I was listening to the most recent Fun with Bells podcast this week (https://funwithbells.com/mrdc/?fbclid=IwAR1vQ2Puf0FkQxXXRoh6t208rwSftG04dYjlsfgk7FA-D-9wakdJbh5i88A) . It featured my teacher Nikki Thomas and Simon Rudd, some of the people behind the establishment of the Mancroft Ringing Discovery Centre in Norwich. They were talking about the creation of the MRDC which opened its door 2 years ago. This new state of the art bell ringing training centre was the culmination of some years of hard work undertaken by Norwich ringers to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the first fully documented peal that was rung at St Peter Mancroft by the Norwich Scholars in 1715. Others may disagree as to which tower scored the very first peal, but they do not have the records to prove it.
Simon and Nikki outlined the work of the centre and how it has helped to support ringing in Norfolk and neighbouring counties. Often, in happier times, if you turned up at a Friday lunchtime session there would be ringers from Suffolk or Cambridgeshire as well as Norfolk enjoying the facilities. You may have found yourself stood between someone who has rung for 50 years and was practising for a peal of something that you have never heard of, and someone else who has been ringing precisely 50 days and is learning to ring rounds. They also outlined some of the brilliant things that have been happening in Norfolk ringing over the past few years – the 60 plus new recruits, the regeneration of a number of towers, the new rings of bells, the outreach programme in local schools, the young ringers and youth team, the novice 12 bell ringers (the Narnia 12 Bell Mayhem tower in Ringing Room has nothing on us. Real life novices on real life bells attempting a Mexican wave because it was the International Day of Peace and I wanted to start a wave to send around the world. I think it stopped at about bell number 6, but it was fun while it lasted….), the targeted practices, the first quarters rung, the Learning the Ropes ringing festival, the ART teachers trained, the Ladies who call Bobs and are telling the men to shove over because they would like to conduct. The list went on and on. It had been a very productive time and an exciting time for a new ringer to start their ringing career and to be able to join in and contribute where possible.
Earlier this week I sat in on a CCCBR consultation of Ringing Remembers recruits and I realised very quickly that not every new ringer has had such a marvellous introduction to ringing. Others have not trotted around the countryside grabbing towers in the company of their association, their tower, or just a friend who wanted to try somewhere new on a Wednesday night. Others have not entered striking competitions organised by their guild, competitions expressly structured to allow them to take part. Nor have they enjoyed the invaluable experience of being responsible for laying on their first ringers’ tea for over 140 participants. They have not been offered targeted training courses where experienced ringers patiently stand all morning and knock out plain course after plain course of something simple. They have not been allowed to ring the iconic Mancroft bells (very special occasions only) nor attended a workshop on “Finding your voice”. They have not been encouraged to join committees with the express purpose of giving the very newest ringers a say. What do the recruits need? How can we support them, as well as meet the needs of the established ringers?
But the local association has not only concentrated on the shallow end of the pool. At the top end of ringing, the Mancroft Guild participates in 12 Bell competitions, the MRDC won an ART award for Innovation in Recruitment or Retention, peals have been rung (a noteworthy 1000th in at least one case) and peculiar Pickled Eggs have been consumed on a regular basis.
Other new ringers have not been so lucky.
I realise now that I have been given a very long rein and been encouraged to explore its full length. For that I am grateful and I must try to keep in mind that what might have been a mini Golden Age of ringing for me and my Norfolk peers, has not been so golden for others who started to learn at the same time. The most that they have been offered is 15 minutes on a rope at a tower practice once a week. It is going to take a long time to learn to be a competent ringer with that little opportunity to practise.
The tricky question is, how best to ensure that the good practice that currently exists in my local area, is made available to everyone, wherever they might live? I suspect that much of it is down to strong leadership and how we nurture leaders, who may not necessarily be the best ringers, needs careful consideration.
Of course, if you want to experience what I have had the good fortune to enjoy, you could all up sticks and move to Norfolk. Property prices are still very reasonable.