THE Boys Brigade is to to welcome members of all faiths and none in a bid to boost its dwindling numbers, it has been reported.

Founded in Glasgow in 1883 to promote "reverence, discipline, obedience and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness", the youth group's numbers have shrunk from 100,000 members in its heyday to just 17,000 north of the border today.

Now the Brigade, which traditionally meets in Church of Scotland halls, is stressing its credentials as an equal opportunities organisation.

John Sharp, the new director for Scotland, has said he wants to move away from the perception that the organisation was an exclusively Protestant one.

He said: "We are not affiliated with any Christian denomination and so we are open to young people of all different faiths.

"In an increasingly secular world we are also open to people with no faith. Most of our groups would be attached to the Church of Scotland but we are not a part of the Kirk as an organisation and I think that is an important to stress."

The Boys Brigade began admitting female members a number of years ago, and Mr Sharp said that this policy had proven a success with one group in Dunoon now split evenly between both sexes.

However, he feel that the organisation should be more vocal about its success in moving on from its traditional image as a male-only preserve, saying: "As an organisation we definitely need to improve how we get the message out there."

The Boys Brigade, whose members included Sir Alex Ferguson and deputy first minister John Swinney, traditionally focussed on marching, camping and quasi-military discipline.

It was the brigade's close religious ties which prompted Lord Baden-Powell to form the Boy Scouts Association as a breakaway group.