Some time ago there was a little dust up over how welcome visitors were at a practice night at a well-known tower – the sort of prestigious tower that people will try to grab whilst enjoying a few days away on holiday. No sensible person thinks – I will be in Reedham next week, I must try to make their practice because it will be interesting/memorable/exciting/impressive – although it probably will be the first 3. But ringers do think that way about other places and want to try their hand. This was of only passing interest to me but one detail that did attract my attention was that this certain tower offers a handbell practice on a Monday evening. Now that would be worth grabbing because I don’t think many places do offer a regular open handbell practice. There does not seem to be any restriction on the numbers of people who might be welcome which is not surprising because only a very few ringers would show any interest at all. Most would avoid eye contact and mutter that handbells are tricksy things and not to be attempted in public in the company of strangers. Much how I feel about tower bells.
It made me think that we should have a regular, association-wide open handbell practice. Little groups practice with each other, but rarely do we mix, and then only for a special occasion. Wouldn’t it be nice if anyone, at any level of experience, could turn up and try their hand? If someone thought that handbells might be worth exploring, it would be convenient if there was a local forum where they could have a try, rather than asking for people to go to special lengths to arrange an individual practice, only to find that handbells are most definitely NOT their thing and then feel guilty because fellow ringers went to some trouble to accommodate them.
With this in mind we have started an Association Handbell Group that meets every Friday night, other commitments permitting. So far it is on-line, but I hope that we can actually eyeball each other sometime soon. There is a Diocesan Festival of Ringing arranged for 4th September, which will be a perfect opportunity to meet in person. The usual suspects form the core of the group but we have a novice handbell ringer who is coming along well and there are a couple of other handbell learners, who once they are past the “confident to plain hunt on any pair” stage, might like to join us. My hope is that once we have an established group with ringers at varying level of experience, then others will feel comfortable to give handbells a try. They can seem a bit intimidating because they tend to be the preserve of “good ringers”, but if I can ring them, then anyone with the right motivation can. A supportive open practice might encourage more people to have a little nibble and perhaps fall for them as I did.
It may all fizzle out because people are busy, tower practices span every weekday and there are peals etc to be rung, but it would be wonderful if something comes of it, although at the moment it feels like I am attempting to roll a stone up a mountain using only my nose.