Why is handbell ringing prospering?

There has been a lively discussion on Facebook about how to reverse the decline in the number of people ringing peals, in order to capitalise on the success of the 'FirstPeal2015' initiative (this was to get 300 people to ring their first peal in 2015).  In his analysis, Matthew Sorell indicated that handbell peal ringing was not suffering from the same dynamic, and in fact was thriving.  He is not the first to make this comment about the current state of handbell ringing. 

Certainly in Scotland, handbell ringing is in a growth phase:  the number of handbell peals rung for the Scottish Association in 2015 is already the highest number (10) and involves the most ringers (13) in the history of the association, beating the previous best year (which was 1985).  Additionally, there have been multiple handbell peals in the last seven successive years.  With the exception of the mid-1980s, which had a similar, but smaller, trend, there had usually been a long gap between handbell peals (source pealbase.co.uk)

Of course, it was about seven years ago that we formed our Albany Quadrant handbell band, which eventually created more opportunities for regular peal ringing.  But the growth in Scottish handbell ringing is much bigger than one band.  Seven years ago all the handbell peals were being rung in or around Edinburgh, with a mix of Edinburgh and Fife-based ringers, and that was really the only area where there was reasonably regular handbell ringing.  Cycle forward and there are regular handbell practices or bands in Dundee, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Tulloch,  involving an increasing number of ringers year on year.

This growth is due to a number of factors, and here are some I think are significant:

  • Regular handbell days.   Our original purpose for starting the Scottish handbell days was because we knew that there were a lot of handbell ringers floating about and wanted to try to get them together, and possibly start some connections that would create new handbell bands.  There were a lot more handbell ringers than we thought, and meeting together on a regular basis has helped to create and consolidate handbell bands around Scotland.  They started as a chance to maximise ringing ability in one place, and now have evolved into something more like training opportunities, open to new as well as existing ringers.  We have three handbell events each year:  two in Glasgow, and one in Tulloch.  The opportunities for networking and positive reinforcement these events can offer cannot be underestimated.
  • Bringing handbells to Association events.  This is so easy to do, it simply involves sitting down with a couple of people and a set of handbells, and encouraging people to 'have a go'.  It is even better done in quite a public place where ringers can easily come and go.
  • Incorporating handbell ringing into training events.  This has often been an 'option' on Scottish Association training days, but latterly some handbell ringing has been incorporated into the course for all attenders, on the basis that ringing handbells can help improve ringing in tower.

All of these things help to create an atmosphere that is open, welcoming and easy for people to try handbell ringing.  It also helps to keep handbell ringers in touch, and share their experience, what they find difficult, where they need a little help.  This kind of communication makes it easier to draw on the handbell community to get help for specific projects or goals (like getting someone through a first peal).

It is also important to note that the growth in handbell ringing in Scotland is due to a combination of localised initiatives, supported and enhanced by activities of the Scottish Association.  Without both working together, the level of success would be much less.

After some years we are now closer than ever to achieving a critical mass of handbell ringers, and participation in handbell ringing.  This makes it possible to do more ringing with more people, ring more quarter peals, and ring more peals. 

And people are having fun, and this gets noticed and helps encourage more people to take part.  Several of us can trace a significant improvement in our execution in the bell tower to regular handbell ringing, and this gets noticed as well.

So this has just outlined some social things that have lowered the barriers to participation in handbell ringing in Scotland. There are a number of other factors which also help to increase participation in handbell ringing, but that is the subject of another blog post.




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2015 a record year for handbell peals

According to pealbase, there were 836 handbell peals rung in 2015, an all time record. 311 ringers rang at least one handbell peal. This is the highest since 1982, and not that far off the highest of 390 in 1972. The number of conductors is also up to 105, being the second highest ever (118 in 1972). All of this illustrates that handbell ringing is in a healthy growth phase. What is behind this growth? Well, apart from the clear efforts put in by a small number of individuals round the country to encourage people to progress through ringing days, quarter and peal attempts, I think by far the biggest factor is the availability of simulators to practice methods. Unlike towerbell bells, where once you have learnt the basics you can continually write out blue lines to prove that you know a method, homework for handbells has been notoriously difficult. You can't draw two lines simultaneously to show that you know how your two bells interact. When I was learning Surprise methods to ring on handbells long before simulators were available, I recited the positions of the pair to myself. For example, ringing the tenors to Yorkshire Surprise Major, I would say 7 & 8, 6 & 8, 5 & 7, 6 & 8, 5 & 7, 5 & 6, 5 & 6, 4 & 6, 3 & 5, 4 & 6, 3 & 5, 3 & 4, 3 & 4 , 2 & 4, 1 & 3 etc while swinging my arms to show which way round my bells were. This is so much easier with a simulator, as you can just swing your arms to ring along with it. I think most new handbell ringers are taking advantage of this, and enthusiasts are putting in lots of homework between practices. This pays off with accelerated progress to more advanced methods, fewer failures and a reduced likelihood of giving up through frustration.