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History of YMCA

April 28, 2015

IN the first of a new series, Foyer Manager Andrew Hornsby looks back on the history of YMCA, starting with our founder Sir George Williams, the formation of the Paris Basis and YMCAs work in the two World Wars.

The YMCA originated out of prayer and bible study meetings of young male shop workers in the 1840s.

George Williams, a draper’s assistant, is acknowledged as its principal founder and, in 1844 the ‘Young Men’s Christian Association’ was established in London.

Williams’ work for the YMCA was recognised by Queen Victoria, who knighted him, and a state funeral was arranged as a mark of respect.

The motivation and drive of George Williams and his friends was a care for young men, whom looking for work were often attracted to cities such as London.

Working conditions were often appalling; therefore YMCA offered prayer and practical support to such workers.

Quick expansion of YMCA was soon on the horizon, with many contributing this to Williams’ excellent networking, marketing and discerning character.

From very small beginnings the association quickly expanded with other branches opening in Manchester and Leeds in 1845 and, by 1855, there were 40 local YMCAs operating outside London, including those in Europe and North Africa.

The quick expansion was a team effort and it led to the first international conference in Paris where the ‘Paris Basis’ was enacted as the binding agreement between YMCAs internationally.

The YMCA continued to expand and support all types of people in all types of ways, notably including during the two World Wars.

Troops were supported by YMCA huts and camps where they could purchase food, drink, and find activities such as roller skating, church services and spaces to relax.

There are currently over 110 YMCAs in England and there are YMCAs in more than 120 different countries, with over 2500 YMCAs in the United States of America alone.

Today, YMCAs are known for the provision of housing to the most vulnerable, the provision of sporting and training activities, and the development of youth work and spirituality amongst young people.