The Club was established in 1889, during a time of great industrial and social change. Enormous new cotton mills sprang up all over Bolton and children as young as ten poured in from the outlying villages to work in the mills.
Sadly, at the time there were no laws protecting the rights and safety of children and young people, they worked for ten to twelve hours a day, sleeping and eating next to their looms.
The founders of the Club, two church leaders and three industrialists, met and decided they must do something to improve the lives of these young people.
They responded by buying an old warehouse in Bark Street and opened it as a hostel where the young mill workers were able to wash, eat and sleep in peace away from their looms.
We know little of their long-term intentions for the Club, it is probable that they thought the hostel would close when the short term accommodation problems of the mill workers disappeared.
However, the Club never closed but has remained open from that day to this, serving the needs of the town’s young people.
An extract from the 1896 Club Review shows how quickly the Club had become popular:
“They came in their hundreds, for of all animals, lads are perhaps the most gregarious. They came to meet their fellows under conditions somewhat more comfortable and convenient than their natural meeting place, the street. They initially came for amusement and for games and for nothing else, and if we had told them it was our intention to improve them they would certainly not have come. But it is interesting how quickly their attitude to the Club has changed, it is no longer our Club, it is theirs, and we merely manage it for them. It is no longer a mere place of amusement, but is a place which plays a real part in their lives, it is a place for honour and for success.”
Initially, activities and sports were the mainstay of the Club, first athletics and boxing and then gymnastics and football. The Bark Street Club had four members from the team of six gymnasts who represented Great Britain at the 1928 Olympics! Over the years, the Club’s service has expanded to include enterprise projects helping young people into employment, creative arts projects, outreach services on the streets of Bolton and of course our award winning mentoring project.
Fast forward 128 years and the children and young people of Bolton are continuing to benefit from the legacy the Club’s founders left for the town. It is testament to their vision that today we work with over 3,500 young people providing them ‘somewhere to go, something to do, someone to talk to’.