Recovery at Leatherhead

Where to start?

Soon after the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020 our members were asked whether they might like to start a RingingRoom/Zoom group. Uptake was discouraging. Well, zero.

Fortunately, there was a great deal more enthusiasm for a regular newsletter/email containing jokes pages, quizzes (not necessarily ringing-related), a page about what members and their families were getting up to, and competitions. This meant that we were in regular contact.

During the summer of 2020 we had the chance to ring. The ringing chamber was cleared of everything superfluous to requirements – it has never been so clean and tidy. Sterilising gels were provided and masks were worn at all times. All members were asked when they might be available to ring. We were relatively fortunate in having two household bubbles and so our bell combinations really didn’t sound too bad. Thus we rang between four and six bells for services when they were live in church, ensuring that we were appropriately spaced. Even so, it was frustrating given that we are a ten-bell tower. To ensure we were correctly spaced, measurement methods were kindly provided by Clyde Whittaker and his colleagues from the CCCBR. The measurements themselves were taken and the layout drawn to scale by our steeple keeper, Mike Todd. These have served us well throughout. We stuck to the rules that were relevant at various times throughout that summer until we lurched from Level 1 to Level 3 and full lockdown within a matter of days immediately prior to Christmas.

This year, as soon as the government announced that there was to be a roadmap, our committee began to draw up plans for a return to ringing. All members were asked to submit a list indicating their availability (surprisingly, just about everybody was available just about all of the time…). Well in advance of the May 17 starting date our first schedule was ready and published. Under the rule of six and with a maximum time allowance of 45 minutes, we decided to have two practice sessions a week plus regular Sunday ringing, all approved in advance by the rector.

These six-bell practices have proved to be hugely encouraging. Ringers were allocated roughly equal numbers of ringing opportunities. Our initial aim was simply to have fun, stay within our comfort zones and try to dredge up remote memories of methods we once thought we had indelibly imprinted on our brains. We are lucky to have Roger Tompsett and John Aronson as part of our team and with them on board once more ‘proper’ teaching was recommenced. Each group had a leader from our teaching team and gradually ringing became more focused. Unlikely as it seems, the restrictions imposed on us by coronavirus have opened our eyes to new possibilities. While under the rule of six we rang for a maximum of 45 minutes per group. Most sessions included theory and practice. Individual and team problems were analysed and, because there were no other ringers waiting in the wings, it was straight back to further practice in order to eliminate errors and, put simply, do it better, get it right. Several ringers said they preferred this to our former “two goes and it’s on to something else until next week”.

In between all of this and again with permission from our rector, we have managed to hold ‘special’, separate practices, including one on how to handle heavier bells and one in which we rang an extent of Plain Bob Minor as preparation for more sustained ringing.

Now after July 19th at a time when officially all rules have been relaxed, we continue to be cautious despite feeling more confident as ever more of our ringers receive their second dose of the covid vaccine. We have just set up our third schedule for this covid period. We are being a little braver: we now have eight ringers in each session. Rather than hold separate sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we now have two sessions on Tuesdays, each still 45 minutes max. and with a fifteen-minute gap between each session when the belfry is left empty. After all these many months we are looking forward to hearing our tenor bell ringing once again. At last.

Ann Steed, Leatherhead Tower Captain.