Friday 17th January 2020
Your three representatives headed to the Scottish capital for this year’s meeting of the Central Council where we were joined by around 180 reps from the 65 other affiliated societies.
There were various ringing tours arranged on the Saturday with towers stretching from Glasgow to Inverness. Veronica Downing & I travelled up on the Saturday morning and rung at two of the city towers in the afternoon. One of them, Fettes College, was a rather novel ring, being a 2cwt six hung in a small tower of the independent school. We then joined our counterparts from the NDA to form a quiz team where certainly didn’t disgrace ourselves and quickly learned that if our answer was a ringing pun it was probably right!
On the Sunday morning there was the usual opportunity to ring for service and I joined the soon to be President of the Council Christopher O’Mahony, & Veronica, to ring at St. Cuthbert’s, a fine ten on the edge of Princes Street Gardens.
We then attended the CRAG update meeting to listen to the views of the CRAG committee and to take the mood of the members. CRAG (Central Council Review Action Group) is a body that was set up last year to review the organisation and practices of the Council. The report that has been recently published by them was critical of the Council in a number of ways including ethos, structure and accountability and proposed a new set up for the council to improve on the issues it faces. This meeting was chaired by Philip Barnes Chairman of the CRAG. After giving an overview of the objectives, Phil took some questions from the audience.
Before the meeting we sought the views of GMC to form a Guild position on the proposals alongside receiving views from individual Guild members. Overall the message was that we should be generally supportive of the CRAG proposals as, although we may not all 100% agree with the details, the impetus for change must not be stopped.
The proposals can be viewed here:-
After the CRAG update meeting I attended the new members meeting where we were introduced to the officers of the council. We were given the chance to speak to all the committee chairmen to see if we were interested in joining one. I spoke to the Public Relations committee members, given my role within the Guild, gave my details, and to my surprise on returning to Suffolk I found I had been coopted onto the committee! I hope to share the good work we do here in Suffolk and help shape the future of the council as Public Relations is vital if ringing is to flourish so it’ll play a big part of the post-CRAG ringing body.
After attending a the Choral Evensong in St. Mary's Cathedral the focus moved onto the Ghillie Dhu, off Princes Street for the evening reception. After a very amusing introduction from one of the local incumbents, the assembled company sat down to enjoy a lovely dinner. This was an excellent opportunity to catch up with friends and acquaintances of previous Council meetings and in my case make new ones. This networking between nearly 200 ringing from across the country I found to be very important part of the weekend as the old phrase is true; ‘It’s not what you know but who you know” After dinner, the tables were soon cleared away to clear the dance floor to make way for a ceilidh to the tunes of local band 'Scotch Snap'. Both Veronica and I joined with great gusto!
The relaxing entertainment of the Sunday evening gave way to the business at hand on the Monday morning with the start of the business meeting where Stephen Pettman, the third Suffolk rep, joined us. The Secretary presented a report on representation of societies and subscriptions. Mention was made of the current 'stand-off' at York and Chris Mew spoke of his attempts to meet with the Dean which had been ignored. The ringing future at York seemed to be very uncertain, however since our return from Edinburgh, the announcement has been made of the appointment of a new Ringing Master, Angela Mitchell, so ringing seems certain to recommence shortly.
After the presentation of the Annual Report of the Council and the presentation of the Accounts, came the office election. Christopher O'Mahony of ANZAB now steps up from being Vice-President of the Council to become its new President. After an election between David Kirkcaldy of Sussex and Peter Wilkinson of Chester, David was elected as Vice President. The meeting also elected a new Treasurer (Andrew Smith) and a new PRO. (Caroline Stockmann).
We then moved on to the motions, for many the most eagerly anticipated part of the meeting, the first of these were the reform proposals proposed by the CRAG.
The biggest criticisms of the Council as it exists are that it communicates poorly with ringers, has no strategy, and does not promote ringing. It has also been accused of being ineffective, lacking in accountability, and is inward looking. It was also described as poorly funded and autocratic. These conclusions came from a survey CRAG undertook last year of over 2,000 ringers.
CRAG proposed to change the Central Council into the 'Council of Representatives' and under terms proposed, the restructuring of the Council will begin immediately and by November 2017, the present setup of 14 committee will be reduced to 6 workgroups, each with its own leader reporting to an executive of 8 members, to include the roles of President, Deputy President, Secretary and Treasurer with 4 additional elected members. This is to separate the elected body from the work of the council so it can be held to account and be properly scrutinised and to allow a small executive to make swift acting strategic decisions.
This is the most radical overhaul of the Council since its founding in 1891. 100 years ago, the Council, with a membership of around 100 members was deemed too big, the membership is now over double that number.
The main concern some reps had with the CRAG motions is the fact there had been no real chance to present these findings to Guilds and Associations, the full report only having been published a few weeks before the Edinburgh meeting. An amendment to reword the motion to include greater consultation was rejected by the meeting; with Doug Davies from the Kent Association summing up the mood of many ringers with “What are we waiting for?” Two of your reps voted for the amendment with one against.
When it came to the vote on the motions, it was carried overwhelmingly with all three SGR reps voting for the motions so CRAG will now work with the existing officers of the Central Council in formulating rule changes & implementing the reforms which the Council has now in principle voted to accept. The new organisation will ‘go live’ from the 2018 meeting. During the debate Veronica spoke of Suffolk’s broad support for the CRAG proposals.
After all the excitement of the above, came the presentation of the Committee reports and elections to the various committees, this is a process which has been speeded up by the need to have nominations before the meeting. Most of the work of Council is carried out by Committees and it is always interesting to hear reports of their work and their future plans.
I questioned the Public Relations committee on what they & the council had learned after the massive coverage the York Minster events, and the ‘Is bell ringing a sport? Debate’ received from the press; given that the council was too slow to react and capitalise on the publicity garnered especially regarding York as all the information was coming from the Dean with no view from the ringing community. The response was that York was a unique situation but we should all make special efforts to maintain a good relationship with our incumbents & other church officials.
A motion to wind up the bell rescue fund was passed overwhelmingly, most, if not all, bell rescue work is now carried out by the Keltek Trust. During the Methods Committee motions Stephen spoke on whether the decision to allow methods that are false in the plain course would mean they would be kept separately, the committee agreed that they would. Other decisions agreed included; allowing peals on simulators provided they are rung by human ringers; and removing the requirement for peals to be heard outside the building from which they are rung.
In the midst of all of this, the AGM of the Ringing World Ltd took place. RW Chairman Nigel Orchard gave an overview of the activities of the journal stating that the installation of the new software has made editing much easier although there are still some software issues to resolve. BellBoard use continues to soar and the board themselves continue to look at further cost-savings, including the possibility of working remotely.
I asked if the excellent features that BellBoard offers such as bells rung on, days rung on, composition prover, and the exporting functions were going to be made easier to find as currently there are either hidden deep in the news menu or not shown at all. I was pleased to hear that a new user interface will be launched shortly and a paid developer is to be recruited to further improve the functionality of the site. With over 5,000 registered users and 22.5 million views last year, compared to just 2,000 RW subscribers I believe BellBoard will be the saviour of the Ringing World and I’m glad it’s now getting the investment it deserves.
A brief presentation was given concerning next year's meeting which is to be held at Lancaster University and will form part of a wider ringing festival with all ringers being encouraged to attend.
As it was my first council meeting I was unsure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised, it turned out to be a well-run weekend with the chance to meet & discuss ringing with people from around the world who genuinely care about the future of our art. Some of the stereotypes did ring true, I was one of only handful of reps under 40 years old, it did seem that the way the council is structure hampered any natural progress and that any successes were a result of committed individuals rather than the organisation as whole. However I spoke to the new president & vice president was very impressed with the attitude they took so I believe if these CRAG reforms are implemented properly and the passion that ringers have can be effectively used, ringing can transform itself into the successful organisation it deserves to be.
Overall it was a great experience and I’m looking forward to next year. We have one vacancy for a rep so if you fancy a ringing weekend away next May to Lancaster, please have a chat with me or the other reps. It’s not as bad as its reputation and as a new member & relatively inexperienced ringer it wasn’t intimidating and I was encouraged to share my thoughts & views.
CC Rep & Public Relations Officer