West Kent YMCA was set up in June 1990 as an independent, locally run charity, raising our own funds to deliver services to meet locally identified needs for young people. The charity was established from Tunbridge Wells YMCA and Tonbridge YMCA.
Since the mid 1990s Ryder House, our supported housing project in Tunbridge Wells, has provided a much needed safe haven for homeless young people in 24 self contained flats. This project was developed by West Kent YMCA working in partnership with YMCA England [as developer and housing association] and Tunbridge Wells Borough Council who recognised the need for supported housing for young men and women aged 16-30.
A key part of the work in Ryder House is the Youth Inclusion programme with enables young people to plan and organise their own activities from a newsletter to an expedition to South Africa or Macedonia. Young People are asked: What do you want to do? The next question to young residents is: And how are YOU going to make that happen? The result is testament to the ingenuity of young people who have often been written off by family or friends or even themselves - as they plan, fund-raise, consult and run the most diverse range of activities and social action.
More recently, during 2010-11, we have been working with YMCA England and their contractors on a much needed refurbishment of those flats and to develop extra flats at Ryder House to cope with the high demand for supported youth housing in West Kent.
Early in 2011 Head Office moved out of Ryder House top floor to make way for the extension; and is now located at the Pagoda Centre, next to the Sports Centre in St. Johns Road Tunbridge Wells. This feels rather like 'coming home' as the YMCA originally developed the sports centre many years ago, and a previous head office was located in St John's Road. The Pagoda centre itself was developed by Kent County Council as a Youth & Community Centre with 2 plannned extensions [changing rooms & sports hall / badminton courts] which was given to West Kent YMCA for such use on a 70 year lease. [KCC subsequently requested temporary use of the building for some KCC Adult Social Services / Day Services - an arrangement that has lasted some 10 years] We very much hope to bring this centre back into full use as a Youth & Community Centre
The first Horizon Project - offering Supported Vocational Training for young people aged 14 to 25 was set up in Tonbridge in 2003 , following a major fundraising campaign, to deliver carpentry and joinery training. The project was set up within a timber A frame building which was initially a community centre and youth club on the site of a boys club hut set up in the early 1900s by a local school master.
To add further diversity Kent County Council Adult Social Services bought places for their service users interested in using woodwork to develop life and social skills. Sadly this long association with Adult Social Services may now be at risk - subject to KCC conducting a full review and client consultation. Since then, four more wonderful project centres have been set up
- Edenbridge in 2005 for painting and decorating skills,
- TN2 in Tunbridge Wells in 2008 for electrical and plumbing skills (now metalwork and plumbing),
- Cranbrook in 2009 for carpentry and joinery, and
- the first Horizon Project for Girls in Tunbridge Wells in 2010.
Horizon TN2 is located within our TN2 Community Centre on the Sherwood Estate in Tunbridge Wells. This Centre which we lease to TWBC for community use has literally risen from the ashes following a fires in the 1990s and a huge effort by the local community, statutory and voluntary partners with us to build a new Centre which opened in 2007. This now houses not only our Horizon Project but also a community cafe, library, meeting/activity rooms hosting many different local groups; as well as a very popular sports hall and changing rooms. During the summer of 2012, the projects at Cranbrook and the Girls Project were closed as they were no longer viable - as there were insufficient referrals from KCC and schools to justify retaining them. However to meet anticipated demand a new Training & Enterprise Centre was set up in Cannon Lane Tonbridge, next to one of our warehouses - and this is now home to Horizon Cannon Lane, V4C youth outreach, Warehouse eBay shop and some local charity / business partners who work with our U TURN programme,
The first of our three furniture warehouses opened at Goods Station Road in Tunbridge Wells in the 1990s. Since then two more have opened in Tonbridge - on the High Street and at Cannon Lane. We are members of the Furniture Reuse Network.
In 2009 the Kent Waste Partnership awarded us a large grant to recognise the significant contributions to making Kent much more environmentally friendly.
The warehouses have expanded to include office furniture and white goods; and more recently in 2010 opened a UK wide service via eBay for Charity - providing amazing sales and intriguing stories. As well as being an essential community resource and giving opportunities for work experience, training and employment for residents, trainees and other members of our community, the warehouses also raise funds to sustain all our projects. Last but not least thanks to your generosity we are able to make a real difference when families escape domestic violence as we can often provide essential furniture when an empty house or flat is provided. During 2012 the John Lewis partnership seconded a member of staff to West Kent YMCA to assist in further developing our eco-trading social enterprise. We also secured a Job Centre Plus Flexible Support Fund contract to enable some of their unemployed customers to gain retail experience, customer care skills and a package of motivation and aspiration raising.
U-Turn is another supported training project, but this time aimed at disadvantaged and unemployed people aged 19 and above. We lead this dynamic network of U-Turn partners to deliver outreach adult learning. Set up in 2006, U-Turn works with many local partners across West Kent and Maidstone to provide training, confidence building, and personal skills development modules to help people back into work, further training or volunteering. We seek to offer modules that are free, at your pace, near your place. To further develop this exciting programme from 2011 we partner with the London Learning Consortium who deliver a wider range of adult learning, apprenticeships and other programmes funded mainly by the Skills Funding Agency.
In 2010 we were successful in securing a major grant from the Big Lottery Fund Young People's Fund 2 to set up a four year youth outreach project. In January 2011 the Vehicle for Change Project or V4C was launched, with a specially adapted mobile resource unit to reach out to isolated and disadvantaged young people across West Kent. V4C was conceived by Young People for Young People. V4C is delivered by young people [our youngest employees] and young people form the project steering group.
We have always tried to support local groups that empower people with learning disabilities - such as the FRED club and local District Partnership Groups [DPGs] for people with learning difficulties. Many of these links are informal by providing meeting venues, supported employment, providing senior staff as voluntary co-chairs and also helping DPGs employ local staff without having to set up their own HR function.
We are pleased that 2012 has also seen the launch of YAP - our Young Apprenticeship Programme.
We warmly welcome the support of a network of donors, referral agencies, local faith groups and many other partner organisations and supporters.
We are glad to say our partners extend to YMCAs in Kent, the South East as well as wider afield in UK and indeed across the world - people who passionately believe in Young People - and helping Young People build their future - to empower every young person to belong contribute and thrive in their local community. See http://ymca.net/global-services/ for a US perspective or http://www.ymca.int/ for the World Alliance of YMCAs - spanning over 125 nations and 45 million members.
There must be many other pages and stories in our history, from sporting prowess at football and cricket to the journey of recent clients. We have some archive photos of yesteryear and would be glad to hear about any of our history that you know of...