We’ve moved!

As our Heritage Project draws to a close, this blog will no longer be updated. It will remain live for a few months however please visit us over at our main YMCA Exeter website to stay in touch and be the first to hear when our history book is released in Autumn 2018.

This is not the end of our journey, merely just the beginning of another 170 years!

Over 170 years of Christian Heritage

Then and now

Look what we dug out of the archives…

Then: 1971

Now: 2018

st david's hill iron bridge college

We don’t think we’re ageing quite well!

Find out more about our services and how we support the local community by visiting www.ymcaexeter.org.uk.


Bringing Heritage to life

It may have been a little while since our last update but that certainly does not mean we haven’t been busy!

In the past few weeks our Heritage team have been visiting different churches, presenting the story of our 172 year history and bringing it to life.

Exeter YMCA geography university

First stop was Pinhoe Road Baptist Church where we were greeted with a warm welcome from their Thursday Fellowship Group. Led by the Revd. Alan Bailyes we took on the group on a whistlestop tour of our history, highlighting significant moments when our story and the church’s history have previously intertwined. 

exeter churches ymca

In the late 1980’s members of numerous churches in Exeter got together following a Billy Graham crusade and were passionate about working for the benefit of the city through the YMCA.

A chap called Dave Hamlin from Pinhoe Road Baptist Church stood on this committee and helped set the vision for building our residential centre on St David’s Hill, which later opened opened in 1993. The church have supported YMCA Exeter ever since and we are proud to have stood alongside them in our mission for so long.

For the second of our talks we visited St Leonard’s Church, whose spire on Topsham Road stands proudly over the city.

churches exeter ymca

Similar to Pinhoe Road Baptist Church, the congregation at St Leonard’s also have a close history with their YMCA through the passion of the late Donald Orchard. Donald had sat on the same committee as Dave Hamlin, determined to see Christ’s love made tangible through practical service provision.

The St Leonard’s Retirement Group greeted us with warm hospitality and many burning questions about the work we do today.

Our thanks to both the congregations for their love, prayers and generosity over the years, and for the abundance of cake we enjoyed in their company!

For service times and information about these two partner churches, please visit:



Did you also serve on the same committee in the late 1980’s or do you know someone who did? We are looking to identify the individuals in the photo below some 30 years after it was taken.

history exeter devon christian

If you can identify any of the members then please contact us at hello@heritagenow.org.uk.

When YMCA Exeter went virtual

As you know, our story begins with local Exeter philanthropist John Dinham, who caught the vision of the national YMCA movement and was passionate about creating an Exeter expression. John Dinham was born in 1788 in Kenton and was a very wealthy tea merchant with a business on Fore Street. The very first meeting of YMCA Exeter was held in Gandy Street and our vision today, remains the same as during that mid-Victorian era, to share God’s love in a truly inclusive and caring way, practically responding to the changes in social, economical and an cultural contexts.

There are lots of places in Exeter which mean a lot to local people. Whether you studied at the university, have worshipped in the cathedral, are an avid Chiefs of City supporter, or have spent many special days down by the quay, the great City of Exeter means many things to so many different people. Yet for some, their attachment is with Exeter’s YMCA. As a place of rest during the WW2, to a place of learning in 2017, YMCA has played a fundamental role in Exeter’s recent history and we are inviting you to join in making some new stories in the 21st century.

To help us do this, we have only gone and developed an app! Yes, that’s right, our Victorian movement has well and truly stepped into the 21st century. The interactive app tells the of our rich history in some bitesize nuggets and takes you through the story in short anecdotes, quotes and photos.

Download our app to start discovering your place within our story! (Currently only available on Google Play)


Way back in the early years…

YMCA Gymnasts performing at Streatham Hall in 1907
Photo by permission of the Devon Archives and
Local Studies Service: 3056Z/3


YMCA Exeter is one of the second oldest YMCAs in the world and our first home was at Taylor’s Hall in Gandy Street where we were founded in 1846. As a non-sectarian Christian organisation, our aim was to provide a safe and welcoming place for young men who could enjoy respectable leisure activities, rather than less socially acceptable activities such as drinking and promiscuity!

YMCA helped young men expand their worldview through Bible classes, devotional meetings, lectures and education. To complement spiritual development, we also provided physical activities such as a gymnasium, football, cycling, cricket, and “all manly, healthy and strengthening amusements”, as the Devon & Exeter Gazette described them in 1891.

After having several different homes including a building at 27 Queen Street and The Arcade in the City Centre, we eventually moved to King’s Lodge, a grand Georgian building which was re-established as the YMCA in October 1892. George Williams opened these new premises which included a large lecture hall, a games room and a world class gymnasium. YMCA Exeter lived at King’s Lodge until May 1942 when the Blitz destroyed the building.

An evening with the ladies of Heavitree

Back in June the co-ordinator of the Heavitree Ladies’ Group got in touch with the Heritage Project and asked if we would join them at one of their meetings. They had heard about our Heritage Lottery Funded project through a presentation we had done for another group earlier in the year and were so impressed they asked us to visit one of their monthly Tuesday evening gatherings. We snapped up the offer and last Tuesday the evening arrived!

Heritage lottery YMCA ExeterOver 30 ladies were present and we were asked to speak specifically about the project. We entitled the talk, ‘YMCA Exeter: 170 years of Supporting Young People’. We took the group on a whistlestop tour through the decades and wooed them with a joke, or two or three or four…!

From describing the early years and the involvement of Exeter businessman such as John Dinham to looking in detail at the vital role of YMCA Exeter women during World War One and World War Two, we went on to share about our modern day service provision and our support for young people throughout our city.

It was truly an honour to be invited, we received the warmest of welcomes and the ladies LOVED perusing the Heritage themed Christmas cards that our young people made earlier in the summer.

Heritage lottery YMCA ExeterIf you are a member of a community or church group and would like a guest speaker, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Email: hello@heritagenow.org.uk

Phone: 01392 410530 ext. 217


Getting re-established

In the years following the Second World War, YMCA Exeter found its new home at 41 St David’s Hill, and between 1948 to 1987, a Youth Service was run from our premises which included a sports hall, gym, table tennis, billiards and a café. In 1972, we purchased a hostel next door (number 39) which was used primarily by young men who needed a place to stay. Many of them were from oversees and were working locally.

In 1987, the social context had changed and to best serve the community, YMCA Exeter felt it was neccessary to demolish part of our old buildings and start again. In 1990 we produced a board game based on the idea of Monopoly, called the “Exeter Challenge”. 3,000 copies of the game were produced and had an RRP of £14.50. The Exeter Challenge was launched in the Guildhall by the Mayor of Exeter. The game was available in many local shops and 68 businesses were advertised on the board and chance cards. By December, 1,000 copies of the game had been sold. Profits from the game were to be used towards the redevelopment of 39/41 St David’s Hill.

In June 1992 the Express & Echo reported that, “YMCA has completed the 1st phase of its Caring for Youth redevelopment project, the next phase still needs more funds.” The funds were eventually raised and in Autumn 1993 a 31 bedroom residential centre opened which would house young men and women who had been homeless.

A Christmas tale (in August)

As part of our Heritage Project we invited Double Elephant to lead a print workshop with our residents. Double Elephant are a printing company based at Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre. They offer courses, resources and support to budding artists and professionals and they are passionate about people of all ages enjoying the benefits of print making.

During the afternoon workshop, our residents were given a lesson in printing and then got to have a go themselves! Using inspiration from the stunning stain-glass windows and backdrop of St Stephen’s Church (where YMCA Exeter held services in the 1930’s!) our residents were able to create imaginative designs which not only capture the fascinating history of our city but also bring that history to life for the 21st century.  The designs will be turned into Christmas cards and sold to raise funds for YMCA Exeter later in the year.

Special thanks to the team at Double Elephant, you are a joy to work with!



Photo courtesy of www.yretired.co.uk

During WW2 YMCA Exeter once again opened up our doors to soldiers who were travelling through the city and needed a place to stay. We also provided meals and helped soldiers find shelter through a B&B service by putting them in touch with local people who had spare
bedrooms they could offer.

However, when the bombs fell on Exeter during the night of the 3rd & 4th May, 1942, YMCA’s headquarters at King’s Lodge were completely destroyed. For over 50 years the lodge had been YMCA Exeter’s home, located just behind the High Street, where Clark’s now is. It provided countless people with a place to stay, to meet and make new friends.

Despite being victims of war, YMCA Exeter still rallied the local community together to provide support for civilians who too had been displaced by the bombings. Working with the Women’s Auxillary, when the blitz sirens stopped, we travelled around Devon in canteen vans to offer essential food and drink to people affected by war. Whether this was tea or corned beef
sandwiches, YMCA’s support was vital in helping communities rebuild their lives.

A night out!

From fancy frocks to military precision canapes, BBC Spotlight to WW1 renditions, Tuesday 4th July saw the launch of our two month exhibition in Exeter Library.

Attended by over 60 people, including the Bishop of Exeter and the Mayor Exeter, the event took guests on a unique journey of discovering of 170 years of YMCA Exeter history.

So whether you have 15 minutes from your lunch break or are a regular at the Exeter Library do take some time to look at our exhibition in the foyer and discovery your local YMCA like never before.

Special thanks to Exeter Cookery School for the canapes and Nettl of Exeter for the photo montage.