The founder of the Birmingham Boys’ and Girls’ Union was Canon W.H. Carnegie, one time rector of Birmingham Cathedral and later Canon of Westminster and Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons.
If anything epitomises the aims and spirit of the BBGU, it was the organisation and running of camping holidays for both boys and girls. This remains true to this day. Roy Pinsent, a major supporter and benefactor of the BBGU, acquired most of the Woodlands Camp in 1924. This and a number of other sites, from Alvechurch to Sutton Park, were used at weekends, April to September, to provide an environment of fresh air, fields, woods, ponds and playing fields for children who had never been outside the slums of the city. The emphasis was on self-reliance and discipline. The fact that the food was good and sleep was under canvas was deemed responsible for the general excellent health of the children when they left the camps.
In 1911 the BBGU took over the running of Kyrle Hall in Aston, where it housed a children’s theatre. At the time, only two others existed elsewhere in the world, one in Moscow and the other in New York, with something similar in Paris. Particularly in this pre-television age, the theatre, was according to the local despatch, a centre of inspiration in the children’s lives. The performances regularly received favourable critical comment in the press and production only stopped because of the strict city bye laws. Even so, Kyle Hall and its children’s theatre remain, to this day, remembered as forerunners in this particular mix of youth work and art.
Growth was rapid. The BBGU was running over 60 clubs in the heart of the city with some 3,000 members and the Union continued to prosper up until the Second World War.
On the BBGU’s 25th Anniversary, a major fund raising call came from Neville Chamberlain MP and was backed by all ten Members of Parliament representing Birmingham. To mark this anniversary, the Duke of Gloucester paid a much publicised visit to the BBGU and added strong words of support. He referred to Birmingham as the birthplace of the National Association of Boys clubs and called for youth clubs to become an integral part of the social life of Great Britain and the Empire. The Union also received active backing during this period from several well-known Birmingham names: benefactors Sir Patrick Hannon, and members of the Chamberlain, Burman, Lloyd, Martineau, Hyde and Pinsent families. But support also came from many of Birmingham’s ordinary citizens, often giving small amounts, especially poignant during the era of the 1930’s depression.
Following the compulsory purchase order of Kyrle Hall to make way for Aston University, the BBGU moved its headquarters to the site of Woodlands Camp. Although building a leisure centre in Birmingham was considered it was concluded that the area had changed. With war time bombing and changes in population spread, it was decided that Woodlands was the best option for the HQ. Since 1968, the BBGU Woodlands Camp has evolved into a modern, fully-equipped, outdoor education centre. In 2010, the decision was made to rename the camp to “Woodlands Adventure & Outdoor Learning Centre”. This reflected more accurately what we do, but we still remain true to the ethos and ideology of Canon Carnegie in supporting the needy and underprivileged children/vulnerable young adults of Birmingham and surrounding areas, through outdoor education which cannot be assessed through mainstream educational establishments..
1968 – Compulsory purchase of Kyrle Hall to make way for Aston University. Our headquarters were transferred to Woodlands Camp, Bourne Vale, Aldridge, Walsall which is set in 36 acres of countryside.
1969 – The first recreational hall was constructed at Woodlands.
1972 – The Warden’s quarters and office were built.
1976 – The first dormitory block was built, enabling the Camp to offer residential visits for those who preferred indoor accommodation to camping.
1978 – A sports hall was completed, with the aid of funding from the Sports Council.
1981 – The first climbing wall was erected in an area of woodland.
1998 – The existing dormitory block was replaced. The new building accommodates 56 children plus group leaders.
2000 through 2003
The climbing wall was replaced, and re-sited in the woodland, by a much improved climbing tower with full scale climbing and abseiling facilities. A bouldering wall was then developed. The aerial runway, now know as the zip wire, was re-sited on the other side of the lake and a new tower was constructed. This enabled the assault course to be extended and greatly improved. All this comprehensive restructuring enabled us to institute and operate a range of team building courses which can be booked separately.
2005 through 2006
The main recreational building was replaced with the Saintbury Building which accommodates a fully equipped self-catering kitchen, main hall and shower and toilet facilities..
2006 to present…
The high ropes course was constructed and a new climbing and abseiling tower was built providing a wider range of activities and enhancing the experience and opportunities for our visitors.
We recently replaced our boat shed which houses the paddle sport equipment for all our kayaks and canoes and which is used to kit out and instruct our visitors.
A new toilet and shower facility has been added for the 2017 season.
For the future. we hope to continue to enhance and expand our facilities, making a trip to Woodlands even more memorable for our visitors.