The Girls and Boys Brigade was founded in 1882 by Sir James Fairfax. It was originally a safe haven for the young paperboys, who were often homeless with nowhere else to go. Its long history of caring for inner city children is still very much alive today.   

First in Ultimo, in 1912 the Brigade moved to Riley Street and has been there ever since. Walking past, you might not realise the history behind the big corner building, nor the significance it holds for many local families. 

Girls and Boys Brigade Riley Street building, c. 1912. Image supplied.

The multi-level space is an afterschool and holiday care facility for kids at Crown and Bourke Street schools that come from low income or disadvantaged homes, providing a young friendly space, youth workers and educational support.  

From kindergarten to Year 12, the GBB students receive services like homework and reading help, access to Wi-Fi and computers and most significantly, a close-knit group of friends and support network.  

Urban Village sat down with Stefan and Richard, who both changed career paths drastically to pursue work for Girls and Boys Brigade.  

“We’ve been here for a hundred years but a lot of people don’t know what’s actually inside this building.” 

I was living in Surry Hills 25 years ago, back when it was cheap. As everything has gentrified, Bourke Street School ten years ago had 40 kids, and it’s now 440 kids,” said Richard.  

As this gentrification has happened social housing has stayed – that pocket of people is still there with the same issues. They need services like us.” 

Girls and Boys Brigade has recently introduced a grocery service in partnership with Food Bank, so families with children enrolled can come in and do a grocery shop for free.  

While everything around us has changed, we’re still doing what we were doing twenty years ago – helping the same kinds of families.”  

Inside the multi-level building childrens paintings are all over the walls as well as black and white photos from the Brigade’s first few years. There’s an underground basketball court and murals painted by local artists, reading and homework rooms all quietly waiting for that time in the afternoon when they’ll be full of young students again. 

Stefan (left) and Richard (right) in the homework room.

A lot of our success stories are the little ones. One of our parents might get a job; one of the kids manages to turn up to school; I’d lent one of our clients some paper so she could study for an exam and she came in to tell me that she passed.  

It’s those things I like because little by little it builds,” said Richard. 

The Girls and Boys Brigade has been a quiet but constant fixture of Surry Hills life for a hundred years, and runs entirely on grants and donations. For more information about the organisation or how you can show support, head to their website.

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