In the third of our articles celebrating Volunteers Week our volunteer journalist Tony Whiting talks to Ringing Master and congregation member Martin Davies…
The lockdown has silenced the bells at the cathedral, which were last rung in late March. Martin Davies, the Ringing Master since 2012, expects his team of around 20 fellow volunteer ringers will be among the last people to go back. “We have to climb a narrow spiral staircase to get up the tower and the bell ropes are close together so social distancing is very difficult,” he says.
Not being able to meet every Wednesday for their weekly practice session and every Sunday to ring the bells for morning service presents a challenge to keeping the group together and engaged in their hobby. “The social aspect is important to us, so we have had to be creative,” says Martin.
Their answer is to have a virtual bell ringing session, every Wednesday, using software specially written by two American bellringers during the lockdown. Known as RingingRoom, it creates a virtual bell tower where up to 12 bells can be rung by different people in their own locations pressing keys. It is used in conjunction with Zoom so everyone can see and hear each other. “It’s a bit tricky to operate but we are making good progress and people really enjoy it,” says Martin.
For Martin, who has been ringing since he was seven, keeping the group together at a time when there are so many other distractions, is vital. “They are a lovely group of people who make a vital contribution to the life not just of the cathedral but the city of Ripon.”
He points out that bells have been rung in the cathedral since the 1300s and that the team is continuing that rich tradition that has been part of Ripon’s sonic landscape for so long.
“Bell ringing as we know it today has not changed very much since the 17th century. Many of the tunes are still the same even though advances in technology have made ringing a little easier.”
For Martin, getting his team back in the tower can’t come soon enough but, for the moment, he is glad that by ringing the changes, they can continue to enjoy their music together, albeit virtually.