Ringing Recovery – the next phase

The Central Council has issued new guidance which many of you will have already seen, setting out its recommendations for ringing as lockdown eases.

The next threshold will be on 17th May, when (provided the Government’s key tests are met) meeting indoors will be permitted again.
The guidance from CCCBR is as follows:

  • Rule of Six applies indoors – ringing sessions should be arranged for six people
  • Hands – Space – Face rules apply – face coverings, hand sanitising between ringing, 1m plus mitigations when ringing
  • Lateral Flow Tests – twice weekly, preferably timed for days of any sustained ringing
  • Consider your own personal risk
  • Restrict ringing time to 45 minutes whilst maintaining good tower ventilation

Lateral flow tests are available for order, or can be picked up from pharmacies – further details are available via this link.
There are two more detailed pieces of guidance which I would advise tower captains and other ringers to read – these include a more detailed explanation of the guidance, and some notes on personal risk of infection (both to yourself but also to others). Please discuss these with your local band, incumbent and churchwarden if necessary, so that you can come to an agreement by mutual consensus. 

My personal interpretation is that this guidance allows for pre-arranged Sunday service ringing and practices, which is exciting as it is the furthest we’ve come in over a year. However, because of the requirement to maintain at least one metre from each other, teaching bell handling would not be accommodated within this guidance (unless it is by 2 members of the same family or support bubble). Judgement needs to be exercised over less experienced ringers returning to ringing – in an emergency they can and should be rescued if they unexpectedly lose control, but can’t require close ongoing supervision, so if it’s likely that you might need to step in and physically help a ringer, it may be better that they delay a return to ringing until government restrictions are lifted further.

Getting all of this right is key to a managed and safe return to ringing. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but please contact me if a discussion on how to interpret parts of this would be helpful.

The merry-go-round of bellringing and Covid

I am so over Covid now!

As rates of Covid infection rise again, and we enter a twilight zone of semi-lockdown, there are going to be a lot of disappointed ringers out there. Or angry, or lonely, or frustrated, or worried, or (I personally find this worst of all) empty. 

The Central Council have considered their advice, and (in line with the Church of England and the UK Government) have concluded that in areas that enter high or very high alert levels ringing should cease again, until spread of the virus can be brought under control.

As always, the decision on whether to ring or not ultimately lies between the local ringers and their incumbent, and if they agree that they can ring safely in line with government guidelines, they have the option of continuing. This does not seem likely in most scenarios. 

I am most worried about how people feel. Ringing is a big part of our lives, and many of our social circles exist almost entirely within ringing. I am acutely aware that I haven’t seen my friends properly now for months, and it’s OK for us all to miss the wonderful activity that is bellringing, and to feel less because of its absence.

The Essex Association has pulled together and done a good job of looking after each other this year, and as most of the county enters Tier 2 restrictions and ringing ceases again we need to continue our efforts. The zoom meetings and pub sessions, the quizzes, the Ringing Room meetings, the socially distanced handbells, the phone call on practice night to the isolated ringer – these are all such valuable assets to have, and although a poor substitute for the real thing, are nonetheless meaningful ways to continue to connect. 

Covid has ravaged through our lives in many ways, and few of us feel completely ourselves at the moment. It will end, and we will go back to our old lives. 

Stay safe, look after each other, and be kind to yourselves.

Navigating a Return to Ringing

Dear Ringer
As we start to think about re-starting face to face church services, and possibly even real bellringing (Ringing Room has been fun, but it’s not as good as the real thing), there has been a flurry of guidance from the Central Council (who we work closely with), advising on how to manage a safe return to ringing when the time comes.
I’ve spent quite a lot of time looking round this guidance, and triangulating it with other documents and news from elsewhere, and if its useful here is my “navigation” around these matters.

  1. First and foremost, it is for local incumbents and the church to decide when and how we can return to ringing. It is likely that this will be time limited (15 minutes seems to be the suggested amount of time) for service ringing only for the time being, although CCCBR is talking about how and when we can get back to something closer to normality.
  2. Due to the ongoing requirement to maintain social distancing, we are being asked to only ring bells that are 2m apart (except for ringers from the same family). This is going to be challenging for most of us.
  3. Local incumbents may decide not to allow us to return to ringing immediately. Whilst this would be immensely disappointing for many, we have to respect their decision. They are also in a difficult position with a lot of responsibility, which I don’t envy.
  4. However, as local experts of ringing (incumbents and church wardens are not always bellringers), we are in a good position to responsibly advise our local churches on best practice. Luckily, CCCBR have given us a suite of resources to use to do this.
  5. The first 6 guidance notes in this resource pack very helpfully walk the local tower captain or ringer through the things to consider and steps to take to before re-starting ringing. I would recommend that you read through these a couple of times, and offer to share these with your local incumbent and/or churchwarden, to facilitate a discussion if necessary.
  6. More detailed guidance is also available further down the CCCBR Covid page, including a Frequently Asked Questions section that is updated regularly, so worth re-checking intermittently. The last one (“I find this really confusing and it all seems unfair”) really spoke to me.
  7. There is a really useful fact sheet as part of all this to share with your local incumbents (you could also give it to your local churchwarden) – quick link is here
  8. Please remember that some people have very strong opinions about this, both pro- and anti-risk, which could lead to arguments. If this cruel pandemic has taught us anything it is that we need our friends, colleagues and allies around us. I’ve found the best thing to do is simply to keep talking, accepting that others’ points of view may be equally relevant, and remember that we usually all want the same thing – to be healthy and happy.
  9. Finally, if I or any of the Association officers can help disentangle all of this for you, please don’t hesitate for a second to ask for help. Bellringing has taken a significant blow from Covid-19, but we can get through this together.

Ways to keep ringing when you can’t ring….

Many of you will have seen Beth Johnson’s fantastic post on EACR notices, highlighting ways to stay engaged in ringing blogs etc during lockdown – for those that haven’t, it’s copied here:

Hello everyone

During this time of not ringing, would you like to link up to some blogs/podcasts/downloads of ringing related information?

On the main CCCBR website are regular features about how ringing is coping during the shut-down. See https://cccbr.org.uk/2020/04/10/ringing-returns-campaign/ for information about the Ringing Returns campaign. Scroll back and forward via the arrows at the foot of the page to see other features, including the President’s Blog which is published every other Saturday. The blog can also be accessed here: https://cccbr.org.uk/blog/

You can read or download editions of ART WORKS, the newsletter from the Association of Ringing Teachers here: http://www.ringingteachers.org/news/art-works
ART also publishes a magazine Tower Talk, by new ringers for new ringers – the link to the latest edition for download is here: http://www.ringingteachers.org/application/files/6815/6580/8334/Tower_Talk_12.pdf
As with ART WORKS these two ART publications are available free for any ringer – you do not need to be a member of ART.

A favourite blog of mine is by Mary Jones, the Accidental Ringer. Her almost daily articles are generally ringing based, although sometimes she may add in other ideas, but it is always a fun and informative read. Find her work here:https://dingdong887180022.wordpress.com/2020/04/14/human-contact/

Maybe you love podcasts or maybe you’ve never tried them (just think it’s like the radio but you can choose your programme any time) – how about giving this one a go: https://funwithbells.com/about-fun-with-bells/episodes/ This is hosted by Cathy Booth, not a ringer herself but her husband Roger has rung since he was ten, so she is well informed. She covers lots of interesting topics, the latest is ’15 tips to improve your striking’ and her interviews include a great one with Nigel Taylor here: https://funwithbells.com/nigel-taylor/

Are you signed up with FaceBook? There are several bell ringing groups, including several districts such as “Southern District – EACR”, “South Eastern District – EACR” and so on. You can also follow “EssexBells”, “Bellringers” and “Essex Ringing”. Some people are concerned about security on FaceBook but you can set your privacy controls to restrict information that is shared, and there is a lot of good information on these various pages. 

If anyone has any ideas to share at this time, just send them to me and I’ll circulate them to the list.
Keep well!
Best wishes

Happy Easter

This is going to be the most peculiar Easter Sunday I’ve ever lived.

I think that observation will be the same for most if not all of us. Usually we meet on Easter Sunday having broken our normal rhythm of practices, quarter peals and peals for the traditional suspension of ringing during Holy Week. If you’re like me, you will usually reflect on the preceding week, feeling slightly out of sorts that it hasn’t felt quite right somehow, but glad that we’re with our friends and ringing again.

Of course, this year things are very different. The Coronavirus pandemic has necessitated a massive lockdown, restricting most of us to our homes, and causing extensive economic and social disruption. Aside from the difficulties, and sometimes illness, that social isolation causes, we also have the spectre of an as yet poorly understood illness on our minds, and the number of people with first hand experience of it is steadily growing.

Already a series of Association events have not happened – many district events, as well as the Essex Course (an annual lynch pin of our calendars) have had to be cancelled. There remains uncertainty about future events, although they are being actively reviewed. I miss them acutely – I know you will as well.

It seems ironic that this is the time that we need normality, we need to be able to see our friends and take our minds off life’s worries – most of us do this with ringing. Many places have maintained that link with their local bands – my own tower has “Zoom pub sessions” – many others are doing similar things. We need our friends and families to be together in whatever way is safe and possible, to help us through these difficult times. Some people can feel socially awkward, and may not naturally gravitate towards jolly virtual events. We need to find ways of reaching out to them, to remind them (and ourselves) that we are still thinking about them and miss them (even the most curmudgeonly).

Things will come back to something appearing normal, even if we can’t see how or when at the moment. Bellringers are really good at being good friends. This Easter, I’m going to make an extra effort to reach out to all my friends and say hi, and by way of this message I’m saying this same to all of you.

Hi. I hope you’re OK. Let me know if I can help you.

Please stay safe and take care.


Handbell Ringing

I organised a handbell day today – this is something that other associations and guilds do, to promote and further handbell ringing in their local area. Although I’ve read about them, I’ve never been to one, so wasn’t sure how it would would (too much handbell ringing can sometimes melt your brain), but wanted to give it a go. So this was a bit of an experiment.

Luckily lots of friends also wanted to give it a go, so we met today in Coggeshall to see how it went. The important matter of cake was provided by Vicki Chapman and Gill Sparling, and David Sparling, Paul Cammiade and Simon Rudd provided patient and helpful guidance to us.

Ringing varied from Plain Bob to Kent TB Major, and we scored 2 quarter peals!



I know I’m biased, but I think it went really well – everyone enjoyed themselves, and I think that lots of us got something from it.

Watch this space – more to come later this year… Contact me at master@eacr.org.uk if you’d like to know more

Association General Secretary – we need you..!

Dear bellringer

The position of Association General Secretary becomes vacant at the AGM in May, and according to our rules, nominations should be received by the February Management Committee meeting (on 2nd February this year).

The role is an important one for the association, as the Secretary pulls everything together and keeps me, the treasurer, the rest of the management committee, and the districts organised.

Whilst there is a time commitment associated with it, it might not be as onerous as you imagine, and the duties associated with the job could be flexed to accommodate a keen person if necessary.

You don’t need to be an accomplished ringer. You don’t need to have held a district role. You don’t need to have been a member of the association for 20 years.

You do need to be organised, computer literate, friendly, open and welcoming, and to be interested in ringing.

About this time last year I was making up my mind whether to stand as Association Master, and was having the same series of conversations in my head and with my friends that a person interested in the secretary’s role might now be having. Any minor changes I might have made in my life to be able to carry out the Master’s duties have been so worth it – I’ve enjoyed myself enormously this year, and want to keep enjoying myself. I can’t believe that I almost didn’t take this opportunity.

As a budding secretary, that might be you.

I’m happy to talk to anyone that might be unsure but want to know more – contact me on master@eacr.org.uk. The job description is also on our website: https://eacr.org.uk/misc/job-descriptions/assoc-secretary.pdf

Please think about standing. The association needs its members to take part in the running of the show. It’s quite likely that you’d really enjoy it too.

If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress – Barack Obama

Some friends and I have been trying to ring a peal of the standard 41 surprise minor methods spliced together, all the work. It’s taking us quite a long time, and we’ve lost lots of attempts. Although it’s a reasonably difficult challenge, this post isn’t about fancy ringing or peals, but it’s made me think a lot about progress in ringing, and how we feel when things aren’t going right.

It feels like one step forward, two steps back at times, and losing peal after peal because we’re just not quite good enough yet is dispiriting for all of us.

When I lose peal attempt after peal attempt, it can feel like I’m making no progress at all, when in fact every time we ring, we’re getting little bit better, ironing out creases and becoming more familiar with the methods and composition. If I take a step back, I can see that month on month we’re gradually getting through more of the task, and doing it better each time, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

The reason I’m writing this is that I’ve been at this point many times in my ringing life. I don’t remember much about learning to handle a bell (because I was a child and wasn’t thinking about what I was doing). However, I clearly remember feeling just like this when I was learning plain hunt, and just.couldn’t.work.it.out! Eventually I looked back and realised that I had worked it out, but for many months I felt trapped in a pit of plain hunt that I couldn’t climb out of.

I remember it when I was learning to make bobs in plain bob doubles and bobs and singles in grandsire doubles, when I would go wrong again and again and again, having to be put right constantly by my helpful tower captain.

I think lots of ringers feel like this about their progress; namely, that they aren’t making any, or that they should somehow be progressing faster. I’m sure it can’t be unique to me. With my learners, I encourage them to look back over a suitable interval to what they were ringing before (e.g. last year), and really unpick the improvement they’ve made. Using checklists (like the ones from Learning the Ropes) can help draw these improvements into focus.

Having a distorted view of progress is not unique to learners either, as I hope I’ve demonstrated with my account here – it’s always a challenge to be aware of.

What we all need to remember (my peal band included) is DO NOT GIVE UP UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Progress isn’t something you can see easily from close up – you need to step back and gain perspective. We always get there in the end – sometimes it takes a bit longer than we’d initially expected, but we always get there.

Christmas Ringing

I’m just back from ringing at Midnight Mass at Goldhanger – we call it Midnight, but its always at 10 pm, apparently because its midnight somewhere, but also because its a lot more convenient than the late event. My friend Barbara is now off to ring for the real thing at Maldon (hard core..!), and most of our band also rang for the Christingle service this afternoon, for our village concert on Friday, and earlier this month for our village carol service.

I was pleased to be able to join the Northern district ringers at Shalford for their district carol service earlier this month, and enjoy the conviviality afterwards. On the same afternoon, there were also district services at Langham, Sandon, Hutton and Hatfield Broad Oak.

Tomorrow I go to Coggeshall for a peal attempt, which I’m quite excited about – I’ve never rung a peal on Christmas Day before.

Christmas is a busy time – it’s not just ringing, but there are parties, shopping, work (boo!), carol concerts and families and relatives to squeeze in. However, ringing always takes me back to being a teenager in the town where I grew up – even tonight, walking between my house and the church where I ring in the moonlight, I had a little reminder of the thrill that I always feel ringing at Christmas. It’s really special – something that we share between ourselves as a private pleasure, but also something that we share in a very public way with the rest of the world outside our churches and in our villages, towns and cities.

Enjoy Christmas ringing – there’s nothing quite like it. As I’m ringing tomorrow, I’ll be thinking about all of my ringing friends and acquaintances ringing at the same time.

Happy Christmas!

Master’s Dinner Speech 2018

To any of you that didn’t make our annual dinner this year, I’m really sorry that you weren’t able to come – it was great. Here’s a copy of the speech that I made.

Welcome again to the 64th Annual Dinner of the Essex Association of Change Ringers. Every year, the association meets to eat and drink, to reflect on the past year and our accomplishments, and to spend time with friends, old and new.

There are a number of key events in the association’s calendar which were made crystal clear to me when I first started considering standing as master. Among other things, these include organizing the 10 bell striking competitions, chairing the dreaded management committee meetings, and speaking at this, our annual dinner.

Having got the striking competitions out of the way, I turned my thoughts to the October Management Committee meeting. When I told my partner last week that I was going to a bellringing meeting, and that it might last for about 4 hours, he stopped what he was doing, looked at me incredulously, and said, “it’s bellringing – what is there to talk about?” Little does he know…

However, at the meeting I was given a very easy run by the trustees, and we pretty much sailed through the agenda.

So, I thought triumphantly last Saturday evening, just the annual dinner to go – how hard can that be?

I sought quite a lot of advice about this speech. Luckily, I can call on the assistance of no less than 5 past masters of the association, all of whom passed on nuggets of useful information.

Don’t make “in jokes”.
Don’t use lewd humour.
Don’t make political jokes.
Don’t encourage hecklers.
Don’t speak too long.
Don’t speak too quickly.

All very good advice, for which I am extremely grateful.

Luckily, once I’d taken out all the political, rude, in-jokes, this speech wasn’t that long anymore, so now all I have to do is speak nice and slowly, and I should have it cracked. By the way, good luck with the accent!

Although somewhat of a responsibility, being master has been brilliant fun so far. I’ve met ringers that I’ve never spoken to before and gone to towers that I might never otherwise have visited. As well as my usual haunts, thank you particularly to the ringers at Hornchurch, Saffron Walden, Great Bromley, Leytonstone, Sawbridgeworth, Great Easton and Thorpe-le-Soken, for letting me join your practices and for making me feel so welcome. I was reassured that, to those ringers at least, the association had relevance, and this is down to the extremely hard work that goes on in all of the districts to support ringing and ringers.

The annual district meetings in January elected a number of new district officers who are serving as trustees of this association. Inevitably, there are only so many of us to go round, so we often end up with the same faces round the table, so it’s particularly encouraging to see these new faces appearing.

The next major event in our calendar is the Essex Course.

The Essex course continues to flourish. As you know better than I do, it was conceived and launched by Adrian Semken, a man of vision that I sadly never had the opportunity to meet, but whose hand I would have shaken if I did. Not only is it a premiere training event, it is also a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Few territorial associations have an event of this calibre to call their own, and it is something we are rightly proud of. Mary Bone has magnificently stewarded this tremendous for 9 years, and on Hogmanay will stand down as ringing course convener. Please join me in thanking Mary for doing an exemplary job, and for helping to make the course what it is today.

The ringing course convenor’s job is not easy, but without course tutors and helpers, it would be impossible. We are lucky to have a number of individuals who have given up days and weeks of their own time, often taking annual leave from their jobs, to teach ringers on the course. I am very pleased to be able to present 2 ringers with a certificate honoring their long service as a course tutor. Please join me in thanking:

Roger Collins – 10 years
Steve Nash – 20 years

Essex was well represented in 3 premiere striking competitions this year:

  • the Ringing World National Youth Contest, held in London
  • the Ridgman Trophy, held at St Peter’s St Albans
  • and our own Essex Trophy, hosted by the Sussex Association and held at St Mary’s, Horsham.

Whilst first place was elusive in all, I was pleased with the standard of ringing that we produced, and I’m grateful to all members of all bands for giving up their time and managing their nerves for the association. Please join me in giving a special congratulation to our young ringers, who achieved a very creditable B+ score for their ringing, and who came joint 7thoverall from 22 teams. Well done Christina and your ringers.

It must have been almost impossible to miss Ringing Remembers, a joint campaign by the Central Council and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, supported by the Big Ideas Company. In case you have somehow not heard of this tremendous piece of work, the aim was to recruit 1400 new bellringers in this centenary year of the end of World War One, to honour the 1400 bellringers who lost their lives in that war. As a national recruitment campaign it has been highly successful, and at last report I understand that over 1700 people have signed up. In Essex alone we have received 121 new sign ups, more than any other association, which confirms what we all know, that we are best association in the world. They have been signposted to teachers and towers in the county by our Public Relations Officer, Emily Ashton. To Emily, and to all those that have taught, befriended, supported, or learnt as part of this campaign, thank you.

She is very modest about this, but we are honoured to have the brains behind the whole operation in our association. Vicki Chapman, one of the Essex Association Central Council Representatives, leads on this initiative in her work with the Central Council, and I am very proud to see her, and by association, Essex, leading the way in recruitment and promotion of bellringing.

I was given the double honour this year of being able to see the association 8 bell competition held in my own tower in Goldhanger, and the 6 bell at Great Totham, also a tower close to my heart. Both of these events were ably run by the SE district – thank you Christina and your team for making them such memorable events, not just for me, but for everyone who attended and enjoyed the sunshine listening to good ringing. And congratulations again to Chelmsford Cathedral, winners of the 6 bell trophy, and to the SE district, winners of the 8 bell trophy.

I’d like to make a personal call out to the ringers from Willingale. They competed in the 6-bell trophy. To me, they were initially remarkable for their state of undress, as they sunbathed in Great Totham churchyard waiting for their slot to ring. Their laid-back attitude was even more remarkable when Ian Kirwin confided in me that they had only completed the test piece once before. It is for bands like Willingale that this association exists. There is a perception that the association serves an elite squad of ringers, which I refute. Admittedly, a high standard of ringing is a worthy aim, and we do lots to further this aspect of our art. However, I think we have a greater responsibility, to create and protect the future of ringing, to ensure that it survives in a fit state for future generations. By joining our forces and working together, we can achieve much much more than the sum of our parts. Well done Willingale, and all bands like you. I worry sometimes that learner bands feel awkward and out of place at association events, but it is primarily for you that we are here. Earlier this year, a past master told me with glee about a group that assailed him at the conclusion of an association dinner, slurring “We’re crap ringers, but we know how to party”. Aside from the fact that there is no such thing as a crap ringer (with which I know that particular past master would agree), they were spot on. It’s all about the party.

In my day job I am a director in a central London teaching hospital. Recently I have spent a lot of my time worrying about diversity and inclusion. I feel a great responsibility at work to make sure that I am equitable and fair, and that I ensure that everyone has the same chance to progress through their careers. I often reflect on ringing as I do this.

Ringing is almost unique in hobbies in that it will take anyone on, train them from scratch, usually free of charge, and will then support them as part of a multi-skilled band of ringers in whom it’s the turning up and taking part that’s most important, rather than the skill. Yes, good ringing can be more rewarding than lumpy ringing, and yes, sometimes we want to stretch ourselves in more demanding methods with a selected band, but Sunday Service ringing is much more of an egalitarian affair. Ringers come from all walks of life, rich and poor, male and female, gay and straight, all ethnic backgrounds, and from every social class. We make extensive provision for disabled ringers (including mental and physical impairments). I’m not saying that prejudice is entirely absent from ringing, but to my perception it is a lot less prevalent in our circles of friendship than in the world at large.

It would be easy to think that we only do this because we are desperate for new ringers, to preserve our art, but I have a different theory. I think that there is something deeply inclusive about ringing itself, that leads us to be more accepting of difference than we might be in other parts of our day to day lives. Maybe those of us that are a bit different are led to the exercise because it is inclusive and judges less than the “outside world”? I don’t know why it happens, but I know that I value it, and I celebrate this aspect of ringing every day.

This leads me to the Church. Another solidly inclusive organization, the Church has a unique perspective on ringing, and an umbilical connection to our art, because most of the bells we ring are located in churches or other religious buildings. The connection between church and ringing is strong, and both flourish when it is nurtured and sustained. Those of you who read my blog may have read my thoughts on the beautiful relationship between the church and ringers at St Peter Mancroft, who were so supportive of their efforts to provide a teaching and training centre for new and learner ringers, as well as preserve the history of their wonderful bells. This is a special relationship – I promise, that’s the closest I’ll get to transatlantic politics in this speech! This special relationship is not unique – it exists in many churches around the country. We recently held our annual bellringers service, where our small congregation joined us to hear a bellringing-related address, sing some hymns that we knew, and to remember why we turn out every Sunday at 9am.

But as I reflect on our successes, our friendships, our inclusiveness, and our association, I am routinely brought back to the church, who keep us grounded, who remind us of our humanity and the contribution that we bring, and who are as much a part of ringing as we are of village Sunday mornings.

To the Church.