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It was fun to stay at the YMCA

PUBLISHED: 10:52 04 January 2008 | UPDATED: 09:20 11 May 2010

HAPPY DAYS: smiling faces at the YMCA's The Clyffe hotel.

HAPPY DAYS: smiling faces at the YMCA's The Clyffe hotel.

SAY the letters "YMCA" and many people think of the cowboy, policeman and American Indian of the Village People. But the organisation of that name had been influencing generations of people's lives long before those guys had their hit record.

SAY the letters “YMCA” and many people think of the cowboy, policeman and American Indian of the Village People. But the organisation of that name had been influencing generations of people's lives long before those guys had their hit record.

The Young Men's Christian Association is one of the world's great voluntary organisations. In serving the community, it offers extensive supported accommodation and resettlement work, recreational, educational, faith, schools and youth offender programmes, asylum-seekers' outreach work and personal development training.

To mark 150 years of service across the area, YMCA Norfolk launched a commemorative book detailing the development of its work across the region.

Written by board member Peter Larter and historian Charlotte Barringer, it takes in Lowestoft as well as Norwich, Cromer, Fakenham, King's Lynn, Swaffham, Thetford and Great Yarmouth.

Lowestoft's first meetings were well supported by benefactors and volunteers and were held in rooms at the Alexandra Hall in the Marina in 1878, with the Rev T A Nash as president and Mr W Wild as secretary.

The organisation moved into purpose-built premises at 120 London Road North in 1886, and the foundation stone was put in place by the first mayor of Lowestoft, W Youngman.

In 1900, an appeal to help improve the premises saw donations from George Williams, Lucas Brothers,

G Riches, J Sayer, Sir Saville Crossley and Mrs Owen, helping the work to be completed in 1902.

Two years later the president, Mr W A Shann, announced a decision to close the association - but a mere six months later it would reopen.

It helped soldiers throughout the first world war, and the team at the Lowestoft building marked the beginning of its winter season in 1918 with a capital programme “planned for the khaki boys”.

With Lowestoft again at the battlefront in the second world war, the YMCA would help to accommodate servicemen and former prisoners-of-war. The YMCA holiday centre at The Clyffe, formerly a private hotel on Kirkley Cliff, opened in 1939 and troops stayed there during the war.

By 1962, the 76-year-old YMCA centre in London Road North was facing a crisis, for the Victorian building was thought totally inadequate for its purpose but unsuitable for conversion.

With the building closed in 1965, the association moved temporarily to The Clyffe until new premises

at the old RAF Convalescent Home, in Park Road, opened four years later.

Later converted into Toren House, the hostel provided accommodation for 60 men and women in well-furnished, single, double or triple rooms, each equipped with their own washbasins and radios. There was a large TV lounge, a multi-gym, laundry and drying room and a kitchen for the use of residents.

The hostel closed in 1978, losing £200 a week, and Toren House was sold for conversion into flats and renamed Abigail Court. The next year The Clyffe holiday centre was sold to Help the Aged and converted into 30 retirement flats.

But in 2000 the Lowestoft YMCA

re-emerged under the leadership of chief executive Ed Vaughan, and by the 150th anniversary in 2006 it was operating a café and children's nursery, while YMCA Training ran as an employment training centre in the town.

YMCA Norfolk today works with dozens of asylum-seekers and prisoners. It works too in 34 schools across the area as well as providing an expanding range of accommo-dation options for young homeless people in lodgings, Nightstop, hostels and self-contained units.

Having helped to improve the lives of many, the organisation can look back with pride at a successful 150 years or so - but the story goes on. Mr Larter said: “YMCA Norfolk has an impressive story to tell and a heritage to treasure, but, more importantly, it has new generations to serve.”

Extracts of this article were taken from YMCA Norfolk: 150 Years of Service, by Charlotte Barringer and Peter Larter.

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