The Ringing World AGM

In introducing his Chairman’s Report to the 31st AGM of The Ringing World Ltd, Nigel Herriott alighted on some positive items – the RW had continued to produce and deliver the weekly paper, despite declining circulation and the associated income loss, and the increase in postage costs. BellBoard development continued and it is now heavily used, the RWNYC continues to run successfully and the Board has some ambitious plans for the future.

However the Board was disappointed to make a loss of £5,040 in 2013 and consequently it is going to make further cost savings. BellBoard can now be used to automate part of the peal and quarter peal report processing, which takes quite a few hours out of administration time each week. The hours worked by admin staff would be cut, along with the hours that the RW office is open for external contact. This will result in a saving of just over £5,000 per year.

There was a suggestion last year from Philip Green that the paper could be folded for delivery to save on postage costs. This had been investigated with the Royal Mail and the printers, but savings were not as great as might be expected.

The Board has asked the Editor to develop an editorial strategy for the content of the paper; he said that as the number of subscribers has declined, so has the amount of good quality content that the journal receives from ringers. The aim would be to keep the quality of content as high as possible.

The process had been kicked off by some members of the Board having a ‘brain-storming’ session with the Editor.

BellBoard automation had also been used to provide extra time for the Compositor to help develop a proper tablet version of the paper: a prototype had already been developed, and it was hoped to launch a production version at some time before the end of the year. Nigel said “we are not really doing this because we expect major changes in circulation from having a tablet edition, we are doing it because we think that in the future a tablet version will be part of the RW and we think it is important to develop the capability.”

He went on to add “We are really now at the Crossroads of the RW; we have made losses every year for the last six years. This year we had hoped to break even, but didn’t. We cannot continue to go on as we are and we know that we have to change – it is important that we change before we have to and while we still have some resources to do it.”

Nigel said that he had recently laid out a three year ‘high-level plan’ for the board, to decide what the RW for the 21st Century will look like and what sort of business model is required to support that journal, whatever forms it took: “we have no set view at this stage as to what it is going to be – my personal view is that I would like to keep the paper.” In year 2 and into year 3 the detailed work would be done to make it all happen and, by the end of year 3 there would be a different shaped RW, with a different and more sustainable business model. A new Business Plan will underpin all this work.

Whatever shape the future RW takes, BellBoard will be an important part of it and the organisation is working on its capability to be ready for the future: “many of the features that you see in BB today are essentially the easy things to do and we are now working on some of the things that are harder, and take a lot of time, like integration with other systems.” The standardisation of tower names and locations would help to get the on-line system into a position where it is an effective repository of personal, tower and association records that can, in time, be made into a proper historical record.

As the future shape of the RW is defined Nigel promised widespread consultation – particularly with CC committees, such as the Peal Records Committee. It would need to appeal to a wide range of ringers, not just the people that take it today.

Nigel thanked the two Board members standing down this year – Chris Mew would, happily, still be attending its meetings in his capacity as President of the Central Council. Fred Bone was retiring after 12 years’ service as IT director and he was presented with a framed print as a token of thanks. Nigel also thanked Kate Flavell for her very real contribution to the work of the Board.

Finally Nigel thanked the Editor, Robert Lewis, for his work in producing the paper each week “come hell or high water” (and the office had indeed been flooded earlier in the year).


Nigel Herriott presents Fred Bone
with a framed Tidmarsh print

Question and answers

Elva Ainsworth (Additional member) said she hears that the current business model is not working and requests the Board acts with urgency to look at new strategy and then asked how the Board planned to consult with ringers about the changes.

Nigel replied “we haven’t quite decided yet – the work to do this starts tomorrow” and he said that he was aware of the need to consult more widely than just current subscribers. Surveys and focus groups were among the possibilities and the Board has an ‘away day’ planned in July to work on this.

Peter Kirby (Yorkshire Assoc) suggested cutting costs by moving to electronic dissemination of the Annual Report, instead of the expensive printed version. This was put as a formal motion and accepted, with the proviso that paper copies would be made available to anyone who did not have ready access to electronic media.

Matthew Sorell asked how many electronic RW subscribers there were to the paper: the answer was “about 150”.

Finance Director’s report

Richard Wallis went over the headline details of his report, including the £5,040 deficit “which is actually £10,000 less than last year; due to £8,000 more income and £2,000 less expenditure”.

The subscription rate was increased at the start of the year and brought in more income, even though subscriber numbers dropped. Merchandise sales held up and improved slightly. Sponsorship and advertising income fell. On expenditure, printing & postage were contained. The print run is down to 2,900 each week. The initial office restructure reduced salaries and that will reduce further later this year. Richard put up a slide up showing why the balanced budget set last year didn’t quite work.

Questions & Answers

Michael Church (W&P) said that, as both a former RW Chairman and Finance Director “the point that has disturbed me is that the figures we have been told to look at comparing with 2013 are not strictly comparable with 2013; those accounts had a £9,000 error in them, which flowed back from 2012. So the subscription income last year was understated by £9,000 and the loss last year was overstated by £9,000 – so the loss change from last year to this year is £1,000, not £10,000 and the subscription income is approximately the same.”

He added “I’m not trying to be smart, because I’ve sat where you have, but this is a fundamental change in the figures which have just been put on the slides.”

Richard Wallis accepted the point, but said that going forward the figures would be right: “the Budget for 2014 was set knowing the correct figures for last year”.

Veronica Downing (Suffolk Guild) made a comment that if the total RW circulation was around 3,000 that if there were about 40,000 ringers “then the RW really isn’t meeting the needs of most of the ringers, is it?” Nigel Herriott responded that the RW had lost an average of 72 subscribers per year since 1990 and that this was mostly down to an ageing subscriber base, a ringing demographic (there are fewer ringers around) and the fact that young people, by and large, don’t subscribe to the RW. The challenge is how to make the RW relevant to a new generation.

Robert Wood wanted to encourage peal ringers to donate towards the cost of publishing peal reports and generously produced a cheque for £26 in respect of the 26 peals that he had rung during the last year.

New Directors

Richard Wallis, who retired from the Board by rotation, was re-elected for a further term.

Richard Smith, the architect of BellBoard, was one of two new directors elected; the other being computer network expert David Wallis.

BB BellBoard
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers