When Tower Hamlets Council secured a £1.4m grant from the Arts Council for the Brady Centre recently, it guaranteed the continuation of 101 years of good work.
But it was also a world removed from the club’s humble beginnings in the poverty-stricken East End of the 19th century.
Back in 1896 Jewish immigration from Germany and Eastern Europe was at its height, as families fled persecution and pogroms – often they arrived in the East End with nothing but the clothes they stood up in.
The poor immigrants, with no money and less English, poured off the boats and straight into the rag-trade sweatshops of Stepney and Whitechapel. Wages were low and often it was not just the parents who had to work long hours, but their children too – all had to earn their keep.
Many of the earlier Jewish settlers had established themselves and done well in their new home, and up in the West End a group of wealthy Jewish businessmen looked at the situation with alarm.
They saw these young people going without proper clothing and decent meals, let alone a proper education or the chance to play organised sports to get away from the relentless misery of their hard-working lives.
This philanthropic band set up a club in Brady Street, Whitechapel and set to work putting right some of the basics – early club records tell of the boys being given boots to wear and proper meals to eat.
Things moved on. In the 1930s the club organised an annual camp. It would be a bit spartan for a lot of today’s kids. Two dozen boys slept in army tents for a week, and directly on the grass. Washing was a standpipe in the field, the toilet a hole in the ground.
Luxury it wasn’t, but for the lads it was an undreamt of break from the grime and grind of their London existence.
Meanwhile, back at the club, the boys not only played sports but many received a basic education – for many Brady boys this was where they learned to read and write.
The club moved to Durward Street, thanks to the managers’ tireless efforts to raise funds, and the work went on, only interrupted by the outbreak of war.
Re-opening in the late Forties, the club moved to its present, Hanbury Street base. Now there was a girls’ club too, and in the 1950s a creche, parents’ section, senior citizens’ section and old boys’ section were set up. A settlement started and overseas students could stay there while pursuing their studies in London.
A full-time staff was taken on and, in a typical Sixties week, a thousand people used the Brady Centre every week.
But as the Jewish community dispersed to Essex, North London and further afield so the Brady declined, and the last youth members left in the Seventies, with the building being sold to Tower Hamlets Council.
With the Nineties came a re-birth for the centre. A new Brady Club was built in Edgware, and ex-members of the original club began running activities for the thousands who had passed through those doors.
With the Brady’s country house in Kent providing holidays for young Jewish Londoners and the Friendship Club still at Hanbury Street, the Brady is looking healthier than ever.
And that original group of philanthropists might be surprised and delighted that their vision not only helped generations through the 20th century but is now well-prepared to see the next generations long into the 21st.
l Miriam Moses, Britain’s first Jewish woman mayor, who founded the Brady Girls’ Club in 1927, was honoured on Sunday when the mayor, Cllr Albert Jacob, unveiled a plaque at her birthplace – 17 Princelet Street, Whitechapel. She became the first woman Mayor of Stepney in 1931.
Her life and times will shortly feature in East End History .