YMCA Thames Gateway to celebrate its 110th anniversary next month

PUBLISHED: 14:00 17 September 2016

Spinning class at the YMCA

Spinning class at the YMCA

YMCA Thames Gateway

Thousands visit, live and volunteer at YMCA Thames Gateway every year and as those behind the scenes make preparations for its 110th anniversary next month, Hayley Anderson finds out more about the community hub’s programme and the secret to its longevity.

Health and wellbeing manager Viki Bainsfair Health and wellbeing manager Viki Bainsfair

Fitness fanatics, excited pre-school children and pensioners making their way to the canteen all pass each other in the reception as another busy day at YMCA Thames Gateway begins.

With almost 200 different activities and group sessions held at the Rush Green charity every week, there is rarely a quiet moment.

“We are the biggest well-kept secret in Romford,” said health and wellbeing manager Viki Bainsfair.

“People see us from the outside and think it’s just a big tower block but if they come inside, they can see for themselves everything that we do here.

“We are everything to everyone.”

The story of the charity began in 1906 when a small group of Christians and businessmen from the area set up a YMCA “Red Triangle Club” in South Street, which provided support and used exercise as a positive activity for young men.

In 1915, the club was suspended as many members went off to fight in the First World War, but its good work did not stop as members continued to raise money for the war effort.

Several YMCA huts were also established in army camps throughout the borough, including one at Hare Hall – now the Royal Liberty School, Gidea Park, where poet Wilfred Owen was stationed.

After the conflict, the YMCA spent time in North Street, Main Road and Western Road before making the move to the premises in Rush Green Road, which cost £460,000 to build.

The new site, with 148 accommodation rooms, was opened in July, 1969 by the Duchess of Kent.

Viki, who has been working at the charity for 11 years, said: “It feels a bit unreal knowing that we have been running for 110 years.

“There have been so many changes and I think we have gone with the times and developed our programmes and how we work with people and that is a big part of why we are still here.”

There are a range of fitness activities for both the able-bodied and those with disabilities, including wheelchair basketball and gym equipment which meets the needs of all members.

Rehabilitation classes for individuals who have suffered strokes or cancer are also available.

“We live and breathe this, day in day out and I don’t think we celebrate our achievements enough,” said Viki.

“The anniversary will give us a chance to show that we are more than just a charity, we are like a community hub that has something for everyone.”

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