Central Council of Church Bell Ringers
The sound of church bells. A quintessential part of our soundscape but something that has been sadly absent from bell towers across the country during the pandemic. Bells call people to worship, mark joyful occasions such as weddings, and muffled they help us mourn the passing of loved ones.
Bells also perform a civic role. For centuries they have helped us to celebrate national and local events. They ring for feast days, Royal birthdays, coronations, the ends of wars and the anniversaries of them. Few things make people stop and take notice better than the sound of bells, and as there are bells in over 5000 of our church towers this can unite communities in a single act.
In this country, the sound of bells is not automatic. They don’t ring because someone at the church has pressed a button. In that bell tower, often hidden away, real people are exercising a skill and art that has been practiced for centuries and which exercises their minds as much as their muscles. Those people can be as diverse as the communities they come from, old and young, schoolchildren, teachers, health workers, business people, the retired. Ringing unites them in an all-absorbing passion.
Bellringing stopped at the start of the pandemic. Bellringing is a team activity in which ringers stand together in the tower and sometimes practice their art for hours at a time. This cannot happen when lockdowns or restrictions are in place, although guidelines were introduced to enable some bells to be rung safely for short periods. The bellringing community had to work very hard to keep ringers motivated and looking forward to the future. First a single bell could ring, then bells 2m apart – gradually up to six became possible in large towers. As some towers have as many as 12 or even 16 bells this was not enabling the full range of bellringers’ repertoire!
On 5th July 2021 when you hear a single bell ringing 73 times, with each ring representing a year in the life of the NHS at 8pm, think about that bellringer who is playing their part in the grand finale to these celebrations. Think of their skill as much as you think of the power of the sound and what the bell is saying. But above all think of the message that single bell is voicing.