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Museum exhibition on YMCA Norfolk’s 160 year impact

A group of young people who use the YMCA’s services have been working to research the history of YMCA Norfolk over the last five months, culminating in the launch of an exhibition at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell on Thursday, September 22. 

A new exhibition celebrating 160 years of YMCA Norfolk's charity work in the city was marked by a launch event at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell on Thursday, September 22.

A grant of £47,100 awarded from the Heritage Lottery Fund, supported young people to research and record history about the YMCA, as well as document the lives of some of the people who access YMCA services today.

The Y-Heritage project has enabled the young people to develop new skills as well as giving them access to museum objects and archives, and to meet with museum and heritage professionals.

The YMCA is the longest standing youth charity in Norfolk. In 1856 Norwich Young Men’s Christian Association was founded by a group of young men to help apprentices and shop workers in Norwich and to improve the moral and religious life of the city.

At times of crisis, the charity stepped forward to support the city’s citizens. Almost 300 people who were evacuated from their homes in the floods of 1912 were given shelter. During the First World War, soldiers coming to the city were provided with food and accommodation and during the Second World War, the premises in St Giles were given over to feeding and entertaining troops and mobile vans toured remoter areas of the county with refreshments and essential items.  After the war, the first summer camps were pioneered by the YMCA and enabled thousands of youngsters to enjoy an affordable summer holiday. Today YMCA Norfolk provides a safe home and support for over 240 young people every night across the county. 

At the launch YMCA Y-Heritage Project Officer Karina Flynn said: “Working on this project has provided an important perspective of what local heritage can offer young people besides a greater understanding of their own background and identity. It offers an opportunity to share stories with the hope of generating understanding amongst other groups and wider communities.”

YMCA Norfolk Chief Executive Tim Sweeting said: “For young people at the YMCA today creating an exhibition revealing this rich and diverse history has allowed them the chance to use the past as a tool for the future. It has also given them the opportunity to discover new skills and interests and to share their experiences of the YMCA today.”

Curator of Community History at the Museum of Norwich, Jenny Caynes said: “We are delighted to have been partners working with YMCA Norfolk to celebrate this milestone in their history. The exhibition demonstrates the important role that the organisation has had in the city over the last 160 years, and the relevance of their work today.”

Luke Millman is one of the young people who have been working on the project and said “From this experience I’ve learnt about YMCA, its past and just how much its changed from supporting young soldiers during the war and how valuable to us as homeless young people the YMCA still is, and in that sense it hasn’t changed”

The project will remain at the Museum until October 17 and will then go on to tour other sites across Norfolk.

Norfolk County Council’s Chairman of Communities, Margaret Dewsbury said: “This exhibition showcases the significance of the internationally known YMCA, and how it has, over the last 160 years, had such an impact at a local level.  Over the course of history, its support to the people of Norfolk has been immeasurable and I hope the young people who were involved with the research for this exhibition have enjoyed this very special experience.”

Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell Museum of Norwich Bridewell. Bridewell Alley, Norwich, Norfolk NR2 1AQ 


Pictured L-R: Hannah Henderson, Curator of Social History at the Norwich Museum at the Bridewell; Jenny Caynes Curator or Community History from Norwich Museum at the Bridewel; Karina Flynn, YMCA Norfolk Project Officer; Robin Hanley, Head of Operations & Learning at Norfolk Museums Service; Young Participants from the project, Luke, Amy, Chelsea and Tom; Jo Reilly, Heritage Lottery Fund and Tim Sweeting, YMCA Norfolk Chief Executive Officer 

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