“I know the dementia journey is not great, but we must be able to do something along the way.”
The format of ‘Clock Cricket’ came to Richard Hill MBE over 50 years ago as a young kid who lived with a disability but loved cricket. Richard has spasticity in his lower limbs and for the past 9 years, he has been a part-time wheelchair user. Due to his disability, Richard had to come up with an alternative to ‘village green’ cricket with his local friends, when an abrupt onset of extreme fatigue would restrict him from taking part.
Much to his mother’s dismay, Richard’s living room saw the first showing of what would later be coined as ‘Clock Cricket’. Richard and his brothers, all on their knees, would use those small cricket bats for signatures, or as Sir Geoffrey Boycott would say, “a stick of rhubarb”. This innovative game would not be revisited for Richard, for another 45 years…
Richard’s father passed away last year after having lived with the condition for 8 years. Richard’s first-hand experience of sharing in the care of his father left him with a mixture of emotions. “One emotion was anger about the whole situation and his illness, but the over-riding emotion was helplessness,” says Richard.
For families of those living with dementia, this sense of helplessness combined with the incurable nature of the illness is a difficult one to navigate. “For me, a good way to channel this helplessness was to find out as much as I could about dementia,” says Richard.
When visiting his father in a care home in the later stages of his life, Richard quickly realised that whilst no one can magically effect a cure, something more could be done to make those final days better. “I saw this scenario of a communal room with people literally staring into space, like God’s waiting room, and thought to myself there has to be more to life than this,” says Richard.
“I know the dementia journey is not great, but we must be able to do something along the way,” says Richard. It was this feeling that got Richard thinking back to 45 years ago, playing his version of cricket in the house with his brothers. Richard realised that the concept could be used as a means of engaging older people in the community.
“I literally looked up on the internet to see if there were any care homes near where I lived. Turns out there’s 22,000 in the country, so I wasn’t short of options,” says Richard. Richard made cold calls to local care homes in his area. Quantum Care, a stone’s throw from Richard’s house got back to him and simply said “let’s see what happens.”
Tables and chairs were pushed to the side of the room and everyone sat in a circle, much like the set-up in Richard’s childhood living room. The game started with a tennis ball and a cricket bat, and one participant would do a throw down to another who had the bat across the circle. Participants themselves came up with the idea of hitting targets to score points, and soon Richard came up with a scoring method.
“Everybody bats for 8 balls, every time they hit the ball they score 1 run. Every time they hit the wall, they score 4, every time the ceiling is hit, it’s 6. The only way to get out is being caught,” says Richard. The game quickly evolved a little bit, with Richard deciding that perhaps the tennis ball was a little dangerous! On his normal ‘pop to the shops’ for bread, Richard came across a kid’s game with a cricket bat and balls in. “I’ll have every set you have in the shop please,” said Richard, and here signalled the birth of ‘Clock Cricket’ as we know it.
Interest in Richard’s concept has completely exploded. He has since presented the game in all 27 of Quantum’s care homes, where they now even have a virtual league table. For the past 6 years, 80 different care homes in and around Hertfordshire have been delivered sessions. “Prior to Covid, my diary was full – 3 sessions a day, 5 days a week,” said Richard. Richard has 6 coaches delivering sessions. Richard provides 6-hour workshops for coaches or ‘activators’, where they are delivered “dementia friends” training, a bit of medical background, as well as familiarising them with the rules and regulations of the game.
The immediate plan is to roll out Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, but it is this simple set-up that means the now-trademarked ‘Clock Cricket’s potential for expansion is limitless. “My hope moving forward is just that Clock Cricket will become a product on its own,” says Richard.
“In terms of its value, I’m not medically qualified, but everyone without exemption has commented that this is really good, it offers something,” says Richard. Richard’s theory for this? “We have people laugh. When people are involved, they laugh. Whatever it’s doing, it’s got to be doing something right.”
Richard recently was asked to take ‘Clock Cricket’ up to a new Abbeyfield care home in Batley in Yorkshire, as a bit of a showcase. Unbeknownst to Richard, waiting for him were the BBC, ITV, The Cricketer, Yorkshire Cricket and 40 people living with dementia ready for a session. “Rather ironically I had to think on my feet,” joked Richard.
“A lady came and sat next to me, so I gave her a ball to have a go but she didn’t want it,” says Richard. “My husband plays cricket,” she said, “yes he plays for our local team and I do the teas you know. I’ve done it for years.” The lady got fully involved in the game of Clock Cricket.
One of the members of staff came up to Richard later and said “that was Shirley and her husband actually died 30 years ago. Shirley has been with us for 3 months and she barely ever comes out of her room. She’s never engaged with anybody since I’ve been here and this is the first time we’ve ever heard her speak.”
Much has been made in the media of the response which music undoubtedly incites from those living with dementia and I personally have seen this first hand. Therefore, I asked Richard if it was a similar case with his cricket. “It does in some, but what it does do is bring out a competitiveness in people and an element of naughtiness,” he says. The notion of hitting a ball indoors, hitting the ceiling and the walls gives a sense of freedom and fun to those partaking, as well as providing an opportunity for people to talk about their cricketing or sporting days.
Richard was awarded an MBE last year, recognising his services to disability cricket over the past 25 years. In a previous article, I spoke about the work Richard had done with English Counties and the ECB in promoting and expanding various forms of disability cricket. However, it is this work in local communities of which Richard feels most proud.
Just as cricket is a great space for ‘escape’ and peace of mind in normal times, for those living with dementia, the notion is no different. Furthermore for dexterity, partaking in some kind of physical activity is invaluable. “If people can throw down a cricket ball, Betty can maybe hold her hairbrush,” says Richard.
With dementia, those living with the condition are never going to get better, but there are invaluable things that can be done to make the journey better for the individual. For those around the individual, the provision of such activities relieves slightly that sense of helplessness which can be so wearing when faced with dementia. In many ways, the activity is equally as important for the carer, where they’re in a room with other people who really understand the necessity for respite and fun.
Richard is yet to be convinced that they get quite the same reaction as music incites. However, he regales an anecdote about a cricket session at a local community hall that he held. Finishing early, he jokingly asked if anyone could play us a tune on the piano in the corner. Rather sheepishly, Brian, one of the participants living with dementia got up and played an amazing classical piece.
“When you talk to older people, we take for granted, that they’ve all lived lives and have different experiences. That’s at the back of my mind all the time.” It’s important for us to not completely bow down to the horrible illness that is dementia, despite the finality of it. From Richard’s living room, as a young, disabled boy who just wanted to play cricket, to a care home with ladies who once spent every weekend preparing teas for the local cricket club, the power of sport is evident again.
To find out more about ‘Clock Cricket’ or where it is near you, do get in touch with Richard at Richard.Hill@ecb.co.uk.
Or for more information and support for families or friends of those living with dementia, please visit https://www.dementiauk.org/