York Minster has sacked all 30 of its volunteer bellringers over Health & Safety concerns.

The cathedral has the largest number of bells and one of the heaviest in the country. However, in a dramatic break with tradition, its bells will not be heard again this year, including on Remembrance Sunday as well as Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.

Ringing the changes
The bellringers were axed at an emergency meeting called by cathedral management. Officials said the move was due to Health & Safety concerns and a need to control the belfry. The volunteers were told bellringing would stop with “immediate effect”.

In a letter, the Rev Canon Peter Moger said the church aimed to have a “fully trained, motivated and engaged community of staff and volunteers”. He added “Following similar changes within our flower-arranging, broderie, collections and police teams, will recruit a head bellringer, who will then oversee the recruitment and activity of a new team of volunteer bellringers.”

However, recruitment may prove difficult given a reported shortage of bellringers nationally.

Officials also withdrew the volunteers’ keys to the bell-tower for “safety reasons”.

For whom the bells don’t toll
The global campanology community is said to be appalled by the action and a petition has been started to reinstate the bellringers. Music director John Ridgeway-Wood, who plays the carillon at the minster, stated on Facebook “I was absolutely shocked when I heard. They are one of the finest ringing groups in the country, if not the world.”

York Minster bellringer Alice Etherington said “Remembrance Sunday is the key day in the year that we remember those who died defending our freedoms during wartime. Since the end of WWI bells have been rung every single year, except during WWII, to commemorate those who have fallen. It is a key part of our nation’s salute to their sacrifice.”

Pull the other one
A minster spokesman further attempted to explain matters by stating “It was critically important to ensure that there is a consistent approach to Health & Safety, governance and risk management across all of our volunteer teams. In order to make these changes, we sometimes need to close existing volunteering roles so that we can move forward with the new processes. This is what has happened with our bellringers.”

The Archbishop of York defended the sackings saying bellringers showed “repeated disregard” for safeguarding policies and that the decision was necessary to make the church “a safe place for everyone”.

Something doesn’t ring true
However, it is currently unclear what Health & Safety rules were actually broken…wags suggest the ropes might have frayed! More seriously, the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers say it is a “unique” situation and that nothing like it has happened before.

Tweeting its support, the Suffolk Guild of Ringers said “The bellringing community is in shock and needs a proper explanation.”

Alice Etherington believes her dismissal was a “vindictive measure” due to a series of complaints by bellringers. She said they had complained about both the removal of their right to marry in the minster and the decision to stop them having a New Year’s celebration in the minster before ringing the bells.

Give Ellis Whittam a ring to make sure everyone in your organisation is in tune with Health & Safety!

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