Open Days - The Millennium Version

Those of you with good memories will recall that I submitted an article to the Ringing World about 12 years ago, entitled "How to organise an open day". I wrote that piece in response to a proliferation of open days on the May Day Bank Holiday 1992. It seems that the time has come again to appeal to organisers to consider the date they choose with a little more care.

A lot has changed since 1992, most notably, the Internet and e-mail. These two things have completely changed the world of ringing, and in particular, tower grabbing. Twelve years ago, tower grabbers were a disparate group. A lot of us knew each other by sight on open days, but were at best, hazy about names or home towers. Outings were arranged by small groups of friends from the same area. There were some people crossing over between groups, but on the whole we were all doing our own thing. Information about open days, new towers, restorations etc, could only be obtained from the Ringing World. The advent of the Internet, and the Nabbers e-group, has brought everyone together. There is a free exchange of information about towers now, and an enthusiasm to share news with others on the group. But the single most important aspect of the Nabbers group is that now we all know each other. People who were once just faces in the queue are now friends. The membership of Nabbers is currently about 150. For the benefit of open day organisers, this is your customer base! These are the people who support open days. Any outing that is arranged is now circulated to the whole group, not just to a few close friends, and the date is chosen after checking Graham Nabb's excellent Ringing Diary site (now here). This ensures that there is never more than one trip arranged on any day.

So ... how to organise a successful open day? The trouble with some open days, is that they are arranged by people who have never been on an open day, and have absolutely no interest in tower grabbing. I suspect they are also people who rarely ring outside their own district, and have very little concept of the greater world of ringing. These guidelines are aimed primarily at people in this category. Your aim is to make money for your chosen BRF. An open day can bring in sums in excess of £1000 these days, but that will only happen if you have no competition. The forthcoming May bank holiday currently has 3 open days scheduled. Each one can now expect to make only a third of the potential income. This doesn't benefit anyone, and will be very annoying to the organisers who booked the date first.

  1. Choosing a date: Remember that you are catering to a core of about 70 ringers (roughly half the membership of Nabbers). At £15 each for a day ticket, the money is there to be made! Select a few possible dates and check on Ringing Diary to see if they are free. (Free means no open days/tours/private outings. The people you're arranging your open day for will all be on whatever trip is scheduled.) Look at bank holidays to see if a county/Guild near to you has an open day already booked. If they have, then take the Saturday if it is free. Somerset/Devon did extremely well a couple of years ago with this arrangement. You can be sure that someone will arrange extra towers on the Sunday, giving more donations to your local towers. Once you have a date, e-mail Graham Nabb to book the date. He will automatically inform the group, who will all put it in their diaries.

  2. The towers: New and restored rings are your carrots; make these your priority. Don't leave out the 3 bell towers (or ones and twos if you have them – the 1 & 2 Bell Society is very popular). Don't miss any out because they're remote, or hard work etc. These are the ones people want! As soon as you have a provisional programme worked out, send it to Nabbers, and to the Ringing World.

  3. The route: A circular route generally works best. Many people will meet up on the way and leave a car somewhere while they travel together. Your first tower needs to be one with a lot of easy parking and toilets. The biggest single gathering will be at the first tower, after that the group will spread out. If you have large towns where parking will be difficult, try to put them on after 6pm.

  4. Stewards: Ideally it is best to have two stewards at each tower, but I appreciate that recruiting people for this job is probably the hardest part of the organising! They should be equipped with enough day tickets and change, and should know exactly who is opening the tower. Provide them with names and addresses in case of memory loss by locals! They should be at the tower about 10 minutes before the ringing time to make sure all is in order.

  5. Price: The current price of day tickets is between £10 and £15, with single towers being £1. If you have new or rare towers, you may be tempted to make them "day ticket only". I would advise against this. No one is going to travel miles and pay £15 for one tower, when they can arrange themselves on a private outing or go there on practice night/Sunday. I suggest charging £5 for "special towers". You will make a lot of money from this.

  6. Refreshments: Experience has shown that incorporating a lunch break into an open day doesn't work very well. You simply end up with a huge queue at the tower after lunch, and a lot of cars around the church, which may upset local residents. However, providing simple refreshments is a good source of more income for your funds. I would suggest leaving an extra half an hour between towers rather than a specified lunch break. Choose a church with an integral kitchen so you can serve straight to the queue. People don't like to lose their position in the queue, and are reluctant to go to a church hall for their cup of tea. Keep it simple! Tea, coffee, squash, biscuits, cakes, possibly sandwiches. We all know what ringers are like with home made cakes! If you can, set your stall out where the queue will form through the church.

  7. Running the ringing: At towers with 8 or less bells, no guidance should be needed. Most people will know each other, and what they can ring. However, don't be afraid to wade in and set up bad ringing if the band has overstretched themselves! Public relations with local residents are important. At 10 and 12 bell towers I suggest that a ringing master is useful, although please remember that grabbers will expect to ring in the order they came through the door, and will not appreciate being pushed out of their turn because they can't ring Grandsire Cinques. What seems to work best, is to let the band catch hold and ask what they think they can ring. It is highly unlikely that there will be a band for anything more than a bob course of Grandsire, and most will be happy with call changes. Far better I think to have well struck call changes than bad method ringing.

    The stewards will need to police the access to each tower. Ground floor rings are not usually a problem, but where there is a staircase, the steward should allow the first two bands up. One to ring, the second to wait in the ringing chamber. When the first band descend, the third group should be allowed up to wait on the stairs, and so on.

  8. Miscellaneous: Make sure the stewards have any information regarding last minute changes, special parking instructions etc. When you publish your confirmed list, include OS grid refs, map numbers, and toilets/refreshments. Phone all local contacts the day before to remind them to open the church at the right time! Make lots of money!

Jennifer Johnson

  1. Use Gift Aid! It adds a great deal to the final money raised (28%). Indeed we should use it for all Outings, Quarters and Peals.

  2. Avoid more than one route: People do not stick to the route; they will always go to the towers that they want to and this causes bottlenecks and shortages. keep to one route with towers 20/30 minutes apart and the movement will develop a natural flow and still allow people to pick and choose towers if they wish.

Graham Nabb