As I write this I am sitting in my study at home in North Yorkshire and wondering when I can take the apples from the tree grown from a pip planted by my daughter. It is October, it is still quite warm, and the apples are still well attached to the tree.
However, the weather in North Yorkshire is not the only thing that is warm! We are on track to have run a record number of day courses this year with increasing take-up of courses in areas away from the ART heartlands. This is most welcome, and we are reviewing our tutor and assessor networks to keep up with the demand.
As I write this the organisers, helpers and attendees at the Learning the Ropes Masterclass so ably run by Stephanie Warboys will have made their way to the West Midlands for a great experience, celebrating the achievements of those who complete the Learning the Ropes Scheme. We are looking at ways in which ART can continue the learning journey of both those completing the LtR scheme and our teachers and other volunteers. It is so often the case that those who help others a great deal can miss out on their own development as ringers. We are looking at ways to provide bellringing CPD, to borrow a work term, the first opportunity being the Sunday of our annual conference, which is being held in Warwickshire on 2/3 March.
The ART Awards
Each year at the conference we have the ART Awards ceremony and announcements and this year we have a new award for the band or cluster of the year. If you’re interested in finding out more about this and the other awards, then go to the ART website.
For a couple of years, we have offered day courses to any university trying to develop ringing. Last year we were able to help ten universities in different ways, including running six Module 1 courses solely for university students. Places on these courses are free, thanks to money kindly donated by AbelSim.
This year we are helping eight university societies, including a couple that are starting (or re-starting) from scratch. We are able to do something that the geographically bound Association and Guilds cannot do easily: in September we combined students from the universities of York (5 students), Sheffield (2) and Lincoln (1) to run a viable Module 1 course for 8 students. The ability to reach across what are seen as boundaries by County or Diocesan based associations is something ART can do easily. It gives us a key role in the further development of ringing in the UK.
ART’s creaking IT systems
On the internal front our colleagues in ART, who have for several years been trying to upgrade our ageing IT infrastructure, have also been warming to their task and making tremendous strides over the past few months. Talking about IT can be a rather specialist interest and can quickly become bogged down in detail, which then leaves many wondering: Why is this going on? Doesn’t the system work already? Let sleeping dogs lie! In this edition of Chairman’s Chatter I want to give you some inkling of why this work is difficult and necessary and some insight into the extent of the work that is being done by a few people, all designed to secure our IT future.
Our IT is reasonably robust from a user perspective but has become increasingly harder to maintain. This has involved much work behind the scenes, particularly from Steve Johnson and Lesley Belcher on the Smart Ringer app and websites, respectively. In addition, ART has grown organically in terms of its rules and your expectations of what ART is for and what it should be doing. This has naturally led to a growing disconnect between the systems we use – event booking, Smart Ringer, online learning, data storage, consistency of policies, rules, handbooks, guides, etc.
As the team working on the new version of SmART Ringer have ploughed through the way in which we operate, many interesting conflicts between current ways of doing things and the statements we make about how we operate have become obvious. All of these differences are being teased out by the design team and in turn lead to changes, subtle and otherwise, to almost every facet of ART.
This will lead to changed processes and new ways of working for all of us as we interact with ART through its IT systems. This is essential as our three excellent administrators, Monica, Denise and Rose, are constantly having to adjust things and work out how to do things as our IT and processes seem to need ‘patching’ far too often.
The new SmART Ringer and the new websites together hold out the promise of stability in the future. Everything will be logically ordered, and our system and processes will reflect accurately our desired way of working. Monica and Denise, for example, have been working on a new structure for our Google Drive which will pull together the single version of the truth document of all our policies and working documents. All of these changes have to dovetail with our IT systems in order to work successfully.
You have already seen, no doubt, some of these changes. Our new website has consolidated four sites into one and has removed the risk of old technology underpinning several sites being withdrawn by the hosting companies we use. This was a major task, very well done by Lesley. She is very keen to have your feedback on these changes so do get in touch with her if you have something to say.
SmART Ringer development is being led by Nigel Mellor as Project Manager and Steve Johnson as Technical Director. Without the efforts of Steve in particular, this project would not be possible. The work has involved the whole team meeting at least twice a week for many months discussing the detailed design of the system with all of the automatic data sharing between components you expect in a modern IT system. This will result in a smoother, more responsive and guided experience for all users, as well as a much more maintainable system for the future.
Version 1 of the new Smart Ringer is expected in the first quarter of 2024, with the usual caveats about people’s time and the development of external interfaces, which are out of the control of the project team. Further releases will be rolled out once the first has settled down, gradually building up to the full functionality and potential of this new system.
Finally the team: Nigel Mellor, Steve Johnson, Lesley Belcher, Monica Hollows, Rose Nightingale, Les Boyce, David Sparling, and John Welch. My huge thanks to the team for all their work. Some of the changes you will see in our IT will be obvious, many will be hidden inside the process of development. At some point we will release the full project documentation so that you can see for yourselves how much we owe to these few people.
Wishing you a fruitful Autumn, I hope my apples can be picked soon! I look forward to seeing you at the Conference in March where we have an exciting program of meetings and of ringing. The focus of the conference is on you, our teachers, and your development as ringers and we are laying on some sessions on both Saturday and Sunday that I hope you will find too good to miss. Anyway, more details of the Conference coming up soon – what this space!