Talk by Ellie McNeil at 170th Celebration Service
A very warm welcome to you all and thank you for joining us on this cold, dark November evening. 2016 is a very special year for Liverpool YMCA as it marks our 170th birthday. As a proud third
sector organisation we celebrate every birthday, each year we survive and continue to thrive is a big milestone and achievement for us, so to reach this big birthday and be able to share it with you all feels particularly special. We have been working to support vulnerable and excluded people in Liverpool since 1846 – a time when Charles Dickens was still writing, Queen Victoria was on the throne and the London Underground had not yet been opened. Liverpool was no different to any other city at the time as child poverty, crime and rough sleeping were common place. However in this year a group of people decided to get together and tackle the high levels of alcoholism and homelessness that plagued Liverpool and what arose was an organisation that the City can be proud of.
In 1870 we opened the first purpose built YMCA in the world on Mount Pleasant and followed quickly in 1880 with the best equipped Gymnasium in Europe free for the working classes in Myrtle Street.
At Mount Pleasant we provided shelter for homeless people and run-away children. We developed night school classes for uneducated people to gain access to university courses, rambling clubs, cycling clubs, football, debating clubs and much more. We became a staging post for immigrants from UK and Ireland leaving for the new world and operated a bank for those individuals to send money home to their relatives.
During the Second World War, the YMCA delivered over 18 million meals to (bombed out) homeless families, through 14,000 volunteers and provided nearly 700,000 bed spaces. Through our work from tea vans on the docks we kept up the morale of the anti-aircraft guns, welcomed returning sailor from the arctic and mourned the ships that failed to return.
Following extensive damage in the war it wasn’t until 1956 the Mount Pleasant re-opened its doors with an extension at the rear of the building providing 90 beds for young men and women, a refectory and commercial kitchen. The building is fondly in the memories of many and was a real community asset. However as time went on the building needed more and more work completing on it and in September 2002, the Trustees decided that the best way forward was to sell Mount Pleasant and develop a new centre on Leeds Street. This was achieved, and on 13th August 2007 the new centre was opened housing 70 formerly homeless people in 40 en-suite rooms and 30 one bed flats. There is extensive support programmes relating to heath, education, employment and basic life skills delivered from the site.
At present, in our 170th year we provide 170 beds of accommodation across the city to people who have experienced homelessness, mental health issues and to woman and children fleeing domestic violence. Today is a moment in time for the organisation, a day to celebrate all that has been achieved and a day to look to the future to what is still to be achieved.
For the 170 years we have been a sanctuary for people when times have been tough, the ray of hope on a dark day and the hand that helps them up. Liverpool YMCA is truly a very special organisation, partly because of our amazing staff team and wholly because of our values. We will be strong for the people who needs us, we will show humility where others judge, we will show respect when none is offered, we will be empathetic when blame is laid and we will be kind in a world where kindness is often forgotten.
Liverpool YMCA is an organisation with momentum, creativity and ambition. Our goal is to instil hope, build self efficacy and support people to grow and develop and create positive, sustainable futures for themselves. We are proud of the work we do and our ambition is to continue to provide a beacon of light for those that need us for many years to come. I hope you enjoy this evening and that it provides you with an opportunity to celebrate with us the wonderful work of Liverpool YMCA over the past 170 years and the future that lies ahead.