It’s fun to stay at the YMCA!
The YMCA – Young Men’s Christian Association – has come a long way since it was founded in 1844 by Sir George Williams, a worker in the London drapery trade, who was concerned about the welfare of his fellow workers, so he started a prayer and bible study group.
These days the Association is not just for young men; it is for people of all ages, and is not religiously led, as I discovered when I visited the Island’s YMCA at Winchester House, Shanklin.
The imposing building may date back to Victorian days, but the YMCA is now very much part of the 21st century, with excellent facilities. The only concern that Shanklin YMCA manager Simon Davies has is that not enough people seem to be aware what is on offer, and are not making full use of the facilities at the impressive site, situated on the cliff top, overlooking the English channel.
As you would expect at a YMCA, there are Day Camp facilities for youngsters on school holidays, but there are also many other amenities that play a vital role in the Island community. Simon explained: “We accommodate a nursery, looking after children from eight months to pre-school. A second YMCA nursery is based at St Mary’s Hospital, Newport.
“We also have a 119-bed residential facility, to cater for large school, youth or adult groups when they are on the Island, or from the Island. It is hostel-style accommodation, but it’s dry, clean warm, comfortable and spacious.
“There is also a young mothers’ facility at the House, with seven rooms for supported housing for single mums from 16 to 25, and babies under two years of age. We work with the mums on a programme of life skills so they can eventually move on and have their own independence, knowing about such things as tenants’ rights and renting their own accommodation.”
Another important part of Shanklin YMCA is the counselling of young people on the Island, which can help those who have suffered bereavements.
But Simon claims: “Perhaps the biggest thing for me is that we look after young carers on the Island. We have 324 on the register, and I think that number could easily be doubled by people who prefer not to come forward and be known for what they are doing.
“Carers are as young as five up to 18. We provide one-to-one support, in their homes or at school, and help signpost them to other areas of support they can get. Many do not want anyone to know they are young carers, because mum or dad could be an alcoholic, or drug user. They are just getting on with it quietly, doing a fantastic job. We can provide one-to-one support, and respite activities.”
The YMCA acquired Winchester House in 2004, and although the complex also includes a chapel, it was never consecrated, and lies empty for far longer than Simon would like. He continued: “It’s an open space that can be used by local groups for band practice, choir practice or for a theatre presentation. It is there to be used. It is also licensed for weddings, and we have other rooms that can be used for birthday parties, meetings, conferences — even tea dances.
“There is a lot of space and we want people to come and use it. If people want to hire rooms for functions or events, we have a fully equipped kitchen and can do food, as well as teas and coffees. I would love full rooms every day, and the more people I can show around from the local community, the better idea they get as to what is available. Shanklin YMCA is about creating a happier and healthier community, and the more people who come through the door, the better.”
‘…the biggest thing for me is that we look after young carers on the Island’