Renowned Burnley Boys and Girls’ Club’s proud past

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When it comes to history, there are few establishments in Britain – let alone Lancashire – capable of holding a torch to the Burnley Boys’ and Girls’ Club.

With its near 120-year past, war hero founder and status as a community fixture, when chairman Peter Maddock talks of ‘real history’, he is somewhat of an authority.

Established in 1899 as the Burnley Lads’ Club by Henry Davison Riley, who was born in Preston in 1881, the club was a sanctuary for disruptive boys caught up in the gangs of “scuttlers” that plagued the north west in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“The Burnley Boys’ and Girls’ Club has been in existence for well over one hundred years,” said Pete, who joined in 1972 at the age of 14. “The benefit the club has given to the town over many years is that it looks after the youngsters. It gives them something to look forward to: education, life skills, and general friendship that stays with you forever.”

In the early 1900s, the club grew to 200 members and boasted games rooms, sports teams, a gym, a reading room and an annual seaside camp, with evening classes ranging from English and mathematics to drawing.

Additionally, such was the founder Captain Riley’s esteem, during the First World War, over 600 club members followed him to France, where the club’s founder sadly passed away in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme.

What we give here is a wider vision – activities that youngsters will take on board – and it helps them for the future. It builds confidence. Everything should be in moderation. The life skills they gain are absolutely tremendous

Peter Maddock

But the values he imbued in the club have remained. “Regardless of money, the club’s always been the same,” insists club leader, John Melvin, 50, who has been involved with the club for over 20 years. “Regardless of where they’ve come from, every young person has the same chance. You could have somebody roll up in a Rolls Royce, or you could have somebody walk to the club, they get exactly the same chance.

“We want people to feel part of the community no matter where they’re from or what they do. It’s a community club, and we need the community involved. They are the club, they are the future.”

The club, which merged with the Police Youth Club in 1968 to become the Burnley Boys’ Club, was renamed ‘the Burnley Boys’ and Girls’ Club’ in 2011, and Pete, 58, is emphatic in his insistence that the club remains crucial in the 21st Century.

“What we give here is a wider vision – activities that youngsters will take on board – and it helps them for the future. It builds confidence. Everything should be in moderation. The life skills they gain are absolutely tremendous.

Peter Maddock (s)

Peter Maddock (s)

“We need the community to understand we’re still here. We’d like more people to get involved and we look forward to making it an even greater thing in the future. It is a club run for the members, by the members.

“We’ve just gained the bronze level of quality for youth work [from Ambition UK – the country’s leading youth charity]. In the north west of this country, there are only two or three and we are one of the first.”

At the core of the Burnley Boys’ and Girls’ Club, however, remains one simple truth: it is all about the children. “When they [the children] win an award [at the club’s award ceremonies], their faces light up and it means something,” says Pete. “It gives them that lift. As a volunteer, seeing that lift in their faces gives you the strength to do it another year.

“We’ve done 100 years; let’s look forward to the next 20, 30, 50.”