One of the oldest clubs for young people in Wanstead has been forced to close after nearly a century because parents are put off by its association with Christianity, it is claimed.
Dwindling numbers left just two members of the 1st Wanstead Girls’ Brigade, which has been operating in the area since 1917.
Despite inviting girls of all faiths every Tuesday to Wanstead United Reformed Church in Nightingale Lane, organiser Helen Barham believes its association with Christianity has restricted its appeal.
Girls are expected to take part in church services, but the brigade offers a wide range of activities.
She said: “Something which parents have raised to me is that they are wary of sending their daughters to a Christian group – the mention of that puts them off straight away.
“The activities we do are not Christian – and if we had more girls and staff we would be able to do more things such as camping and day trips.
“I also think in this area, parents are more affluent and their daughters are spoilt for choice with after-school activities.
“The Girls’ Brigade numbers in places like Gants Hill and Ilford are actually on the rise because parents need a way of keeping their children off the streets and it is the most affordable way.”
Mrs Barham became involved with the brigade 19 years ago after her daughter joined and eventually took over the leadership.
She said: “I wanted to get involved because I thought the group was a really good way of keeping the girls off the streets.
“Even before meetings they would be hanging around in Wanstead waiting for it to start.
The brigade was so popular when it was founded there were three different Wanstead groups, but numbers dwindled to just 20 in 2004.
Now with only two regular members, the group has been forced to close.
Deborah Jones, who lives in Mansfield Road, Wanstead, has been taking her 7-year-old daughter Elinor and a friend to the group for the last year.
She said: “I am a non-believer and I took my daughter there without any problems. The activities they do are mainly arts and crafts and are completely age related.
“I never felt there was anything overly Christian about the group.
“I imagine some of the older girls would be more interested in texting each other and doing other things because they will have grown out of the arts and crafts based activities.
“But my daughter and her friend obviously do not have a mobile phone yet and love the activities they do. Before Christmas I asked my daughter if she still wanted to go and she said yes, she loves it.”
Mrs Barham has suspended the club indefinitely until more girls aged five to 18 show an interest.