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There are many ringing societies in this country, most following territorial boundaries. The Oxford Diocesan Guild to which our ringers belong is no exception. In fact it is the largest guild in the country, with fifteen branches, (of which Sonning Deanery is one) and over two thousand members, from nearly 350 towers. As you may imagine, this size does lead to some problems, but it also has its advantages. The Guild is large enough to run an annual residential training course. Running the course is a considerable undertaking. It is held every September at Easthampstead Park and so many members of this deanery, including All Saint’s ringers are involved.
Apart from administering a weekend course for about fifty students, a similar number of ‘helpers’ have to be found. This may sees strange without a little explanation. There are eight separate course groups, catering far ringers at all levels of ability from the most basic, to those seeking leadership skills, and each is run by an experienced tutor. Although there is a some classroom work, the courses are mostly practical. That means they do a lot of ringing, (about eighty hours on tower bells between all the courses). To spread the load, this is spread over about forty towers within travelling distance of the Park. If all the students in a group practised at once, they would not progress very well, since they would fall foul of one another’s mistakes. This is where the helpers come in. They are experienced ringers who ring with the students to provide stability in the band. It also helps if there is someone to stand with each student to give help and advice while the ringing progresses.
This effective one to one student teacher ratio means that good bellringing training involves an enormous investment in man hours, far more so than in most other comparable activities. In the context of the Easthampstead course, it means that large numbers of local ringers and quite a few from further afield, give up most of their weekend to help those from all over the Diocese whose opportunity to progress at home may be limited in some way, and who come on the course to learn skills which they can then take back to their home tower.
Apart from the serious side of the proceedings, the evenings are packed with talks on many topics, handbell ringing and singing. Some even find tine to patronise the bar, and even to get to know members of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade course who always appear on the same weekend and share everything from the meals to the Sunday morning service.
It would be a dry course if the only benefit were what is taught, and this one is no exception. For the younger ones, it may be a weekend away from home learning from and exchanging ideas with ringers from ether churches. For older hands an a ‘refresher course’ it may be an opportunity to take stock, not only of their ringing, but of their attitudes to their achievements and to the achievements, (or lack of them) in others.
We at All Saints have never sent any students on the course, but then we are fortunate enough to have an active and committed band able to train our own ringers to a high standard. But ‘tis more blessed to give than to receive’, and we have for many years supported the course. We are one of the closest towers, and because of our very effective sound control, we are able to allow much more ringing time to them than most. Last, but by no means least, we give our time, though it is hardly giving, since by meeting and helping the students, by sharing their work, their meals and their evenings, we also learn; and we enjoy it too.
John Harrison (Oct 1986)
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