It was a dark and stormy night, as the story goes. This was my second year living in this city, and I had become enchanted by the music of church bells. I would sit in churchyards, or hang about on the street, listening to them. On that November 2011 evening, I got around to Googling: "I want to learn bellringing". The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers popped up, with an easy-to-fill-in form and a promise that someone would get back to me soon. And they did. I had the supreme good fortune to find my local tower, which I came to recognise as excellent for learning in a diverse group in the midst of a supportive community. I was called and invited to my first practice on a Friday evening. I never looked back. Gradually memories came back of hearing the bells as part of the environment in the Berkshire village where I grew up. It had never occurred to me to ask who rang them, why and how, though I recall most of the ringers were men. Now it was my turn to learn, starting as a woman in my late fifties with a musical background, a career in qualitative research and university teaching, and a stubborn aversion to following numbers. I love the music of the bells and am still guided by sound, rhythm, intuition and a minimum of ropesight when it comes to memorising the most basic methods. I think of myself as one of the slowest bell-ringing learners in history, and it is mainly thanks to my teachers' patient understanding of my learning style that there is still a place for me in the band. Yes, there have been tears and bouts of grumpiness, but I wouldn't give up my "hobby" for anything (except returning to live in my alternate home, where this particular culture of ringing doesn't exist). Now in times of Covid-19, we are grappling, fumbling and laughing our way around The Ringing Room's online bell tower which keeps us in practice until a regular return to a real tower becomes safer. There's a good mix in our band of genders, ages, national and ethnic backgrounds, occupations, personalities and abilities, not to mention styles of socks. I relish being a learner and enjoy the sociability of our twice-weekly meet-ups, now mainly on Zoom. The band is "family" and the magic of playing and hearing ancient methods is a treasured part of my life.
The working group has completed it's task and submitted a report and recommendations to the Central Council for Church Bellringers. However, we are still maintaining the website and are still accepting new stories via the Get in Touch form.