A youth club where “the doors are open to every child” has reopened in Tower Hamlets following its temporary closure in 2021.
Dudley John Willoughby, who joined the club in 1966 when he was 11, cut the ribbon to officially reopen Poplar Boys and Girls Club on Wednesday, December 7.
The club, in Grundy Street, Poplar, is run by a group of volunteer coaches who take in young people aged nine to 18 and train them in boxing.
The site also contains a gym, an outdoor space and a recreation room which hosts foosball, ping pong, hockey and pool tables.
Chairman and trustee of Poplar Boys and Girls Club Lenny Emms joined the club in 1958 and then became a voluntary youth worker in 1972.
He said the club “gives kids somewere to go, takes them off the street”.
He added that the volunteer coaches are “worth their weight in gold.”
He said: “We’ve got a lot of parents that pull me to one side and say they can’t thank the coaches enough for what they do for their kids.”
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Lenny continued: “We’ve got a little boy that comes who suffers from cerebral palsy, we’ve got lots of youngsters who come here who suffer with autism and the coaches take them in and treat them like everyone else.
“The mums and dads really appreciate it and it’s nice to know the kids have somewhere safe to go.”
He said: “When I joined it was a lot better than now because no-one wanted to stab you then.
“There’s lot of that craziness going on now. I would hate to be a kid today.
“We used to get a Red Rover bus ticket from Mile End and go all over London. You can’t do that now.”
The club was originally founded in 1935 in Abbott’s Road, before moving to Chrisp Street in 1966.
Poplar Boys and Girls relocated to another building in Chrisp Street Market in 2020 and then temporarily closed in 2021 due to the pandemic and then to storm damage.
Originally called Poplar Boys Club, the organisation changed its name to include girls in 1982.
“We were fed up of watching all the girls waiting outside the windows for their boyfriends to go and meet them”, said Lenny.
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Paula Vincent said her son, Sonny Wheatley, has been going to the club for six years, since he was 9.
She said: “It’s not so much for the fighting – it gives you structure throughout the week. It gives you belonging.
“What Poplar Boys and Girls does is reach out to those that can’t afford things – children in poverty living in the East End.”
Paula’s husband, Jamie Vincent, is now a volunteer coach at the club, having started white collar boxing himself.
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Paula said: “My husband was going through some tough times himself so he put that anger into the ring and its opened up all these doors.
“He’s now promoting and going in and teaching kids with autism, all disabilities, all walks of life.
“That’s what I like about Poplar Boys and Girls; the doors are open to every child and every need.”
Poplar Boys and Girls Club is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Young people aged 9 to 15 can train from 5.30pm to 6.30pm and those aged 15 to 18 train between 6.45pm and 8pm.
There is no joining fee and each child is charged £1 per evening.
More information can be found at www.facebook.com/pbgclansburyabc.