It’s a fantastic time to be a bell ringer!
As I sat and watched Team GB raise the bar once again on what is possible, winning an amazing 67 medals at this year’s Rio Olympics and settle in to watch the Paralympics I can’t help but think it’s a great time to be a bell ringer.
Team GB’s success has been built on a realisation that things were not going as well as they might and following a poor Olympics for Team GB in Atlanta '96, where they won just one gold and only 15 medals, a concerted effort to look again at the organisation and support for elite sport began.
Change came in small manageable bites and successes were built upon year after year. Large groups tend to have a battleship turning circle and as such change takes time. More important than the speed of change is the collective ‘hands on the rudder’, edging the direction towards a shared goal.
It’s the collective will to move UK Sport that (over 20 years, I did say it was slow!) brought Team GB from ‘not interested’ to ‘must watch’ in the public consciousness.
It’s this collective willingness to move forward, to engage, to get involved that I see in bell ringing, that makes it a fantastic time to be a bell ringer.
Where am I seeing this positive force? – I see it in the Facebook groups for bell ringers of all sensibilities, with vibrant discussions. I see websites being refreshed, updated and redesigned (Even the Central Council of Church Bell Ringer’s website is actively being redeveloped!!) and Twitter accounts proclaiming the latest goings on at Towers across the country. Why is this important? Surely new websites and social media are not a defining barometer of engagement? Perhaps not on the face of it, but there is real effort and passion here. Behind every post on Facebook is a ringer eager to share their views and every friendly comment or ‘Like’ is a helping hand of support for a fellow ringer. Behind every new website is a team of people working hard to help the community of ringers.
It’s all too easy to have a view of bell ringing that doesn’t extend over the horizon and to worry about the decline of bell ringing, but dip a toe in the wider world and a panoply of views, discussion and real engagement from bell ringers, about the hobby they love, becomes apparent.
Of course it’s not all online or ‘virtual’. Bell ringing is about real people joining as a band to produce a glorious sound. This positive force can be just as easily seen in the ringers giving their time to teach, to help others, to maintain the bells, to organise events or simply to ring to the best of their ability. Indeed, we even see ringers coming together as a community to support each other and to make the world a better place. Who would have thought if asked 6 months ago that bells would ring around the world and even on the International Space Station in support of the ‘Bell ringers Strike Back’ event for the Blood Cancer charity the Anthony Nolan Trust? This, as much as anything, shows what is possible if we are all willing to pull together in support of a cause we believe in.
It’s not just at the individual level either. Associations around the country are slowly adapting - The Sussex County Association of Change Ringer’s new team based structure is a brilliant step in the right direction. The new Communications and Events Team and Training and Recruitment Team allow everyone to easily get involved in building the association you want to see. You can easily join a friendly, welcoming team of people to discuss and shape the future facilities you want to enjoy as an SCACR member, without bearing sole responsibility. Why is this so brilliant? - Because you don’t have to be an amazing method ringer (or even an amazing rounds ringer!), a website designer or newsletter editor. You just need to be willing to join in the discussion.
I know there are people that will disagree with some or all of what is written here, who may pick holes in my argument because it doesn’t match their experience, but this article has not been written to them. It has been written to you. Because you too love bell ringing. Some would say you’re blinkered, but you think it enriches your life and want to share that joy with everyone.
That is why it’s a fantastic time to be a bell ringer because, like Team GB, you and I can take manageable bites at the latest challenges facing us and build on our successes. Whether that’s in your tower or a neighbouring tower, on an SCACR Team or just posting friendly comments to other bell ringers on Facebook. Together we’ll be one of the many hands on the rudder of the good ship ‘Bell Ringing’ steering what we love towards a bright future.