THE 1970s TO THE PRESENT DAY

The beginning of the 1970s saw the culmination of a period of intense fundraising activity by Grimsby YMCA in order to build the new Peaks Lane Hostel.

The ceremonial lifting of the first turf and the planting of a commemorative oak tree on 7 December 1971 was conducted by Mr Michael Sleight of Binbrook who had donated the land in memory of his mother, Edith Mary Sleight.

The overriding concern, evident from the minutes of meetings of the time, was finance. Projects and progress were constrained within the practical limits of available funds as they had been throughout the Association’s history. Peaks Lane was a highly ambitious proposition, but one which the committee felt compelled to pursue. In the AGM Report for 1971, Committee Chairman, Roland Archer, wrote: ‘For success we need faith – the faith that can move mountains’.

The Foundation Stove of the Peaks Lane Hostel is laid by Roland Bellamy.

That faith was rewarded when, in March 1972, Roland Bellamy performed the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone of the new Peaks Lane development.

In September, the Worshipful Mayor of Grimsby conducted the topping-out ceremony.

 The new centre, opened in 1973, was modern, light and airy; facilities included single study/bedrooms with wash-basin and central heating – 52 for single young men, 13 for women and four designed specifically for those with physical disability. Meals were available at any time for residents, members and friends, as well as colour television, activities, meeting room and a chapel.

The Association also provided a range of activities. An archive photograph shows Grimsby Branch General Secretary, Mr R McConkey with roller-skaters, Julie Favell and Rosemary King, having recently taken receipt of 70 pairs of skates. The photo shows Mr McConkey sprawled on his backside.

From the 1970s onwards, Peaks Lane hostel provided accommodation for local people and travellers. Many a newcomer arriving in town in search of a berth on a trawler made their way to the YMCA in search of a bed for the night.

International visitors at Heneage Road circa late 1960s

An annual highlight of the year was the International Dinner. These occasions were attended by visitors from many countries, reaching their peak in the 1971 event when 28 nations were represented. If Mr Gordon Smith’s illustrated talk on ‘Trends in Architecture’ appears a rather dry topic for a group of young people, the literature assures us his presentation had an ‘international favour’.

During the 1970s, the national YMCA continued the developments it had undertaken in the wake of the Albemarle Report. Its emphasis was on young people most in need, focusing on homelessness and unemployment, often in support of local authority run youth services.

As local associations became providers of mainstream services, the YMCA Training for Life initiative was launched in response to the high levels of unemployment among young people. Training was formalised, developed to meet specific policy needs. YMCA Training was created during the deep recession and mass unemployment of the late 1970s to ‘help young people find new opportunities through work and training, and to give them the chance to play a more fulfilling role in their communities’ – an updated version of the YMCA’s traditional mission.

This focus on developing talent and providing opportunities for employment remains at the heart of the work of the modern YMCA. Consistently and successfully developed through specialist support and vocational training across many sectors and specialisms, it is now one of the UK’s leading vocational training organisations. Since its inception, YMCA Training has supported over a million people.

The year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year was a busy one for the Grimsby YMCA. In the 1977 Annual Report, the President, Roland Bellamy, spoke of the many visitors from Scandinavia and other European countries:

‘These visits have widened the outlook of both our members and the guests themselves to the benefit of mankind. We must always remember that our movement is an international one, in addition to its Christian objectives. This year at our International Dinner over 40 different nationalities answered the roll call; where else in Grimsby or Cleethorpes could this have happened?’

Faced with deeply unfavourable economic conditions, Grimsby YMCA, deeply in debt as a result of the Peaks Lane development, found itself under severe financial pressure. On more than one occasion, the treasurer appealed to the Association’s bankers for patience; however, it was made clear that, as much as they supported the YMCA’s work, there needed to be a definite improvement in the financial position.

That improvement was a long time coming. In the 1979 report, Chairman Paul Rudd was forced, once again, to acknowledge the precarious financial situation. Despite the best efforts of staff and volunteers, progress in reducing the debt was slow.

Throughout its history, faith had been at the heart of the YMCA’s mission. In 1979, the Board set aside special sessions in order to discuss the importance of the YMCA’s Christian purpose. At a Ceremony of Reception held at the Peaks Lane chapel in November 1979, seven new members were welcomed to the Association. Mr N. F. Hackett of the Gideons International movement presented 70 new bibles and the congregation witnessed the unveiling of a wooden cross made at the St John’s training workshops in Rutland Street, Grimsby.

While the 1980 Annual Report sought to reinvigorate the Christian message, the poor state of the Association’s finances suggested the outlook was uncertain: ‘Whatever the future of the Grimsby, Cleethorpes and District YMCA, it must never stray from the direction which points to its aims and purposes … to enable people to grow in the knowledge of the love of God.’

In his introduction, Grimsby YMCA Chairman Paul Rudd had asked: ‘Which direction can we go in? Which direction will we take? In which direction must we step out?’ In truth, the options were severely limited. Since the opening of Peaks Lane, the organisation had barely managed to keep pace with yearly interest payments and had paid off a minimal amount of the £130,000 capital debt. The financial burden impacted on the work of the Association, threatening its existence. The Board resolved to launch a major fund raising scheme in 1981. To ease the pressure of the debt, some of the land at Springfield donated by the Association’s patron, The Earl of Yarborough, was sold, raising £10,000.

The Board sought the advice of Wells Management Consultants, who had previously worked closely with Grimsby’s St James Church. With the Peaks Lane debt of primary concern, Wells advised the involvement of leading local business people. A new group was formed and tasked with formulating a solution. They proposed a major campaign with two key aims: the development of the Humberston Camp and the annual reduction of the outstanding debt.

A development trust was set up with those priorities. With financial support from business and industry, the Board were determined to achieve these objectives. It was clearly optimistic and, with the benefit of hindsight, was perhaps the kind of ambition better suited to earlier, more altruistic times. The town was beginning to suffer from the decline in the fishing industry: fewer trawlers were going to sea; long-established vessel owners and fish merchants were going out of business; and the main sources of income which had sustained the community for more than a century were diminishing.

Yet Grimsby YMCA was growing. Its support for the vulnerable was more important than ever. Working with the British Sports Association for the Disabled, a committee was formed to establish a club for people with disabilities at Peaks Lane. A step forward for the disabled community and an information hub for other agencies, the new club had been launched on 26 April 1980, designated as Activities for the Disabled Day.

In 1982, President of the Grimsby and Cleethorpes Association, Roland Bellamy, retired from office. In honour of his longstanding service – Bellamy, who had joined the board in 1945 after being demobbed from the army, was awarded a Silver Badge of the Order of the Red Triangle of the YMCA and given the title of President Emeritus, enabling him to maintain his interest in the work of the YMCA and to continue sharing his considerable experience.

For his message in the Annual Report of 1982, Chairman, John B Bushell, chose the Parable of the Fig Tree, writing: ‘… we have in the manner of St Phocas, dug and pruned. This has resulted in the Association showing new signs of life in several directions.’ He continued:

‘The fruits of our Fig Tree are particularly shown in the unceasing often unseen work of not only our Patron Lord Yarborough, who sets an example to each of us, and Roland Bellamy, our Life President who continues exercising his diplomacy on our behalf despite failing eyesight. But also in the actions of countless unnamed people who are working throughout the area bringing YMCA to many people for many reasons. 1982 has seen new growth on our Tree – Thanks to you all.’

By the mid 1980s, financial pressures were having a tangible impact on the YMCA’s provision of support and services. The 1984 Annual Report reported that the negotiations for the sale of the Association’s land at Springfield were well underway providing much needed capital. Through a subsequent agreement with the housing corporation which had monitored the Association’s work, the YMCA were able to apply for a Hostel Deficit Grant. This facilitated repayments of Peaks Lane bank loans. In addition to grants from the Local Education Authority in support of education and training programmes and healthy occupancy rates, this, at last, allowed Board Members to look at the future with confidence.

Sport and recreational activities remained an important part of YMCA life and a key source of income. These were designed to support clients, but were also an important way for the Association to maintain links with the local community. In a move that might have shocked some of the earlier generations whose connection with the temperance movement played such an important part in the YMCA’s history, there was also a licenced bar on the site of the main hostel. Other activities included football, judo, short tennis, roller skating, gymnastics, keep-fit, badminton and BMX racing.

Built in 1982 by the family of Keith Fenwick, along with the help of Geoff Barraclough and many others, the YMCA’s BMX track, tucked away at the back of the rear of the Peaks Lane site, was regarded as one of the finest all-weather tracks in the country. The new BMX club’s activities began in the summer of 1983 with a series of hugely popular weekend events, culminating in a national event in July 1983 with over 400 riders taking part. By 1985, the Grimsby and Cleethorpes BMX Club had approximately 125 members attending twice-weekly meetings. With riders’ ages ranging from four to 17, the sport continued growing.

Grimsby regularly hosted open meetings and local riders from the club travelled to compete at tracks across the UK and Europe. Perhaps the most successful was David Maw, three-times BMX World Champion in Japan (1984), Canada (1985) and Britain (1986). Sadly, Maw, then 19, was killed in a car accident in 1996. Former British BMX Champion, Chris Stanforth, remained involved with the sport and, in the spirit of the YMCA BMXers, was instrumental in setting up the Giving Young People Opportunities (GYPO) BMX club centred on the Waltham BMX track alongside Keith Fenwick, still involved as a fundraiser for a new generation of young people. GYPO celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2016.

Mark Welby, now working for the YMCA at Peaks Lane and still a passionate cyclist, remembers the excitement around the BMX track and describes his times there as some of the best years of his life. Recorded as part of the BBC’s Domesday Reloaded Project in 1986, one of the young riders, Peter Jacklin, recalled ‘Going to the YMCA’ at Grimsby:

‘I asked the person in charge of the BMX track how much it cost to take a BMX on the track. He said £1.50. The next day I brought my BMX and he gave me a ticket for a race … When it was 5.45, I went on my bike to the YMCA. When I got there the man said take your bike up the hill and put it in line with the other bikes. The red flag went down, then the ramp went down, we went down the hill and did the table top and one boy fell off, then another boy went over his handlebars. Then we went over the last jump. Then it was the finish line. I came third. Then I got a drink. Then we went home and had my tea.’

With the decline in popularity of BMX towards the end of the decade – the 1989 AGM report reported there were 30 members remaining – the story might have ended there; however, the club continued into the 1990s with several members enjoying success on the national and European stage. Mark Welby remembers the club finally winding up around 1992; in addition to the drop off in membership, there were health and safety concerns with the track. For many young people, the friendships, the club and the track had been a major part of their lives for a decade.

In 1988, Grimsby YMCA was awarded grants from the Prince of Wales Silver Jubilee Trust and the YMCA National Development Trust to deliver training for the unemployed and support young people’s search for work. In developing community outreach, the YMCA took a compassionate lead in support for the unemployed, the homeless, the lonely and disadvantaged.

1989 saw the death of Roland Bellamy who had played such a leading role in the Grimsby YMCA. After discussions with the Bellamy family, a series of bursaries were established to enable representatives from Grimsby attend YMCA National Assemblies.

The 1980s ended as they had begun, with the Association paying off the debt on Peaks Lane, helped in no small way by continuing high occupancy rates. A series of repairs undertaken with the help of a grant from the Housing Corporation had replaced the upper floor windows as well as repairs to the roof, ground floor windows, heating systems and staircases. YMCA administrator, Kenneth Cameron, summed up the hopes of many in his General Report as the 1990s beckoned: ‘The Association has performed much work in the 83 years it has served this locality. I trust and I pray that it will be able to continue to prosper in the Twenty First Century.’

In 1991, the first real grounds for optimism came with the final payment of the YMCA’s £100,000 building loan. There was no shortage of ideas for future developments, although the annual report suggested it might need ‘a spark from outside to ignite the blue paper’. The new decade would, indeed, bring new ideas and opportunities to challenge and reinvigorate the Association.

Throughout the years, the Christian faith had played an important part of day-to-day life in the YMCA; it was beneficial to pause for breath in the middle of a busy day. A Thursday lunchtime prayer meeting of staff and clients in the chapel at Peaks Lane became a regular occurrence; on Sundays, a group from Elm Church in Grimsby, led by Sue Boyle, visited the YMCA for informal worship.

In the midst of a period of industrial decline, and with breakdowns in wider community structures prevalent, the YMCA was confronted by increased numbers of homeless, particularly among the young. Occupancy at Peaks Lane remained high, with many residents staying longer than in previous years. With a complex, confusing and ever-changing welfare benefits system, finding solutions to hardship proved to be a challenge for staff and the Association.

It seemed that young people were becoming more aware of the YMCA and its facilities, using it not only as their home – as circumstances dictated – but also a meeting place. Yet it wasn’t only the young finding themselves in crisis; older people faced a range of problems and the YMCA continued to live up to its commitment: ‘that we may help to enable people of all ages to understand their problems and recognise one another first and foremost as individuals’. After considerable delay, payment of the Hostel Deficit Grant (HDG) for 1991 and 92 was awarded in 1993. The grant, paid when the running costs of a hostel exceeded the income it created, went some way to enabling much needed improvements to Peaks Lane. As the year ended and the Association looked forward to the 150th Anniversary of the YMCA and the 21st Anniversary of the opening of Peaks Lane hostel, a new private residents’ lounge was almost ready for occupation.

First Day Cover commemorating 150 years of the YMCA, 1994

In terms of financial pressures, Peaks Lane had been a controversial addition to the Association’s portfolio, yet it had also become a recognisable landmark and had provided a place to stay in times of crisis and continuity of support for those in need.

The mid 1990s was seen by board members as time of ‘tremendous potential’. The Association was recovering from major financial problems. Some were self-inflicted, but many were simply a reflection of the increased pressure on charities and voluntary and community organisations taking on greater responsibility for service delivery within a framework of shrinking government support.

1994 promised to be a year of celebration. A concert at the Grimsby Ice House in March featured a touring YMCA production starring a young singer and songwriter, Nia; in June, the Grimsby and District Youth Orchestra gave a concert at Cleethorpes Winter Gardens; in October, a celebration dinner was given at Grimsby Town Hall. Also in 1994, the Association secured a £48,000 grant from the Foundation of Sports & Arts to build a new weight training and fitness gym. The first sod was enthusiastically dug by Grimsby Town Football Club manager, Alan Buckley, with the gym formally opened by Lord Yarborough in September 1994.

Under the chairmanship of Mary Tate, the Women’s Auxiliary in Grimsby had remained active but, in 1995, membership numbers were dropping. As with many similar organisations, it was perhaps an issue of new generations seeking to serve elsewhere. There is no formal record of the Women’s Auxiliary ceasing to operate, but that does seem to have been the case. Mrs Tate was appointed Vice-President of Grimsby YMCA in 2001 as an ‘acknowledgement of gratitude and respect of the Association’.

In 1997, the YMCA renamed its detached youth project as ‘Streetlink’ with the aim of increasing the project’s profile and creating a more professional perception. The project enabled the YMCA to reach out to young people uninvolved with the local authority’s Youth Service, as well as organising activities and providing support for young people in Cleethorpes, Grimsby, Waltham, New Waltham and Holton Le Clay.

In 1998, the Association was approached by North East Lincolnshire Council with a view to becoming the lead agents for the building of a ‘foyer project’. This was based on the French Foyer Principal model, designed to accommodate young people in education, training and employment. Significant steps had been made towards securing the £4m capital cost for the development which would take over Riby House, then used as a hostel to accommodate the homeless and those in need. With the building declared as unfit for purpose, the YMCA, in partnership with the council, conceived a plan which would see the existing building partly demolished and replaced by a purpose-built centre for young people.

Former YMCA board member, Pat Pardy, served as a Director for 21 years. She recalls the 1990s as an exciting time, organising fundraising concerts and helping out at the Humberstone Camp. She also remembers the hands-on role of the board members, often called out at short notice to support staff members in times of need.

A hallmark of the work of the YMCA nationally and locally is its refusal to stand still. In an ever-changing world, its mission and its priorities have been best served by looking to the future, anticipating need and being on hand to provide a service to young people.

The beginning of the 21st century saw the opening of the YMCA Foyer at Riby Square with 26 self-contained accommodation units. From inception to completion, the project had taken a little over three years and had been delivered with support from a range of European and UK government grants. A pilot scheme, run in partnership with Grimsby Institute, had evaluated housing and training systems prior to the Foyer opening. As a result, a portfolio of learning opportunities including life skills, communication, IT, first aid and food hygiene were tried and tested.

The building was officially handed over to the YMCA on 21 December 2000. From the outset, the Foyer received a steady stream of referrals and quickly reached full occupancy with a growing waiting list. The first occupants took up residency on 8 January 2001. The clients, in addition to being provided with safe, secure accommodation, were offered a range of services including a careers advice/support outreach service for 16-19 year olds, help with job searches, volunteering and training opportunities.

In conjunction with Grimsby Institute, the educational courses were put into practice. A report, written by the YMCA’s Wayne Watson at the time, gives an insight to the revitalised focus created by the new Foyer:

‘Many positive contacts were made with a view to future partnerships with the Foyer, or in some cases joint working arrangements. The process of networking also provided an ideal opportunity for public relations; to make local organisations aware that a YMCA Foyer would be opening at the beginning of 2001, and to show what it had to offer young people and the community as a whole.’

The Foyer remains a primary focus for the work of the YMCA, with residents offered accommodation dependant on their commitment to education, training or volunteering.

Recognition at a regional and national level that significant areas of Grimsby were experiencing high levels of deprivation, and the succession of regeneration funding schemes which followed, enabled the YMCA (among others) to develop new areas of work during this period. The locally managed and distributed Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) scheme addressed many issues the YMCA dealt with on a day to day basis. SRB Round 2 focused on the Grimsby Ports District, which included the YMCA Foyer; SRB Round 3 was aimed primarily at projects supporting young people; and SRB Round 6 had clear community and economic development aims. YMCA benefited from the schemes, maximising impact by developing projects – often in partnership with other agencies – which could be matched with European Regional Development and European Social Funds.

Around this time, the Board of Directors began discussing the idea of moving the YMCA to a site in Grimsby town centre in order to be better placed to engage with those needing the Association’s support. A number sites were considered with St James’s Hotel – then for sale – the preferred option. It had ample accommodation and a downstairs space would be allocated for retail as a potential income generator.

Penny Gould and Martin Gardner, then YMCA directors, recalled board members’ frustrations at the lack of wider partnership support for the St James’s development. With progress effectively halted, alternative plans were formed for the development of Peaks Lane. This included the creation of a purpose-built sports hall, a nursery, and a unit for young mothers to be. Penny, Martin and Pat Pardy recall this as a ‘golden opportunity’ for the YMCA to provide improved and much-needed local facilities, and to generate income. Once again, the partnership failed to materialise.

The YMCA continued running youth groups and work through the Streetlink project. Martin Gardner recalls going on the streets with Streetlink workers and learning at first hand the issues and problems young people faced. ‘We were also dealing with substance abuse a lot more at Peaks Lane, and there were a lot of behaviour problems that came with it.’

Throughout the 2000s, the YMCA remained involved in a range of community-based initiatives; as well as Streetlink, the Association undertook inter-generational work in care homes and dedicated youth work at Waltham Pavillion. In 2007, Stephen Goodwin, a YMCA client, went for football trials in Manchester and was selected for England’s squad for the Homeless World Cup. Interviewed in the Pavement magazine in October 2007, Stephen spoke about the confidence he had gained from being part of the squad: ‘The way you look at things as well. It changes your perspective on what people are capable of. After seeing all these people who have been homeless, and come from so many backgrounds, and being able to perform every day, in and out.’

In 2009, the issue of moving site was once more on the agenda, but the funding climate had changed markedly. With little prospect of securing financial backing, the project was shelved. One outcome of remaining at Peaks Lane came from an archaeological survey carried out within the grounds, which discovered the site had a number of mid-to-late Bronze Age features (approximately 3000 years old).

In the same year, the Association changed its name to the Grimsby, Cleethorpes and Humber Region YMCA. Approval was also given for the establishment of a Social Enterprise. Given the name ‘Ambitions’, in hindsight it was, perhaps, symbolic of the YMCA’s response to broader policy influences and the changing funding landscape. Social enterprise had become the favoured model for charities and voluntary organisations seeking contract-based arrangements with statutory agencies, yet many company set-ups were ill-advised. To date, ‘Ambitions’ has achieved little of note.

YMCA Community House, opened 2009, photograph: Anthony Hatfield

In 2009, YMCA Humber linked with a generous benefactor to refurbish and open a Community House project in Grimsby. The Community House – a magnificent five-bedroom Victorian property in the heart of the town – opened in 2010. It aimed to support and accommodate up to five young, male ex-offenders seeking to live independently. One of the first through the door was Daryl. Interviewed by YMCA Humber, he explained how he had moved to Peaks Lane in 2009 after a family breakdown as a result of his drug use. The Community House was unlike anything Daryl had experienced:

‘The little bit of independence is a real confidence boost but, at the same time, the one-to-one support is more in-depth. Mark (Brewer, Community Support Coordinator) is very blunt with you but he has empathy as well – he has not just learned how to support someone from a book. The ways of support were very subtle – one minute you would be in the kitchen cooking a meal together and working on budgeting and, when you walked away, you would realise how much you had opened up during that time.’

With its roots in the mission conceived by George Williams in 1844, the Community House provided a shining example of the work of the organisation, once again emphasising its contemporary relevance. In its first three years, the project supported 52 residents, the overwhelming majority of whom were no longer involved in any offending behaviour. In addition, 33 clients had moved on to and maintained independent living; 17 found shared accommodation or moved home and formed stronger, open relationships with their families. In 2013, the house received the YMCA of the Year award for its success in changing the lives of the residents.

YMCA has over 58 million members in 119 countries worldwide. It has adapted to the changing needs of young people, moving with the times and ensuring its mission is at the heart of all it achieves. Today it works with young men and women regardless of race, religion or culture. In every corner of the world, YMCA is helping young people to build a future. In Grimsby the ‘YM’ is a familiar and essential part of the fabric of the local community. In Peaks Lane hostel, the Foyer, the Community House and countless other activities and initiatives delivered by committed staff and generous supporters, the YMCA continues to provide a caring and supportive environment, a safe place, and the chance of a better future for vulnerable people.