning experience is poor and they may well abandon it altogether.
My experience is that any competent ringer can, with a little experience, teach someone to handle a bell. However, it takes more skill to recognise and correct handling faults. Method ringing is much more difficult to learn and to teach and many tower captains don’t offer a good learning experience at this stage. The result is that many learners fail to progress much further than the basics.
Try to find a tower where there is a large band, or a small band with quite a few learners. Find out the name of the tower captain and call them to ask if you could attend their practice and whether they’d be prepared to teach you. Because teaching takes thought, time and effort, your tutor will want to know that you’re serious about it and will give it the attention that it will need.
At most towers, training is free, but you are still entitled to a rich learning experience. If the practice time appears to be rather disorganised, be prepared to ‘shop around’, but be careful not to be too commercial in your approach. The ringing community is small and intense – others will know about you well before even you know them. If training is free, where does the payback come? You will be expected to join the local ‘band’ and to help out as appropriate with domestic chores – cleaning the tower, maintaining the bell-chamber, organising social activities – but most importantly, to ring for Sunday service and other occasions. Practices are usually held on one evening a week. However, there will be a local ringing society or guild which will organise meetings and training activities.
A good tutor will give you a training plan and arrange for you to experience different towers. I’ve already made it clear that ringing is difficult, but do not blame your tutor or let that put you off. It is uniquely rewarding too. Many ringers are in their seventies and eighties these days. A few are in their nineties and I have the privilege of ringing with a centenarian. It’s clear that the physical, mental and social aspects of ringing are good for you.
Has all my learning got to be done in the tower?
Not at all. But this is the subject of another blog.