When we think of opening a tower for visitors, many of us consider this as part of an tower open day, but actually there are many opportunities to welcome visitors without going to the trouble of organising a general open tower event.
Have you considered inviting special interest groups to visit the tower? The Womens’ Institute, Guides and Scouts, the U3A, your local history society, Church groups, Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme participants, school groups or even corporate groups?
By focusing on a specific group, you can tailor make your presentation to their particular needs and market learning to ring in a way that will appeal to them.
Or is there a local event on the horizon which could motivate people to learn to ring ? A significant church festival, anniversary of the church or local event can often inspire non-ringers to take up the challenge of learning to ring, just as they did for the Millennium. Getting in touch with groups who are likely to be interested in marking the event and offering a ‘"earn to ring in time for …" could well be a good way of recruiting people.
Assuming that you have any friends who are non-ringers, how about organising a fun “bring a friend to practice” evening where members of your team need to bring someone along to have a go.
Give a quick safety talk first, so that visitors know they shouldn’t touch the ropes unless invited to under supervision, feet on the floor, don’t approach people whilst ringing etc. If there is an opportunity to take them up into the belfry and show them the bells, they might enjoy that before the practice begins and gain an understanding of how the bells work.
Make it sociable – involve your visitors in your practice by explaining what you’re doing, talking to them and answering any questions that they have. If you have handbells, you could offer them the chance to ring rounds and call changes on these to understand how it works, then your team could ring them on tower bells so that the visitors can try to follow what’s going on. If they’ve got good listening and observation skills, you could invite ringers to call ‘go plain hunt’ when the treble is leading and ‘that’s all’ when they hear it come back into rounds at the end. Just because they can’t handle a bell, doesn’t mean visitors can’t take part in the practice.
If you have suitable teachers, your visitors could have a go at backstrokes with help and supervision, or do one of the Learning the Ropes Level 1 handling exercises like shadowing the handstrokes.
Invite them to the pub afterwards if they would like to come, and find out what they thought about ringing. Would they like to try it? Make sure they realise that they are always welcome to drop by any time.
Even if your visitors don’t take up ringing, they should hopefully leave with a positive impression, better informed about what’s involved and of course it’s great PR. If they’ve taken photographs of themselves or each other, encourage them to share these on Facebook and let their online friends know about their unusual evening out and extend the invitation to anyone else who might like to visit.
Every time we welcome visitors into our towers, there is an opportunity for positive PR or recruitment. Invite anyone who would like to come. If you’ve got a large open day planned, don’t forget to invite journalists from your local newspaper who can take photographs and report on the event. Free, positive publicity is always a big help towards raising awareness and recruitment.
I always ask those interested to go home talk and think about whether they’d like to learn to ring. I tell them that I realise there are family events, days out and holidays. I do not expect them 52 weeks of the year but I do expect them there on Sundays when they can. I tell them about weddings and the fact that they get paid for weddings once they are good enough.
If several members of a group are interested, I take two or three at a time, the next two or three when the first group can ring Rounds. For the first three weeks, I try to arrange an extra practice between practice nights so six lessons in three weeks usually has them handling safely on their own. It can be up to three months for ringing reasonable rounds but I have never lost potential ringers due to asking them to wait.
Always start with a quick safety talk. You can use this to introduce the mechanics of a bell. Ask the question: "One bell amongst the eight is up and dangerous to touch, can they guess which?" Use a model bell to demonstrate.
Move onto a demonstration, that's what they are probably keen to see and hear. You can chime the bells - single bell or in Rounds and Queens and Whittingtons. Or a quick ringing demonstration if you have a band of helpers. Use a single bell to show the two strokes and setting in two positions. Demonstrate rounds and Plain Hunt. Don't make this ringing too long!
Let everyone have a go - this is what people are interested in. Gauge what is safe and interesting. Ringing a bell partially up from down gives an idea of the weight of the bell. Whilst a handstroke pull off or backstroke (after demonstration) if your helpers are good, confident bell handling teachers.
You can tailor this part of the tower visit to the interests of the particular group.
Children can play games based around Call Changes and Plain Hunt. Adults might be interested in some of these too, or a talk about the history of the bells and bell ringing or a trip up the tower to see the bells.
We're not talking about tune ringing or two-handed handbell ringing here. We're talking about the use of handbells as an easy way of explaining method ringing.
Start by using 6 or 8 hand bells to ring rounds with one person per bell. When the rhythm is established you can introduce the group to musical sequences by ringing Queens, Whittingtons & Tittums – mainly by pointing at each person when they should ring. Try this first with your ringers beforehand and get used to the patterns you need to point out.
It is often possible to introduce change ringing by ringing Plain Hunt with each person ringing the bell down the line moving and ringing next stroke. People soon get the hang of this.
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