In the first half of the 20th century, there were large numbers of youth clubs in working-class areas of London. At a time when most families lived in cramped accommodation with little or no outside space, the clubs offered an opportunity for young people to relax in comfort, and to take part in a variety of sports and activities.
As well as recreation, many clubs offered evening classes. These were especially valuable for young people who had left school at an early age. In fact, some clubs were intended specifically for working boys or girls, who could come in for the evening after a long day at a workshop or factory.
Another common activity provided by the clubs was rambling or camping in the country. This gave city children a rare opportunity to enjoy the fresh air, and to see the countryside or even the sea. Often, the club summer camps were the only holiday they had, and so a week or two in Kent, in Sussex or on the Isle of Wight were real luxury.
The early clubs were often run by religious organisations. For example, various churches and synagogues ran recreational and educational clubs in the poor areas of the East End. Many of these clubs were part of larger institutions called settlements or missions, which included facilities for adults such as libraries, advice centres and places of worship.
Although there were some mixed-sex youth clubs in the first decades of the century, most of them started by catering for either boys or girls. However, there were often affiliations between boys' and girls' clubs, which gave young people the chance to meet members of the opposite sex from a similar social and religious background.
In the later decades of the 20th century, there was a move towards provision of youth clubs by local authorities and community groups. Despite this change, the activities and opportunities on offer at the clubs remained similar, ranging from games and sports to social events and careers advice, just as in 1900.
http://www.londonyouth.org.uk/ - Federation of London Youth Clubs
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