The Tower Handbook

8.4: Organising a tower open day

a: Is every tower suitable for an open day?

The main factor is how good the access is. The worst case is probably a long ladder to the ringing room, bell chamber access through a trap door under the frame, no clock room and no access to the roof. The ideal is easy stairs with hand rails to all locations, a viewing gallery above the bell frame, a clock chamber and a door to a flat roof with adequate parapet. Your tower is probably between these extremes, and you will have to decide how much you can show safely, and whether it is worth it. Check whether your church insurance would cover the event as well.

b: When should we hold an open day?

Choose a time when you will get plenty of visitors. Summer is better than winter, and it helps to choose the same time as another event like a church fete. You get plenty of 'customers' in the right mood and the fete organisers get an extra event. Make sure there are signs directing people to the tower from the fete. Hanging bunting from the tower helps, but get permission first.

c: What should we show at an open day?

Show as much as you can, so long as you have good, safe access and enough people to maintain control. Don't forget the view from the roof if you have one. Think about adding some extra exhibits, perhaps downstairs. You could use some display boards about ringing borrowed from your local association or the Central Council, perhaps a peal book. This would need extra people to answer visitors' questions and to keep an eye on things in case of theft.

d: Is there anyone we should not let up the tower?

Use common sense. Anyone without the stamina to walk up lots of stairs, too unsteady to negotiate spiral steps or likely to panic will be a liability to themselves and others. Explain what is involved, and those unsuitable will probably not try. Don't allow young children up unsupervised .

e: Should we have any ringing during an open day?

If you have people in all parts of the tower, open ringing of all bells is not sensible. People in or near the bell chamber would be deafened and those near the top of the tower would probably feel it swaying and get worried.

If the access to the upper parts of your tower is poor, you could just open the ringing chamber, in which case you could consider having an 'open practice' (but you will not get much practising done). See section 8.4j.

f: Should we demonstrate a bell ringing?

Demonstrating a bell being rung a few times for each party is well worth doing. Show them what happens in the ringing room and in the bell chamber. This means you will have a bell up, so make sure no one touches the rope in the ringing chamber. Setting the bell at backstroke is a good idea, since it is less tempting to the visitors and you will be reminded it is up. Explain what happens with a model bell. This is important if they have not yet seen the real thing, but will help clarify things even if they have. Then demonstrate normal, slow and quick blows as well as standing at both strokes. If anyone could be in the bell chamber, use the safety drill. See section 3.1x. This demonstration is more convincing with a video camera in the bell chamber [75] so people in the ringing room can see the bell swinging as you ring it.

To demonstrate a bell ringing to people in the bell chamber, use a bell well away from them, not swinging towards them. (Think what would happen if the clapper came out.) Explain what will happen before you demonstrate. Tell them it will be loud, but quite safe. Suggest the timid ones put hands over their ears and let anyone looking worried leave the bell chamber (with someone to look after them if necessary). Make sure you have good communication with the ringer below and use the safety precautions. See section 3.1x .

g: What about safety?

While members of the public are in the tower, the church is responsible for their safety and you are acting as the church's agents. You must make sure they will be safe, and that the church's insurance provides the necessary cover [76]. Remember that what might be safe for a couple of ringers may not be safe for a dozen people who are unfamiliar with bell towers.

Remember not everyone will be agile or have a good head for heights. Some will get out of breath easily and some may get over excited. You may have to compromise in some areas, for example letting the fit and agile climb a ladder to view something, but not making it an essential part of the tour.

Make sure you will have enough people to provide adequate supervision. Post prominent notices where necessary to reinforce the message about anything you do not want people to do (touch the ropes, lean over the parapet, walk on the bell frame,....). It will not absolve you from taking precautions and proper supervision, but every little helps. Some people have no head for heights – see picture

When preparing your plans, go to all the spaces you intend to open and check for potential hazards. Think what could go wrong and how to prevent it. For example:

h: How can we make it interesting?

Show as much as you safely can. Do some homework to find out background facts about the tower and its contents. When was the tower built (or re-built)? When were the bells cast (or recast) and by whom? How heavy are they? Have they any interesting features, like chisel tuning or quarter turning? How old is the clock? Have there been any famous peals? And of course, remember most people don't know much about ringing, so be prepared to explain things like why we ring full circle, when change ringing evolved, how the art has spread out from England to other parts of the world, how many ringing towers there are, and so on. Use visual aids or diagrams to support these explanations [77].

i: How should we manage an open day?

Strangers in the tower should always be accompanied, but there are two different ways of doing this. In either case you need someone on the door to regulate entry, and collect money (if you are raising funds).

j: What is an open practice?

It is a sort of open day where the emphasis is more on the ringing than on the bells and fitments of a tower. Apart from being good public relations (to the congregation or the community) an open practice may help recruiting.

Tell the visitors about the bells and about ringing. Demonstrate different sorts of ringing, eg rounds, call changes and hunting. Point out the tenor behind in odd bell methods. Use very short touches, to illustrate the talk and the answers to questions, rather than long spells of ringing that can be boring to a non ringer. Explain things like how plain hunting works, or how (call) changes are called, using large diagrams or a white board. Try to bring along as many additional items of interest as possible.

You could finish the practice with a general discussion and serve refreshments (coffee, biscuits and squash). If you do this it is best to lower the bells first, or hoist the ropes out of the way on a spider. Raising and lowering are interesting activities to show in their own right.

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