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It’s fun to stay at the...! Untold history of the Norfolk YMCA revealed

PUBLISHED: 16:28 18 August 2017

(L-R): Hannah Henderson, Jenny Caynes, Karina Flynn, YMCA Norfolk Project Officer; and Robin Hanley, with young participants from the project: Luke, Amy, Chelsea and Tom; Jo Reilly, and Tim Sweeting, YMCA Norfolk CEO. Photo: YMCA

(L-R): Hannah Henderson, Jenny Caynes, Karina Flynn, YMCA Norfolk Project Officer; and Robin Hanley, with young participants from the project: Luke, Amy, Chelsea and Tom; Jo Reilly, and Tim Sweeting, YMCA Norfolk CEO. Photo: YMCA

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The Norfolk YMCA has been a vital part of the region’s charitable efforts since the 1850s.

And an enterprising group of young people has been researching the 160-year history of the organisation, which is the longest-standing youth charity in Norfolk.

They are set to open an exhibition at the Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum from Monday, August 21.

The museum, near Dereham, will host the exhibit until early September.

The group who all use the YMCA’s services spent five months researching the history of the YMCA in the region.

The exhibition was first seen at the Bridewell Museum in Norwich last year.

They were supported by a £47,100 grant from Heritage Lottery Fund, and also worked to document the lives of some of the people who use the YMCA services today.

The project, called Y-Heritage, has allowed researchers to develop skills as well as giving them access to museum objects and archives, and museum and heritage professionals.

YMCA project officer, Karina Flynn, said: “Working on this project has provided an important perspective on what local heritage can offer young people besides a greater understanding of their own background and identity. It offers an opportunity to share stories with the hope of generating understanding amongst other groups and wider communities.”

YMCA Norfolk CEO, Tim Sweeting, said: “For young people at the YMCA today creating an exhibition revealing this rich and diverse history has allowed them the chance to use the past as a tool for the future. It has also given them the opportunity to discover new skills and interests and to share their experiences of the YMCA today.”

Luke Millman is one of the young people who have been working on the project. He said: “From this experience I’ve learnt about YMCA, its past and just how much its changed from supporting young soldiers during the war and how valuable to us as homeless young people the YMCA still is, and in that sense it hasn’t changed.”

Margaret Dewsbury, from Norfolk County Council, said: “Over the course of history, the YMCA’s support to the people of Norfolk has been immeasurable.”

History of the YMCA

The Norwich Young Men’s Christian Association was founded in 1856.

It was set up by a group of young men to help apprentices and shop workers in Norwich and to improve the moral and religious life of the city.

At times of crisis, the charity stepped forward to support the city’s citizens.

Almost 300 people who were evacuated from their homes in the floods of 1912 were given shelter.

During the First World War, soldiers coming to the city were provided with food and accommodation and during the Second World War, the premises in St Giles were given over to feeding and entertaining troops.

After the war, the first summer camps were pioneered by the YMCA and enabled thousands of youngsters to enjoy an affordable summer holiday. Today YMCA Norfolk provides a safe home and support for over 240 young people every night across the county.

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