Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Sure and steadfast under threat for the boy’s brigade

Boys Brigade
Boys Brigade

It was once the club all boys wanted to join, with the lure of adventure and life skills not to mention traditional parades and a ready-made group of friends.

The Boys’ Brigade even has the backing of history after it was formed in 1883 by Sir Alexander Smith and it is now a worldwide movement, and one of the UK’s oldest institutions.

Youngsters are still as keen as ever despite the march of technology and the many pressures which the youth of today are faced with, but some branches are now in danger of closing down.

With no shortage of recruits, indeed quite the opposite in some companies, why is the Christian Youth organisation flagging?

In Aberdeenshire at least, the threat of closure has been down to a lack of volunteer officers and there is no fresh blood to take the reigns.

At least nine north-east branches risk folding, a sad state of affairs for a group whose slogan is Sure and Steadfast.

Retired officers have been forced back into their ranks in Fraserburgh while the Brigade Flags in Northfield Parish Church stand unused.

The organisation is also having to invent new ways of appealing to youngsters in an age where there are dozens of extracurricular activities on offer, not to mention the time now spent on social media.

It’s not all doom and gloom however, and The Boys’ Brigade is celebrating 100 years of working with eight to 11-year-olds.

There are 430 groups across Scotland with more than 5,000 junior members, but what can be done to make sure an age-old organisation remains an integral part of childhood?

It has been 40 years since Esther Slater became involved in The Boys’ Brigade and on her own admission, she originally stepped in because both her husband and two boys were involved.

Esther’s sons have long since grown up and her husband has taken a back seat, but she is company captain at 1st Finstown company and is also president of Orkney Battalion and The Boys’ Brigade’s North Scottish Area.

At 72 years old, she has no plans to step down, and believes adults need to stop falling back on the excuse of being “busy”.

“When my boys and my husband became involved in The Boys’ Brigade, I was just left on my own in the house and I thought, well, if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them,” said Esther.

“I can’t quite believe so much time has passed; I wouldn’t say we struggle in Orkney for volunteers, but it’s still a concern at the forefront of my mind.

“It’s not easy to find people, I give up a lot of my time, but I’ve found the whole experience incredibly rewarding because you get to see these boys grow up.”

Youngsters can join The Boys’ Brigade from five-years-old and are classed as anchors before they progress through the organisation.

Many boys continue through adolescence, and although the Christian faith plays a part, Esther believes it is important to make every gathering fun.

“When the boys are little, we have games and crafts before they start getting their badges, but I think one of the biggest challenges is modernisation,” said Esther.

“We’ve had to change to stay relevant or we just wouldn’t survive, and we have to make sure that boys would rather come to us than sit in front of the screen.

“There are five companies in Orkney with more than 100 members in Kirkwall, and that group in particular meets five nights a week because of the demand.

“The groups differ slightly out in the country and are even more special in a way, where the boys enjoy being incredibly close knit.

“We’ve had to change with the times and try and make sure there is a good amount of activities on offer.”

Although the Queen is patron of the The Boys’ Brigade, some companies only permit male membership, although many women are now involved in the running of groups.

Girls can take part through The Girls’ Association, and Esther believes the group is now more welcoming of women.

“I think back in the day having a female leader would have been frowned upon, but it has never been questioned during my time at the company,” she said.

“I’ve always found that if you respect the boys, they will give you respect in return and I love building up a good rapport.”

Esther believes that The Boys’ Brigade could also be the answer to drink and drug problems which are both ongoing issues in Orkney, and the group makes a point of discussing the dangers.

“We don’t hide from the fact that these things are going on in Orkney, and when we discuss it the boys are far from naive,” she said.

“In fact they’re quite the opposite, they’re very knowledgeable and all we can pray and hope for is that by bringing it up, our boys won’t go down that path.

“I think the reason why I’ve stayed all these years is because it’s a real privilege to see the boys progress and once it’s time to go off to university or get jobs, they still come back to us.

“They don’t just melt away and our members never ever forget us, there’s no words for a feeling like that.

“One of our members has just got straight As across the board in his exam results, and I like to think that maybe we played a part in that.

“One generation is now sending the next generation along and that is wonderful to see.

“I have no regrets over the past 40 years, and I would encourage any adults who are interested to come forward – we need you.”

Volunteers are required at groups in Elgin, Rothes, Forres and Burghead – with rural communities struggling the most.

Martin Dunbar never truly left The Boys’ Brigade and has been an officer for 23 years.

He believes the key reason why groups are struggling is down to lack of volunteers, but also said the modern era has presented fresh challenges. Martin is captain of the Fourth and Fifth Fraserburgh Boys’ Brigade and has just started a fresh term.

“I think there have been so many changes since my time with The Boys’ Brigade, we didn’t have so much choice when I was a child,” he said.

“There was Sunday school, maybe football and a drama class but the youngsters of today now expect an awful lot more.

“We have to compete with other groups on offer and we have to provide a wide range of activities which are more appealing than social media or video games.

“I know some groups are really struggling and adults are put off by the long-term commitment of Boys’ Brigade.

“There are two training days which are usually on a Sunday and there’s also the PVG check which puts people off.

“We are obviously a Christian organisation, and in years gone by, there was a ready wave of new recruits.

“Your mum and dad would go to church and then there was Sunday school; each Boys’ Brigade is attached to a church so there was no issue in getting boys to join up.

“But nowadays, Boys’ Brigade is the first exposure to religion that many of our members have, we’re having to appeal to get people to join before we even start.”

John Sharpe, who is director for Boys’ Brigade Scotland, has also issued a plea.

“The Boys’ Brigade is able to offer the rich variety of activities thanks to the time, enthusiasm and talents of our adult volunteers,” he said.

“Becoming a BB leader will allow you to develop new skills, build positive relationships and make a lasting difference to the lives of children, young people and the wider community. Even just a little of your time can have a massive impact.

“We want to grow the organisation to offer even more young people the experiences The Boys’ Brigade offers, but this is only possible if there are enough adult volunteers to run the programme of activities.”

For more information about The Boys’ Brigade in Scotland, visit