THE year was 1940. While the continent was being plunged into darkness, a local doctor by the name of John Wylie set up the Hunslet Boys Club.
It was designed to help young boys get off the street and give them something to do while their fathers had gone to fight on the front line during World War Two.
Almost 80 years later the club is still alive and bigger than ever with over 2,000 members. The last few years have produced a number of success stories with Hunslet boasting national and international boxing champions plus a record-breaking amateur rugby league side.
“Clubs of this size don’t really exist any more. Going back 20 years our membership was between 250 to 300. Today it is around 2,000,” said club chief executive Dennis Robbins.
Availability and affordability are two of the most important aspects of the club according to Robbins who added: “Collectively, as a club, we’re not about the elite.
“We do like to celebrate when our young people go out and achieve great things but, we are a club for all.
Collectively, as a club, we’re not about the elite. We do like to celebrate when our young people go out and achieve great things but, we are a club for all.Dennis Robbins
“That’s why all our activities are kept at a cost of £1.50, we’re not excluding anybody and that is why I believe our membership is so high.”
Despite starting out as a boys’ club, Hunslet now have over 750 female members, many of whom have gone on to achieve high acclaim in the sporting world.
Boxing has proven to be a particular source of success with numerous championship-winning fighters coming out of the gym.
“We have a young boxer called Hope Price who won the European youth gold medal while his brother, Ellis Price, is a bronze medallist at the same level. We also have a young girl boxer called Abby Briggs who won a silver medal at the European Schools Championships,” said Robbins.
The club could also be on the brink of welcoming a new international champion to their ranks as young fighter Ellie Lambert prepares for the upcoming Tri-Nations tournament.
And just this past weekend Hope Price boxed in the Brandenburg Box Cup for England, beating three opponents to win a gold medal – continuing his preparations for World Championships in August in Hungary – while the club’s under-12s rugby league team won the Yorkshire Junior League Continuation Cup and the open age rugby league first team won their 15th game in a row.
Another source of success for Hunslet has come in dance with one of the club’s originals going on to join the prestigious Northern Ballet.
With 96 activities running on a weekly basis, financing is an important element of the operation.
The club is funded mostly by social enterprises while local businesses and trusts also help to keep it going. While the majority of coaches are volunteers, there are still more than 40 members of staff at the club.
“This club couldn’t run with volunteers alone but it certainly wouldn’t run without them,” laughed Robbins.
For Paul Thorpe, a member of staff at Hunslet, the club does more than just offer activities and run sports teams.
He said: “We’re trying to promote the right values in people.
“We get every kind of child here, from kids who get nothing to the ones who are pampered. It’s a great place to integrate.”
Despite recent successes, Thorpe doesn’t believe that this should allow the club to take their foot off the gas.
He said: “We don’t like to sit back on our laurels. When you don’t try to improve then you’re not going to get anywhere.
“We get kids of all different abilities here, we don’t turn anyone away. I think that’s the reason why we are very successful and popular. We treat everyone the same.”
This mentality has helped the club to produce a number of high-profile sports stars such as England rugby league and union international Jason Robinson, who is currently one of the ambassadors.
With such level of growth and success, it is likely that the next World Cup winner isn’t far away.
FACT FILE - Name: Hunslet Club. Founded: 1940. Members: Around 2,000 – 750 of whom are female. Sports: Numerous sports are played at the club, varying from rugby and football to ballet and gymnastics.