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Bexleyheath Boys' Brigade celebrates organisation's 130th birthday

PUBLISHED: 06:00 13 October 2013

The Bexleyheath company's marker sgt D. Pimmlot with his fellow members. They were the 2013 London District Drill champions

The Bexleyheath company's marker sgt D. Pimmlot with his fellow members. They were the 2013 London District Drill champions

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A youth group which began life in the back of a Bexleyheath library in the 20th century has celebrated the 130th anniversary of its parent organisation.

14th West Kent (Bexleyheath) Company junior and senior members, with the 12 trophies they won in two weeks this year14th West Kent (Bexleyheath) Company junior and senior members, with the 12 trophies they won in two weeks this year

The 14th West Kent (Bexleyheath) Boys’ Brigade and Girls Association company marked the special birthday of the first ever Boys’ Brigade group on Friday.

The movement, the first uniformed youth organisation, was founded in Glasgow on October 4 1883 by William Alexander Smith.

Stefan Bracher, 23, captain of the Bexleyheath company, said: “To be going for 130 years just goes to show something that is positive for young people can stand the test of time.”

The organisation’s object is stil the same as at its inception - the advancement of Christ’s kingdom among boys, the promotion of habits of obedience, reverence, discipline, self-respect and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness.

A Bexleyheath Boys’ Brigade camp inspection in 1914A Bexleyheath Boys’ Brigade camp inspection in 1914

The Kent company has its own rich history, which began with a man called William Dickinson.

In the early 20th century, Dickinson formed a club called the Highfield Boys Club, which was said to have the run of his home, to the dismay of his housekeeper.

After requests from the members and persuasion from Rev Fry, the vicar of Christ Church, Bexleyheath, Dickinson set up his own Boys’ Brigade company, which became official on October 31 1904.

Dickinson remained captain until 1933, when he passed on his mantle and became president instead. He died in 1949.

Difference between the Boys’ Brigade and the Boy Scouts

The Boys’ Brigade and the Boy Scouts were both created to provide discipline to young boys and both shared militaristic elements.

However, they do have some differences.

Although Scouts pledge to do their duty to God in their promise, they do not join a particular church or religion, whereas Boys’ Brigade companies must be attached to a church.

Both movements enjoy outdoor activities such as camping, games and sports, but Scouts are also taught survival skills, such as making fires, shelters and knots.

The group operated from a room in a private library for eight years, before membership spiralled and their first headquarters was built.

They experienced a number of setbacks with their later buildings, with their Graham Road hall damaged by German bombing in 1944 and their next home, which was known as the Dickinson Memorial Hall, damaged in 1985 after rain poured through the roof.

The company also had to contend with the impact of two world wars. Many of its early members perished in the trenches of the Great War, with those boys on the home front assisting the war effort by using bugles to sound air raid warnings and their band leading volunteers on route marches.

During the Second World War, activities ran as usual but often ended in shelters.

Despite a dip in membership which began in the 1960s, the Bexleyheath company, now based in the “BB Centre” in the Broadway, is still going strong.

Stefan, who has been in the Boys’ Brigade since he was 12, said: “It is an organisation that has become a way of life for many members, past and present.

“The work that goes on with young people can really change their lives, by keeping them out of trouble and doing something that will benefit themselves and their community.

“The organisation provides a platform to develop young people’s ideas and obtain many different lifelong skills.

“For me, it has changed my life as a young person and as an adult, all because of one man’s vision 130 years ago.”

For more information on the 14th West Kent Company, visit www.bbbexleyheath.org.uk.

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