The first years of our Colony
The 3rd Tynemouth Beaver Colony commenced with an innocent question by one of the Cub’s mothers, “Do you have a Beaver Section because my other son is almost six?” The response from the Cub Mistress was “No, but if you want to start one, you’d be more than welcome”. The seed was planted and after a lot of soul searching as to whether a mere secretary could run an active Beaver Colony, the realisation dawned that having two sons of her own who had lots of extremely active and boisterous friends who came to call regularly it was the best basis to start from. A number of visits to existing Beaver Colonies and an Introductory Training Session served to give a better idea of what was involved and ably assisted by another Cub mother who also had two sons and a long term family involvement in Ritson’s, the advertising in the local paper shops and library began to see whether there would be sufficient interest in the locality.
An item was printed in the Ritson’s Review advising that “after cautious appraisal, the Scouters have decided that it is time we started a Beaver Colony.” It went on to say that Ruth Mather – the mother of one of our cubs – had “volunteered” to run the Colony. The proposed start date was Thursday April 10th 1996 and Cubs and Scouts were asked to tell family and friends about the new venture and the fingers remained crossed until the night. A kind donation of £30 was presented by the Guild towards initial outlay for equipment and craft materials and was gratefully received by the Leaders as a starting point to the new venture.
There was no need to worry because there were a dozen new recruits at the first meeting and the boys decided on “riverside” names in line with the Beaver theme for the Leaders and Ruth became “Moss”, Megan Summers became “Fern” and Ruth’s friend from work, Caroline Berry became “Bracken”. The Leaders saw to the background planning of the meetings and were there to fill the adult leadership needs but two of the Scouts, Michael Dale and Robin Gilchrist, provided the rough and tumble and more activity based side to the meetings. The formula worked well and numbers increased as the weeks went by.
At the AGM in June that year Ruth was able to report that more than half the boys were in uniform and several had already been presented with their world badges and Group nametags. She also reported that the early programme of events had proved very acceptable to the boys with a visit from a blind lady with her guide dog, an ambulance from the Northumbria Ambulance Service, a trip to North Shields Police Station and a visit to the Northern Bus Depot on a double-decker which drove through the bus wash with the whole Colony on board – that seemed to be the one that stuck in everyone’s mind.
The most memorable thing about the early days that stuck in the adults minds was something that happened on the first night when Gillian Pearson, ADC Beavers came to introduce herself to the boys and explain a little about there new life in Scouting.
She had their full attention as she explained that the Leaders were in charge of the boys and if any of them misbehaved she would hear about it and that she herself was Queen Beaver and in charge of the Leaders and that if they misbehaved the Beavers should tell her about it. One of the boys obviously anticipated trouble and asked “Where’s your office?” Ruth was able to tell the AGM that up until then they hadn’t needed to report any of the Beavers to Gillian and that, as far as she was aware, the Beavers hadn’t reported the Leaders either.
By July of that year the numbers had grown to 19 and the Colony attended their first Beaver picnic at Gosforth Park which had been turned into Never Never Land for the day as the theme for that year was Peter Pan. A great day was had by all with the boys joining in all the activities and enjoying the finale sing-song before the journey home. The picnic was one of the last events before the summer holidays and there was the worry that they might lose their enthusiasm during the break. There was no need to worry though because the numbers were up to 22 by the end of September and it was only one of the Scout helpers who had left but Nicola Harrison agreed to take his place.
October 11th saw the 4th Birthday Party of Tynemouth District Beavers at King Edwards School and despite Ritson’s being the newest colony, they had the largest contingent of 17 Beavers present on the day out of a total of 130 boys. They did the Group proud and were certainly good testimony to the benefits of a Beaver Colony in Ritson’s after only six months.
Michael Dale continued to devote a lot of his own time and energy to the Colony and because of his strong interest in the Army organised a full day event on October 12th with some help from the other Scouts. Organised primarily for the Beavers, the day was open to Cubs and Scouts as well as Leaders and parents and no-one was disappointed. It was the most glorious day weather-wise which obviously added to the occasion but the organisation was fantastic with the Scouts helping Michael to devise and build a miniature Assault Course with climbing nets and obstacles. Although the passing of time has made the details unclear, we also managed somehow to get a number of members of the Territorial Army (52nd Engineering Regiment) to bring along a scout car, recovery truck and several jeeps which provided rides round the nearby field; a mine detector and a field kitchen which all served to provide great entertainment for everyone involved.
More activities followed as the year progressed and a new Leader, Alison Tilbury or “Willow”, started as the need for warranted Leaders became more necessary. One particular evening saw 40 beavers in the HQ. It wasn’t a huge swell in the 3rd’s numbers but a joint meeting with the 5th which was part of Ruth and Alison’s Leader Training course. Despite being rather daunting it was a great experience for all involved and provided some very colourful photographs. Having gained Alison as a Leader we had to say goodbye to Michael Dale who joined the Army in January but continued to visit us whenever he was on leave.
Two other Scouts, Gordon Harrison and Micky Barber, became regular helpers during that first year and a further 8 Scouts came along one night in a supervisory capacity for a “Nature” evening which Alison took as part of her Leader training. It was very encouraging to see the inter-action of the Sections and quite gratifying to see the success of the Colony in that first year.
To commemorate the first birthday of the Colony, the Guild provided a very nice birthday cake and booty bags of sweets for all the boys to take home with them. By that stage it was felt that the newest Section had proved its worth and that with encouragement it would actually extend the Scouting lives of the boys going up through the Group. Indeed, the Ritson’s Reviews indicate that by the third birthday celebrations, 75% of the Cub Pack were boys who had come up from Beavers and the first Beaver to reach the Scout Troop had just arrived.
A number of eventful evenings during the first few years stick in the memory. Firstly, a joint evening with the Cubs during February on a Pirate theme when almost 50 boys dressed the part with hats, eye-patches and cutlasses made at their meetings the previous week. The hall was kitted out with skull and crossbones and the games were underway when suddenly all the lights went out as the main NEEB fuse blew. The boys thoroughly enjoyed the excitement as the Leaders rigged up emergency lighting using camp lanterns and the games and sing-song continued. We had to call on the services of one of the ex-Scouts mothers, Maureen Wilkinson, who lived opposite the HQ and she willingly heated up the beans and fish fingers for 50 boys while we waited for the Electricity Board to arrive. Unfortunately, the lighting wasn’t restored by the end of the night but it didn’t seem to spoil their enjoyment because as they left one of the boys asked “Can we have the lights out again next week?”
Another of the Leader training nights was a programme on the senses when various tastes and smells were tested along with hearing and touch tests. Great hilarity was caused by some of the answers and the recorded noises created some very interesting results. However, the smell tests caused a number of difficulties and at least one of the boys went home to horrified parents when he said he’d been sniffing glue!
A District outing to Preston Park in September 1991 saw three buses containing 104 Beavers and 52 Leaders and helpers leave Tynemouth District and one broke down en route – you’ve guessed it, the 3rd Beavers were on it. It did get there eventually but had to take it very cautiously and was replaced for the return journey whilst the boys took part in their activities. Somehow or other Micky Barber managed to keep up with the boys despite having been on night-shift the previous night and the rain held off until we boarded the bus for the return journey. Queen Beaver had over estimated the sweets and drinks and was left with three boxes of each and put each Group’s name into a draw. Ritson’s were lucky enough to win which more than made up for the bus breaking down when she arrived at the next meeting with two boxes of goodies to be distributed to the boys.
In terms of Leader involvement, it was towards the end of 1991 when Megan Summers resigned her position as Assistant Beaver Leader having been with the Colony since the very first night. Despite gaining the help of Joanne Hopkins, another work colleague of Ruth’s, by March 1992 it became apparent that it was unlikely that Ruth could continue beyond the summer due to health problems and work commitments. On that basis she gave notice that she would like to see someone take on the role of Beaver Leader in advance of the summer holidays in order to show them the ropes. An article was again placed in the Ritson’s Review requesting someone to take over. The Job requirements were said to be “Bags of enthusiasm, a lot of imagination, patience and tolerance – seasoned with common sense”. It was then that Nicola Harrison took on the role and a whole new era began.