AN MP has called for dialogue to resolve the dispute which has silenced the bells at York Minster and get the bellringers back in the tower.

York Central MP Rachael Maskell said she believed the axing last week of all 30 volunteer ringers had been 'disproportionate', and claimed the Minster's management and communications could be 'vastly improved.'

The MP was speaking after meeting a delegation of volunteer ringers at the weekend and after the Archbishop of York yesterday strongly defended the Dean and Chapter's decision to dismiss the ringers, saying it had happened after safeguarding issues had arisen and after members of the York Minster Society of Change Ringers had consistently challenged the Chapter's authority on the matter.

Ms Maskell said safeguarding was clearly important but she believed it should have been possible to address such issues without dismissing all the ringers and leaving the cathedral unable to ring its bells on important days such as Remembrance Sunday.

She said the ringers who came to see her had been 'very upset and confused' by what had happened.

She said she had written to the Minster to press for dialogue and engagement with members of the bellringing community to resolve the dispute and get the bells ringing again.

Dr John Sentamu, speaking yesterday at a press conference in the cathedral, said that in the summer, it had been necessary for the Chapter to take action regarding a 'member of the bellringing community' on alleged safeguarding grounds.

"This came after complex multi-agency activity involving City of York Council, York Diocese Safeguarding Adviser and the Church of England's National Safeguarding Officer," he said.

He said the decision was taken in line with advice from safeguarding professionals, and with regard to national policies and guidance on minimising risk to children, young people and vulnerable adults.

He claimed some members of the York Minster Society of Change Ringers had consistently challenged the Chapter's authority on this and other important matters.

"Repeated disregard of the Chapter's attempts to fully implement the Church's national policies for safeguarding, health and safety and security mean that decisive action was necessary," he said.

"This is why the Chapter took the decision to disband the bell ringing team last week."

But the Society responded by saying that, whilst it had challenged the Chapter on the fairness of some decisions, it 'strongly refuted' any suggestion it disregarded the implementation of any of its policies.

"All of Chapter’s policies have been implemented in full, at all times,"it said.

"YMSCR take health and safety, security and safeguarding with the utmost seriousness. The Dean and Chapter have not been able to point to any evidence that suggests the contrary."

It said individuals within YMSCR had privately expressed concerns to the Dean and Chapter over whether due process had been followed and as a direct result, the entire team had their volunteer agreements terminated.

"This demonstrates that York Minster do not tolerate any questioning of their decisions, or of the processes by which these were made, even when that questioning is conducted politely and in private.

"If this was the reason for the Dean and Chapter’s decision to dismiss the band last week, we do not understand why this was not communicated to us at the time, and why the Dean and Chapter misled the public by releasing several statements contradicting this."

It appealed  for the Dean and Archbishop to sit down and talk in private with the society.

The Archbishop also used his press conference to defend the Dean, the Very Reverend Vivienne Faull, who has personally come under fire from many critics. He said she was one of the best deans he had ever worked with and followed procedures by the letter, but had been 'hounded.'

The Dean said it was difficult being singled out for a decision that was 'taken corporately and unanimously' but she hoped very much 'we can move on.'

The Archbishop's intervention came after the Lord Mayor of York, Cllr Dave Taylor, had called the axing of York Minster's bellringers 'shocking and unreasonable.'

Cllr Taylor told The Press that as an atheist, he wouldn’t presume to advise clergy on matters of religion, or whether the Dean and Chapter's behaviour in dismissing the 30 volunteer ringers last week was “Christian” or otherwise.

"However, I do consider the decision of The Dean and Chapter to dismiss its volunteer bellringers in such a curt manner to be shocking and unreasonable," he said.

"Just because volunteers have no employment protection in law, it does not follow that they should be treated with such disdain. 

"Maybe there are underlying reasons which have not yet come to light, but on the face of it, this human resources disaster has drawn national condemnation and reputational damage to York Minster.

"The Dean & Chapter now seems to have dug itself a deeper hole by dismissing a critic of the decision, which appears to be rather intolerant.  I do think a negotiated settlement should be sought, as it would have to be if the workers were formally employed."

The Lord Mayor had previously posted strong comments on Facebook about the bell ringers' axing, saying: "I have to wonder whether there's more to this than meets the eye. Surely, even the most evil, scheming inhuman resources abomination would not conceive of dismissing volunteers of many years standing in such a way, with no consultation, no notice, and locking the door in their face. Surely?!

"National, if not international, condemnation of York Minster has followed, with articles in The Mirror, Metro, Daily Mail, Guardian, Telegraph, BBC, and ITV.

"A spectacular piece of foot-shooting which will disadvantage the Minster itself, as well as people involved in the Service of Remembrance, celebrants of Christmas, and New Year. Utterly bizarre behaviour!"

The Press has given the Minster opportunity to reply to the Lord Mayor's comments and will publish its response promptly, if one is forthcoming.

Action was taken yesterday morning to move the bells into a safe position, amid claims that they had been left in a potentially dangerous 'up position' since the bellringers were dismissed last Tuesday evening.

Fears over the safety of the bells were raised at the weekend by one of the axed ringers.

John Potter, who says he rang at the cathedral for 42 years, said the bells had been left in the 'up position' after the 30 volunteers were dismissed at a meeting last Tuesday.

He said he offered to lower them to a safe position but this was declined by a Canon, who said he he did not have the power to permit it.

Mr Potter claimed: “This is uncharted territory. I know of no precedent for such a heavy ring of bells to be left in the up position for such a long time without being rung.”

He said the tenor bell, weighing more than three tons, was set just over the 12 o’clock position, resting on a wooden stay and with its weight taken on a metal pin some 10 mm in diameter, leaning against a metal block.

“The same applies to all the other bells at their various weights," he said.

"I can but hope that someone in the Health & Safety Executive will read this and get onto the Dean sharpish, and tell her to do something about this situation.

"As the risk cannot be measured with reasonable confidence, it is better to be safe than sorry."

The cathedral initially defended its decision to axe the ringers in a statement last week, in which it said that snce 2014, it had been working with its groups of volunteers to introduce a consistent standard of recruitment, induction, training and development.

It said the Chapter was committed to having a fully trained, motivated and engaged body of staff and volunteers by 2020.

“It is also critically important to ensure that there is a consistent approach to health and safety, governance and risk management across all of our volunteer teams," it said.

“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 bell ringers.

“It does mean that they will no longer have access to the bell tower:  that is non-negotiable as Chapter is responsible for the safety and security of all of the Minster’s spaces.

“It also means that the main bells will be silent until we have recruited a new team in the New Year.  We recognise that this will be disappointing for the current team. However they will be free to apply for the new roles as they become available.”

A petition calling for the 30 volunteer ringers to be allowed to return to the cathedral to ring on Remembrance Sunday, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve has now been signed by more than 16,500 people.

Many signators to the petition have posted comments lambasting the axing of the ringers.

One claimed the 'most skilled, dedicated, loyal and faithful group of ringers you could ever wish to meet' were being punished, adding:"I could weep for the injustice and cruelty of it all."

Another said: "Your actions in summarily dismissing an entire band of such skill and dedication beggar belief, and your disdainful treatment of them appears thoroughly un-Christian."

A third posted: "What a dreadful way to treat loyal volunteers. It beggars belief!"

The petition calls on the Dean of York, the Very Rev Vivienne Faull, to 'allow the York Minster bell ringers to ring the bells on Remembrance Sunday, Christmas Day and New Years Eve.'

It says: "Remembrance Sunday is THE key day in the year that we remember those who died defending our freedoms during war time. 

"Since the end of WW1 bells have been rung every single year in salute to their sacrifice.

"Christmas and New Year's Eve are such special times of year where we enjoy spending time with family and friends; residents and tourists of York alike adore the iconic sound of our bells.

"We request that the Minster honour tradition by allowing the ringers to ring."

The petition can be found at

The axing of the 30 bell ringers was slated in Saturday's edition of The Times.

The newspaper claimed in a leading article, headed No Bell Prize, that the volunteers had been 'shabbily treated' by the cathedral.

It also described Friday's suspension of Carillon bell ringer John Ridgeway-Wood for 'intemperate' comments about the ringers' dismissal as a 'development worthy of George Orwell.'

The newspaper, popularly dubbed The Thunderer and widely read by the Anglican clergy, said: "The management techniques of FTSE 100 companies, not known for their roots in Christian compassion, have taken root on consecrated ground: the bellringers have been told to re-apply for their jobs.

"The first question we are driven to ask is: how many bell ringers does the City of York have that it can afford to dismiss thirty of them? Are there really dozens more lurking in the transepts?

"The cathedral authorities hope, they say, to develop a consistent approach to health and safety among their volunteers. This bodes ill for the flower arrangers' secateurs and the embroiderers' needles."

The Times says there is nothing wrong in principle with trying to run cathedrals like a corporation, but corporations do not, as a rule, rely on the services of volunteers.

"With enormous demands on a tight budget, it is difficult to understand why the Minster is recruiting professionals to do jobs that were previously done perfectly well for love.

"So never send to know for whom the bell tolls. In York, it isn't tolling at all."

The Press revealed last Friday how John Ridgeway-Wood had been suspended from ringing Carillon Bells at the Minster after he strongly criticised the decision to axe the ringers.

He received a letter telling him the move followed his 'intemperate' comments on Facebook and 'similarly objectionable' comments attributed to him in the media about the Chapter's decision.

"The unacceptable terms of your comments about the Minster and people involved in the Minster's life contravene Chapter's Volunteer Agreement and Social Media policy," said Canon Precentor Peter Moger.

"The suspension of your volunteering agreement follows a number of serious concerns about your ability to accept Chapter's authority as the Minster's governing body and to comply with its policies and procedures."

The Canon Precentor invited Mr Ridgeway-Wood to a meeting to discuss these concerns and said that if he chose not to do so, his volunteer agreement and relatiionship with the Chapter would have to be terminated.

Mr Ridgeway-Wood said he had no intention of going to the meeting and so would have played the Carillon bells for the last time after doing so for about a decade at the cathedral - part of the time as Carillon playing coordinator - which 'saddened' him.

"I am not surprised because they do not like people challenging their authority," he said.

Mr Ridgeway-Wood spoke out in The Press last week about the axings of 30 volunteers who ring the Minster's big bells, saying: "I was absolutely shocked when I heard. They are one of the finest ringing groups in the country, if not the world.

"For a lot of them, this is their life. The actions of the Dean and Chapter are outrageous. I am absolutely furious."

He said the Minster peal was the fourth heaviest in the country and said one of the best in the world and said: "It's just awful that they will be silent until some time next year. You cannot just import people as bellringers. The Minster bells are not like your average parish church bells."

The Dean and Chapter told the volunteers last Tuesday that their agreements were being discontinued, and their access to the bell tower would be blocked.

The Minster's lead bell ringer condemned the "brutal" axing but said the bells could sound again last weekend - if the Dean would agree to talk.

Peter Sanderson, ringing master, claimed the Dean had declined numerous invitations to tour the belltower and meet the team since becoming Dean in 2012, and he was disheartened by this week's announcement.

York Press:

Peter Sanderson

In an open letter to Rev Faull, Mr Sanderson said: "As significant grievances between the ringers and Chapter have arisen over the past 18 months I have made numerous offers to meet with you and to work together to resolve them. You have rejected every one of those offers.

"It matters not a jot whether it is me or someone else who leads the band into the next decade but to see this wonderful team discarded by Chapter on Tuesday evening with no warning and in such a brutal fashion was heartbreaking beyond measure."

The Dean addressed the concerns over the axing of the bell ringers in an online video.

York Press:

The Very Reverend Vivienne Faull in the online video

She said: "We have ended bell ringing for the moment and we look forward to recruiting a head bell ringer who will be working directly with the chapter and working with the chapter to recruit a band.

"We have told our existing bell ringers we will be very, very happy for them to apply to become bell ringers as part of the new band when that happens. We know that can't happen very quickly but we hope we will have a new band in place by Easter next year."

Speaking to The Press, Mr Sanderson - who has been involved with the bell ringing team for more than 30 years - said he was keen to work with the Dean and Chapter to resolve the matter quickly.

He said: "We're still open and willing to talk and if the only slot in her diary was 3am, I would be there.

"I am sure the issues cannot be difficult to resolve, and we could be ringing the bells again on Sunday, but it would require willingness on their behalf."

When asked for a response to Mr Sanderson’s open letter, a Minster spokeswoman said the Dean would respond to him directly and declined to comment to The Press.

Alice Etherington moved from Oxford to York more than a decade ago to join the bellringers, and said she was upset by last week’s events, but had experienced numerous problems in the last 18 months, when “the fun has been sucked out” of ringing by stricter rules from the Minster.

She said: “If there was an issue, why decide it in secret without us knowing? They should have come and consulted with us.

“I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so terribly upset by this. I’ve been ringing for 15 years and with the Minster for a decade. I moved the length of the country to come to York for the incredible bells. They’re the equivalent of a Stradivarius violin and this is like someone’s locked it away and said ‘tough luck’.”

Mr Sanderson said he felt “terribly let down and bewildered” by this week’s events, and said the health and safety and training issues mentioned in the Minster’s explanation for the changes had not been discussed previously.

He said: “They’ve never been raised before and the mind boggles as to what that training is going to consist of, as you can only be trained by skilled ringers, and those are the people they’ve just dismissed.

“The health and safety concerns must have been known about prior to last week, but they still allowed us to ring on Sunday morning, so the concerns can’t have been that dire.”

One member of the bell ringing team - who asked not to be named - said they were given no answers in the nine-minute meeting when they found out they were being axed.

He said: "It was a very cold and very unwelcoming, unkind atmosphere.

"She's released this video making out that we're very, very welcome and that's not how we felt. People asked questions and weren't given reasons that made sense. It was just very much a wall of silence, from our point of view."

The bell ringer said the team was unhappy with their treatment in recent months.

He said: "We just feel undervalued. Over the last few months the Dean and Chapter have been very different from how it used to be. There have been all sorts of problems."

Recent footage of the bellringers in action:

The locks on the tower doors have been changed, and the team were refused access on Tuesday even to ring the bells down into a safe position, The Press was told.

A Minster spokeswoman said it had been an 'emotional process,' as some had been ringing the bells for many years.

She said a new team of volunteers would now be recruited, who would work under a paid 'Head of Tower,' but it would be about three months before the recruitment, induction and training process had been completed and they could be deployed.

The Minster would therefore not be ringing in the New Year at midnight on December 31, and the usual bellringing on Sundays will be suspended until the New Year, including Remembrance Sunday.

She said all the former bell ringers would be entitled to apply to join the new team and go through a new training and induction process, and some had indicated they would be interested in doing that.

York Press:

However, the Minster hoped the process would open up the bell ringing to new people who had not been involved before.

The spokeswoman said that the Minster had been through a similar process with other volunteers since 2014, such as the broderers.

Footage of the bells from 2013:

A bell ringer who asked not to be identified contacted The Press to say the volunteers had received letters at the weekend inviting them to the meeting, held at Church House in Ogleforth, but had no idea what they would be told.

"The reaction was one of complete shock," he said. "People were in tears afterwards.

"The Minster has been a very unhappy place in recent months but we had no idea this was coming."

He claimed the Minster had increasingly taken a 'corporate managerial approach, rather than one of Christian compassion.'

He also claimed that when the Dean arrived at the Minster, the team had wanted to welcome her and invited her to visit the bell tower, but he understood she had not been there.

Another bell ringer contacted the paper to speak of their 'loyalty and committment,' and said they were people of the 'highest integrity' who felt insulted by the decision to change the locks on the door to the tower.

He said there had not been any proper explanation for the decision, other than a lot of 'corporate jargon.'

He said: "The whole thing is extremely distressing."

York Press:

Asked why the existing team of volunteers could not be allowed to continue ringing the bells until the replacement team was in place - ensuring the bells did not go quiet - the Minster spokeswoman said a line had to be drawn in terms of access to the tower, and it was important to ensure people were safe and trained.

Asked whether she believed the volunteers had been treated with Christian compassion, she said: "I do not think it was unChristian."

She stressed that the Minster's carillon bells - a set of smaller musical bells played using a wooden keyboard - would continue to play over the intervening period.