When, six years ago, Lancashire County Council pulled the funding for the Burnley Boys’ and Girls’ Club, there was a very real threat of one of the county’s oldest and most historically colourful establishments struggling to stay afloat. But instead of doom and gloom, the club’s tale is one of resilience and progress.
The message from chairman Pete Maddock, 58, and club leader John Melvin, 50, is crystal clear: we are alive and kicking. But despite their never-say-die attitude, the two men are wary of dwindling community support, and are redoubling their efforts to revitalise the 117-year-old institution.
“If you don’t use it, you lose it,” says John, who has been involved in the Burnley Boys’ and Girls’ Club for over 20 years. “It’s more important now that communities stick together, because if they don’t we’ll lose it all.”
Now more than ever, history resonates around in the club’s impressive facilities. On Saturday 16 July, it will host a commemorative event for the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, in which scores of club members lost their lives, including its founder, Captain Henry Davison Riley, for whom the function room ash been renamed.
At the event - set to be attended by mayor and local councillors - food and catering will be donated, local historian Andrew Gill will give a presentation on the club’s rich history, Andrew Mackay will be giving a talk on a collection of WWI artefacts and old-time songs from the town’s past will be sung, with funds raised for a planned camp for current members.
What is more, a commemorative garden is under construction to honour Captain Riley and his fallen club member brothers in a more lasting fashion, with ex-miners travelling from Merthyr Tydfil, Swansea and Barnsley to help with the landscaping - along with Andrew Mackay and Philip Holme - donating £12,000-worth of time and labour, using stone from the Holme Tunnel in Todmorden.
“What we decided to do, as a club, was [build] a lasting memory for Captain Riley and all the boys who gave their lives,” said John. “It’s a commemoration garden not just for the guys, but for the families that suffered as well.”
The garden will also be open to those who currently use the club’s facilities, including the MS (Multiple Sclerosis) Society and Parkinson’s UK, enabling them to enjoy the scenery and make use of a new old-style tea room.
“They can walk outside into an pleasant area and just sit and take in the stone and flower beds and enjoy the area, complete with the history that goes with it,” said Pete, while John added: “Some [MS Society and Parkinson’s UK members] are in wheelchairs. Once we get this finished, they can go straight onto a nice garden area, and we’re going to have an old-fashioned tea room as well.”
And a jab in the arm is just what the club needs, according to Pete, who said: “We want to prove to the town that we are alive and kicking. It’s lost a bit of connection. It’s always been independent, but six years ago we hand funding; since then we’ve been totally self-sustainable. We don’t want to lose one hundred years of history.”
“We try to bring young people out their comfort zone,” said John. “It’s about building positive trust to build their character. We do loads of stuff outdoors. The social impact is immeasurable. They [young people] have aspirations and goals and the club helps them achieve them. It may take five years, it could take 10 years, it may take 20, but the club helps them. It makes us humble.
“We’re no different from a local business, we just provide a different thing: well-mannered kids who fit into the community, who are an asset in the future. We don’t sell cakes or fish and chips, we bring kids through from about six years old. That’s what it’s about.”
Those wishing to get in touch with the club or contribute their time or building materials for the commemorative garden can do so by calling 01282 424 038.