A history of the boys' club movement in Wales

Wednesday 17 March 2010, 10:56

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Founded by Captain J Glynn-Jones and David Davies of Llandinam - Wales' first millionaire and the builder of Barry Docks - the first boys' club was opened in Treharris in 1922. Glynn-Jones, as welfare officer of the David Davies' Ocean Group of Collieries, was faced by the problem of how to help and support adolescent collier boys who, after their shifts in the mines, found themselves with little to do apart from hang around street corners and get into mischief. His solution was to create a series of clubs where boys could be given something positive to occupy their minds - and hands.

The original Treharris Boys Club was quickly followed by others in Nantymoel, Ton Pentre, Treorchy, Wattstown and Nine Mile Point.

"They were led by full-time youth workers on a scale unparalleled elsewhere in Great Britain, even during a time of economic depression. Captain Glynn wanted every boy to be a member of a club which provided healthy exercises, cultural activities and discipline." (Timeline, A History of the Boys' Club Movement in Wales)

Realising the need for greater unity, the various clubs formed themselves into The South Wales Federation of Boys' Clubs in August 1928, and in due course the organisation grew to include St Athan Boys' Village and, after the Second World War, the Abercrave Adventure Centre. These two establishments began to offer week-long activity programmes, specifically geared to the need of young people - no longer just collier boys. In 1947, the organisation extended its operations across the whole of Wales, becoming The Welsh Association of Boys' Clubs.

The changing needs of society caused serious financial difficulties in the 1980s and this resulted in the Association of Boys' Clubs having to change its role and even its name. The St Athan and Abercrave sites were sold off and the Welsh Federation of Boys' and Girls' Groups was came into existence in 1992.

"We held a meeting at Bettws Boys' Club in October 1991," says David Allen-Oliver, the first Chief Executive of the new organisation. "84 clubs joined the new organisation which was recognised by the Charity Commission the following year. And since then it's gone from strength to strength."

The new organisation has developed and grown and has now become one of the most important voluntary youth organisations in Wales. Just as the original organisation did back in the 1920s it continues to offer opportunities for young people through a wide range of educational, sporting, social and cultural activities. Captain Glynn-Jones' vision is still alive and, more importantly, still working.

Were you a member of a boys' club in Wales? We'd love to hear about your experiences. Leave a comment below.

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