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!
Over 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.
If you are a member of a community or church group and would like a guest speaker, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!
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.
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.
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.
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.
YMCA & World War 1
At the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, YMCA Exeter became particularly active, both at home and on the front.
At home, YMCA Exeter opened its doors to all serviceman who could stay at the YMCA for as long as they needed. Some were travelling home, some were making the first steps of their journey to the continent. Whatever people’s need, YMCA was passionate about meeting it, whether that was by providing writing materials for soldiers to write letters home to loved ones, or picking up soldiers from the railway stations.
Out on the front, Westcountry vicar, Reverend John J. Haworth, travelled to France to serve as a Padre with the YMCA. He kept journals of his time in the trenches and in 1917 wrote this about life in the YMCA huts:
“The sleeping quarters [were] small but full of good things. [They were] a shelter where men could sit and eat their cakes, drink tea and then have a chat. Without the YMCA life in the rest camps would become utterly wearisome, even injurious to the men.”
Haworth’s descendents still live in Exeter to this day and remain actively involved with the YMCA. The photo above is of Rev. John J. Haworth in his uniform for the 51st Division of Highlanders.
On Tuesday we had the pleasure of welcoming Jim and Lucy Fisher from Exeter Cookery School to lead our weekly Food Hub.
On the menu? Shepherd’s Pie and Syrup Sponge Pudding! Hmmmmm….
But not only did Jim & Lucy teach us how to make this delicious English recipe, they also taught us about how food has developed over time. From using different cuts of meat and sourcing easily obtainable ingredients, to learning how sugar and salt have changed our taste buds over the years, we got a real insight into how food is more diverse now than it ever has been.
Exeter’s Underground Passages are almost 800 years old and are an incredible testament to the magnificent city we live in. Last week, we took a group of our young people to look around them…
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Exeter Blitz, we (YMCA Exeter residents and staff) were given a specially themed tour of the passages, with sound effects and all!
We began the tour in pitch black, with nothing but a small flickering light to navigate the way. The atmosphere was truly eerie and one which helped us understand what it might have felt like that fateful night in May 1942 when Extonians raced into the Underground Passages to shelter from the air raid.
Learning about what happened that night as well as experiencing some of the conditions people used to live in, our trip to the passages was truly an incredible experience enjoyed by the whole group. But enough of our words… let the photos speak for themselves!
Special thanks to Exeter City Council for the tour and the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting this great opportunity.
One of the most common questions we are asked here at the YMCA Heritage Project is… Was the YWCA founded by George William’s wife and are you the same? Well, wouldn’t that make a great story!? Unfortunately, the answer is no…
Started during the mid 1800’s by two ladies in London, Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird and Emma Robarts, two distinct movements were founded which both called themselves the Young Women’s Christian Association.
One provided accommodation for nurses in the city, and the other was a society offering female servants with a safe and moral place to read the bible (the latter sound familiar to anyone?). Eventually, after learning about each other, they decided to combine their efforts and today they exist as ‘The World Young Women’s Christian Association (World YWCA)’, a global movement working for women’s empowerment, leadership and rights in over 120 countries around the world.
Nonetheless, our histories, though unique, do collide. During the night of May 4th & 5th, 1942, Exeter’s YWCA lost their home in Dix’s Field due to the Blitz – the same bombing in which YMCA lost King’s Lodge. After both our centres were lost, YMCA and YWCA rallied together to run joint socials for their members, supporting each other during tough times. It was then decided in 1952 that the two associations would occupy the same premises at 41 St David’s Hill, due to “a demand from the younger members of the (YMCA) Association to have girls in for certain activities, and as the Y.M.C.A. could offer better facilities for the members of the Y.W.C.A.”
So, whilst Mrs William’s didn’t found the YWCA and we remain two independent organisations, our stories do overlap in Exeter and both organisations are still thriving over 70 years on from that fateful night in 1942.
In preparation for our exhibition in Exeter Library in July and August we are looking for any old photos, artefacts, or memories the local community has of our history.
To date we only have a few treasured gems from our past, like this wonderful journal which found its way to us after surviving the trenches in 1917. Belonging to YMCA Padre, Reverend John James Haworth, the journal is full to the brim with insights on the impact of YMCA on the front line.
From our more recent days, we have this photoboard from which we have been able to put faces to all the names in our dusty archival minutes! A man called Bob Whitchurch helped to orchestrate the revival of the YMCA and the St. David’s Hill rebuilding in the late 80‘s and early 90’s and he has generously lent us this photo board for the exhibition
Another gem we have can be found in a very old YMCA newsletter, it is a drawing of our previous home at King’s Lodge. This is one of the only pictures we have of the headquarters that served us so well for half a century, until the beautiful building was lost in the Blitz.
To make our monumental exhibition even more unique we need more gems like those already mentioned. No matter how small or insignificant it may seem you – an old YMCA badge, a 15-year-old YMCA newsletter, or a photo of a distant relative who was a YMCA trustee – these artefacts each have a story to tell and we want to tell them!
So, if you have anything you would like to share with us, or indeed you have a story to tell that we can capture in words, then please get in touch! You can leave your comments below, email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring the YMCA Exeter Heritage team on 01392 410530 ext. 217.