Status – draft for discussion. Awaiting a sponsor from within Council to take it further. Replies may be left on this web page.
CCCBR (Central Council for Church Bell Ringers) is probably closer to implementing radical change than at any time in the recent past . Improved use of Social Networks could strengthen and speed this movement, and empower members of Council to work together, and with other ringers, to respond to what is widely agreed to be an impending crisis in the number of ringers and their levels of skills, as well as the number of open churches , in the next 10-20 years 
- That the members of Council be included in a discussion forum immediately, to enable them to speed up the process of debate between different committees and non-committee Council members, and to empower all Council members to share their expertise with each other, and move important projects forward, without hindrance.
- That Council should make much more use of consultation and discussion via a variety of networks as an engine for change and motivation. Currently too much emphasis is laid on announcements, proposals, and committee and Council meeting process, which are failing to reach and motivate grass roots ringers.
- That Council should move towards a contemporary understanding of communications – that individuals communicate in a variety of ways and are influenced by of a great number of factors, so that effective leadership has to include sophisticated, interactive, cross-media communication.
The Current Situation
- “I was on Council for fifteen years. In all of that time I achieved only one thing. I stopped the Methods Committee renaming Reverse Canterbury Doubles.” Derek Jackson, Winchester and Portsmouth Guild
- “I’m on a Council Committee. I go to all its meetings and between times I do all the work I have agreed to do. But I’m not sure it’s achieving anything”. Current Committee Member
- “The most important network in bellringing today isn’t Central Council. It’s the Bellringers Facebook Group” Member of NAGCR
- “I don’t think Council does anything at all which is relevant to local bands” Tower Captain who reads RW every week and also interacts with online networks
- “We want more young people on Council” Kate Flavell, Chair of PR Committee
- “[The young woman] doesn’t watch TV or read the newspapers. The old way of doing things… ” Woman’s Hour, 26/2/2015
- “We need more ringers in the under 20 age bracket, but also in the under 30 and under 40 bracket… The leaky bucket of retention [must] be addressed” Roger Booth, in the document Background Paper.
- “There is no committee dedicated to progressing work with young people although this is a very important area” Roger Booth
- ” The current structure makes fast action nearly impossible to achieve but there is movement – not everyone will like it or feel comfortable but my view is that we are now ready to make big changes.” Elva Ainsworth, comment on Facebook Discussion
- “As a member of Council I had no better idea of what was going on, than any ringer reading Ringing World or relevant public sources online.” Rosalind Martin, former Council Member
What are the various Social Networks?
Modern Social Networks are fraught with dull old dysfunction and wonderfully new opportunities [The Organised Mind p120]
For 24 hours of each year, most Council members gather under one roof and have their AGM, giving them the opportunity to network, compare notes on their local situations, and share ideas. The sense of collected enthusiasm and expertise is inspiring – sadly for the rest of the year the members cannot easily get in touch unless they already have established friendships. Thus new members may take years to properly integrate, and the value system is that long standing members of Council know the most people and have the most experience of what works out there in towers, and what doesn’t, so their voices in discussion (whether at committee level or whole council) carry the most weight.
The Admin Committee (comprised of the senior officers plus the chairs of all committees) is actively engaged in trying to work for change, but historically has not shared plans until they were finalised, leaving other Council members and the whole exercise feeling that solutions are imposed on them. This in turn causes great frustration to the Admin committee who feel they are trying to “Herd Cats” and that “Bellringers don’t like being told what to do”.
The simple action of making the existing email list of all Council Members into an open discussion forum with all members allowed to post, would at least enable broader discussions to take place inside Council, and enable committees to draw on the professional expertise of ALL members not just those personally known to them.
In theory, an important function of members is to discuss Council actions with their local Associations, and feed back responses. This may be confined to the annual report submitted by the council members to the Guild AGM – the time lags on this system mean that these communications often lack the enthusiasm which would be needed if they were to herald significant changes.
The CCCBR/Guild/District email system
This is generally used as a top-down announcement system for important news that CC wishes to give to grass roots members. It does not currently work well for discussion.
The Ringing World
Open to all who wish to read it, the weekly Ringing World Magazine collates information from across the Exercise (very largely on the initiative of the ringers themselves), edits it and presents it in paper and electronic form. Feedback is possible through the letters column which especially before the advent of the Internet was the prime forum for debate in the exercise.
Guild, District and Tower Websites
Guild websites have been around for about 15 years and the best of them provide static information about their towers, practice nights, contact information, and what’s on at Guild (and usually District) level. Some also carry news items. Members can, however, feel distant from other far flung towers in their Guild so it can be quite difficult to cultivate a sense of belonging to a Guild.
District Websites are less common but have the advantage of covering a smaller geographical area so the users can be reasonably well known to each other. This gives them the potential to carry more news, especially about week-to-week activity in the towers. A whole District can generate a fair amount of interesting news.
There are many examples of Tower websites – the major drawback of these can be that the relatively small amount of news within one band can lead to a lack of ongoing enthusiasm for the site. Also the sense that “everybody already knows what is happening” can lead to lack of energy for updating it.
Blog type websites
These are a subset of the above. They are classified as social networks because of the ease with which readers may comment on a blog’s “posts” (items of news), and keep up with news by subscribing to email alerts. Generally they are very easy to update and restructure, handle pictures and videos well, and work on all screen sizes. Compared with traditional, programmed websites, they allow the web masters to be far more productive.
A note on Chris Mew’s “president’s blog” – an excellent attempt to draw together and reflect on, disparate items from RW, meetings, etc. However the lack of ability to “follow” it and make comments on it does undermine its potential.
Guild District and Tower email lists
In the past there has been a feeling that an important proportion of ringers are not on email. This appears to be changing rapidly even in the older age groups and anecdotally, it is believed that “most ringers” are contactable by email. 100% membership of a tower list can be achieved and where this has happened, comments like “I always feel in touch, even if I miss a few practices” show that for a busy ringer juggling work, family, and ringing (just the age group we want to encourage), email can make a significant contribution to a sense of belonging to a tower.
Likewise a regular email from a District (e.g. weekly) can lead to more sense of belonging such as “I don’t ring in other towers but I really like the fact that I know what’s going on”, and from learners “Do you think I would enjoy Saturday’s District Practice?”
The biggest problem facing such systems is uptake – unless enthusiastically endorsed by someone you know and trust, there is a reluctance to sign up to yet more stuff on email…
Ringing Email Lists
Such as ringing-chat, change-ringers and others. A well established forum for discussion in which interesting debate occurs.
A word about Facebook
“You can’t control Facebook” Phil Tremain, Master of Cornish Guild.
“Facebook [has become] the dominant social networking site and currently has more than 1.2 billion regular monthly users. How did it do this? It appealed to our sense of novelty and our drive to connect to other people. It has allowed us to keep in touch with a large number of people with only a small investment of time.” The organised mind, p126.
“There may be over 100 comments in one thread but if it’s interesting I will read it, it only takes 10 minutes and that’s nothing!” Member of Bellringers
Facebook is a complex environment that takes time to learn and keep under control. However the way that news is presented is finely tuned to try to match your interests. This (in the author’s view) makes it easier to keep up with large quantities of discussion than if they were taking place on email.
In addition it is possible to see who group members are, and to see enough information about them (photo, where they live, and who their friends are) to rapidly put them into context. This makes it a useful tool to underpin real-world relationships and facilitate communication.
Facebook profit-making corporation whose intention is to make money by advertising to members. So, indeed, are the email providers and search engine companies.
Local Facebook Groups
At this time there are 48 known geographically-based Facebook groups. They vary in the level of traffic and number of members, but some are lively, interesting, and encourage a sense of enthusiasm for local ringing. Facebook users can join one with ease and use it to keep up with the news or ask questions.
National Facebook Groups
At this time there are 8 active ones known to the author:
- Bellringers * National Group, almost 2000 members, lots going on!
- Bell Ringing * National Group, 900+ members, lower key.
- CCCBR 2014 * for any council member or non-member who wishes to join. Lots of traffic during the Council weekend but not since.
- Bellringing Webmasters * For webmasters and wannabe webmasters. 111 members with sporadic traffic.
- Bellringing Motorcyclists
- Young Bellringers * Under 30s, almost 500 members.
- Musicians’ Guild of Change Ringers * For all musicians that ring. The more the merrier.
- Learning the Ropes * For all learners and teachers, very active group
Site for sharing videos, which contains a wealth of bellringing. Given that the end product of ringing is the sound of the ringing itself, imaginative use of this network to store and share videos is an area of great potential for the exercise.
The completely public nature of Twitter makes it both daunting to use, and potentially a good place to make an impact on non-ringers. The challenge is, of course, making one’s voice heard among thousands of others. Twitter is a growth area among bellringers and very easy to use with less sense of personal risk than Facebook. Excellent forum for sharing practice night changes, extra meeting information, etc.
Many networks have already been and gone (Friends Reunited, MySpace…) or are not known to be widely used in the ringing community (Instagram, Snapchat, 4Square, Pinterest) however more will appear and in due course Facebook will become old hat (it has already become a little older in its demographic and is less used by under-18s.
Case Study – Christchurch and Southampton District
3 years ago Christchurch and Southampton was (from an online viewpoint) probably fairly typical. The District Secretary issued posters and information largely by email with a little post, and some members were members of the Guild email list and Facebook Group. There was next to no Youth membership.
Ringing-wise, there was a program of 5 monthly District Practices on week nights, covering levels from Surprise major, through 8 bell ringing, to Doubles and Minor. This supplemented a variable scene at tower practices, with 3 bands ringing surprise methods and the other 17 or so ranging from Rounds and Call changes through to Doubles or Triples.
3 years on, we have around 8-12 under-18s ringing in our bands and 6 Youth Practices a year. We are establishing a track record of retaining ringers in the 20-40 age group, especially those who move here able to ring, and quickly including them in a variety of ringing according to their ability, via Facbook contact.
Our traditional Saturday program of Quarterly meetings (generally attended by a gradually decreasing number of older members) were replaced this year by monthly District Practices which (so far) attracting a wider age group and are going well.
Most towers seem to have learners now [anecdotal]
The key aspects of this development have been:
- The establishment of a “blog” type website to carry all news (whether sourced on Facebook, by email, word of mouth, or official announcements of District and Guild events) and make it available to all users, members, out of area ringers visiting the area, or non ringers wanting to learn.
- Full integration of the website with Facebook, email and Twitter so that members may use their preferred media to keep up with what’s on, and discuss and comment on Facebook if they wish to.
- A weekly cycle of news on email, so that people expect to get updates on Fridays and can plan ahead.
- 15 months ago the committee decided to survey the whole membership to ascertain what they wanted the District to do, and what events they preferred to attend.
- The questionnaire was created by 3 ringers with professional experience in the area, and prototyped with the committee and one band. It was issued (on paper) at the AGM so that all present could see a presentation of the objectives of the exercise and filled in during practice nights. 85 were returned in time for processing from a membership of 220.
- A volunteer working party was formed to digest the findings of the questionnaire and tackle various financial problems at the same time.
- Meanwhile a new monthly weeknight practice was created to fill the need (highlighted in the questionnaire) for ringers who wanted to progress to Surprise Methods but who could not ring at one of the Surprise towers.
- The working party did the majority of its discussion via email and one meeting to finalise its recommendations.. These were debated carefully at the next 2 quarterly meetings and approved by the AGM.
- There was some sadness at the loss of the traditional quarterly meeting but it was understood that there simply is not the manpower to support two contrasting strands of activity throughout the year. We had no choice but to go for “Out with the old, in with the new”.
- A followup questionnaire is planned for 2015 to check the membership is happy with the new arrangements.
The relevance of this case study to these recommendations is that the integration of ALL the networks that people are already using (Paper posters in towers, AGMS, other business meetings, websites, email, Facebook and task-driven working parties) is essential to underpin any reasonably quick process of change. The change itself is effectively led by the membership being given a voice that those sitting on management committees take careful notice of, in this case by a questionnaire.
It is encouraging news that Council is working towards a survey of all ringers, however I would strongly urge them to simultaneously move towards using ALL networks in harmony to make sure people are informed and included.
Recommendations in more detail
That the members of Council be included in a discussion forum immediately, to enable them to speed up the process of debate between different committees and non-committee Council members, and to empower all Council members to share their expertise with each other, and move important projects forward, without hindrance.
In order to make this a reality is a short time, and given the fact that all council members are already members of an email group, it would seem fairly simple to provide a facility for comment, debate, and discussion within that existing group.
If there was a feeling that email was not fit for this purpose long term, the ICT committee could be charged with the task of reviewing alternatives and recommending a solution. Some discussion of this issue has already highlighted several names of ringers who are IT professionals with expertise in this area, who could help. (Jenny Holden, Doug Davies, Richard Grimlett, Andrew Instone-Cowie)
That Council should make much more use of consultation and discussion via a variety of networks as an engine for change and motivation. Currently too much emphasis is laid on announcements, proposals, and committee and Council meeting process, which are failing to reach and motivate grass roots ringers.
Recent signs of change include Kate Flavell (previous president of CC and now chair of the PR committee) and Elva Ainsworth (Ringing Trends Committee and Admin Committee) answering questions about Council’s past activity in FB_Bellringers [zz]; Chris Mew then writing to Ringing World to outline this year’s for regional advisors plan by Council.
Chris Mew (President) has been invited to join FB_Bellringers on several occasions and I would recommend he accepts. This would enable him to comment in person in future.
That Council should move towards a contemporary understanding of communications – that individuals communicate in a variety of ways and are influenced by of a great number of factors, so that effective leadership has to include sophisticated, interactive, cross-media communication.
Currently, news from Council is scattered between Ringing World, the CCCBR website, email lists, and Facebook interactions. There have been several calls recently for news to be extracted in more concise form and then re-shared in a public forum which people could subscribe to and keep up with, with less investment of time.
All of us are busy as we are at least trying to provide meaningful support to our own bands and/or trying to improve our own skills.
The sharing of ideas between platforms is greatly facilitated by a blog type of website (as they are easy to add to and interact well with Facebook, email and twitter). The challenges involved with creating such a website are not really technical (that side is relatively easy these days) it is around manpower and editorial effort, which might be best shared among a number of different interested parties. Such a news site would sit very well alongside Ringing World, which is a paper version of a similar concept.
Also it would be constructive if old beliefs such as “It’s on the website so everyone is now signed up to it” and “I’ll publish it in Ringing World so everyone will know” need to be humbly laid aside – Council needs to ask Grass Roots ringers, members of local association committees, etc, whether or not they have been influenced by communications.
If Council would take on board these three recommendations then it is likely that its current desire for change and the great efforts being made would be far more likely to succeed, to the great benefit of current and future generations of ringers.
The last word goes to the editor of Grazia, a magazine for women aged 25-44, which on its 10th birthday conducted a survey of its readership to find out how their lives had changed in the last decade:
The effects of [Digital and social media] have been huge. When we launched [Grazia magazine in 2005], Twitter didn’t exist, we were all on Friends Reunited not Facebook and I think the old way of networking to get the things that you wanted… it was quite an old boy’s club. Networks are everywhere now… you can find out information, you can create new ways of doing things. You can join forces with different people, people with the same aims as you….. Younger women are not watching TV or reading the newspapers any more. They are not even bothering with the structures that society has had for years [Victoria Hooper and others speaking on Woman’s Hour 26th February, start 36 minutes into podcast for full item]