England

Church bell-ringers shortage prompts concern

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe BBC visited a Sheffield bell tower to meet bell ringing enthusiasts

The centuries-old tradition of church bell-ringing is under threat because of a shortage of new recruits.

A BBC local radio survey suggests it is getting more difficult to persuade newcomers to take the practice up.

Three-quarters of delegates to the annual conference of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers said it had got harder in the past 10 years to attract new members.

About eight out of 10 delegates said it was difficult to recruit under 21s.

For more stories on England in numbers follow our Pinterest board.

Tower captain at St James Garlickhythe in London Dickon Love said bell-ringing tended to get bracketed with Morris dancing as a pursuit for old men with beards, but that was misleading.

Image caption Bell-ringing is the best form of heavy metal, says Dickon Love

"Bell-ringing is exciting for the mind," he said.

"It's the best of form of heavy metal; it's a big loud noise, it keeps you fit, there's a competitive element as well. And it's a very social thing to do - after each practice without fail you can find us down the local pub."

They have been able to lure in some new recruits and have a new set of eight bells, installed four years ago, and a newly-recruited band of ringers, including a professor of astrophysics and the art director of a well-known magazine.

Pete McCoy, the tower captain at St Mary's Church in Walkley in Sheffield - who met his wife Judith bell-ringing - said teenagers today have more distractions than when he was young.

He said: "There weren't so many things for a teenager or young person to do as there are today.

"And is it cool to ring bells? I think it is. But does everyone else?"

Although there are nearly 40,000 ringers in the UK, just over half of the 180 delegates questioned at the conference in May in Portsmouth said they thought declining church attendances have made it harder to recruit.

Do you agree or disagree that a decline in church attendance has made it harder to recruit new bell ringers?

54%

Agree

43%

Disagree

Thinkstock

Kate Flavell, of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, says the 66 affiliated societies need to do more to promote their hobby.

They have teamed up with the Heritage Open Days initiative to ring bells for the public at 500 sites including at St Peter Mancroft in Norwich, where the first "full peal" was staged in May 1715.