From an article published in the Ringing World after the opening of the Centre in February 2003
One of the names most associated with improving ringing and the means of ringing in recent times has been Gordon Halls M.B.E. Sadly of course Gordon is no longer with us and much has been written and said about Gordon and his contribution to bell ringing by much more eminent people than me. But I am pleased to be linked with preserving his name in a ringing context that I hope he would have felt proud to be associated with. The newly established ringing Centre at Eckington, Derbyshire is to be known as the “Gordon Halls Ringing Centre”.
The Centre became possible after the establishment of new facilities in the tower of the church. These consist of a kitchen, toilet and meeting room. They were enabled by the installation of a ringing platform above, which has provided a self-contained ringing chamber that is the envy of many bands. The structural and layout plan of the platform was established as a result of work carried out by Gordon and his then team of consultants. The work was completed by the end of 2000 and the local ringers enjoyed making the platform comfortable and attractive to use over the coming year.
During the autumn of 2001 Gail Cater wrote in this publication (R W) inviting towers to apply for grants to help establish themselves as Ringing Training Centres. The local band had been very active in recruiting new ringers since the millennium drive and, whilst able to teach beginners handling, had been frustrated by their inability to progress ringers quickly enough beyond plain hunt. This is in part due to there being too few towers in the locality with sufficient experienced ringers to progress learners. However, Gail’s article sparked an idea that we may be able to help ourselves by helping others. So we began to investigate the possibilities. Gail’s article suggested one Centre for each Guild/Association. Was anyone else thinking of establishing a Ringing Centre in Derbyshire? The President, Pat Halls was approached and approved the idea in principle, not being aware of any other interested parties. Contact was therefore made with Gail and the necessary process for seeking a grant was commenced. As a member of the DDA Education Committee I floated the idea at a meeting and was given enthusiastic backing. The local PCC was approached and agreed their backing. The DDA General Committee gave formal backing early in 2002. We then began to consider how the Centre would operate and what equipment we may need to acquire.
The Education Committee became the principal members of the steering committee starting to establish an ethos and practical management structure for the Centre. By the autumn of 2002 the plan was firmly in place and visits to other Centres were taking place to gain ideas on how to both run and equip the Centre. Concurrently with this a grant application to the CC and Worshipful Company of Founders was being prepared and submitted. Towards the end of the year we heard that our application was successful and could therefore firm up on our plans knowing that we had the promise of a significant proportion of our required funding.
The decision was taken to use the Abel simulator program. Having seen examples of both optical and proximity sensors in action a decision was required as to the method to be adopted. John Thorpe a DDA ringer but more importantly an electronics wizard was approached. John did some investigations of his own looking at both the original Abel sensors and the Bagley solution. John came up with a solution of his own that adapted parts of both systems but in essence uses magnets attached to the wheels passing solid state sensors sealed in epoxy resin mounted on the frame. The inclusion of LED’s to each sensor showing both power and activation means they can be accurately aligned in the belfry without need to access the PC. During early February John and I spent a very full day in the tower installing these sensors and all the relevant wiring and junction boxes. By early evening we had fitted the lot, tested and adjusted the system without a single hitch. John carried out this work at cost and I am pleased of this opportunity to publicly thank him for his excellent work.
We have now commenced silent practices each Monday evening from 7.30 p.m. The first ½ hour is devoted to teaching handling for Eckington learners but other ringers are most welcome to join us. There are already plans for three courses to be held at the Centre during the year, as well as regular plain method improvement mornings one Saturday morning each month. As our experience grows we hope to increase our offering and spread this further afield if required.
I look forward to an active Centre that I hope will attract ringers of all skill levels to both assist in and take part in the furtherance of ringing for the good of all. My fervent hope is that in doing this we can make the Centre a fitting memorial to Gordon which reflects his desire to provide good engineering logic to all things to do with bells and also his wish to encourage the training of bell ringers.
A 2018 Update
Re-reading the main article reminds me how far we have come in 15 years and how we have in fact met many of our original aims.
Gordon Halls was an inspiration to many in his lifetime and I like to think that we are able today to inspire new ringers to develop in the exercise and hopefully go on to enjoy their ringing careers wherever they decide.
Gordon would probably not recognise many of the methods we now use and much of the technology employed but I’m certain that he would endorse what we do at the Centre.
Things have evolved greatly from those days in 2003 when we started. Many of the events we now host are run by the Whiting Society who have as the core of their beliefs the desire to make ringing enjoyable whilst making progress to competence. In this respect I hope that this Centre contributes in a small way to the good of ringing in general. Like the Whiting Society we believe that ringing should not be for the elite alone but should appeal to the man, boy, woman or girl in the street and anyone of any age and ability is welcome at Eckington, all we ask is that they commit themselves to the exercise with a sense of joy.