YMCA West Kent was set up in June 1990 as an independent, locally run charity delivering 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 YMCA West Kent 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 Tower House, Vale Rise, Tonbridge - the same location as our furniture warehouse.
In 2011, the head office moved to the Pagoda centre in Tunbridge Wells, which felt rather like 'coming home' as the YMCA originally developed the sports centre many years before, 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 planned extensions [changing rooms & sports hall / badminton courts] which was given to us for such use on a 70 year lease.west kent
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. Four other wonderful project centres were also established:
- 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 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.
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 and we are now located on Vale Rise.
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.
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 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 were also pleased that 2012 saw the launch of YAP - our Young Apprenticeship Programme.