10 May 2024

Community memories of the YMCA in the Black Country from the 1950s onwards are being sought ahead of the 180th anniversary celebrations of the charity for young people.

We want to hear from people who joined community events in previous decades, used local services, lived in accommodation or worked for the charity so they can share their stories during the commemorations in June.

On June 6 YMCA, the world’s largest and oldest charity working with young people and their communities, will celebrate its 180th anniversary with Founders Day, its annual celebration of its launch. In the Black Country, the charity has been operating since 1888.

Locally, YMCA Black Country Group has a series of events planned throughout the year, including a community open day and celebration in West Bromwich. As part of the preparations, the team is gathering memories to celebrate the charity’s work including a photo exhibition.

Grace Maddocks, Head of Communications at YMCA Black Country Group, is among those collating archive material and recollections. She said: “We are excited to commemorate the first 180 years of the YMCA with celebrations of our work across the Black Country and would love to hear from people who have memories of their time with us.

“You may have worked for us, been amongst our first gym members, spent time living in one of our accommodation settings, used the Bridge project in Wolverhampton or been to one of our dances or concerts. With our open door policy, the YMCA has helped people of all ages, faiths, cultures and backgrounds.

“We have touched people’s lives in many different ways, from our housing services through to our nurseries, that we would love to hear people’s living stories of their experiences, the people they met and the impact it had on their lives as we celebrate our past and shape our future.”

The YMCA’s history in the Black Country can be found in the digitised photo archive of the Express & Star.  Shared with permission from the daily newspaper, the digitised images include one from 1983 showing young men from a task force laying a car park and building a wall beside the hut of the 1st Dartmouth Scouts in Hamstead Road, Great Barr. According to the caption, the photo shows Steve Cook, Patrick McKoy, Karl Hill and Paul Waters at work.

A 1950s photo shows a queue for a popular dance outside Percy Thomas Hall, in Stafford Street, Wolverhampton. When the nation celebrated the wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson in 1986, another photo shows Darren McNally and Kerry Hill stepping in for the Royal couple in a mock recreation at the YMCA community centre in Penn Road, Wolverhampton.

Among those with vivid memories are Brenda and Eric Moore, from Great Barr who have been recognised nationally for their longstanding involvement with the YMCA in West Bromwich.

Now great grandparents both aged 88, retired chartered accountant Eric first joined in 1953 and has gone on to hold a series of posts at local and national level.

He went on to marry Brenda in 1961, after which she joined him in eventually becoming a full member and starting a women’s group for West Bromwich.

Both have served on the board for YMCA Black Country Group until recent years and remain actively involved with honorary board emeritus status.

Last year Denise Hatton, Chief Executive of YMCA England & Wales, presented Eric with the George Williams Award, named after YMCA’s founder, in recognition of his contribution.

Eric says: “In 1953 a schoolfriend and I went to the YMCA in West Bromwich to play snooker. The people there were compatible and I felt comfortable so a year later we joined the committee and I’ve been involved ever since.

“As the country rebuilt after World War II there was a shortage of local labour for the foundries and the YMCA was able to provide accommodation.

“There has always been a need for the important services which the YMCA provides. I enjoyed the social and sporting side, having been part of the cricket team. Since marrying Brenda, the YMCA has been our whole life.”

Brenda said: “The YMCA has always been part of our life together. We had two children and they grew up with it being part of our family life.

“Many people will have positive memories of coming through the YMCA as for many of them it will have been a life saver. They will always think of the YMCA as being a great help to them.

“We have heard many stories over the years of people who have had one night’s accommodation when they are struggling and rebuilt their lives from there.”

The community open day in West Bromwich will be held on June 22 at the YMCA Western Gateway site in Carters Green. With sites across the Black Country, today the YMCA provides a range of services including childcare, housing for young workers, supported accommodation, employability, health and social enterprises projects.

  • For more information on YMCA Black Country and its 180th celebrations go to: ymcabc.org.uk/180 Anyone with memories of the YMCA in the Black Country should contact Grace Maddocks by emailing grace.maddocks@ymcabc.org.uk or messaging YMCA Black Country Group on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.