Wanstead girls’ group closes amid claims parents are put off by close Christianity links

A young girls’ activity group has been forced to temporarily close due to dwindling numbers after claims parents were put off by its ties to Christianity, it is claimed.

The 1st Wanstead Girls’ Brigade, which runs out of Wanstead United Reformed Church, in Nightingale Lane, has been operating since 1917, but closed this month because only two girls would regularly attend the weekly session.

Helen Barham, 61, the brigades’ captain, placed adverts inviting girls of all ages and faiths to take part in activities, including jewellery, cooking and taking care of animals - but soon realised her efforts were in vain.

Mrs Barham, of Wansford Road, Woodford Green, said: “The Girls’ Brigade motto is: Seek, serve and follow Christ but we would not push it down their throats.

“Over the years we would have Catholic girls, a Jewish girl and girls with no religious denomination attend.

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“It is a great shame because we are so close to our centenary.”

Mrs Barham, a full time teacher at St Aubyns school in Bunces Lane, said the tipping point was when she “felt guilty” asking friends to help her run sessions with only two girls attending.

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“It was just a shame,” said the mother-of-two, before adding she enjoys teaching at school because she has a full class of pupils.

Mrs Barham became involved with the brigade 19 years ago after her daughter Lucy, now 33, joined - she eventually took over the leadership of the brigade.

If renewed interest is shown by parents, Mrs Barham says, she will reopen the brigade.

“In the 90s we used to have 20 girls coming along - even in the early 2000s,” added the brigade captain.

“I know when I posted the adverts up people would get in touch and I would have to say we were a Christian organisation and I could just hear the change in their voices immediately.”

For more information about the 1st Wanstead Girls’ Brigades and how to help or get involved, call Mrs Barham on 02085042385.

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