Mobile Belfry 2.0 will be an exemplar of mobile belfry design, ready to demonstrate bellringing in the English style to new audiences, leading the way for ringing recruitment. We hope it will act as a catalyst for a network of mobile belfries, available to demonstrate ringing in schools, workplaces, and festivals.
At the start of 2020, the Central Council published its ‘Strategic Priorities 2020 and beyond’ which included:
"Investigate a new truly mobile belfry that can be taken round schools, music festivals, etc. and set up quickly. It should incorporate ‘proper’ bells so it is a realistic experience. Such a belfry could be on the back of a truck (like Italian rings), or towed like Lichfield."
What are Mobile Belfries for?
Mobile belfries (midi-rings) and mini-rings are an excellent tool for engaging with the general public, and with young people in particular. Mobile belfries have been used at major public events such as the BBC’s Country File Live, at county shows and in shopping precincts, where their scale helps them capture a lot of interest.
They have also been used in secondary schools, at university freshers’ fairs and Scout and Guide jamborees. Portable mini-rings and even portable dumb bells are suitable for smaller local events, and in primary schools. The two existing mobile belfries along with twenty-four portable mini-rings spread around the country are a valuable resource that could play an important role in promoting and growing ringing in the future.
Why another one?
Currently there are two mobile belfries in regular use, but it is not practical for them to cover the whole country. Also, during the summer, some potential bookings need to be turned down as there are more events than slots available. We believe that greater use would be made if more mobile belfries were available, and they were capable of being erected quickly and towed by an average sized family car.
There are also issues around the availability of vehicles large enough to tow the existing mobile belfries to events, and the time taken to erect/dismantle them.
Key to an effective mobile belfry is being able to deliver it easily to a destination, get it up and running in half an hour without specialists, and then have a ring of bells which looks and feels the part. Mobile Belfry 2.0 will do this.
Bells and Fittings
The design of the bells is the result of extensive research and modelling by John Taylor & Co, bellfounders. The aim was to make them ring like ‘normal’ bells so that they can be used for anything from teaching to peal ringing. The Mobile Belfry website has details of the design process, weights and frame design.
This picture shows Roger Booth, a member of the project team and owner of the Charmborough ring, inspecting the newly cast bells.
The Italian Experience
Mobile belfries are a big feature of ringing in Italy. In the early days of considering this project, we had discussions with the Veronese Association and ringers with contacts in Italy to understand how they are used.
Unlike mini rings used by our ringing community, Italian mobile belfries are full sized rings of bells delivered on lorries and positioned to form the centrepiece of village and town events, carnivals and celebrations. They are often funded by the bellfounders themselves.
While Mobile Belfry 2.0 will not be on this scale, it was one of the design considerations that the bells should sound good in the open air, with the overall installation being a positive representation of what ringing is all about.
The team behind Mobile Belfry 2.0 already has experience of operating mobile belfries and this additional belfry, with its improved features that make it far more transportable and usable, will greatly increase the reach and effectiveness of mobile belfries.
Before the pandemic, each of the current mobile belfries (Charmborough and Lichfield) was hired for an average of 18 days each year over the previous three years, with public events such as BBC Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace and Romsey Show attended by up to 25,000 people each day. We estimate that each existing belfry reaches an audience of over 125,000 members of the public each year.
A key target of Mobile Belfry 2.0, and other mobile belfries and mini rings, is schools and other youth groups. We want to get bells into the minds of school-age children before they associate bell ringing with churches, which limits our reach to different cultures and ethnicities.
Raising awareness of ringing helps local communities better appreciate their bells and ringers. This in turn helps with aspects such as making the case for bell-restoration projects and responding to noise complaints. This is very much the experience in Italy. Raised public awareness also helps indirectly with recruitment.
The bells have been cast and the frame is being built. There is still a shortfall on the funding though so if we want to see the new Mobile Belfry at events this summer.
The total initial capital cost of this project is £65,000, of which funding of £27,000 has been identified (donated by John Taylor and Co / paid by Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust). The Central Council has earmarked up to £10,000 of funding, and various Guilds and Associations have pledged donations of hundreds and even thousands of pounds.
We are hoping that £10,000 of the shortfall can come from pledges, however small, from individual ringers or towers. All contributions of £25 or more will be recorded on a plaque that will be mounted on the frame.
Sponsorship of individual bells
Five of the six bells can be inscribed with the name of its donor, up to a certain number of characters. The other bell will carry an inscription recognising the contribution of the Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust.
This sponsorship is available at a cost of £2,000.
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers cccbr.org.uk