“What is Beetle Drive?” asked Bath Rugby Academy player Will Tanner, 19, as we walked into the Almshouse accommodation at St John’s Hospital in Weston, Bath. It didn’t occur to me that the youngsters wouldn’t have heard of the game before, forgetting the difference in ages between the residents, the boys and me.
Will, along with Academy boys JJ Kilmartin, Tom Baldwin, Jo Buckle and Ollie Devoto, were visiting Bath’s Almshouses for an afternoon of learning from the old folk.
The boys were greeted with a huge hello as they walked through the door. The residents were sitting in groups at tables waiting for their young, handsome visitors! The boys soon got the hang of it, and were joining in with enthusiasm, shaking sixes for beetle bodies, fives for a heads, fours for wings etc - the race was on!
The dice bounced on and off the tables as the women and one gentleman resident (lucky man!), passed it on as fast as possible. It was a competition of speed as well as luck, as many different sized and shaped beetles were drawn. Listening to them all playing I could hear voices: ‘I only need a leg to win,’ ‘I need a head,’ then Ollie Devoto, looking downhearted saying: ‘I’m still waiting for a body!’
We then had a midway break of cakes, biscuits, and teas when conversations flowed. Some of the boys had visited St John’s before and Joe Buckle said: ‘It’s great fun. We’re always made to feel really welcome here. It’s a first at playing Beetle, but we are really enjoying it, and already looking forward to our next visit and maybe playing some more.’
It all became very competitive and very noisy as the old and young strived for victory. The winner of the afternoon was a resident called Margaret – she had thoroughly trounced the youngsters!
Academy boys are regular visitors to St John’s Hospital. Over the past few years they have enjoyed playing croquet and boules with the residents in the summer months and delivering Christmas hampers in the winter. They have even practised their public speaking skills by talking individually about their careers and answering questions. It is definitely a two way relationship - where youth and age have much to give to each other.
St John's Hospital is a registered charity providing Almshouse accommodation, community grants and individual financial support to deprived people in Bath.
The historic charitable trust is as old as Bath itself. Founded in 1174, it has served the community for over 800 years. Today, its vision is to provide an improved quality of life, through housing and support for older people, and through grant making, for others who are disadvantaged in some way.
The full name of the charity is The Hospital of St John the Baptist with the Chapel of St. Michael, annexed with St Catherine's Hospital. It also encompasses Bath Municipal Charities and a group of other local charities. For convenience and everyday use, it is affectionately known simply as St John's