A refuge for over 140 years
‘The Boys Brigade’ was established in 1882 and has been operating for over 140 years. Sir James Reading Fairfax from The Sydney Morning Herald and A S Bennett from The Evening News saw the need to create a safe space off the streets for vulnerable boys living in inner Sydney.
In our early years, the Brigade was attended by inner-city boys who were employed on the streets selling newspapers. Living conditions were poor for these paperboys, who spent their nights sleeping under wharfs or in back alleys. The congested, industrial areas of inner Sydney provided little educational or recreational opportunities for them. Instead, young boys often played in the streets and were at high risk of causing trouble or getting involved in gangs.
The goal of The Boys Brigade, or ‘Boysie’ as it was affectionately known, was to fill the hours between school and bedtime. This social and educational club kept boys occupied with beneficial activities and boys met nightly to study, learn useful crafts and access entertainment. Educational workshops were held, teaching practical skills like carpentry and bookbinding that would help boys to earn a living once old enough.
Since 1882, thousands of young Australians have walked through our doors and have become thriving young adults.
The old “Boysie” was a second home to us in those days, a safe, caring, disciplined community. It was a protection from loneliness, boredom, temptations and the dangers which only inner-city nights could threaten. I am sure that today’s Brigade boys will look back on it 50 years from now with the same affection as we do to the Pyrmont Brigade of the Twenties.
A member of The Boys Brigade in 1920
The Girls & Boys Brigade throughout the decades
The early years
1882 – ‘The Boys Brigade’ is established by Sir James Fairfax and A S Bennett as a safe place off the streets for newspaper boys.
The 1890s – The Brigade offers 400 beds for a night’s accommodation to homeless and hungry boys.
1912 – Land on the corner of Riley and Arthur Street is purchased for £375 to build a new Brigade suitable for the current and future needs of the organisation.
1914-18 –178 former members of the Brigade enlist to serve in WW1. This number consists of almost every eligible member who had attended the Brigade in the previous 16 years.
1924 – A second branch is built in Pyrmont, opening up the Brigade’s services for more boys.
Activities at the two branches
1925 – A Boys Brigade Savings Bank is established to help boys invest their earnings and learn how to save.
1935 – The Brigade members establish “The Boys Brigade Herald”, a monthly publication that recounts stories of the two branches.
1939 – 1945 – A total of 229,757 attendances are made during WW2 with an average of 620 boys enrolled each year.
The 1950s – Australian Migration policies see a population increase in Surry Hills. At least 45% of the Brigade members at this time come from recently migrated families.
1957 –The Brigade buys its first tv set and showings of educational and recreational programs are popular amongst the boys.
Through the 60s & 70s
The 1960s – Activities during the 1960s include excursions to places of historical and cultural interest, a photography club, miniature railway modelling and swimming lessons.
1971 – The rezoning of the Pyrmont area causes many families to move out of the area. The Pyrmont Branch is closed and the Surry Hills Branch becomes the centre of operations.
1972 – The partnership with the City of Sydney Council begins, enabling the Brigade to expand its services. A Youth Drop-In centre opens to cater for more youth.
1978 – Economic hardships in Australia make it difficult for school leavers to find employment. An Associate Members Club is formed for older members of the Brigade.
Celebrating 100 years
1982- The 100th anniversary of The Boys Brigade is celebrated. Our hundredth Annual Report reports, “We do not have exact records, however, a careful estimate is that 2.4 million visits have been made to the Brigade during its time.”
1983 – Girls are officially welcomed at the Brigade with the opening of a dedicated space. This space had a full kitchen and dining area and cooking classes were a regular occurrence.
1996 – The Brigade’s first computer facilities are opened.
2001 – The Eric Crouch Memorial Award is established in honour of Mr Eric Crouch whose encouragement and guidance impacted the lives of many young people when he was the Director of the Brigade from 1972 to 1989.
The Brigade today
2002 – The Homework Program is introduced.
2003 – The Boys Brigade officially changes its name to The Girls & Boys Brigade.
2014 – The Girls & Boys Brigade Foundation is established to ensure the financial sustainability of the Brigade.
2015 –The Family Support Service is formalised, giving families a trusted face to turn to when in need.
2020 – The global COVID-19 Pandemic forces The Girls & Boys Brigade to close its doors for the first time in history. Programs are delivered remotely and online.
2022 – Major building renovations occur, upgrading the basement and the middle floor of program spaces. For the first time in history, we become fully accessible with the installation of a lift and accessible bathroom.
Find out more about the programs we offer today and how these are helping inner-Sydney children, youth and families.