Review of the Central Council – Part 3

Your feedback on “Vision” and “Mission”

In this article I shall outline the very helpful feedback that CRAG received in response to the draft Vision and Mission statements that we published in The Ringing World and elsewhere in the autumn.

122 responses were received in total. While this may seem a small number given the number of ringers and even the number of subscribers to The Ringing World, the breadth and quality of comment has been very good. A number of themes have emerged in the feedback (and from the other submissions) some of which have encouraged the members of CRAG to press on working up some proposals whilst other responses have made us modify others. Most importantly we have stimulated a lot of thought and debate about the state of ringing and what a central body could and should be doing about it. So while the sample size is small, there is a great deal of concordance between the group on what the main issues are, even if the points of view are in some cases quite different!

A small subgroup of CRAG, led by Clyde Whittaker, analysed the responses to both the Vision and Mission statements and then proposed changes to the whole group.

Basic numbers / facts

Vision statement

Of the 66 responses received:

o   21 (32%) were in full agreement with the proposed Vision statement.

o   23 (35%) were in general agreement (70% or over), but had specific issues, notably over greater or less alignment with the church and the lack of an explicit reference to ringing as a sport.

o   22 (33%) were in more limited or no agreement (less than 70%), with a number expressing concern that a Vision statement was not required at all but that we should move straight to a review of the Central Council’s structure.

Mission statement

The draft Mission statement that was published in October had been revised in the light of comments on the Vision – principally those that felt the Vision lacked detail.

We received 56 responses in relation to the Mission statement, many of which were extremely detailed (the total number of words in the responses was over 16,000, summarised in the word cloud attached to this article). Of these responses:

o   12 (21%) were in general agreement with the proposed Mission statement.

o   11 (20%) were concerned generally that the Mission objectives were too numerous, vague and did not delineate more clearly the Mission of the Council, as a central body, by contrast to other ringing societies and organisations.

o   The remainder expressed either concerns over specific Mission objectives, or (frequently very helpful) suggestions on strategies which a central body might use to achieve them

Specific themes and concerns

A number of themes and concerns were raised by a significant proportion of responders.

Relationship with the church

In the 13 responses to the Vision opinion was divided about whether the reference to “service to [community and] church” was too weak (8) or too strong (5). The major concern expressed by those who felt it was too strong was that they felt there was clear evidence that the association between ringing and religion impacted negatively on recruitment.

The draft Mission statement did not make any specific reference to the church and 12 additional respondents noted this as a major concern.  While some expressed that they themselves rang for the Glory of God, the majority of responses expressed a more general and pragmatic issue that ringers needed a central body that established a strong and close relationship with the church at a senior level providing the ability to collaborate and influence decision-making. This, in my opinion, will require a more equal relationship based on mutual respect than that implicit in the Belfry Reform movement that gave rise to many ringing Guilds and Associations and to the Central Council. Put simply a 21st rather than 19th century relationship.

We have taken these points into account and have made a number of changes to define the leadership role of the central body more clearly, particularly its work to forge strong and modern relationships with the church and other external organisations.

Ringing as Sport

This was mentioned only in response to the draft Vision where six people felt forcefully that it should refer to ringing as a sport. I am sure that had we included “sport” as one of the characteristics of ringing then some respondents might have disagreed. In most cases the respondent gave the possibility of securing additional funding as a key reason for doing so.

Our conclusion is that whilst the vast amount of ringing as currently performed does not have a competitive element, striking competitions could certainly be classified as a sport, which is defined as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”

We do not believe anything in the Vision statement would prevent the promotion of certain ringing activities as a sport in order to achieve key funding objectives.

However, we felt that the Vision statement needs to restrict itself as far as possible to those over-arching features that make ringing unique and are valued by ringers and public alike wherever ringing is performed.  For this reason, we do not believe reference to ringing as a Sport in the Vision statement is a fundamental issue that concerns the Central Council review.  It is a promotional strategy that the future Central Council may associate with certain types of ringing in future in order to gain additional project funding or if it appears to be a useful hook for recruiting.

The relative roles of ringing societies and the Central Council

7 responses to the Mission were concerned that there was overlap between the Mission for a central body and the role of ringing associations, although there was some considerable differences of opinion as to the extent to which ringing associations are currently the problem or the solution.

The health and functioning of the various ringing societies that are affiliated to the Central Council (and indeed those that are not affiliated) is outside the scope of CRAG’s work and we feel that the diverse range of societies on the ground makes a ‘one size fits all’ approach impractical. We have therefore revised the preamble to the Mission Statement to refer explicitly to ringing societies as partners of the Central Council, but have concluded that the Mission statement should not be over-prescriptive as to the precise form which this partnership should take.

We would however strongly encourage all ringing societies to examine critically whether they are currently truly fit for purpose in the ringing and more general social environment of 2017 and beyond. Sadly, I suspect many are not.

Developing leaders

There were a number of respondents who commented that a central body should have a role in developing new leaders within ringing – at all levels from tower officials to society and perhaps even Council officers. Advice on non-ringing aspects of leadership and management such as compliance and governance were thought to be important here.

Pursuit of excellence

In the response to the Vision, eight people in some way mentioned the question of excellence in ringing. This was not stated in the form of elitism, but rather that ringing is almost always a very public performance and yet we do not always see it as such and poor standards of striking are tolerated. Several of these respondents linked this with the problems of continuing development and retention of newly trained ringers. We made some changes to the draft Mission before publication as a result of these comments and feel that they are such an important part of the analysis of the current state of ringing that we hope to publish a separate article based upon one of them.

Other matters

Other comments received including some about the importance of promotion or marketing of ringing to the general public, better communications between the Central Council and ordinary ringers and the need for a very slick public relations and communications operation. These are likely to require funding and indeed the funding of ringing and of a central body was also mentioned by some respondents.

These are important and will be discussed in an article in the New Year that will focus on the written submissions we received, which inevitably focus on the current Central Council and how it might be modernised and improved.

Revised Vision and Mission Statements

We have re-structured the proposed Vision for ringing to simplify and to improve the grammatical structure and flow. It now reads: –

“To foster a vibrant and inclusive community of ringers with bell ringing widely valued as an enjoyable mental & physical exercise and unique performing art that enhances the life of both community and church.”

In relation to the Mission statement we have taken on board the very helpful advice about how complex the statement had become by providing a list of activities that a central ringing body might provide or secure from other bodies. These have been revised as a list of “activities” and we have therefore entirely revised the proposed Mission of a central ringing body to read: –

“To be the strategic leader and public voice of the ringing community, the arbiter of standards; and to promote an environment where ringing can flourish”

What’s next?

In the New Year we will be publishing a summary of some of the feedback about how people see the Central Council and what they have suggested might make a good central body for ringing. We will also outline our suggestions for how a future central ringing body might be structured to lead and support ringing and ringers most effectively.

At that point, in mid-January we shall be launching an online survey to get feedback from as many ringers as possible on our suggestions. This should be open from January 14th and we will be publicising widely how to take the survey. Please tell as many other ringers as possible and especially those who may not see the Ringing World or get regular communications from their Guild or Association and encourage them to take part too.

Phillip Barnes
Chairman, CRAG