Boys’ club allowed boys to be just that – boys

The 1970s were seemingly more innocent days, when the most highly-publicised violence happened in the relatively confined space of the football terraces. The police were above reproach and the children of the Windrush generation were only just starting to discover they were young, gifted and black. Here is the story of youth worker, TIM WAKELEY and his three years helping create the Lewisham Boys’ Club – and one of its most gifted graduates, Frank Wallen.

Lewisham Boys’ Club was established by the London Federation of Boys’ Clubs (LFBC) in 1970.

The well thought-out, purpose-built club was in Horton Street behind what was then the Zenith Carburettor factory.

Youth worker, Tim Wakeley, was introduced to the management committee on August 3.

The first task was to equip the club.

It was late one afternoon in August when Tim was unpacking the latest equipment to arrive when a huge young West Indian lad came through the doors and asked when the club was to open.

This was the first and very important first contact that Tim had with a future member – Frank Wallen.

It was not long before Frank and his friends were regularly helping Tim to sort things out and start to make real plans for the future.

Frank continued to play a leading role throughout the life of the boys’ club and went on to become a famous professional wrestler (as Dave ‘Butcher’ Bond) and as a rugby player and coach.

The club officially opened its doors in September 1970.

It was agreed to establish a junior section for the under-13s, which would operate on two or three evenings a week from 5.30-7pm.

The senior club was five evenings a week from 7-10pm.

Both sections worked well with up to 80 young people coming to the club most evenings, especially in the winter months.

Over the next three years the club went from strength to strength.

Each year there were activity weekends and weeks spent at the new Hindleap Warren Outdoor Activity Centre at Forest Row in Sussex with over 30 young people each time experiencing dark night skies and long exhausting days canoeing, orienteering, climbing and bivouacking overnight in the forest.

As the club developed, so the need for outdoor space became a priority and after some negotiation with the council, land big enough for a 5-a-side pitch, basketball court and a climbing wall was leased.

Young people then, as now, faced many issues, and the club became a focus for some of them, including the issue of poor relations between young people and the police.

It came to a head one evening when a police van pulled up outside and two burly policemen entered the club and immediately demanded that some of the young people accompany them to make up an identity parade.

There was a deadly silence with all the young people looking directly at Tim to see what would happen.

A lot was at stake and the response had to be immediate and unequivocal.

Tim asked to see their warrants that would permit them to enter the club.

There were no warrants. Tim asked that they leave immediately.

Many of the issues faced by young people 50 years ago are the same as today – sadly we have not moved on as a society and young people then, as now, find access to good employment very hard to come by even when they are adequately qualified.

Tim said: “My time at Lewisham was short but it had a lasting impact on me for which I shall always be truly grateful.

“The experience of Lewisham Boys’ Club continued to influence my later work as a youth work trainer through to my time as the head of the youth service in Essex for 11 years and later as an independent consultant.”

 


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