The Tower Handbook

8.2: The tower and the neighbours

a: Who are our neighbours?

The people who live in the houses within earshot of your bells, or if you ring during working hours, the people who work in nearby premises.

b: Do we need to worry about the neighbours?

Yes. They have to hear the sound of the bells whether they like it or not. They can't turn them off when they've had enough or are not in the mood. Their good will is valuable to you and your church. Society at large sees ringing as part of our heritage and views it favourably. As a result, we enjoy the privilege of regularly making loud sounds in public. The Church is no longer the centre of the community that it was in previous centuries, and there are pressures in society that could be harmful to ringing, for example the use of noise abatement legislation to restrict ringing.

Your most immediate contact with the community is through your neighbours every time you ring to them. If you go beyond what they can tolerate in terms of frequency, time of day, duration and quality they may complain. This casts you in a bad light and could lead to serious consequences if they call on the heavy hand of the law to restrain you. While you should solve this locally, it could escalate to an all out battle which ends in court. It could mean severe restrictions on your ringing or even that your bells may fall silent.

c: What could happen if someone complains about the ringing?

At best, you may smooth the problem away. At worst your bells could be silenced by legal action. Between these stark extremes lie many solutions and compromises. If you have a problem, the earlier you can control it the better. People who complain about noise, whether justly or unjustly, often have strong feelings bottled up inside them and can take up entrenched positions.

How you respond on first contact with complainers can have a big influence on whether the problem escalates. If someone bursts through the tower door while you are ringing and complains abusively could you handle the situation without inflaming it? If you were rung up by an irate complainer in the middle of the night, could you stay calm? Both these have happened.

d: How can we avoid annoying them?

Most complaints are about bells being:

Not all ringing is equally annoying. Good striking flows evenly and can form part of the background. Bad striking continually grabs the listener's attention at each clash or hiatus. A single bell ringing erratically (as in bell handling practice) can be particularly irritating.

Not all times are equally difficult. When people have windows open or at unsociable hours they will be particularly sensitive.

Problems are often caused when something changes:

Try to be predictable in your ringing. If you want to do something out of the ordinary such as a special peal [71] publicise it (and what it is celebrating) so people know what to expect. Use some sort of sound reduction for bell handling practice. See section 11.3v. Consider sound control if your bells are very loud. See section 14.10.

If there is a new housing development near the church, don't wait until the new occupants arrive and discover they don't like the sound of the bells.

e: What should we do if we have a complaint?

Don't panic and don't do anything hastily. Discuss with your clergy and wardens how to tackle the problem. Read the guidance notes published by the Central Council, first published in The Ringing World on 27th October 1995, p1093-4. The Central Council has also organised a help line (at The Ringing World offices) backed by a set of regional advisers. They are there to help you. Tell them about your problem. They can give you advice based on experience in other towers. You may well be able to resolve the problem quickly without fuss, but if it should escalate, it is important to think what you would do in advance. Even if you can resolve things locally, your experience may be able to help someone else later.

You may get involved with the press. Remember that they are looking mainly for a good story, and the rights or wrongs of the case are secondary to them. Any unreasonable statements you make may be taken out of context and harm your case. On the other hand, if you can get the press on your side it may help you win public support. Demonstrate that you are reasonable, explain your situation clearly and check that they have understood what you wanted them to. See section 8.3e-f for advice on dealing with the press.

Remember, the best way to deal with complaints is to avoid getting them in the first place, but if you do get them:

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