In the summer of 1844, the YMCA was founded by George Williams in London. He was a draper’s assistant and had encouraged a group of his fellow workers to meet for prayer and social activities. The meetings proved popular and eventually were formalised and the YMCA was officially founded.
The strong Christian belief of George Williams and other early members of the Association were at the root of its foundations. Other associations were established across London and England – Bath was one of these early YMCA’s. The Great Exhibition of 1851 celebrating British Industry allowed for the YMCA message to reach a wider audience and as a result international branches were set up.
International conferences followed and membership continued to florish. Before his death in 1905, George Williams had seen the YMCA grow from a simple prayer meeting of a few friends to a worldwide organisation with thousands of members. He received a knighthood from Queen Victoria and Freedom of the City of London.
The First World War saw the YMCA at its strongest. Setting out to raise £25,000 to fund emergency work – £2.5 M was raised. The YMCA purchased 600 large huts to put where the troops were, offering food, drink, free writing paper and pastoral support. After the war the huts came home to establish ‘Red Triangle Clubs’
During the 1930s the YMCA focused on the unemployed – training 25,000 young people. Employment was found for 38,000 ex-servicemen by the YMCA Employment Department. During the Second World War a fleet of 500 vans brought refreshment and support.
Over the years, the YMCA continued to adapt its work to meet changing needs. In 1959 the government published the Albermarle Report, on the need for better leisure facilities for teenagers. Many YMCAs started youth clubs offering recreation, leisure and informal education.
The YMCA movement has continued to grow. It is often more recognisable for the Village People song, which despite being a hit over 30 years ago – is still known and sung by all ages and nationalities.
In England every YMCA is an autonomous organisation which is affiliated to YMCA England. As independent charities in their own right, no two YMCA’s are the same. Each will focus on different areas of work and have their own specialism. Central YMCA in London for example, have been at the forefront of exercise and fitness qualifications and set the industry standards, influencing policy at a national level.
Bath YMCA first opened in 1859 and we moved into our current building in 1888 which was formally opened by George Williams . The building was subsequently extended in the 1970’s to add on our main accommodation, health and fitness and nursery areas.
In the early days we moved around the city to various locations for a number of years but have been firmly rooted in our current main site since 1888. Our work today continues to evolve and grow. We see ourselves as a social enterprise that has a positive role to play in recognising the changing needs of society and responding by providing services that meet those needs and work proactively with the communities we are active within. Therefore the nature and focus of our work continues to evolve as needs change. Like many YMCA’s we offer accommodation, health & fitness, childcare and youth work but as demand changes the focus of our work moves, even though the core will remain relatively constant.