The Clifton All Saints After School Club is held at All Saints Church, Clifton, Bedfordshire on a Wednesday afternoon between 4 and 5 during term time. For the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations in 2016, the village held a street party in Clifton and we hired the Charmborough ring. Three young girls from the local middle school were very interested in learning to ring so we started handling sessions on a Wednesday afternoon after school between 4 and 5. Once they had learned to handle a bell and ring in rounds, the plan was to finish the Wednesday sessions. However, they were very keen to continue the Wednesday sessions and in addition they started coming to the first part of our regular weekly practice (Friday between 7 and 8) which focuses on rounds, call changes and simple methods. We are very lucky to have a number of retired ringers in the area who support the Wednesday practices so that we can now give the young ringers practice at call changes and simple methods. We try to make the session “fun” and this includes playing the dice game, ringing handbells, some simple theory and always raising and lowering bells. For the Wednesday sessions we always have our sound control closed to minimise any sound nuisance, and generally have 3 or 4 learners aged 12-13, and 5/6 adult helpers.
The young ringers have made steady progress during the past 12-18 months. Currently they do not seem to be overly interested in learning methods, except for plain hunting the treble so we are not pushing them. We are looking to consolidate their striking, handling skills and developing ropesight. We have retained 2 of the 3 original pupils with the third stopped coming due to pressure of school work. She still joins us to ring for some services (e,g, at Christmas). Three of the ringers have taken part in striking competitions and have generally been on the winning team. The Biggleswade district of the Bedfordshire Association has introduced a striking league and this has given the young ringers a good opportunity to take part in these fixtures. Each tower (team) in the league has a home and away fixture with every other team and this gives them a chance to ring at different towers and meet other ringers. We have received feedback from one of the parents in that he was impressed at the skill needed to achieve good bell control and the patience shown by the tutors.
We started using the Pam Copson teaching aids but found that once they could handle a bell, ring up and down and ring rounds and call changes, the targets were too far apart so we devised some of our own. This includes 33 targets resulting in 6 badges. These have continued to enthuse the young ringers. In December 2016, they were joined by another young ringer so when School and other commitments do not get in the way, we have four young ringers.
Earlier in the year, a film was made of our After School Club session and this can be viewed on youtube. The video has links from the village website and from the village Facebook page. In November, we had a visit from the Bishop of Bedford and his team and they attended our Wednesday practice. Some of the young ringers also attend the Bedfordshire Young Ringers practices held once a month.
The main objective of continuing the After School Club was to give them as much rope time as possible, Generally at local practices, the rope time is limited due to the number of people and ensuring everyone has a turn. This has definitely been achieved and the slightly less formal atmosphere in the session, we believe has encouraged them to keep coming. It is sometimes a challenge after a long day at school (sometimes with double PE) to keep the momentum going as they can get quite tired but this does not seem to dampen their enthusiasm. The dice game, setting the bells after a number of rounds, is a competitive activity at a level they can achieve, testing their handling and striking skills and always popular.
Lessons learned? The flexible approach and the availability of retired ringers to help has been invaluable. This might not work with another group but it has worked with this one.
During 2017, all four young ringers have become confident in handling their bells, continue to be enthusiastic about ringing, and the quality of their striking has improved dramatically. One of them (aged 12) came on the tower outing and wrote a piece (full copy attached) for the village magazine which ended:“I would recommend taking up bell ringing, as it is fun and educational.”
Future plans and aspirations are for the young ringers to be part of the Bedfordshire Young Ringers team and to provide them with the skills to enable them to become part of the wider ringing scene, either locally or at university. We are also looking for ways to promote ringing in the local schools to ensure a succession of young ringers in a similar manner.