YMCA England & Wales

England – National Council of YMCAs

Date of foundation of the YMCA: 1844
Membership Status: Full
Full member of the World Alliance of YMCAs since: 1855

Brief YMCA History

In 1844 the first association to be called a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was formed in London by George Williams, a farmer’s son, and a small group of men.

From prayer meetings and bible study groups, the YMCA developed into public lectures and education classes to address the changing needs of its members. The YMCA reading rooms and refreshment areas also gave young men the opportunity to make friends and settle into urban life.

In the beginning, most people who joined the YMCA were active Christians who wanted to support its work. However, it welcomed non-Christians who were ‘of good moral character’.

In 1851, the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London proved to be a milestone in the YMCA’s history as publicity leaflets distributed at the time helped to develop links with other countries.

By 1894, the YMCA had become so significant that its 50th anniversary was marked with George Williams receiving a knighthood from Queen Victoria and the Freedom of the City of London. Sir George died in 1905 and was laid to rest in the crypt at St Paul’s Cathedral.

The American YMCA Movement, founded in 1851, led the way in addressing physical fitness with gym openings and a wide programme of activities. It went on to invent both basketball (1891) and volleyball (1895). The British YMCA Movement began a shift towards personal health and fitness, marked with the opening of a large gym at London Central Association in 1888.

As war swept across Western Europe in 1914, the British YMCA extended its work across the Channel to support the troops. YMCA huts provided soldiers with food, drink and free writing paper and envelopes.

In the years between the two World Wars the YMCA reacted to rising unemployment with two initiatives. In 1932, British Boys for British Farms was launched which placed unemployed young men as agricultural workers on farms. An Employment Department was also established, which found jobs for 38,000 ex-servicemen.

The YMCA recognised a need to change to meet community needs. Bible readings, gospel preaching, organ recitals and temperance societies made way for socials, dances, and camping holidays. The YMCA, which in 1894 handed out religious tracts to young men as they left theatres and music halls, now ran its own amateur dramatic groups and film shows.

During World War II the war work continued and YMCA mobile canteens were introduced to bring refreshments to the troops.

After the war, the YMCA continued to adapt its work to meet changing needs. In 1959 a government report was published on the need for better leisure facilities for teenagers. As a result, many YMCAs began youth clubs to help young people with their personal development through recreation, leisure and informal education.

A training programme for professional youth workers was also introduced. Its success led to the development of the YMCA George Williams College in 1970. It remains today as one of the leading training colleges for those working in informal education.

The YMCA’s work has increased for individuals in need. Training programmes have been set up, particularly for those with special needs, and housing work focuses on those who are homeless, vulnerable and disadvantaged.

As a part of the YMCA’s commitment to develop people in mind, body and spirit, new leisure facilities were introduced to promote personal health and fitness. To this day, London Central YMCA remains a leading trainer of fitness staff, with its courses recognised as the hallmark of high quality provision.

Some 150 years after the start of the YMCA Movement in England, programme work has been extended to include support for parents, families and young offenders. The YMCA remains committed to offering support, guidance, a safe environment and specific programmes to meet individual needs.

Mission Statement

The YMCA Movement in England, made up from 160 local associations, is one of the largest youth welfare charities in the country. It is a Christian charity whose central purpose is to meet the needs of young people, particularly at times of need and regardless of gender, race, ability or faith. In all its work it applies an holistic approach – helping young men and women to develop in mind, body and spirit. The YMCA’s core work is with young people aged between 16 and 25 although its range of programmes meet the needs of all ages from newborn babies to senior citizens.

The YMCA aims to offer young people and their communities opportunities to develop in mind, body and spirit and so fulfil their potential. Often we work with people at times of greatest need. We believe in:

· Personal and social development – so we provide life and job skills training and support
· Nourishing relationships – so we provide parenting programmes and youth work which supports the transition to adulthood
· Strong communities – so we provide housing, community activities and sports, health and fitness programmes

In all this work the YMCA aims to put Christian principles into practice and to work for a society where all may flourish.

Main Programmes

The YMCA in England works within local communities with young people, particularly at times of need, through the provision of high quality activities.

The YMCA’s main activities include:
Housing – the YMCA is the largest provider of safe, secure, affordable supported housing for young people. It offers close to 7000 bed spaces every night ranging from hostel rooms to self-contained flats. It is also the largest provider of Foyer places in the UK.

Training – the YMCA helps over 20,000 young people and unemployed adults each year through vocational and employability training programmes, jobsearch and personal & social development.

Personal & social development – YMCA programmes help young people realise their true potential and assist them in making the transition from school to work and dependence to independence. Programmes include physical and informal social education through a range of activities including performing arts, sports, fitness training, outdoor adventure activities, coffee bars, out of school activities, peer education groups and detached projects. Leadership training programmes, advice information and counselling centres, and mentoring projects – are accessed by over 70,000 young people each year.

Sport, exercise & fitness – the YMCA is the largest single provider of sport, exercise and fitness facilities, unrivalled in the country and enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. 75% of YMCAs in England offer high quality physical fitness programmes to people of all ages and abilities. The YMCA is also the largest provider of fitness industry training in the country.
International – The YMCA operates in 121 countries worldwide, with more than 30 million members and staff. Through this global network, YMCAs in England set up valuable links with YMCAs overseas and offer young people the opportunity to travel and experience different cultures.


YMCA England