THE POST WAR YEARS
As the 1950s dawned, a circular issued by the YMCA regional office set out the role of women and girls in the organisation. The circular was discussed by members of the Grimsby Women’s Auxiliary and seems to have been the precursor to an increased emphasis on the peacetime role of women in the organisation. In 1951, a dedicated girls’ section was formed for public spirited young women looking to support the work of the Auxiliary. Monthly meetings, guest speakers and regular outings sought to make the most of social interaction.
Under the stewardship of a succession of indomitable leaders, the Grimsby’s Women’s Auxiliary added immeasurable value to the work of the YMCA. The ‘excellent leadership’ of Mrs Cooper was appreciated by the North Midland Region of the YMCAs whose members appointed her as their Chairman. Under the leadership of Mrs Lightfoot, £150 was raised from concerts and canteen sales; and ‘Mrs Brough and her willing band of helpers’ faithfully staffed the canteen.
Annual reports acknowledged the organisation’s debt ‘to those who have given their services voluntarily on our behalf’. Fetes, flag days and junior boys’ parties benefited enormously from the work. But in truth, aside from a presence on various organising committees, the contributions of the Women’s Auxiliary during the 1950s were largely confined to fundraising and organising various community-facing activities. Weekly whist drives and garden fetes paid for the boys’ annual Christmas party. Flag days and concerts also helped support on-going YMCA activity:
‘Funds raised by the Ladies have provided a considerable amount of china for the canteen as well as other equipment in general use there, an Ascot Heater (fitted), a Thermos tea urn, YMCA flag, shades for the electric lights, playing cards for the whist and card tables, and table cloths to cover all our requirements … They have, during the year, paid for the cleaning of all the club’s curtains and for extra cleaning of the canteen and ladies room.’
Minutes of the 1956 annual meeting record that ‘without the support of our Women’s Auxiliary, our Association would indeed be very much the poorer, and we feel that in all our efforts to extend Christ’s Kingdom among boys, we have the loyalty and support of our women’.
Perhaps the most striking – and most visible – development for the Grimsby YMCA took place in October 1952 with the opening of a residential hostel for young men. In the immediate post-war period, there was an urgent need for accommodation and, in the following five years, somewhere in the region of 30,000 young men representing 29 different nationalities stayed at the YMCA. New extensions meant accommodation was increased to 37 beds; the residential club received much-needed modernisation; and, in 1953, at the rear of 39-41 Heneage Road, a new extension was added for the provision of youth work with room for activities for up to 200 boys. As a result of the increasing demand for hostel provision, further extensions were added in 1957 and 1966.
In 1873, the YMCA had established its first holiday centre on the Isle of Wight. Within a relatively short time, its huge popularity led to another 25 centres being opened. The Woodside Holiday Camp at Lumley Road, Skegness, gave many Grimsby families the chance to enjoy seaside breaks away from the town. These were opportunities that might well have been beyond many families. With trawlermen employed on a casual basis, a week away from sea was an unaffordable luxury. The success of the holiday camp model was hugely influential. Billy Butlin who, as a soldier serving with the Canadian Army in the First World War would certainly have come into contact with the YMCA, adapted the idea by creating purpose-built holiday camps, the first of which opened at Skegness in 1936. It followed the pattern set by the YMCA holiday centres with entertainments, sports and activities, and wholesome meals.
In October 1957, Princess Alexandra was invited to open the new extensions to the Grimsby and District YMCA. The five-hour visit to the town did not go entirely to plan. It was reported in the Grimsby Telegraph that ‘So keen was her interest wherever she went, that she was a few minutes late arriving at the YMCA.’ Nevertheless, Princess Alexandra had ‘captured the hearts of everyone with her charm and friendliness’.
Before the official opening ceremony, the YMCA’s Chairman, Roland Bellamy, spoke about the history of the Association in Grimsby, tracing its beginnings 50-years earlier to the exciting new developments. As the brother of Charles Bellamy, killed in action in 1916, Roland carried the family’s tradition of active involvement with the YMCA. He explained that to carry through their ambitious programme, the Association would need to raise around £25,000, and had already gone a long way towards achieving that target.
Princess Alexandra, in opening the extensions, said that in the half century since the Grimsby YMCA branch had been formed, not only had scientific discoveries in many ways completely altered people’s lives, but two world wars, and their aftermath, had made an almost equal mark. She continued:
‘But throughout this period the YMCA has continued carrying on its work, and with never-failing resilience to alter its ways to suit the new times. The YMCA provides not only the material necessities of life, but something of the atmosphere of a Christian home. That seems to me one of its principal aims, and one which will always remain, whatever the future may hold.’
The princess then unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion. John Bennett, representing the YMCA, presented her with a gift, the first volume of the works of the 18th century Italian composer, Scarlatti – the other ten volumes had been sent to the princess at Kensington palace. She was taken on a tour of the buildings, stopping to speak to staff and young people, showing enthusiastic interest in everything she saw. Finally, Roland Bellamy offered a vote of thanks, saying the Association was ‘greatly honoured’ that the princess had come to open the new extensions. It was, without doubt, a rare moment of recognition for the work of the YMCA, a fitting tribute to the Association’s first 50 years in the town.
1957 also saw the opening of two new YMCA centres in the West Marsh area of Grimsby at Stortford Street and another in Nunsthorpe. These continued catering for the many youth organisations in the town, offering accommodation and the opportunity to take part in activities at the permanent holiday camp at Humberston.
Familiar to generations of Grimsby’s young people, the popular YMCA Humberston Camp was acquired in 1955 and later developed with the addition of cedar-wood huts, a sports hall and sports grounds.
The youth camp offered young people the opportunity of an escape from town life and the chance to experience sporting activities and learn new skills. The huts and tents could accommodate up to 164 people. With a dining room, toilets, showers, a sports hall, outdoor hard courts, football pitches and an adventure course, the camp was popular with clients and other users and remained in operation until its eventual closure in 1987. In recent years, the camp has continued to be supported by a local charity, offering a range of activities, finally closing its doors in 2014.
An insight to the social and cultural aspects of the Women’s Auxiliary and the YMCA’s Women and Girls Section at the beginning of the 1960s suggests a falling-off of membership. It was noted that the average ages of the girls club seemed to be falling and agreed that representatives would meet with Miss Hall and Miss Wright of the Women’s Auxiliary to discuss the ‘whole question of the Women and Girls Section’, including leadership for the coming winter.
With day-to-day goings-on revealed in detail, activities seem far removed from the grass roots work and the broader mission of the YMCA. The notes record requests from the Ladies Bridge Club for the use of the lounge weekly on Thursdays; agreement from the committee that this should be granted for a fee of two guineas a week on condition that the ladies should ‘park their cars in an orderly manner in the car park’ and ‘would hold a special event on behalf of YMCA funds from time to time’.
The Executive Committee of 20 July 1960 recorded that the Girls Club had a membership of five seniors and 12 juniors. The Chairman reported on a meeting which had been held with the leaders of the girls club in which it was agreed that the club should meet regularly on Friday nights. Those of 15 years of age and under would meet from 7pm until 9pm, and those of over 15 years from 8pm until 10pm. There were discussions of the use of rooms by the Caledonian Society; requests for a sewing class instructor; suggestions of ‘Sunday Tea Table Talks’ and ‘a party programme of quizzes, gramophone records, recitals, etc.’
Regarded as a landmark in the development of youth services, the Albemarle Report, published by the Ministry of Education in 1960, laid the ground for the expansion and professionalisation of youth services that took place in the 1960s and 70s. It began with a definition, essentially, a statement of purpose:
‘To offer individual young people in their leisure time, opportunities of various kinds, complementary to those of home, formal education and work, to discover and develop their personal resources of body, mind and spirit and thus the better equip themselves to live the life of mature, creative and responsible members of a free society.’
The report looked to youth services to provide ‘social education’, a practice that had been part of the core values of the YMCA since its inception. Group and club life was seen as providing ‘opportunities for challenges of all sorts to the young’, the meeting of which could ‘satisfy the sense of achievement for which all hunger and which so many have failed to find in school or at work’. Many YMCAs responded positively, setting up youth clubs and activities to promote and support the personal development of young people.
In 1967, with the hostel in Heneage Road overflowing, it was decided to form a new Young Professional and Businessmen’s Committee. Its aim was (entirely in keeping with the recommendations of the Albemarle Report) to support the development of young people beyond the YMCA.
In order to meet the challenges of the new agenda, it was decided that the organisation should seek new premises. The plan was, once more, to up-root and rebuild, this time in the Weelsby area between Grimsby and Cleethorpes. Attending a tea party hosted by the Bishop of Grimsby, YMCA committee member, Richard Bellamy, met with local landowner, Michael Sleight. As the conversation progressed, Bellamy explained that the YMCA was looking to secure two acres of land at Weelsby on which to build. Mr Sleight offered the land as a gift. This generous offer was followed by a further two acres and another secured with help from the Parks Trust. With the land assembled, plans could be finalised and building commence.
An Appeals and Buildings Committee was formed under the chairmanship of Malcolm Hoole who was joined in this work by other members and their families. The fund raised approximately £75,000. The local council agreed to build a new road enabling access to the site on Peaks Lane and gave additional help in the form of rate relief. Among the many fundraising efforts for the fund was a Rotary Garden Party at which a hot air balloon was launched by Terry Wogan, then perhaps best known as a radio DJ.
With Heneage Road surplus to requirements, the building was sold and later utilised by the local authority Youth Service and Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. It was subsequently taken over by the Rock Foundation, a local charity supporting people with special needs in 2014.
There was also a dining room, toilets, showers, a sports hall, outdoor hard courts, football pitches and an adventure course.
In 1967 a development committee of young businessmen from the area recommended that a new hostel should be established to provide accommodation for young people, with the facilities to encourage a more varied youth work programme for the residents.