Open letter from younger members of the band

This letter is to everyone who is following the current situation at York Minster regarding the band of bell ringers.

We are a group of young ringers, all under 25 years of age. We are all students in York and we feel that it is important to put across our experience as bell ringers at York Minster in the light of recent events. Bellringing groups on social media exploded on the morning of Wednesday 12th October, following the publication in the York Press of the story regarding the sudden and unexpected sacking of the Minster bell ringers. It has since spread rapidly and even made it to the BBC. Needless to say it has been difficult for any of us to concentrate recently on anything other than these saddening developments. Whilst reading many of these news articles and also comments and discussions amongst fellow bell ringers across the country on social media, several things have come to our attention that we now wish to address. We feel that it is important that you hear directly from those affected.

Firstly, there have been numerous suggestions (particularly amongst other bell ringers) that the band at the Minster is closed off and ‘elitist’. This is simply NOT true. We would like to make it clear that since arriving in York and showing an interest in ringing regularly at the Minster, we have always been made welcome and encouraged. We all made the commitment to attend both the weekly Tuesday evening practices and service ringing every Sunday and have consequently made tremendous progress; some of us had never rung on 12 bells before yet we were all welcome as long as we made the commitment to attend regularly.

The quality of ringing is of a very high standard and consequently it could  sometimes be daunting, wondering whether we would succeed, but that is pressure that we put on ourselves through a desire to improve, and the rest of the band have always been inclusive and encouraging. We have made some very firm friends as a result of ringing at the Minster and were welcomed quickly into the group, invited to drinks at the pub afterwards as well as to Christmas meals and annual dinners. Two new members were elected to the Minster society only last week which shows that the band is ever-evolving, dynamic and welcoming.

The strong friendships we have made are demonstrated by the success of our under 30’s quarter peal this year, the average age of the band was 24 and the quality of the ringing was excellent and maintained throughout. This is also a testament to the diversity of the band. Having enough capable younger ringers to ring a quarter peal of ‘Plain Bob Cinques’ on such a challenging set of bells is quite an achievement.

This raises another point about the bells themselves. Many of us had been ringers in various parts of the country for several years previously, in some cases as long as 10 years, before arriving at York Minster. Regardless of that it took us all a significant amount of time to get used to handling the bells and even longer to learn how to strike them properly in order to keep up the impressive standard which has been maintained at the Minster for so long. Bellringing is a difficult skill to master and takes lots of time, commitment and dedication. This makes the recent discarding of the band by the Dean and Chapter all the more disappointing.  It also demonstrates an apparent lack of understanding on their part about what ringing these bells involves which could have been avoided had they not shown such an apparent unwillingness to visit the tower to learn more which they were invited to do on several occasions.

There have also been suggestions that the Minster bellringers were unwilling to comply with requests from the Dean and Chapter and unwilling to change and adapt. This is not true.  We have complete and total faith in our committee and in our Ringing Master, Peter Sanderson, that he always met with the Chapter when it was requested, made sure that new policies were implemented whilst keeping the rest of us updated, and tried to stay in constant touch with the Minster authorities.  Regrettably, we have always felt that the same level of commitment, communication and understanding was lacking from them. One recent example of this was the introduction of a new sign-in sheet with which we all complied every time we entered and left the tower. If the reasons behind this policy were explained, they were certainly not fully understood, but regardless the whole band was happy to comply.

We are still all deeply upset and shocked by our exclusion from the tower. Fortunately we believe that the friendships within the band are strong enough to withstand this difficult time, and we will still keep ringing even if for the foreseeable future it cannot be at the Minster. The friendships, dedication and skill that we have all developed as a result of ringing at the Minster will be with us always.

From the ‘Student Ringers of York Minster