The Council has launched a major initiative to plan for the future of ringing, setting 2030 as a target for bringing about change needed to make sure ringing grows and thrives in the future. This is the text of part of the Forward Plan I delivered to the Central Council AGM on behalf of the Executive.
“Last year I talked about a lot of detailed strategies and actions. This year I want to talk more about the bigger picture of where we need to be going. Last year we were talking about Covid recovery, but while we have largely moved on, the pandemic exposed the fragility of ringing, the effect of losing critical mass, and how that starts to make people do things differently. While there are pockets of great progress, there are many towers, districts, branches, or even associations struggling with numbers, and not seeing young ringers come through.
It is not as though we didn’t see this coming. We have been ignoring trends for years and now the demographic time bomb of ringing is ticking loudly. The current ringing population grew from a base of young ringers that was probably five times what we have now. The pipeline needs strengthening.
So we’re going to embark on a project tentatively called ‘Ringing 2030’. It’s a working title, but sometimes working titles just catch on.
We need to start thinking about what we want ringing to be like in 2030 and how we get there. If you roll forward the current demographic profile of ringing 20 years, keeping recruitment as it is, there won’t be that many active ringers – many ringers now are over 60, and too few are under 25.
What will members of the Young Change Ringers Association want ringing to be like when they are in charge of it? Will they want to be members of our associations in their current form or will they have developed something different? The CRAG reforms asked us to consider a Direct Membership Organisation or ‘DMO’, but it’s not clear how we get there. But we’ve been told that’s no excuse not to try. Maybe it will just take quite a while to achieve. There does need to be something that delivers local organisation but what we have now is not working for everyone.
We are going to be discussing this at our Executive and Workgroup Leaders meeting in November after which we will come up with more of a project plan, guided by much consultation. It will probably need a large team – maybe as many as 30 people looking at multiple strands of what might change. I have spoken to two people this morning who I think will be on that team. It will also need buy in from all societies.
And for those of you with long memories who are yawning at this point and saying “we’ve been here before” – yes, we have. That’s the problem! Elva Ainsworth and Alison Hodge circulated a paper in 2013 called “A glimpse of ringing in 2024”. It was good. What happened? Nothing.
This time we need to do it. We REALLY need to do it.”
I went on to talk about branding and marketing of ringing as one of a number of projects which are all broadly to do with the development of ringing and which will form part of ‘Ringing 2030’. The rest of this article is developed from my words at the Council meeting.
We will not recruit the next generation of ringers with what we have now. Whether you describe ringing as a hobby, pastime, service, or performing art, ringing is in competition with other activities and attractions. We do not get the ringing message to very many of the people who would make good ringers. Since I was recruited to the belfry from the choir stalls, ringing has served me well, and vice versa. However, if I was a 13 year old now I don’t think I would have heard about ringing, which would have been a great shame.
How ringing is described and marketed needs to change and we have already started that part of the project by getting a team together with experience in marketing. There is a lot of professional expertise in our ranks! However, we think the project also needs external branding and marketing expertise, and after a competitive tendering and assessment process we have appointed a marketing agency called Yellowyoyo, paid for by the Central Council. (Don’t dismiss marketing agencies because they have silly names!)
The team spent quite some time writing a brief for the agencies, which was quite a challenge in itself. As part of their preparation for interview the agencies researched ringing and it was interesting to hear their first impressions: “It’s very disjointed isn’t it?”
The Council’s Strategic Priorities talk of developing pipelines of potential recruits, which comes from ongoing marketing. One-off recruitment campaigns, for instance calls to use the King’s Coronation next year as a focus, are great, but they are sticking plasters really because we need that sort of level of recruitment every year, and to do that there needs to be a steady supply of people wanting to learn to ring without us searching for them. Then those potential recruits need to find a place to learn to ring where they will be taught well, and then not have their aspirations dampened by a poor ringing experience which does not deliver what was promised. To do that will need a lot of things to be less “disjointed”.
Ringing 2030 is not just about how we grow the number of ringers and continue ringing’s development, although that is an important starting point. There are lots of other thing about ringing which many ringers realise are outdated or sub-optimal, but inertia prevents change.
Towards the end of lockdown the Council ran a series of about 15 consultation sessions with a dozen or so attendees in each. Ostensibly these were to help us deal with three outstanding CRAG matters – a DMO, the size of the Council, and the branding of the Council, but unsurprisingly they all diverged into wider ranging discussions on the state of ringing, the effectiveness of territorial associations, and branding and marketing of ringing generally. A couple of those sessions were with young ringers and directly led to the formation of the YCRA.
Those were very useful discussions and we will go back over all these notes we made as they are all relevant to what we are starting to discuss now. For instance I introduced an alternative model for financing ringing via a direct membership organisation including at least a digital Ringing World that was part of the package for every ringer, something that has been discussed recently on the old change ringers email list.
If you have not already subscribed to the Ringing Forums I encourage you to do so. The posting of my last Blog led to an extensive and fascinating discussion on the prospect of Ringing 2030, including a debate on what people get out of ringing, whether a sense of duty is ebbing away, and whether Victorian Belfry Reform was a good or bad thing, There will be many ways to contribute to this debate, through the pages of the Ringing World, the Ringing Forums, or other focus groups that will no doubt be established to debate all the different facets of Ringing 2030.
If we are successful in improving the marketing of ringing, teaching more teachers, and training more ringers, then my ‘back of the envelope’ calculation shows that by 2030 more than half of the ringing population could be people we are yet to teach. There is the opportunity to recruit all these ringers into something different, or at least into something that clearly wants to change and has a plan to do so.