On 6 June 1844, 22-year-old draper George Williams joined 11 friends to organise the first Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), a refuge of Bible study and prayer for young men seeking escape from the hazards of life on the streets of London.
This week, 175 years later, YMCA Norfolk staff attended a global youth event at the London ExCel Centre to celebrate YMCA’s landmark anniversary. The event – which ran from Sunday until Wednesday – hosted a wide range of exciting activities, concerts, forums and workshops; with attendees from over 120 different countries.
Tim Sweeting, YMCA Norfolk CEO, said: “YMCA175 gave our young leaders an experience of the breadth and depth of the oldest and largest youth organisation in the world.
“Impressive young leaders from across the globe inspired us with their stories of transforming communities and helped equip our team to bring lasting change to Norfolk.”
Each day of the four-day event started with young people telling their inspirational stories; demonstrating how young people are fronting change in communities all over the world. From YMCA youth leaders to high-profile advocates and media campaigners; individuals shared talks on how every one of us has the potential to unleash positive change.
Following a ‘daily kick-off,’ attendees then had the chance to grab a quick lunch before jumping straight into an afternoon where they chose their own agenda. They could take part in an array of different activities including interactive workshops, seminars, reflective learning spaces, and open forum sessions to problem-solve how young people and YMCA address global issues. There were also various training opportunities, hosted by keynote speakers and involved thought-provoking panel discussions surrounding issues such as the impact of climate change and the rise in mental health conditions.
Charlie Wall, Senior Youth Engagement Worker at YMCA Norfolk, attended the event along with Tim and five other staff members. Charlie said:
“YMCA175 was a unique chance that allowed YMCA Norfolk and the global YMCA family to come together at the birthplace of the youth charity’s origins and celebrate the amazing work we are doing.”
Charlie took full advantage of the amazing training opportunities on offer at the event: “At YMCA175, YMCA Germany and YMCA Springfield USA led the YMCA 175 Sports Leadership Award, which I had the opportunity to complete alongside my YMCA colleagues from all over the world. Within this training I was able to learn the importance of Mind, Body and Spirit and how we can link it to the health and wellbeing of the young people we support,” he added.
Throughout the four days there were also opportunities to feed into global research and participative sessions to highlight some of the biggest issues facing young people. These were available in a range of languages and a variety of accessible delivery methods, to accommodate for YMCA’s widespread global services.
Robert Canniffe, YMCA Norfolk Performance and Impact Officer, said: “I really enjoyed my time at YMCA 175! It was full of energy with sports, various workshops and evening celebrations. There were performances from the Saltmine Theatre Company doing extracts from their play on the founding of the YMCA and a YMCA choir called Choriosity from Germany.
“There were a range of talks and workshops on climate change, mental health and history which I enjoyed. I met people from across the world including the USA, Australia, Germany and the Netherlands.”
During the afternoon of each day, attendees could take the time to meet with friends and colleagues in the Plaza, interact with exhibitors and heritage experiences, or take part in a physical activity in the Health and Wellbeing space. Our YMCA Norfolk staff took full advantage of the fantastic sports on offer and participated in the likes of dodgeball and rock climbing, teaming up with colleagues from all over the world.
Catherine Watling, YMCA Norfolk Staff Development and Wellbeing Officer, said:
“The YMCA175 experience was eye opening on many levels. The 3,000 + attendees gave a true reflection on how far the YMCA movement stretches around the globe. It made me feel really proud to be a part of the YMCA.
“A strong message was echoed throughout the event that young people are the change makers, they have the power to take action, they are not the future, they are the present.
“I’ve come back to YMCA Norfolk enthused and excited with ideas and plans to take forward to play my part in giving a platform for young people to make a change and help deliver on the UN’s 17 SDG’s.”
Check out YMCA Norfolk’s social media pages for more photos of the event.
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