Youngsters being roped into campanology

Alan Hughes, former owner of the Whitechapel bell foundry, presents the Ringing World National Youth Contest trophy to last year’s winners, the Sussex Young Ringers

Bell-ringing amongst teenagers is enjoying an unlikely resurgence after the introduction of competitive contests in church towers.

This summer’s Ringing World National Youth Contest (RWNYC) in Liverpool will be the biggest yet and is oversubscribed with more than 250 ringers attending.

It is thought that the hobby is an excellent way of keeping youngsters off their screens as well as providing exercise, developing teamwork and creating opportunities for socialising.

The competition has also spawned a number of regional contests that have led to more youngsters taking up The Exercise, as change bell ringing is known.

The national contest was the brainchild of Robert Lewis, editor of The Ringing World, the weekly publication that lists all peals completed and covers all things campanological.

Now almost a decade old, the RWNYC has grown rapidly in the last few years and the event in July will reflect the new interest.

Nationally there are around 40,000 bell ringers who practise the peculiarly English hobby that traditionally has an ‘uncool’ reputation and is perceived as something for the older generations.

Mr Lewis said: “The national competition has certainly become bigger than we hoped for.

“We are limited to 24 teams this year and they’ll be ringing eight bells in various categories.

“Most pleasingly the national contest has led to regional competitions that have brought more young ringers into the fold.

“There are no official records held about the number of young ringers, but anecdotally we have seen an increase in most areas across the country.

“To take part in the national contest, the ringers have to be under 19 and the lower age limit is set by whether they have the physical strength to pull a rope – usually around 12 years old.

“More towers are putting together junior teams and feedback suggests that it is not just about the ringing.

“Fears that children are spending too long on their phones and tablets means parents are looking for other things for them to do.

“Bell ringing might not be an obvious choice, but it is healthy, requires practice, concentration and teamwork.

“Being competitive it gives the youngsters a real motivation to take part and achieve success, and to learn how to deal with disappointment.

“Bells are a secular musical instrument that happen to be contained in churches and tower bands are always delighted to receive interest and train up new ringers, however old.”

Last year the Sussex Young Ringers took the title in London, with the Oxford Diocesan Guild winning the Method Ringing category and the trophy for excellence.

The other teams in the final were Bedfordshire Young Ringers, Yorkshire Tykes, Fen Tigers and Young@Herts.

This year’s competition in Liverpool is on Saturday 6 July.

Robert Lewis, editor of The Ringing World, presents last year’s method ringing category award to the Oxford Diocesan Guild

The youth ringers await the results at the end of last year’s competition at St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside – home of the world famous Bow Bells

The article in The Times