Stoke St Milborough is a small village in the South Shropshire hills. St Milburga’s Church lies in the heart of the village and is a Grade II* listed building. Although its primary use is as a regular place of worship, a recent reordering has created flexible space, which allows the building to be available for wider community use. The teaching of the ancient art of bell-ringing is now our most regular activity, apart from worship. The art of bell-ringing is open to all, and indeed, we have participants of all faiths who learn and practise this musical skill.
Our proposed activity is to open a bell-ringing school at St Milburga's church with the express purpose of ensuring the continued prosperity of this ancient art within the rural and isolated communities of South Shropshire, Herefordshire and beyond. There is a tangible need for this, given that there are no equivalent bell-ringing schools within a radius of at least 25 miles.
Unfortunately, the poor quality of our bells means that, although we can teach the basic skills, we don’t have sufficiently high-quality equipment to develop the full range of skills required. Furthermore, the bells are unwieldy for less-experienced bell-ringers. Being able to teach new recruits the art of bell-ringing as easily as possible and provide them with the best appropriate equipment upon which to practise is imperative. This will go some way towards helping to prevent the fall in numbers who practise this musical art.
We plan to acquire a new matched set of lighter weight bells, which will considerably improve our ability to progress our learners from handling a bell on to advanced change ringing. In order to preserve the heritage of our four current 17th Century bells, these will be preserved in use as clock bells. We will equip the tower with teaching aids for our bell-ringing school, so that we can share the art of bell-ringing in a more professional manner. These will include a computer operated simulator, which allows practice on silenced bells (tied clappers) but sound is generated internally to the tower through speakers or headphones. Such a system also provides monitoring facilities which assist both tutors and learners Together with two dumbbells, this system will provide several possible modes of operation which are of benefit to those learning at an early stage up to more advanced levels.
Buying the right equipment will turn St Milburga’s Church into a full-functioning Bell-ringing school, as well as enabling it to host peal performances from touring bell-ringing groups. Recent improvements to the church building, through the installation of toilet and kitchen facilities means we’re able to cater for such performances and turn them into catered events.