Youth Organisations in the Vale of Leven

It’s hard to believe now just how many separate youth organisations operated in the Vale not so long ago. It’s a bit of a cliché that people had to make their own entertainment before the advent of television, but like many clichés it’s perfectly true. Adults were particularly concerned to find something for young people to do if only to keep them out of mischief. Organised activities were the most effective answer and from late Victorian times onwards a whole host of organisations sprung up across the UK to give young people something to do in their spare time. It’s no coincidence that they date from the 1880’s onwards, because until the Education and Factory Acts of the 1870s, most young people didn’t have any spare time; they were too busy working in factories, coalmines or other businesses.

Bonhill Boys BrigadeThe first youth organisations emerged from the Churches – e.g. the Boys Brigade and Boys Guilds – and the motivation was largely a religious one. The Boy Scouts, which came slightly later, had more of an imperial flavour to them – Queen and Country, training in country pursuits which might be useful to the military. The last group was more overtly political - The Woodcraft Folk, which became closely associated with the Co-operative movement, although when it started in south London about 1925 it was quite independent of everyone; it had neither a religious nor imperial aspect. All of these organisations were active in the Vale for much of the 20th Century and most have carried on into the 21st century, albeit on a reduced scale.

Because people joined them at such a formative part of their life, they tend to have vivid memories of them. They also tend to be very loyal in later years to the organisation to which they belonged. It’s very rare to find someone in the Vale who joined the Boys Brigade and the Boy Scouts. In the Vale, membership of the Boys Brigade and the Boys Guild far exceeded that of the Boy Scouts. There were probably many reasons for that, but the attraction of football shouldn’t be underestimated. Football was the big thing in the BBs and the Boys Guild, while camping was probably the Boy Scouts main attraction.

With girls, on the other hand, the situation was almost completely the reverse. While there were Girls Guildry companies (the girls’ equivalent of the BBs) in the Vale, they were nothing like as strong as the Girl Guide troops and the Girl Guides have survived in much larger numbers than the Girls Guildry.

Woodcraft Folk LogoThe Woodcraft Folk had both girls and boys in membership right from its foundation in 1925. It was similar to the Scouting movement but in what it offered young people, but it was aligned with the Co-operative movement. In the Vale it was supported by the Vale of Leven Co-operative Society and based in the Co-op Halls in Bank Street. The emphasis in the WCF was on outdoor activity – hiking and camping. Like the other organisations, they had an annual camp which in the case of the Woodcraft Folk was attended by parents as well as members.

It is our intention to have articles on the web-site about all of these organisations in the Vale. Hugh Hutchinson’s article on the Boys Brigade is the first of these but we intend to follow it up in the next few months with articles on the Boys Guild and the Girl Guides. The Scouts, Girls Guildry and Woodcraft Folk will hopefully be addressed later in the year.

There is a wealth of material on all of these organisations amongst our readership – photos, personal reminiscences and handed-down stories. We will be delighted to receive all such contributions.

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