The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was founded by George Williams in London 1844 to offer young working men a Christian focus, supporting both mental and spiritual development. From these roots the YMCA has grown into a global movement, now active in 119 countries and reaching 58 million people worldwide.
YMCA Norfolk: 1856 – Today
A YMCA was established in Norwich in 1856, supported and influenced by many prominent local names and businesses including J.J. Colman, J.H. Gurney and the Jarrolds.
The YMCA answered the need to provide support to those new to the city, offering education, activities, and an introduction to social life. As the YMCA became well-established in Norwich, interest spread across the region with Associations opening in Thetford in 1860, Gt. Yarmouth in 1874, and Kings Lynn in 1881.
The First and Second World Wars led the YMCA to carry out vital support across the region; notable work included the YMCA Huts programme which offered a place of rest and comfort to men stationed both at home and on the frontline, and the mobile canteen services which provided refreshment to people affected by bombing raids across Norfolk in 1942. Mobile canteens also provided much welcomed relief to troops stationed in remote, rural locations, including the United States Army Air Force occupying bases across East Anglia.
Post-war, the region experienced a surge in new developments which occupied areas destroyed by the bombing raids. The Norwich City College was opened, attracting students not only from across Norfolk and Suffolk, but also overseas. Throughout the 1950s-70s the YMCA focussed on providing hostel accommodation for these students as well providing outreach work with children.
By the 21st Century the YMCA began to address the needs of homeless, unemployed and disadvantaged young people. By 2006 activities extended right across the region, and so the Association decided to run under the name YMCA Norfolk.
YMCA Norfolk provides support and advice for children, young people and their families, as well as accommodation, health and wellbeing activities and training and education opportunities.
YMCA Norfolk has an impressive story to tell and a heritage to treasure, but more importantly it has new generations to serve.