The Birth of a Movement
George Williams was born 11th October 1821 on a farm in Somerset. Some 20 years later he went to London to work as a sales assistant in a large drapery wholesalers. He became increasingly concerned about the firms young assistants who worked long hours and lived in cramped conditions. Deciding that he wanted to change the lives of his fellow workers and also share his Christian faith, he started a prayer meeting and bible study group. The aim was to “influence young men to spread the redeemer’s kingdom amongst those by whom they are surrounded”
This quickly became a regular gathering with other companies getting involved and so on June 6th 1844 it was named Young Men’s Christian Association hence the birth of the first YMCA in Britain.
Sunderland YMCA History
It was in November 1871 that plans to open a YMCA in Sunderland were first agreed, but it wasn’t until February 1872 that the fledgling association opened its first meeting place in Borough Road.
Formed with the aim of helping young Wearsiders develop “healthy spirits, minds and bodies,” the first members to flock through the doors were offered a mix of sporting and religious activities. “It was religion of the evangelical kind,” the Echo reported in 1942 “There were bible classes and devotional meetings. A reading room with religious magazines and periodicals was also provided.
Such was the popularity of Sunderland’s YMCA that it was forced to move to larger premises several times between 1872 to 1928. The outbreak of war in 1939 also led to major changes. A YMCA canteen for Forces personnel was set up in Fawcett Street, based in the old Subscription Library, where visiting servicemen and women could buy cheap and nourishing meals. The YMCA’s base in Park Terrace became home to a youth club during the war years too, and a YMCA hostel was set up to provide bed and board for up to 70 servicemen a night. “By the end of the war, the Sunderland branch of the Association had served 3,000,000 cups of tea, 1,500,000 meals and provided 75,000 beds to visiting Forces personnel,
Premises in Toward Road became the new HQ in the 1950s, an 80-bed hall of residence was opened in Gray Road in the 1960s and an outdoor adventure centre was developed in the 1990s. Today the Toward Road base of the YMCA has been transformed into a home and training centre for 25 young homeless people, with the aim of helping them “to move on in life.”