It was a damp, grey September evening, not so very different from the 10 Bell Striking Competition day in November 2019, when we were at last able to present the certificates to the winning bands.
Then we were still permitted to meet outside in groups of fewer than 30 and Stuart’s garden and capacious carport provided the ideal venue, despite his home not being included on Dove so that one or two ringers got, just a little bit, off course and had to be guided in.
However, once assembled, there were smiles all round as all the ringers in the winning Reading Branch band, and a good representation from EBSB and Sonning Deanery enjoyed a socially distanced evening together with pizza, chocolate brownies and beer.
Just for a short while it felt comfortingly like normal and it was such a pleasure to see familiar life-sized faces (and bodies)!
A special thank you to Stuart and Naomi Gibson for their hospitality, food beer and sanitising station!
75 years on, in the midst of the pandemic, some ODG ringers were able to mark the courage of the heroic soldiers, sailors and airmen who witnessed so much cruelty and death in Burma.
Several years after my father had died, I turned on the television and caught a few seconds grainy film of marching British soldiers, rifles, shorts, water bottles, slouch hats; the young man at the front was unmistakably my father, smiling and waving at the camera, at me…..and then he was gone.
He would never talk about his experiences, he never permitted me to watch ‘Bridge Over the River Kwai’ all he would say was that too many of his Sapper friends died there.
So, now that there is a little limited ringing permitted, I felt compelled to acknowledge his courage and asked Long Crendon Tower Captain, Andrew Haseldine, if there was a possibility that we could ring for VJ Day. The vicar was consulted, and careful preparations were made so that we complied with Covid 19 guidance. We are fortunate, the ringing room is large and airy, we have more than one family group and so we were able to ring eight bells for 15 minutes.
For many, VE Day was the most significant acknowledgement that War was over; for me and Kay Bartholomew whose father also served in Burma, VJ day was momentous.
Joseph Conan Snow – Bombay Sapper and Miner
Sydney Mumford – Oxford and Buckinghamshire Regiment
The picture shows the Long Crendon band, suitably attired for the event. It was hot and stuffy ringing but worth the effort to be appreciated by the village:
Thank you all very much for jumping through the various ‘hoops’ and ringing this morning. What a joy to hear the bells again after such a long time. You don’t realise how much you take things like bells for granted, until suddenly, they are not there. The horrible eerie silence at 10.00hrs each Sunday, the silent Thursday evenings …… Here’s hoping ringing is back again, not just for VJ Day.
We had a good meeting with Mark Betson of the CoE Recovery Group this after (Mark Regan, Phil Barnes and me). We agreed in principle that our guidance could be amended to reduce distance between ropes to 1m with mitigations, i.e. face coverings in our case. We will need to adopt some form or tracing procedure in case of a ringer testing positive for COVID after ringing, which is made easier by us knowing who we ring with. (Note that any guidance on social distancing in countries other than England will override this 1m rule – it can only be applicable in England because 1m is in overall UK government guidance.) We further agreed to develop a roadmap for more localised decision making based on differences in tower settings (ground floor, balconies, large ringing chambers etc) and geographical areas, bearing in mind that local restrictions might get increased as may be about to happen in Birmingham. This would use the widely used five level COVID scale. We will also discussed the use of simulators for practice in church settings, and ringing for longer periods by members of a single household, both of which were agreed in principle. We have to provide a tracked change version of our amended guidance for approval now. Mark said that such changes do not need to be referred to PHE provided we are not seeking permission to do something that is outside overall government guidance (which we are not). I am not going to give a timetable for revised approval but intend to have revised draft guidance with them early next week. We have also had false dawns before so please stay patient. We were only able to meet Mark as his colleague Brendan was away, but hopefully they will be of one mind. Ringing should be in accordance with current guidance for now, which is otherwise unchanged this week.
Four months have passed since lockdown silenced our towers, four months in which much has happened and, simultaneously, very little.
We are making small steps to returning to ringing, but certainly not as before. There are still copious guidelines to be followed including restricting the number of ringers in a tower to comply with social distancing requirements, the length of time we can ring and the need to take many precautions to keep other ringers safe from viral contamination. All the details can be found on the Latest News drop down on our website home page. Please read the information, consult with the priest in charge too, because they may not be familiar with the guidance for bell ringers and it is their responsibility to ensure the safety of church workers.
Enough of the gloom! For, as we expected, ringers are energetic, enthusiastic and inventive. The plethora of handbells and Ringing Room activity has honed skills and continues to develop an eclectic range of entertainment. These are the ringers who will return to church bell ringing with the energy and probably enhanced skills – well done to everyone!
There are also many ringers who, for different reasons have not embarked upon such projects and are waiting, quietly, until they can return to the ringing room to take hold of the sally and be rewarded by that glorious, resonant sound that has summoned worshippers for centuries and cannot ever be confused with handbells or simulation. (Yes, I am putting my hand up and admitting my preferences; this will come as no surprise to those of you reading this who know me well – please do not resort to grumpy emails because I support you all and remain in considerable awe of everyone who can ring two bells at once. And my mobile ring tone is Little Bob 20 in hand, so it can’t all be bad.)
Sadly, and inevitably, there will be bands where ringers will not return; the habit may be broken, interest declined, other activities prioritised. The ODG has an ageing membership and many weeks of inactivity may have an impact on physical abilities and so prohibit further ringing.
The future for the Church and State remains unclear; we have unknown obstacles to overcome, ringing will return to different towers at different rates. I believe some good must come out of these exceptional circumstances; so, let us make sure we provide support, encouragement and guidance to one another as we work together to rebuild our ancient art and historic culture. There will come a time when we can reunite and I am certainly looking forward to that day.
On Tuesday 14th July, a number of changes will be made to the Guild website. No downtime is anticipated, but you may find things look a little different. Please be patient with us while we make these changes. If you have any questions, please contact the webmaster.
The following update has been received from Simon Linford, CCCBR President
Although it has not been finally signed off, all indications are that the PHE guidance is based on the Central Council guidance notes which have been amended a little. We have been working towards final drafts which have been submitted to PHE for approval. On balance the result of the review and associated negotiation has been positive, although there is no sign that they will be looking to relax the guidance in the short term. Note this is Church of England guidance specifically, but the guidance on ringing generally should be interpreted in local context.
The Church of England Recovery Group are happy with the revised guidance, particularly now that there has been dialogue with PHE. Whereas a week ago they said “we would really prefer it if you didn’t ring” they are no longer saying that. Unless between now and tomorrow PHE come back negatively, and that does look unlikely, ringing in accordance with the CC guidance now has the Church’s blessing. No one is telling anyone they cannot ring provided it is in accordance with the guidance.
There is a significant relaxation in terms of the distance between adjacent bells that fall in a straight line. That suggestion actually came from the PHE themselves. One proposed change that we have resisted is for the ‘two household’ rule to be applied, on the grounds that is it not being applied to churches generally. There is still a chance that PHE will want that in, but as things stand they haven’t.
The guidance notes will now get published in line with the final drafts submitted to PHE. Once these have been uploaded to the website, I am busy for the rest of the day. Phil Barnes is also busy with the Kent County Association AGM. The guidance will not therefore be looked at again before Monday, it at all.
The principal changes that have been made are:
2. Making your tower as safe as possible
The minimum distance between ropes has been reduced to 1.5m for ropes that are in a straight line, as long as ringers are facing forwards and the ringers opposite are at least 2m away.
Perspex screens are not approved
All surfaces to be cleaned regularly
The notes about Perspex screens and 15 minutes only being a start have been deleted
4. Running safe ringing sessions
A comment about ringing the minimum number of bells that are ‘appropriate for the occasion’
Clarification that members of the same household can ring adjacent bells, plus the 1.5m for ringers facing forward is reiterated
Increase ventilation as much as possible
5. Can I go ringing safely
Clarification re ringers who have already had Covid-19
Clarification on why you shouldn’t touch your face
Additional note about not raising your voice (conductors note!)
Note about arriving on time and not hanging around
We had a further update from the Church of England Recovery Group last night that Public Health England (PHE) now wants to issue specific guidance about bell ringing but they will not be able to publish it until next week. They expect it to be based on what we have produced. Although the Church has published guidance, which we shared, they are understandably nervous about ringing this weekend in advance of PHE publication, especially if it gets into the press.
We had a conference call with Brendan McCarthy and Mark Betson of the Recovery Group this morning and whilst they stressed that anything published is guidance not instruction, they would really appreciate us waiting to restart ringing until after the PHE guidance is published. Given this is a new relationship that could be very important to us, we do not want to rock this boat for the sake of a week and some disappointment.
In the meantime, we have accumulated all of the questions we have received from ringers on the current guidance into a set of FAQs which we have publish on the website. This will include such things as why the guidance is still 2m rather than 1m, and whether family members can ring on adjacent bells. That can be found here: