The Norwich club that stopped crime

In the first of a series of features celebrating a trailblazing city institution, Derek James takes a look at the history of Norwich Lads Club.

As an appeal goes out for people with Lads Club memories to step forward, it is time to celebrate the birth of this remarkable place, the first of its kind in the world, which almost wiped out juvenile crime in Norwich.

And the man behind it all was the colourful, straight-talking city Chief Constable, John Henry Dain, a man way ahead of his time who gathered the leading city figures of the day, the likes of Lord Mayor Richard Jewson, and got them on board for this revolutionary project.

The idea was to get boys off the streets and give them a purpose in life.

The result was that in the March of 1918, a motley group of about 30 Norwich boys stood outside an old building in St George's Street waiting for the door to open.

It turned out they were pioneers in a movement that within a few years would spread across this country and overseas, arousing the interest of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa.

All these boys thought about, and all they wanted, was to see what the Norwich Lads Club had to offer on the opening night.

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Two club rooms, behind the old Middle School in St George's Street, were warm, comfortable, and housed billiard and bagatelle tables along with other games – there was even a stage with scenery.

For these lads it was a mini-paradise for boys aged between 14 and 18, brought up in poverty during the drab years of the First World War... and, thanks to donations and help from Norwich firms and individuals, it was free.

Many of these boys had lost fathers or elder brothers. There was precious little money in the house but life was about to change and that was all down to one man – big John.

Next week I will be telling you more about the pioneering chief constable and we will be looking at life in the Lads Club as it developed over the decades...touching thousands of young lives.