St John’s partner with Curo to end furniture poverty

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Last year, St John’s Foundation teamed up with Bath-based housing association group, Curo, to launch a furnished tenancy scheme in the Bath and North East Somerset region.

Living in poverty can have devastating effects on a person’s wellbeing and mental health. To paint the picture, 4,000 people in BaNES, of whom 1,500 are children, were defined as living in absolute poverty in 2022. As these numbers continue to increase, it becomes ever more important to investigate the wider impact of this.

The furnished tenancy pilot scheme, named ‘Cosy Start’ was initiated to address the pressing issue of furniture poverty among individuals moving into new homes without adequate furnishings or cooking equipment. The pilot scheme received funding from St John’s Foundation and Fusion 21, amounting to £40,000.

The scheme aimed to help those at greatest risk of furniture destitution such as refugees, care leavers, resettled homeless people and those fleeing domestic abuse. When looking at furniture insecurity, those at most risk are working-age families, single mothers, those with a disability and Universal Credit claimants.

As part of the collaboration, Curo have furnished 16 houses so far in the region. The funding covered essential items such as furniture and carpets, white goods, and a welcome pack comprising a kettle, toaster, crockery, saucepans and bedding.

Prior to implementation, Curo gathered feedback from 150 customers through a survey. The results revealed significant demand, with 69% expressing that they would benefit from the scheme. Additionally, 51% admitted to incurring debt while purchasing essential items, while 79% spent time in their homes trying to get by without the essentials to live. Alarmingly, 34% reported having no furniture at all upon moving in.

Feedback from customers also highlighted the need for more focus on this area. One respondent said that this support was particularly important for those fleeing domestic violence, because moving from a property where you have everything to nothing risks the fleeing parent returning to their abuser for the security of their family having a bed.

Another response said:

“When I moved into my flat I had no furniture or white goods. I had to rely on catalogues to purchase all my furniture and white goods which took me a period of four years to pay off. Having furniture, especially white goods, when moving into the property is essential. It’s just as essential as having gas and electric and food.”

A year on from the scheme’s launch, all 16 households remain in their tenancies without any known issues, indicating the overall success and stability it has achieved for participants. Rent arrears among the pilot participants stand at 0% which drastically contrasts with the 18% average among new Universal Credit tenancies, highlighting the scheme’s positive impact on financial stability.

In addition to the financial stability participants have reached, the scheme has seen significant social benefits too. Customer feedback indicated high satisfaction, with a 4.6/5 rating and a strong case for recommendations for the scheme.

Reflecting on the life changing scheme, a pilot participant said:

“The items I have received have given me a sense of freedom and increased independence because we’re able to function normally and are less dependent on others. I worry less about money now as a result of the items I have received because I can store food for longer, I don’t have to use the laundrette and I don’t have as many takeaways.

In light of the extremely positive results, Curo plans to extend the initiative, with additional funding support from St John’s Foundation. The collaboration will help to further alleviate furniture poverty while contributing to social and financial sustainability in society.

 

 

Embarking on a long-term vision to make a real and enduring difference to communities is a daunting prospect. Strategies require continual assessment of progress and adjustment along the way in order to be attained.

At St John’s Foundation we are now four years into our ambitious strategy to significantly reduce the academic attainment gap at Key Stage 2 in Bath and North East Somerset through a broad range of initiatives supported by our Foundation Fund. We have been measuring the progress and impact of our programmes and are now beginning to see real, positive results.

In this article, we throw a spotlight on our work in Early Years settings to support speech and language development so that children in our community are ready to learn when they start school. Our Language for Life programme has seen such positive early results that it is already due to be extended and rolled out at more settings. In fact, our latest impact report, carried out independently, has indicated that the programme is having a systemic impact on the settings it is supporting.

What is Language for Life and why does it matter?

There is significant academic inequality in the region, with BaNES ranking fifth worst in the country for its attainment gap at Key Stage 2. This gap is defined as the difference in academic achievement between students in receipt of pupil premium and those who are not.

St John’s work to level the playing field and reduce this gap which is complex and extends beyond the classroom. The issues that can lead to academic inequalities often begin well before school, which is why our work encompasses projects from pre-birth all the way to secondary school.

Good communication skills strengthen a child’s ability to learn and help them manage their emotions and behaviour. However, under-served children often arrive at school with lower speech and language ability causing them to fall behind, which can have a long-lasting impact on learning.

Through training, the Language for Life (LfL) programme equips Early Years practitioners with the tools they need to identify and support pre-schoolers that are not at the expected language level for their age. Where needed, children are referred to specialists. For those requiring a lower level of support, staff are able to put measures in place to help these children reach their expected level as quickly as possible.

The programme has been running at 23 settings across Bath and North East Somerset (BaNES) and began in the 2021/2022 academic year. Children are screened at the beginning and end of the academic year, and periodically where needed, using a Wellcomm Toolkit which places them in a red, amber or green zone, with those in the red zone requiring specialist support, amber needing some help and green requiring no further support.

At the start of the 2021/2022 academic year, 84 per cent of children assessed at participating settings were identified as needing extra support, including the majority of children in receipt of early years pupil premium (EYPP). By the end of the 2022/2023 year, this figure reduced to just 29 per cent. This dramatic improvement will have a real impact on how these pre-schoolers begin their formal education.

A key success of the programme is that the children in the amber zone, who do not qualify for specialist support, do not fall between the cracks and are identified as needing some additional support, and are receiving it.

What impact is LfL having?

Feedback in our latest impact report strongly suggests that children are increasingly being identified earlier and more accurately with their speech and language needs and that, over time, the proportion of children who are reaching the expected language level for their age by the time they go to school is increasing.

For those children identified as needing specialist support, the number of referrals has increased by 160 per cent over the past two years, suggesting that these children are increasingly receiving the greater level of support they need.

Even for the 29 per cent who had not reached the expected language level by the end of the last academic year, this forms part of the handover process from pre-school to Reception so that their teacher can put necessary arrangements in place from the beginning and prevent them from falling behind.

What’s next for LfL?

With such positive results, we have taken the decision to double the number of Early Years settings benefitting from the LfL programme and on a longer-term basis. This broadening and extending of the programme will also allow time for these practices to become fully embedded at participating settings, so that the traditionally high turnover of staff at Early Years setting does not affect the programme’s ongoing impact.

Whilst there is much more work to be done to level the academic playing field in the region, these early interventions at 23 of our Early Years settings are making a real difference to the children in need of support and positively influencing how they begin their school journey.

At St John’s Foundation, our trustees form an integral part of our team and are pivotal in leading our charity to support as many people in our community as possible, and in the most effective way.

Ben Fletcher, our Chair of Trustees, joined St John’s in 2019 and played a vital role in spearheading and developing our current funding strategy to significantly reduce the educational attainment gap at Key Stage 2 in the Bath and North East Somerset (BaNES) region. Passionate about education, he is also a Trustee of the National Literacy Trust, which supports children’s literacy skills, and through this connection Ben brings invaluable expertise to support St John’s ambitious goals.  The re-focusing of St John’s funding strategy complements the support the charity continues to provide to older adults, including the provision of high quality almshouse accommodation and community outreach support.

Aside from his trustee work, Ben is Chief Finance and Transformation Officer at The Very Group, and for 10 years served on the board of the British Retail Consortium.

Ben says he was first drawn to becoming a trustee of St John’s by the charity’s impressive history and the positive impact it has in BaNES. He explains:

“When I think about the 850 years that St John’s has existed, I often reflect on the canny management and considerable amount of luck it has taken to reach this milestone. It also puts a weight of responsibility on our shoulders to continue and build on this legacy, creating a balance between having a short- and medium-term impact without putting the charity’s longevity at risk, so that the next generation can continue our crucial work.

“Many charities are having to think very carefully about how they can continue to support their beneficiaries, given current financial difficulties and, in this respect, we are extremely lucky to have the assets and financial buffer that we do. But we need to use them wisely, for when much is given, much is expected.”

Despite the burden of St John’s legacy, Ben feels very proud to play a part in the charity’s journey and current strategy, which he was instrumental in bringing to life. He says:

“We spent 2019 meticulously developing and planning our strategy, which was a new direction for St John’s, and were excited to launch it in 2020. Measuring our progress is key to demonstrating that our work is having the intended impact, allowing us to change course where it is not and to learn from our failures.

“Constant innovation is necessary to solve many of the problems we are facing. We can then share what we’ve learned with other charities, both within and outside of our region. We, in turn, can also learn from others and test their methods to see if they have a positive impact in BaNES.

“Our mission is to be effective, not just busy and, in this way, we can keep learning from our experiences and develop the key skills and knowledge needed to deliver our strategy, building collaborative networks across the community.”

St John’s Foundation has recently released its latest Impact Report sharing the results of the strategy so far, which can be found here.

Ben’s previous experience as a trustee and non-executive has supported him in his role at St John’s. He has noticed strategic similarities in his roles and the need to collaborate with many stakeholders to reach a common view. While working as a trustee instead of an executive at St John’s took some getting used to, he has enjoyed forming and leading the Board of Trustees, creating a high-calibre group with diverse viewpoints committed to the same goal – improving the lives of under-served people in BaNES.

“I would encourage anyone to become a trustee, especially whilst still working in the corporate world”, he says. “You get to spend time with people from many walks of life with a diverse range of skills, knowledge, and experiences, which you don’t always get in a large company. Being a charity trustee also grants perspective and connects you with the community in a very profound way. It’s very grounding and has been one of the most valuable developmental experiences for me.”

Reflecting on the charity’s milestone year and momentous celebration in February, during which Ben welcomed Queen Camilla, he adds:

“Our recent 850 Anniversary Service at Bath Abbey was terrific. It was a great atmosphere, and we were extremely grateful to be able to welcome our Patron, Queen Camilla. Walking from our almshouse to the Abbey alongside Her Majesty was my highlight of the day and will stay with me for a very long time.

“The day was so wonderful because it offered us a chance to reintroduce ourselves to the community and remind people we are here to support them, if they need us. We hope the people of Bath will get to know St John’s better over the coming year through increased visibility and that we can therefore have an even greater positive impact in our community.”

To find out more about St John’s Board of Trustees, click here.

Our story began 850 years ago, in 1174, when Bishop Fitzjocelyn founded St John’s Foundation to offer sanctuary to those facing poverty and enduring chronic conditions. Fast forward eight and a half centuries to the present day, and the deep-rooted inequalities in our community persist. Despite Bath’s picturesque facade, beneath the surface that captivates countless tourists, lies poverty and hardship. Shockingly, 43% of residents struggle to pay fuel bills, and 21,000 individuals worry about running out of food before they can afford more. Despite these challenges, St John’s remains resolute our mission is to provide a ray of hope to those in need within our community.

Educational, social and nutrition support for children

In Bath and North East Somerset, 20% of children aged between 0-12 years old are living in relative poverty. Forming the basis of the work we do through our Foundation Fund, St John’s mission is to ensure all children can lead happy, healthy, and educated lives. Our local authority has the 5th worst Key Stage 2 attainment gap in England, and we are determined to close this gap, ensuring children leave primary school with an education that will support them throughout their adult lives.

To narrow the Key Stage 2 attainment gap, we work with schools and selected partners to run a series of child development initiatives. These initiatives target key areas of child development; with language development and emotional support for nursery settings, followed by additional support in reading, writing, mathematics, and oral communication skills at primary school level. To help new parents and children with emotional and behavioural challenges, we fund a series of professional services to remove communication barriers and to foster positive relationships.

Good nutrition not only provides the energy for children to play and have fun, but also for good brain development and to learn. Eating well is essential for children and has a significant impact on their behaviour and academic performance. Alongside the work we do with national organisations to address the need for emergency food provisions, we also run a Nutritious Food Programme, providing over 400 local children with free hot lunches every day.

Helping older people live fulfilled and independent lives

At the heart of St John’s lies our almshouses. Originally founded as an almshouse charity, our dedication remains steadfast in providing sheltered accommodation to older adults in need. Our focus is on ensuring that they can lead fulfilling, healthy, and independent lives within our community.

With 20% of those aged over 65 still living in relative poverty and a growing number of pension age renters, inequalities among older adults are becoming more pronounced. Loneliness and social isolation are prevalent issues in our region, underscoring the urgent need for attention and support in addressing these challenges.

Our almshouses offer a sense of belonging and safety, friendships, wellbeing, and purpose.  Residents are given bespoke guidance and information in areas such as accommodation and benefits, as well as pastoral support. We offer a diverse and stimulating activities programme for residents and older adults in our community. This aims to provide pleasure and enjoyment, plus an opportunity to look after physical and emotional wellbeing.

As we turn 850, we are taking the opportunity to not only celebrate our history, but to commit to continue to serve those in most need so that we may help change their lives, for good.

Find out more about the work we do

If you would like to learn more about the work we are doing in honour of our 850th anniversary and the history of St John’s Foundation, you can find more information here. If you are a business and would like details on our partnership opportunities and fundraising projects, please contact our team.

As we age, the importance of social connection and companionship becomes increasingly evident for our overall wellbeing. According to Age UK, an estimated 1.4 million older adults in the UK experience feelings of loneliness. The impact of this isolation can have profound effects on both the mental and physical health of those affected.

Here at St John’s, we are passionate about ensuring the ageing process is a positive one for all, and part of our focus is to provide opportunities for older adults to remain active and independent while reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Impact of isolation

Older adults might face isolation for various reasons, including the loss of a loved-one, retirement, physical limitations that restrict mobility, or distance from family members. Whatever the reason, all these circumstances can result in social circles shrinking, leading to a reduced number of interactions and engagements.

Isolation can be exacerbated by societal changes too, such as the increasing reliance on technology for communication and the ever-evolving nature of this technology, to which it might be challenging for older adults to adapt. Ageism and stereotyping can also contribute to the exclusion of older adults from social activities and marginalisation within communities.

The mental toll of loneliness should not be underestimated. Studies have linked loneliness in older adults to various health issues, including depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, cognitive decline, and a weakened immune system. Feelings of isolation can lead to a sense of loss of purpose or a lack of motivation, diminishing the overall quality of life.

Isolation and loneliness are especially common during the winter months. Age UK found that around 1 in 20 older adults spend Christmas alone without speaking to anyone  This shocking statistic has been worsened by the rising cost of living, which is forcing pensioners to lead a more solitary life to save money. The study found that one in four older people cite money worries as a reason for cutting back on social activities, which can stop them from travelling for or participating in activities and events.

The Good Living Service

Isolation and loneliness is often associated with physical separation from social networks or communities. This is why St John’s introduced the Good Living advice service. This service is available to people over 55 in the Bath and North East Somerset area and it offers a wide range of social activities, befriending initiatives, community and support groups, social skills training, education seminars and volunteering programmes. Older adults in the local area can regain independence and use the service to add structure to their days, whilst meeting new people and building new relationships.

In addition to the Good Living Service, Age UK recognises how crucial friendships and meaningful connections are to overall wellbeing, and the local branch offers a befriending service to the community. The service provides community connections for older people in BaNES with regular phone calls and visits. The initiative has brought members of our community together and sparked many new friendships.

The benefits of almshouses

Our almshouses are an important part of our offering at St John’s, and they address a number of societal issues. The communities within our almshouses are friendly and vibrant, and residents are empowered to live independently, with company and support always on hand if needed. Many residents have built close friendships and one of the most significant advantages of living in an almshouse is the community of like-minded individuals who share similar life experiences. This access to a supportive community can reduce the risk of adverse health effects linked to loneliness, depression and poor mental health.

In fact, a recent study by Baynes Business School found that those who live in almshouses may live up to 2 and a half years longer, emphasising the positive impact of belonging to a community and its way of creating a greater sense of purpose.

With adults aged 60 and over now representing the fastest-growing portion of our population, the importance of combatting social isolation and loneliness felt by older adults cannot be overstated.

By acknowledging the challenges and implementing initiatives to promote social connections and improved wellbeing, we can build inclusive environments that enrich the lives of older members of our communities.

We, alongside other charities and organisations, are privileged to be able to provide solutions in the local area.

On 1st February, we were delighted that Her Majesty Queen Camilla visited Bath to join us to mark our 850th anniversary. Before attending the Service of Celebration at Bath Abbey, Her Majesty took the time to meet with 15 of our almshouse residents in our Chapel of St Michael’s Within, for some conversation over tea and cake.

We sat down with three residents from Combe Park to talk about their experience of the Royal visit.

Bill, almshouse resident

“I was absolutely chuffed to bits to be part of the day and to meet Queen Camilla, she is a very lovely lady. I have a picture in my flat of the Queen sat next to me which is brilliant. I really was privileged to be a part of the whole day. I also spotted myself in The Echo as they published the photo of the Queen and me. Some of the residents couldn’t believe I had made the paper and I couldn’t believe it myself!

“We chatted about my work at the hospital for 21 years and she asked about the tie I was wearing. I was wearing my Glenstone Cricket Club tie and she knew all about it, so she must have done her homework really well. I thought she was brilliant, and the St John’s staff worked very hard to make the day very special for us all.”

 Joan, almshouse resident

“The Queen is a very nice and down to earth lady. It was absolutely lovely that she walked around the room and spoke to all of us, and I will remember the day for a long time. I was glad to get a photo with Queen Camilla too, she’s shaking my hand so I’ll definitely keep it! Although I didn’t attend the service, I gather it was a great success.

“Over the last few months, I have been busy knitting and sewing for the 850th anniversary. I have been making mice with historical costumes to signify important people during St John’s eight and a half centuries. They are displayed in the cabinet in Fitzjocelyn House and I’m quite pleased with how that have come out so far.”

Janet, almshouse resident

“It was really lovely to meet Queen Camilla. I was so impressed with how down to earth she was and you could tell she wanted to take her time to meet us all, even though she was on a tight schedule. Instead of sitting down and speaking to us across the table, she got up and worked her way around the room to shake everyone’s hand and chat to us individually. We spoke about Combe Park and how lovely it is to live there as she visited a few years ago.

“I used to volunteer for children with learning disabilities and one of the girls I still keep in contact with was extremely excited about our visit from the Queen. I sent her a photo on WhatsApp which she really loved.”

Isla, almshouse resident

“It was an absolutely delightful day. Her Majesty exuded kindness towards each of us. She took a genuine interest in our lives, talking to us all individually and asking thoughtful questions. To have such a personal interaction with her was quite honestly was a cherry on the cake for my life.”

The celebration was a great success, made even more special by the presence of Her Majesty, and it is a day our residents and the whole St John’s team will remember for a very long time. Photos of our residents meeting Queen Camilla can be viewed here and click to read more about our special celebration.

It is certainly humbling to reflect on the legacy of St John’s Foundation. Founded in 1174, throughout wars, societal advancements, and the passage of time, our commitment to supporting those in need has remained unwavering. As the eleventh oldest charity in the UK, this year we are celebrating our 850th anniversary through a range of events and initiatives that aim to uphold our longstanding commitment to making a positive impact in our community.

Originating eight and a half centuries ago, our founding mission was to alleviate poverty and chronic living conditions in Bath by offering shelter to those in need. Now 850 years on, supporting older adults remains at the heart of our work. By providing almshouse accommodation, a range of support services, and an activities programme for people over the age of 55, our ambition is that age will not be a barrier to living well, and for older people to have opportunities to enjoy life and feel healthy. We are committed to turning this ambition into reality through our Good Living Service.

As a charity, our focus has more recently widened to also tackle some of the complex challenges faced by other under-served members of our community. Inequality can drastically impact life expectancy, literacy levels and employment opportunities, and with one of the widest Key Stage 2 educational attainment gaps in the country, there is urgent work to be done in Bath and North East Somerset.

Back in 2020, we unveiled our ten-year strategy to support under-served children under the age of 12 through our Foundation Fund. The Fund aims to level the playing field and reduce the educational attainment gap at Key Stage 2 by 2030. To do this, we support children by providing them with nutritious food, emotional and behavioural support, safe places to spend their time outside of school hours, and extra assistance with reading, writing and maths skills.

Working alongside, and in collaboration with numerous charities and local delivery partners, we are very fortunate to operate in a community so focussed on improving the lives of those less served. Throughout this 850th anniversary campaign, we hope to strengthen and grow our partnerships. Without the specialist insight, skills and experience of all our partners, we will not be able to achieve our ambitious goals.

As we reflect on centuries of collaborative working, we are also looking to seek out new partnerships, including with local businesses, that will enable us to broaden our work and the number of people we can support in the future.

Celebrating 850 years

For our 850th anniversary, we wanted to mark it with a memorable event that would also bring more awareness to the many challenges faced by members of our community.

On 1 February, we held our Service of Celebration at Bath Abbey, and were delighted to welcome Her Majesty Queen Camilla to the city. With heart-warming performances from school children supported by our Foundation Fund and attendees including many of our beneficiaries, it was a wonderful opportunity to commemorate our history and bring people together in celebration from across our community and beyond.

However, there is a greater purpose to this event and our on-going 850th campaign. Bath is a popular tourist destination, and many people see the grandeur and veneer of this beautiful city without being aware of the pockets of poverty and the inequalities experienced by some of our residents and their families. We are using our milestone year to highlight some of the challenges they face.

Our ultimate goal as a charity is to not be needed at all but, until then, there is much work to be done. We need to enhance our efforts and raise awareness of our key campaigns, increasing recognition of the benefits brought by greater social and educational equality and the challenges that still need to be overcome to reach this goal. By signposting people to the support available within the community and building greater collaboration between charities and other organisations undertaking vital work, we hope to be more ambitious in our support to those who need it. This way, we can continue our mission of addressing the needs of our community and changing lives, for good for another 850 years.

We feel very proud at St John’s Foundation to be celebrating our 850th year. Throughout the centuries, whilst the backdrop has changed dramatically, our mission to support the local community has remained unchanged and our commitment unwavering.

Through several celebration events during this year, we aim not only to recognise those who came before us, but also call attention to the issues that the people of Bath and North East Somerset are still facing today.

Our beginnings and evolution

St John’s Foundation, previously named St John’s Hospital, was first founded in 1174 by Bishop Reginald Fitzjocelyn after he was appointed the fourth Bishop of Bath. After witnessing the poverty faced by many in the area, he established a refuge to provide food and shelter for the vulnerable in his parish. Astonishingly, St John’s Foundation still operates from the same location that Bishop Fitzjocelyn chose eight and a half centuries ago.

Since St John’s Hospital was founded by a Roman Catholic Bishop, the Tudor era heralded an abundance of problems. In response to the religious and cultural upheaval during King Henry VIII’s reign, St John’s Hospital had to adapt quickly and strategically. Fortunately, the Hospital survived, and received the support of Queen Elizabeth I to undergo improvements and development, allowing St John’s aid to reach more people in need of refuge.

The expansion of St John’s Hospital helped to house many of the poor and sick, offering shelter, protection, and sustenance. Contributions from the parishes of the sick helped maintain the Hospital and made it possible to begin purchasing property around the city, to use the income from rents to continue funding its services.

A change in attitude towards charity

Changing attitudes to poverty and poor relief in the nineteenth century led to the 1832 Reform Act and the 1934 Poor Law Amendment Act, which introduced a significant restructuring in how charities operated.

A ‘moral’ separation was introduced between the ‘deserving’ poor, who were defined as moral citizens made poor through no fault of their own, and the so-called ‘undeserving’ poor, those who were not living by the values of society and perceived to be making little effort to help themselves. This changed attitude meant charities were often restricted in what aid they could provide.

The establishment of workhouses was an attempt to make those living in poverty fund their own survival by encouraging them to work. In reality, it left many living in more destitute and desperate situations than before. Charities, and all people, were also discouraged from providing aid to those deemed fit enough to work, even if there was no work available.

During this period, St John’s Hospital turned its attention towards those unable to work, primarily older members of the community. The charity provided food, lodgings and support with everyday needs. Towards the beginning of the twentieth century, the Hospital also began distributing its funds to those who needed aid living within Bath or three miles of the city limits.

The world at war

In the twentieth century, attitudes changed again. The First and Second World Wars wrought devastation across the globe. Mass unemployment following both World Wars brought on by changes in how society operated, and the bombings of the Second World War, left many in poverty.

Greater emphasis began to be placed on state welfare and those living in poverty began to be viewed in a more sympathetic light. Charitable giving became more popular, and charities were encouraged to participate in critical post-war support in their local communities.

It was at this point that St John’s Hospital began the expansion of its almshouses. Old buildings belonging to the Hospital that had been damaged during the bombing raids were restored and converted to provide more housing for older residents. In 1974, St John’s Hospital then transformed into a housing association to help cover the costs of further almshouse expansion.

Where we are today

In 2017, St John’s Hospital became St John’s Foundation – still offering almshouse accommodation for older adults and support for those facing hardships in our community. In recent years, we have expanded our services to support people in crisis and have a significant focus on children aged 0 to 12, with an underlying aim to provide all children in our community with equal opportunity to live happy, healthy lives.

Throughout our many years of history, St John’s Foundation has evolved and adapted to meet the requirements and cultural pressures of the time and continued to provide support for those who need it most. We have had the privilege of the support and dedication of so many incredible partners and individuals throughout the years who have gone to great lengths to continue delivering our mission.

However, in the story of St John’s, we still have many historical mysteries to uncover. We are digging through our basement archives to complete the puzzle and shed more light on those who came before us. As we celebrate our 850th year in 2024, we hope to demonstrate how the legacy of Bishop Fitzjocelyn and all our supporters over the years continues to bring hope to the region of Bath and North East Somerset.

On 1st February, in a momentous occasion, Her Majesty The Queen joined us to mark our 850th anniversary.

Her Majesty began her visit to Bath by meeting our almshouse residents for tea and cake in our chapel, St Michael Within. Her Majesty then made her way through the centre of Bath to arrive at Bath Abbey where she was greeted in the courtyard by over 800 school children from five of the local schools we work with through our Foundation Fund.

Within the Abbey, over 500 guests gathered for a Service of Celebration that paid tribute to our history and impactful legacy. Attendees included many of our direct beneficiaries, including older adults residing in our Chapel Court and Combe Park almshouses and local school children supported by our initiatives.

Guests heard a performance of ‘A Million Dreams’ and ‘Sing’ from the Voices for Life choir. The choir which was made up of 90 year 4 pupils from the local schools we work with, was created specifically for the occasion.

Following an address which outlined our future ambitions, our CEO David Hobdey invited Her Majesty up to unveil the commemorative 850th plaque commissioned for the occasion. The plaque will be laid within our city centre courtyard, a place which has been St John’s home for the last 850 years.

Reflecting on the service, David Hobdey said:

“It was an honour to have Her Majesty The Queen join us to celebrate our 850th anniversary. Her Majesty’s attendance made a very special day even more poignant, and we are so grateful to her for taking the time to meet our residents and join our Service.

It’s an incredible achievement to reach 850 years and humbling to think of all the historic events and upheavals that St John’s has survived. We are thankful to everyone who attended to help us mark this occasion. St John’s Foundation’s mission is to keep driving forward to continue addressing the needs in our community and changing lives, for good, for the next 850 years.”

Guests were invited to remain in the Abbey for a reception following the Service, where they heard from Executive Head of St Michael’s Church Junior School, Clare Greene, who spoke about the impact our Foundation Fund has had on local under-served pupils.

Moving into the remainder of the year, we will be hosting several events to continue the 850th celebrations. These will aim to involve as many people in the community as possible, especially our direct beneficiaries, and aim to raise awareness of our extensive work in Bath and North East Somerset.

Safe places in Bath and North East Somerset  

Access to a safe place is a fundamental human right. When we established our Foundation Fund in 2020 to support under-served children aged 0-12 in our region, we recognised that one of the issues they might face would be a shortage of places outside of school hours where they would feel safe and which would contribute to their general well-being.  

As the cost-of-living crisis continues, the number of families with access to after school activities, often run by private organisations, is reducing. The Early Years Alliance has shown that the number of children’s centres in England dropped by 93% between 2010 and 2019.  

The loss of indoor children’s centres means that children are increasingly limited in the safe places they can spend their time, which in turn can impact on their wellbeing and quality of life. At St John’s, we believe every child has the potential to do well in school, but a child’s environment and activities outside of school can significantly impact their readiness to learn. This is why we have launched our Safe Places map. 

Our definition of a ‘Safe Place’ is a place where children and their parents can go to engage with each other and have access to activities and support. Through accessing a safe place children and parents have the opportunity to engage with their community and feel a better sense of connection and belonging.  They are often also able to access nutritious food to support their physical wellbeing. 

Weaving in support with nutritious food where possible helps families that may be facing food insecurity.  According to the Food Foundation, 14% of people in the South West experienced food poverty in April 2022 alone, with households that have children facing an increased risk of falling below the poverty line. The national picture is also bleak. In 2022, 4.2 million children in the UK were living in poverty. This equates to about 29% of UK children and six % of the total population. 

Register your Safe Places 

To expand the Safe Places campaign and provide greater support in the BaNES region, St John’s is encouraging organisations to join the campaign and register their venues as a ‘safe place’. The support from members of the local community will expand the reach of our Safe Places campaign and help more families with children aged 0-12. All locations are logged on a map on our website, you can find out more here. 

Many organisations across BaNES have already registered their venues, including groups in Bath, Keynsham, and Midsomer Norton. The locations vary from sports clubs to community halls and churches. Many organise activities for children to get involved with. Others support older adults and some Safe Places also have kitchens, which means food can be offered. Contact details are available after clicking on each location so parents can find out more.