District secretary's reports
It has been a very strange and frustrating year. The last Wisbech District practice on real bells was back in February 2020 at Walsoken. Then the first lockdown arrived and few of us realised how long it would be before ringing could resume. At the last count, very few towers have had any ringing. Not surprising, as most of the Wisbech District towers are small six bell towers, where the social distancing rules would not allow the ringing of more than three bells. Better than nothing, some of us thought, but many of our towers rely on ringers in an older age group who sensibly decided to be cautious. Then the churches were closed, and services remain limited even now. Some churches have not reopened for services, or the times have changed and ringers who serve more than one church are not able to fit in. To my knowledge as I write, only Watlington manages to ring three on a regular basis, and Wisbech and Walsoken have rung as often as services and ringers permit. Fincham had a band primed and ready for Remembrance Sunday … and then the second lockdown stopped that. We did have a practice ring before that, so it’s only two months since I rang a bell! I believe Wisbech St Mary have reinstated ringing on their Ellacombe apparatus, but their ringing chamber is very small. What has been heartening is the number of people who heard the bells, even in Fincham on the one day it was possible, and said how lovely it was to hear them again and how much the sound of bells is missed.
It has been disappointing that so few people in the District have been prepared to go online and use Ringing Room, the online platform which has allowed enthusiasts to keep in touch and to improve their method knowledge. No, it’s NOT the same as ‘proper’ ringing, but it has its uses and can be very good fun. It is important to keep bands together, especially if they are not used to ringing at more than one tower, and it has a social value. It also enables everyone to make progress at understanding and learning how methods work. Fincham has used it at least twice a week since early in the summer and I pay tribute to those who have stuck at it and become useful members of an online band. I hope they will soon be able to get back and revise their handling skills so that they can use the knowledge they have gained. Heather Dobson initiated two Wisbech District meetings online, and we welcomed Susan Saxby from Denver to those, plus some ringers from the King’s Lynn area. It would have been lovely to see more people giving it a go!
The Committee have met three times using Zoom, which was made possible using the paid Zoom account of the Ely DA. Thanks to the General Committee for setting this up and enabling its use by the Districts. The ADM was held on Zoom, which is easy to use.
By this time in January, I would usually have the current year’s programme in hand, with towers booked for every month. Everything is so uncertain that I haven’t done it this year. There will be a new Secretary when ringing resumes as I am not standing again, and I shall look forward to seeing the plans for resuming ringing. Please remember that if you are able to start ringing again, the bells need checking over after so long a standstill. I look forward to seeing most of you at future meetings, sometime in the future. Stay safe, don’t try to ring until it’s safe and you feel comfortable, but keep in touch.
Average attendance at meetings is approximately 17, slightly up on last year. This was boosted by good support of both striking competitions. Walsoken hosted the excellent RSS striking competition, which is a different format and drew 22 people to have a go and ring with different people. The method competition at Walpole St Peter was also well supported, with 4 teams and 24 entrants. Thanks go to our local judges, Anne and Heather, for their hard work on both occasions. The new ring at Elm also attracted a good attendance, although I think most of us would have welcomed some soundproofing!
The ADM in 2019 decided that Wisbech District would enter a team in the Ely DA 8 bell striking competition in May 2020, and various practices have been held to encourage more people to ring on 8 bells. Downham Market and Wisbech both host regular practices, but it’s not easy to get all the aspiring ringers together and I don’t envy Heather her job in selecting a team.
The committee has met three times during the past year. Thanks to the members of the committee for all their hard work and also to the President for his drive and enthusiasm.
Ringing in the District suffers from the geographical constraints of the area, but there are pockets of hope and enthusiasm. It would be good to see the outlying towers more engaged in local practices, but we are all fully committed in our local areas. ‘We need to encourage more people to visit towers with more advanced ringing, so that the expertise can be passed on. The knowledge and experience present in the District must not be lost and we must continue to encourage ringers of all abilities and experience to develop and enjoy their ringing. But it needs work on both sides, and a willingness to step out of the comfort zone and travel to other towers. There are mixed opinions on the value of ringing quarter peals, but we can’t do it unless more people come forward to attempt to call them’ This was what I said last year and I’m deliberately repeating it.
A mixed year again. Average attendance hasn’t changed much, but changes to the programme are reflected in part. Instead of an October meeting, we were hosts to the Ely DA for the special October event. This involved a great deal of work from Bob and his team, opening local towers, providing a quiz and ending at Wisbech, where Martin had organised tea with the Wisbech St Mary ringers doing a fine job. It was disappointing to receive very little support from the District as a whole, with very few of the Ely DA committee attending. Our thanks are due to those who did, and to Alan Winter, who stood in for the ringing master and rang the Wisbech ringing.
There were some changes in the programme this year, as we tried new ways of holding striking competitions. The non-method programme, held at Walsoken, seemed to be very successful and enjoyed by all who took part. Thirty nine people were recorded as attending, representing seven towers. This left the method section to stand alone and it took place at Magdalen, with four teams, more teams than we’d had for some time, and twenty participants. It was an encouraging start to a new format, which allowed more towers to share ringers, as few towers in the District can muster a full team themselves. On both occasions, the judges were Anne Carpenter and Heather Dobson, and we must thank them for their time and the positive attitude they showed to sometimes struggling ringers.
The June meeting was the annual outing, which went over to the Whaplode side of the District and gave everyone a chance to ring at a new tower or two. (Whaplode, Long Sutton, Spalding, Gedney Hill and Gedney. Thanks to those who organised this.) Attendance at other meetings was often disappointing. However, it was particularly encouraging to see two new ringers from Walsoken make the effort to travel into ‘new’ country and ring at Northwold. We really need to have more people doing this. There is ringing for everyone at every meeting, but there need to be enough ringers to allow all levels of ringing that we can manage. One short of a major band is not very useful.
Ringing development in the early stages continues strongly under Bob’s enthusiastic tuition, and the committee were pleased to nominate him for an ART award for recruitment and retention. We need to encourage more people to visit towers with more advanced ringing, so that the expertise can be passed on. The knowledge and experience present in the District must not be lost and we must continue to encourage ringers of all abilities and experience to develop and enjoy their ringing. But it needs work on both sides, and a willingness to step out of the comfort zone and travel to other towers. There are mixed opinions on the value of ringing quarter peals, but we can’t do it unless more people come forward to attempt to call them.
It’s been a mixed year. Average attendance at meetings has been a little over 17, boosted by the regular help from visitors from the other Districts. Three extra meetings were held, the ‘Ring Something Simple’ events for less experienced ringers, or those who do not want to ring more than Plain Hunt and Call Changes, in an attempt to encourage them to come to regular meetings. These meetings were successful, but have not resulted in many of the less experienced ringers coming to general meetings. Those who have found the experience useful and less terrifying than they had expected! The geographical problems of the District, with small bands scattered across wide areas, does not help. There are two main focuses in the District: Shouldham and Fincham in the East and Walsoken in the West/Central, where both handling and method ringing to surprise minor level are encouraged. These areas are more than twenty miles apart, across fenland where roads and lighting are a problem. There aren’t really many opportunities for those who wish to progress to go to other practices on a regular basis, but this is what new ringers need. People who can ring methods, and want to progress, need to travel and share the bands and experience in other towers.
The experiment with four Ringing Masters has been interesting. Now that a year has passed, more communication and partnership between the new Ringing Masters should be evident, to everyone’s benefit, as they realise the problems and the benefits. We rarely see quarter peals rung in this District, as so few people are capable of calling them. More help is needed here.
We had a successful outing in June, organised by Brian Hullah, and the two learners who came found it gave them great opportunities for practice and encouragement. The striking competition was cancelled because of the lack of support which had not been expressed earlier when the programme was agreed. I found this extremely disappointing and short sighted, but on the plus side we had a useful and well organised practice at Shouldham. One member who doesn’t usually come to meetings was extremely pleased to do something a little out of her comfort zone with more experienced ringers! There are plans for a slightly different format to the striking competition in 2018. The Wisbech District entered the Ely DA 8 bell striking competition again, at Meldreth. We didn’t win! But we found the experience enjoyable and worthwhile and an aid to our progress, and I fully expect the District to enter again in 2018. We can work towards winning in a few years’ time, and benefit from the experience, instead of just opting out. It would be good to have a regular 8 bell method practice in the District. Taking part and learning is what matters.
The new President, Bob Cox, is tirelessly working for the ringing development in the District and is to be commended for his enthusiasm. We don’t always agree, but have developed an understanding! The knowledge and experience present in the District must not be lost and we must continue to encourage ringers of all abilities and experience to develop and enjoy their ringing. But it needs work on both sides, and a willingness to step out of the comfort zone and travel to other towers.
Once again, I’ve analysed the attendance records at the meetings of the District during 2016. Over all twelve meetings the average attendance was 16.2, including the regular and much valued attendance of one or two visitors from the Ely District. However, if you take out the attendance at the District striking competition in September, the figure drops to 14.4. We had an astonishing 36 people attending the competition in September, which was marvellous. Where are these ringers for the rest of the year? Was it the timing of the ringing, which started at 6 pm, or the constant nagging from me to encourage towers to enter? The bells were good and the welcome and refreshments excellent, but this applies to other towers as well. During the winter we ring at 3 pm and in the summer we go back to 7 pm. Is the membership saying that 6pm would be preferable?
It's usually the same towers that support the meetings, but the others are missing out. Perhaps they are scared of being out of their depth with strange bells and strange people, but the Ringing Master has always made great efforts to provide ringing at every level for those who come to the meetings. If all the District members attended it would be too many, but it would be very good to see more people over the course of the year and enable more people to ring things they can’t ring in their own tower. Our District does not have the clusters of towers that occur in the other districts and we have to travel quite long distances to get more ringing if we want it. The meetings offer an opportunity to overcome the handicaps of low numbers and distance. It has been good to see Walsoken beginning to develop as an active teaching tower.
The outing was once again organised by Anne Carpenter and Prue Lester and visited the towers of the NDA Southern District. Once again, we were even fewer than usual, which limited what we could ring. In one tower we were a minor part of their village fete, which was slightly off-putting but may have interested visitors who were not familiar with the exercise. Anne and Prue put a lot of work into the outing and it would have been great to have received more support from the members.
During the year a variety of courses have been arranged. Anne Carpenter organised several sessions to teach Plain Hunt, and it would be good to see the students at District meetings to consolidate this teaching. In May, the District organised the EDA AGM at Terrington St Clement. We were congratulated on the arrangements and the refreshments. Wisbech District entered the EDA 8 bell striking competition for the first time in many years and were warmly welcomed by the other Districts. Refreshments have been provided several times this year by the ringers at Wisbech St Mary and we must record our thanks to them for a marvellous job. They actually say they like doing it! In the second part of the year we had help from the Ely District in running an extra 8 bell practice, from which arose the course on Stedman Doubles and Triples held in October by Alan Winter. Several members of the District have attended courses and also gone for private practice at Stretham Ringing Centre, which is recommended to you all. It’s possible to ask for help that suits you as an individual or your tower band as a group. It would be good to see our District making good use of the facilities and expertise on hand.
At the ADM, some officers who have served the District faithfully for many years stood down. Brian Hullah has been both joint RM and President for many years and Anne Carpenter has been an energetic and enthusiastic RM for many years as well. We owe them a debt of gratitude as a District and hope to see them both at meetings in the future.