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AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Rod Ismay, Bells and Bikes

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Self-confessed Tour de France obsessive, Rod Ismay, is very busy spreading the word about his new book, Bells and Bikes - you may have heard him on BBC Radio Sheffield or caught him on BBC Look North (watch the full interview HERE) or seen him buzzing excitedly around your local Post Office in his red and white spotted 'Tour de France' t-shirt - but he's found the time to answer a few questions for us about how he organised the 2014 'Big Ring' - when church bells rang out to welcome the Tour de Yorkshire.  

Thinking back to 2013, how did you feel when you heard that the Tour de France was coming to Yorkshire?

I was a bit surprised, rather excited and very energised. I’d been a Tour de France addict since the mid 1980s and wherever the race went I knew it would come past churches and post offices. I knew I could do something to help people engage with the race.

How easy was it to try and organise church bells for the route?
In one sense we’d been ready for this for over three hundred years. Some of the churches on the race route had bells older than oak trees. That bit was easy. Getting ringers revved up for Le Tour as early as me wasn’t easy though. Not everyone was a Tour addict. But they probably are now!

How did you decide what route the Grand Depart should take when submitting your proposal to Welcome to Yorkshire?

Knowing how good the bells sound and how great the scenery is in places like Bradfield, Penistone, West Tanfield and Holmfirth, it was easy to pick places for Le Tour. It was a bit harder to plot a route to encompass them all. But Welcome to Yorkshire managed it. And for places that missed the boat in 2014, well hey there’s a Tour de Yorkshire every year now so we can propose routes again and again!

It might be fair to say that bell-ringing generally appeals to an older generation but have you found that younger people are showing more of an interest since the Tour?
Bell-ringing has an appeal to all ages, and there are actually a good many young ringers. They might take it up through church groups, Scouts and Guides badges and other challenges. But there aren’t enough. You are right, the demographic is too old and that is a big issue for the future of ringing. Otley attracted a whole new band for Le Tour though and The Tykes (youth band) were pre-filmed for the Tour Opening Ceremony.

Can you tell us about the fundraising events you organised to coincide with the Tour?

I organised a ride in the shape of Pudsey Ears across Yorkshire for BBC Children in Need in the Autumn before Le Tour. We visited Post Office branches, having fun hosting children’s colouring competitions and songs along the way. I had a BBC camera strapped to my seat stay on my bike for 30 miles. I also initiated two Cycle to Church Sundays at Ecclesall in Sheffield. We supported Marie Curie in 2014 and Sheffield Children’s Hospital in 2015. We got 209 people cycling to church for our event in 2014. We got people on bikes who might not otherwise have ridden and they realised they could do it.

Click HERE to find out more and to order a copy of Rod's book, Bells and Bikes.

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