The centuries-old tradition of church bell-ringing is under threat in the UK because of a shortage of new recruits, according to a new survey. It is getting more difficult to persuade newcomers to take the practice up, a BBC local radio survey said. Three-quarters of delegates to the annual conference of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers said it had got harder in the past 10 years to attract new members.
About eight out of 10 delegates said it was difficult to recruit under 21s. Tower captain at St James Garlickhythe in London Dickon Love said bell-ringing tended to get bracketed with Morris dancing as a pursuit for old men with beards, but that was misleading. “Bell-ringing is exciting for the mind,” he said.
“It’s the best of form of heavy metal; it’s a big loud noise, it keeps you fit, there’s a competitive element as well. And it’s a very social thing to do – after each practice without fail you can find us down the local pub.” They have been able to lure in some new recruits and have a new set of eight bells, installed four years ago, and a newly-recruited band of ringers, including a professor of astrophysics and the art director of a well-known magazine.
Pete McCoy, the tower captain at St Mary’s Church in Walkley in Sheffield – who met his wife Judith bell-ringing – said teenagers today have more distractions than when he was young. He said, “There weren’t so many things for a teenager or young person to do as there are today. And is it cool to ring bells? I think it is. But does everyone else?”
Although there are nearly 40,000 ringers in the UK, just over half of the 180 delegates questioned at the conference in May said they thought declining church attendances have made it harder to recruit, the BBC report said.
Kate Flavell, of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, says the 66 affiliated societies need to do more to promote their hobby. They have teamed up with the Heritage Open Days initiative to ring bells for the public at 500 sites including at St Peter Mancroft in Norwich, where the first “full peal” was staged in May 1715.