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History of the YMCA

The YMCA is the largest voluntary sector provider of safe, supported accommodation for single men and women aged between 16-30 years old.  Every night, YMCAs provide over 9,000 beds for young people.

The first Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) was formed by George Williams in St Paul's churchyard in the heart of London in 1844. The Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851 proved to be a milestone in the YMCA's history, as publicity leaflets distributed at the time helped to develop links with other countries. The American YMCA Movement was founded in 1851, and led the way in addressing physical fitness with gym openings and a wide programme of activities. It went on to invent both basketball (1891) and volleyball (1895).

The YMCA has continued to grow and expand the variety of programmes it has offered over the many years. In England, the YMCA comprises 121 different Associations found in most cities and towns, each of which operates as a separately registered charity, and is responsible for raising their own funds. These YMCAs are often working with people at times of greatest need. Worldwide, the movement has over 30 million members in some 125 countries.

The 'Foyer' concept is a French idea to establish safe, secure and affordable hostels in each town for young working people. These would facilitate the movement of young workers from areas of unemployment to areas of full employment, where they would be housed, educated and trained for work. In the early 1990s Barbara & Cyril Williamson read about the Foyer concept, and thought it would be an excellent idea to establish a Foyer in Colchester to meet the needs of the many young homeless people they met while helping with the soup run in Colchester. They found the support locally to form a working party and secure funding, and when the building was completed it was given the name 'Williamson House' in recognition of their vision for the young people of Colchester.

"I love that no matter how long ago I lived at the YMCA, I phone them up and they are still there to help you out :)" (Nadine, former tenant)