There has been a lot written about why people give up ringing.
Apart from the obvious reasons – job or family commitments – a recent RW survey shows that some people have experienced unsociality, poor learning experience and even ‘bullying’.
These are shameful findings, but are, I am sure, confined to individual cases rather than being endemic. Unsociality occurs in many forms, but ringers are rather inclined to ‘rate’ other people according to their ringing ability. This inevitably puts learners at the bottom of the pile. Ringers so rarely enquire about newbies’ background, even though many have seriously important occupations. They are rather inclined to ‘show off’ their own abilities by lecturing learners in often unhelpful ways.
In some towers, learners are not given priority – they have to wait until the tower captain condescends to give them a go. I am more surprised to hear of ‘bullying’, although old school tower captains sometimes treat newbies like army recruits, perhaps because that is the way they were treated when learning.
Sadly, tower captains often inherit the position, get there through ‘Gubbin’s turn’, or simply because there is no-one else prepared to do it. I would suggest that learners need to ask the advice of ordinary ringers about which tower is best: perhaps ask to see a local association report and find a tower with a lot of members. Go to the pub after the practice, find a friendly face and ask for advice.
Don’t feel obliged to stay out of loyalty if you feel uncomfortable in a tower. Once you can ring safely, try out a few practices and find somewhere where they have a structured approach. Remember though, that ringing is much harder than it looks. It just isn’t possible to see the subtlety by watching: only time on the end of the rope will give you the finesse that is needed.
What towers can do.
Towers should not say to beginners, ‘Oh yes, we will be happy to teach you. Anyone can learn. Just come next practice night.’ They should explain in more detail the time, effort and dedication needed.
Most people can learn the basics of bell-handling fairly quickly. It is much more difficult to progress into change-ringing. Apart from anything else, you have to practice with a group of ringers who are better than you are. And in a structured way, with appropriate theory, and with appropriate exercises to help you through the particular difficulties that you experience. This needs someone who can identify what help you need, which is a skill in itself. Few ordinary practices – often 90 minutes in length – have the scope both to provide the exercises that beginners require and the interest that experienced ringers require. If you dedicate the first 45 minutes to the learners, the experienced people may not bother to turn up. Once the experienced ringers arrive, the learners no longer get a go.
There are a few clever teachers who can achieve a good experience for both groups. This means starting earlier and involving everyone throughout. The experienced ringers can be asked to make short theory presentations. Any learner who can safely handle a bell can call ‘stand’ after 20 whole pulls. They can call very simple call-changes. Exercises like whole pull and stand or Mexican wave are fun for everyone.
The amount of sitting out can be kept to a minimum. Just as you expect the learners to show commitment, encourage the more experienced ringers to commit – they can be asked to look after short touches or other exercises.
Also, ensure that the leaners value the contribution of the experienced ringers – thank the experienced ringers for their work in the hearing of the learners. But also make it clear that the practice will switch to something for the experienced people: the learners can stay to hear good ringing if they wish, but their session has ended. This often works well when the learners are still at school. The band should then retire to the pub for socialising (this no longer means drinking yourself under the table as most pubs expect to sell lots of soft drinks and coffee these days).