A first handbell peal

The June 2018 ART WORKS featured an article about teaching Rebecca to ring.Rebecca, who has been totally blind from birth, recently achieved the milestone of ringing her first peal on handbells and this seems a good point to look back on the progress she has made and hear from her about her experiences of learning to ring and what challenges she has had to overcome.

Rebecca writes:

I first came across tower bell ringing when I lived in Oldham back in 2015.I thought it might be a fun activity to take part in, but did not look into it further until October 2017. I contacted Ros Baxter through the ART Administrator to see if tower bell lessons would be a viable option.I also contacted Peter Church, leader of the Hull Handbells Project, to see if he would be willing to teach me change ringing on handbells.Peter was unsure, but with encouragement from Heather Peachey and Graham Nabb, he agreed to give me a lesson.

At the start of my first tower bell lesson in November 2017, I thought bell ringing was simply a matter of chiming the bell. I had no understanding of hand and back strokes, ringing up and down or standing. Methods and principles seemed impossible to grasp.Bell ringing terminology was very alien to me.

However, I spent a lot of time learning bell handling with Ros and the other ringers at Hessle. This turned out to be even more important for me as I need to consistently know where the sally is going to end up; it was imperative that I learned to have a good ringing style. Another key skill I had to master was ringing rhythmically with other people. Fortunately, I have a sense of rhythm so this skill came relatively easily. With the help of tutors from Hessle, Barrow and Lowgate, Hull, I was able to achieve my Learning the Ropes Level 1 in September 2018.

I started learning handbell change ringing in January 2018 with Peter Church.He and his wife Christine came to meet me and discuss how learning handbells would work best for me. I explained that blue lines, visual diagrams and graphic-laden webpages were out of the question. Peter did some research on how best to teach me. He gave me my first simulator lesson shortly after the initial meeting and found that I could memorise the places my pair of bells should strike in. Peter then set up Abel and Handbell Manager on my laptop, gave me two motion controllers and set up Plain Bob and Plain Hunt for me to practice.I use a screen reader so it was important that any software I was using would work with a computer keyboard. Abel does this really well. Peter also wrote out documents with words only, explaining how Plain Hunt and Plain Bob worked. My first physical handbell lesson was a very enjoyable experience. I rang a course of Plain Bob Minor with Peter and Christine and was asked to join their Tuesday group. With the help of this group, Abel, and Peter's teaching, I rang my first quarter peal in August 2018, and my first peal on 1-2 to Plain Bob Major on 16th March this year and am now breaking new ground with Kent Treble Bob, Oxford Treble Bob and Plain Bob Royal. With Peter's help, I'm now also able to add new methods and compositions to Abel, learn them with his notes and practise them with the Hull Handbells group every week. It's a thrilling experience.

Similar to tower bells, the language used in handbell ringing was unfamiliar.Plus, having two bells to concentrate on made ringing handbells more difficult. However, credit must be given to all the bell ringing tutors who have helped me. They had to change their teaching methods and find new solutions to help me learn. They have been very patient with me whilst I "learned the ropes" as it were. So, it has been as much a learning curve for them as for me.

My bell ringing experience is not much different from that of a sighted person in that good rhythm, bell handling and memory for methods are key. The difference for me is that ropesight is eliminated. This can be advantageous as I can concentrate on the bell's sound and placement with other bells, and am not fazed by other bell ropes moving.

Bell ringing, to me, is a spiritual experience that sends out positive energy to everyone ringing or listening to the bells. It's a great way to get to know more people, tower bell ringing is good exercise and all bell ringing improves listening and communication skills.

Ros writes:

Rebecca has made fantastic progress with her ringing, thanks to her enthusiasm and determination, great powers of concentration and excellent listening skills. She is now ringing tower bells regularly on practice nights at two local towers, and has rung at several different towers on Beverley and District Ringing Society meeting days. Such is her commitment that she recently volunteered and was elected to the committee of the Society demonstrating that you don’t need years of ringing experience to become involved and it is illuminating to have her fresh perspective on things.

Negotiating tricky spiral staircases and entrances to ringing chambers has probably proved more challenging for Rebecca than ringing on different bells! We spent a long time ensuring that Rebecca got the basics right and she has an excellent handling style. I think one of the hardest things for her to learn and for me to teach her with confidence is ringing up and down – this is likely be her one still “working towards” exercise for her LtR Level 2, which she is likely to have completed by the time this appears in print. On practice nights she is ringing the treble to Plain Bob Doubles and Plain Bob Minor and recently rang a course of Plain Bob Minor inside, so her first quarter peal on tower bells won’t be far off and I’m very much looking forward to ringing it with her.

Rebecca started change ringing on handbells not long after I did, but her progress very quickly surpassed mine and she is to be congratulated on her fantastic achievement of ringing her first peal in hand. I’m sure Rebecca will continue to notch up the ringing milestones on both handbells and tower bells. If any tutors are approached by a visually impaired person wanting to ring, do give it a go. Concentrate on getting the basics right and it can become a very rewarding journey for you both.


Rebecca Legowski & Ros Baxter