Review of the Central Council Part 4: What people say about the Central Council and some suggestions for the future
The original pdf may be found here for those unable to use Scribd or who wish to download the file
In this article I shall outline the very helpful feedback that CRAG received in response to the draft Vision and Mission statements that we published in The Ringing World and elsewhere in the autumn.
122 responses were received in total. While this may seem a small number given the number of ringers and even the number of subscribers to The Ringing World, the breadth and quality of comment has been very good. A number of themes have emerged in the feedback (and from the other submissions) some of which have encouraged the members of CRAG to press on working up some proposals whilst other responses have made us modify others. Most importantly we have stimulated a lot of thought and debate about the state of ringing and what a central body could and should be doing about it. So while the sample size is small, there is a great deal of concordance between the group on what the main issues are, even if the points of view are in some cases quite different!
A small subgroup of CRAG, led by Clyde Whittaker, analysed the responses to both the Vision and Mission statements and then proposed changes to the whole group.
Basic numbers / facts
Of the 66 responses received:
The draft Mission statement that was published in October had been revised in the light of comments on the Vision – principally those that felt the Vision lacked detail.
We received 56 responses in relation to the Mission statement, many of which were extremely detailed (the total number of words in the responses was over 16,000, summarised in the word cloud attached to this article). Of these responses:
The remainder expressed either concerns over specific Mission objectives, or (frequently very helpful) suggestions on strategies which a central body might use to achieve them
Specific themes and concerns
A number of themes and concerns were raised by a significant proportion of responders.
Relationship with the church
In the 13 responses to the Vision opinion was divided about whether the reference to “service to [community and] church” was too weak (8) or too strong (5). The major concern expressed by those who felt it was too strong was that they felt there was clear evidence that the association between ringing and religion impacted negatively on recruitment.
The draft Mission statement did not make any specific reference to the church and 12 additional respondents noted this as a major concern. While some expressed that they themselves rang for the Glory of God, the majority of responses expressed a more general and pragmatic issue that ringers needed a central body that established a strong and close relationship with the church at a senior level providing the ability to collaborate and influence decision-making. This, in my opinion, will require a more equal relationship based on mutual respect than that implicit in the Belfry Reform movement that gave rise to many ringing Guilds and Associations and to the Central Council. Put simply a 21st rather than 19thcentury relationship.
We have taken these points into account and have made a number of changes to define the leadership role of the central body more clearly, particularly its work to forge strong and modern relationships with the church and other external organisations.
Ringing as Sport
This was mentioned only in response to the draft Vision where six people felt forcefully that it should refer to ringing as a sport. I am sure that had we included “sport” as one of the characteristics of ringing then some respondents might have disagreed. In most cases the respondent gave the possibility of securing additional funding as a key reason for doing so.
Our conclusion is that whilst the vast amount of ringing as currently performed does not have a competitive element, striking competitions could certainly be classified as a sport, which is defined as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”
We do not believe anything in the Vision statement would prevent the promotion of certain ringing activities as a sport in order to achieve key funding objectives.
However, we felt that the Vision statement needs to restrict itself as far as possible to those over-arching features that make ringing unique and are valued by ringers and public alike wherever ringing is performed. For this reason, we do not believe reference to ringing as a Sport in the Vision statement is a fundamental issue that concerns the Central Council review. It is a promotional strategy that the future Central Council may associate with certain types of ringing in future in order to gain additional project funding or if it appears to be a useful hook for recruiting.
The relative roles of ringing societies and the Central Council
7 responses to the Mission were concerned that there was overlap between the Mission for a central body and the role of ringing associations, although there was some considerable differences of opinion as to the extent to which ringing associations are currently the problem or the solution.
The health and functioning of the various ringing societies that are affiliated to the Central Council (and indeed those that are not affiliated) is outside the scope of CRAG’s work and we feel that the diverse range of societies on the ground makes a ‘one size fits all’ approach impractical. We have therefore revised the preamble to the Mission Statement to refer explicitly to ringing societies as partners of the Central Council, but have concluded that the Mission statement should not be over-prescriptive as to the precise form which this partnership should take.
We would however strongly encourage all ringing societies to examine critically whether they are currently truly fit for purpose in the ringing and more general social environment of 2017 and beyond. Sadly, I suspect many are not.
There were a number of respondents who commented that a central body should have a role in developing new leaders within ringing – at all levels from tower officials to society and perhaps even Council officers. Advice on non-ringing aspects of leadership and management such as compliance and governance were thought to be important here.
Pursuit of excellence
In the response to the Vision, eight people in some way mentioned the question of excellence in ringing. This was not stated in the form of elitism, but rather that ringing is almost always a very public performance and yet we do not always see it as such and poor standards of striking are tolerated. Several of these respondents linked this with the problems of continuing development and retention of newly trained ringers. We made some changes to the draft Mission before publication as a result of these comments and feel that they are such an important part of the analysis of the current state of ringing that we hope to publish a separate article based upon one of them.
Other comments received including some about the importance of promotion or marketing of ringing to the general public, better communications between the Central Council and ordinary ringers and the need for a very slick public relations and communications operation. These are likely to require funding and indeed the funding of ringing and of a central body was also mentioned by some respondents.
These are important and will be discussed in an article in the New Year that will focus on the written submissions we received, which inevitably focus on the current Central Council and how it might be modernised and improved.
Revised Vision and Mission Statements
We have re-structured the proposed Vision for ringing to simplify and to improve the grammatical structure and flow. It now reads: -
“A vibrant and inclusive community of ringers with bell ringing widely valued as an enjoyable mental & physical exercise and unique performing art that enhances the life of both community and church.”
In relation to the Mission statement we have taken on board the very helpful advice about how complex the statement had become by providing a list of activities that a central ringing body might provide or secure from other bodies. These have been revised as a list of “activities” and we have therefore entirely revised the proposed Mission of a central ringing body to read: -
“To be the strategic leader and public voice of the ringing community, the arbiter of standards; and to promote an environment where ringing can flourish”
In the New Year we will be publishing a summary of some of the feedback about how people see the Central Council and what they have suggested might make a good central body for ringing. We will also outline our suggestions for how a future central ringing body might be structured to lead and support ringing and ringers most effectively.
At that point, in mid-January we shall be launching an online survey to get feedback from as many ringers as possible on our suggestions. This should be open from January 14th and we will be publicising widely how to take the survey. Please tell as many other ringers as possible and especially those who may not see the Ringing World or get regular communications from their Guild or Association and encourage them to take part too.
In my last article I outlined the background to the review of the Central Council and the work that CRAG (the Council Review Action Group) was undertaking in order to advise the Central Council on how it might change and modernise in order to serve ringers better.
At the time of writing we have had just over 50 responses of which about two-thirds were in total or general agreement with what was proposed as a vision for ringing. About ten per cent of respondents felt that a Vision was unnecessary and that CRAG should simply have proposed reforms to the Central Council. A number were disappointed that there was no mention of ringing as a sport, while a few others (all from the UK) felt that the church should have featured more prominently. While both of these viewpoints were from a small minority it is clear that any central body (or bodies) that exist to support ringing in the future will need to understand and accommodate both points of view.
The services we need
Having consulted on the proposed Vision for ringing, we wish now to present our outline suggestions for what needs to be done centrally to support and develop ringing. We describe below these as an outline Mission Statement for a central body.
I would stress two things at this point. First, that we have an open mind whether all of these services would need to be delivered by the reformed Central Council. Second, the list below is an outline list. For example, we don’t seek to describe each and every type of publication or software that a central body (or bodies) should produce.
Suggested Mission for a central ringing body
“To promote the Vision for Ringing through the provision of the following services, either directly or through links with others: -
Maintaining strategic oversight to ensure that bell-ringing continues to flourish and responds pro-actively to external challenges.
Promoting bell-ringing as an attractive, inclusive and worthwhile pursuit.
Supporting the spread of ringing amongst those groups of people and countries where it is under-represented.
Representing the interests of ringing and ringers to external stakeholders, media and others outside the bell-ringing community.
Communication & Cohesion
Facilitating communication and cohesion amongst ringers and bell-ringing societies to assist ringers in supporting each other and achieving their ringing objectives.
Providing support to those recruiting new ringers at all levels and using its efforts to foster the continuing recruitment of ringers.
Promoting the development of ringing skills at all levels so that each ringer has the opportunity to progress as far as their ambitions and talents allow.
Encouraging and advising on sources of funding, expertise and resources necessary to support the training of ringers and the availability of places to ring.
Sharing, promoting and advising on best practice relating to the repair, maintenance and improvement of bell installations and training facilities.
Consulting on and recommending technical standards in ringing, maintaining records as necessary to uphold these standards.
Securing the maintenance of historic records, publications and artefacts relating to ringing which will be of value to current and future generations.
Encouraging research and innovation in the advancement of ringing; its methodologies, tools and technologies.
There may well be things that you think are important that we have missed. Please let us know in your feedback. You may also have strong views on which things the Council / central body should or should not do itself. We would be interested in these views too so, once again, please provide us with feedback.
Have your say!
We would like your feedback in one, or both, of two ways: -
In both cases we would ask for your name and where you ring. If you wish you may also outline your experience within ringing or within other areas to provide us with a little context for your comments.
The members of CRAG have been sharing and debating ideas by email over the last two months. We are meeting again face to face in mid-October to consider the feedback we have received so far and to continue our work developing ideas on how to improve the services we need for ringing to have the vibrant, healthy future we all want.
Background to the Review
At the meeting of the Central Council (CC) in Portsmouth last May, the Council passed a motion which set up an independent working group to undertake a detailed review of its rules and activities, and to make recommendations for modernisation. The motion was proposed against a backdrop of criticism of the CC and the way in which it had handled certain issues and questions being raised about its continuing relevance.
The group was to consist of a mixture of current CC representatives, those former representatives who had left the CC during the recent past and some other members of guilds and associations who had never been on the CC. This diverse team – the Council Review Action Group, or CRAG for short – will report to the 2017 CC meeting with our recommendations for change.
CRAG met as a group in Birmingham on August 13th and it was immediately clear that, while there were many different ideas for change, every member felt that a strong relevant central body within ringing was worthwhile. Most were agreed that a lot needed to be changed within the CC if it were to be that body. Speaking personally, I believe there could be an exciting future for ringing if we had a radically different central body that engaged better with ringers of all types and provided the services they want and need.
What’s our approach?
We feel that our remit must be about modernisation, rather than merely the technical efficiency of the CC. The Council has done and continues to do many valuable things but it is not always clear what it is seeking to achieve, or for whom. As a group we felt that the primary role of the CC must be to provide a service to ringers and to ringing – but which services?
We are going to structure our work by asking ourselves a number of questions:
This last question will involve a number of more detailed questions including, but not limited to:
The key part of what we will be doing is to listen to others before we come up with suggested recommendations. We need a lot of input from the whole range of ringers. That means those who are just learning; those who have recently learnt and who are trying to improve their ringing; those who are happy with their ringing activity just as it is; those who have made great strides in ringing and may even be at the cutting edge; even those who are feeling frustrated for some reason and may even be about to or already have given up ringing.
We are also conscious that our timescales for this very important work are very tight, but also that delay would be a bad thing for ringing and for the Council. We will therefore have relatively short periods for you to give feedback at each stage and we will receive, consider and digest all of the feedback we receive. Rather than ourselves engage in any debate that might occur, either in the pages of the Ringing World or elsewhere, we will consider everything that is said there as well so that we can get the roundest view.
The proposed Vision.
The phrase “Vision Statement” usually makes peoples eyes glaze over or gets them grumbling about management speak. As I said above, all it is meant to do is to give everyone a simple vision of what the ideal future looks like. For ringing, and thus for the CC, we propose that the Vision should be:
“A vibrant community of ringers; with the performing art of bell-ringing valued as an enjoyable social activity that is open to all, a beneficial mental & physical exercise, and a unique musical and cultural pursuit which provides service to both community and church.”
As Vision statements go, it is at the long end of the range but we think it encompasses what a healthy future state for ringing would look like. It would then follow that the aim of the Central Council should be:
“To foster a vibrant community of ringers; with the performing art of bell-ringing valued as an enjoyable social activity that is open to all, a beneficial mental & physical exercise, and a unique musical and cultural pursuit which provides service to both community and church.”
Have your say!
We would like your feedback in one, or both, of two ways.
Once we have the initial feedback on the Vision statement we will publish our first thoughts on the Mission statement. This should be in early October but in the meantime the CRAG team are also putting our minds to the various services that might need to be supplied to ringers and how a central body could ensure they are delivered.