As 2015 draws towards its close and most of our ringing is done, here are some personal reflections on the year almost over and the one to come.
This has been a big year for me because I took over as tower captain in the spring from Frank, who had guided the band very ably through the years since its founding in 2010 and recruited all of us who started after its original inception. I also began teaching basic bell handling and my first pupil is now at the point where she is ready to begin ringing with the band. I am grateful to Sian for her patience with an instructor who was having to learn just as quickly as she was! In fact my overall feelings are of gratitude to fellow band members for their support and the confidence they have had in me, particularly in view of my relative lack of experience. Of course the tower captain is only one part of the team and without Tricia, Trish and Dean there as secretary/treasurer, vice captain and steeple keeper it would have been a daunting task indeed.
One of the principle sources of concern earlier in the year was that we would lose two of our founding band members through ill health. Much to our collective relief (and theirs too, obviously!) they are both back ringing and the band now has ten members with Sian, who joined us in the autumn. Another of our ringers will need some time out following a planned operation early in 2016 but we hope and trust that she too will be able to carry on once she has had time to recuperate.
I think that looking back we can see that we have made good progress in our ringing during the year, and continue to improve. On a week-to-week basis this isn’t perhaps so obvious but as with many skills, long term progress is the result of countless small steps forward rather than a few huge leaps. We remain a happy and cohesive group with a strong ethos and an excellent record for our service ringing. I don’t think we have missed a service ring during 2015, though we have sometimes asked for support from our Dereham friends and occasionally rung on five bells. The band continues to have firm support from the rector, PCC and congregation, who appreciate our commitment to ringing for services.
So what of 2016? One of my big hopes is that we will be in a position to ring for all Sunday services rather than the 1st, 3rd and 5th as we do currently. This would mean a significant added commitment and will be a collective decision if and when it happens. Enlarging the band would reduce the number of occasions when we might need to ask for help from the Dereham band or consider ringing a reduced number of bells but I suspect that at some point we will want to just take the plunge and get on with it.
Whilst on the subject of enlarging the band I hope that we can recruit and train at least another two ringers during 2016. Ideally we will find individuals who are already well motivated and then give them maximum attention so that the initial training period is as short as possible. My experience both at Scarning and elsewhere is that learners are more likely to keep going if they can see significant progress week-to-week and are soon ringing as part of the band.
One of the difficulties we have had from the outset as a new band is that all of us were effectively learners and the expert help we need has come from outside. We have had unstinting help from a number of people but nevertheless our lack of experience makes it difficult to progress and for a new band to pull itself up by its own bootstraps, as the saying goes, is a monumental challenge. However we have several people who are in the process of taking the big step to ringing plain hunt by place rather than following a sequence of bells. With their continued enthusiasm and determination I think it is realistic by the end of 2016 to aim for them to be ringing plain hunt to a standard where they could ring treble for a method they aren’t familiar with. By this stage they would almost certainly be ringing plain bob doubles on the inside and be able, subject to the weight of the bell, to cover for an unknown method. If we can achieve this, which I am sure is possible, not only will it give great pleasure to those ringers and the rest of the band, it will also make it so much easier for more recent learners to progress smoothly and learn new skills.
To conclude with a more general comment, there is currently some debate about the future of our Western Branch of the NDA, and this is reflected in other branches and at the level of the NDA itself. It is proving difficult to fill vacant posts and to get people to come to meetings or participate in competitions and so on, and as I write the Western Branch lacks a ringing master, education officer and technical advisor, all key posts. There is concern that new ringers are not coming forward in sufficient numbers and we hear of towers where service ringing is now ‘by arrangement’ or not at all and others where practices are no longer a regular weekly fixture. This is not the place to discuss such matters in depth but nevertheless the solutions often lie in a ‘bottom up’ approach rather than a ‘top down’ one. At Scarning we can do our bit to influence things by increasing the size of the band, maintaining our excellent record for service ringing and regular practices and by ensuring that we always send a delegate or two to quarterly meetings.
2016 here we come!