This post, and my interest in the YMCA, was kicked off by a piece in my local weekly, the Cambrian News. (Click to enlarge.) YMCA Wales wants to build four houses on land it claims it owns in Penrhyndeudraeth; land the locals believe was given to the community in 1918. After reading it I asked myself a couple of questions. By what route did land in Gwynedd become the property of an organisation based in Swansea? But even if the YMCA owns the property, since when has this organisation been involved in property development? No obvious answers presented themselves so I made enquiries into YMCA Wales.
First stop, the YMCA Wales website, and the Annual Report for 2005/6, the earliest available. The most recent being the Report for 2010/11. Now I’m no accountant or auditor, but a few of the figures drew my attention so I extracted them from the Reports to make this little table. (Click to enlarge.) I’d be interested to hear how others interpret these figures, and indeed, the full Accounts. Before leaving the Reports I must say that as we’re in the second half of 2013 the 2011/12 Report should have been available on the website a long time ago. In fact, I get the impression that the website has not been updated for quite some time.
Using the 2011 Report, I tried to find out about the people running YMCA Wales. It wasn’t easy. What quickly became clear is that the staff is overwhelmingly English. Though there seem to be fewer of them listed on the website than in the 2010/11 Report. Most noticeably, the 2011 Report lists four “Housing and Training” Officers, but none are shown on the website. Among those who do appear is Greg Woolley, in the modestly monikered job of “Global Youth Worker”. (Today Swansea, tomorrow the world?)
The composition of the Trustees displays the same bias – one of them, Stephen Harrison, even lives in England. Another, Peter Joignant, is the man to see about “private housing development”. (Useful for projects like Penrhyndeudraeth.) Though in fairness, and in contrast to the Trustees named in the 2011 Report, the website suggests the YMCA has recruited a couple of indigenes to give some local colour. In addition, the YMCA has had the sense to use the old trick of having a Welsh figurehead, in the ample form of Sir Roger Jones OBE.
So what does YMCA Wales do? Well, it does a lot of things. Some predictable, others not so, and some downright worrying. Let’s start with the holiday business . . . yes, I did say holiday business, outdoor pursuits to be exact. In 2006 the YMCA bought from the Youth Hostels Association Penycwm outdoor centre in Pembrokeshire. The first thing the YMCA did was change the name to ‘Newgale YMCA Outdoor Education Centre’. Predictably, this being the outdoor pursuit business in Wales, the staff at Newgale is almost all English. And to judge from the testimonials on page 10 of the 2011 Report those attending Newgale also come from England. Typical ‘Welsh’ tourism.
The way in which Newgale is used reinforces the suspicion that YMCA ‘Wales’ is yet another Englandandwales outfit that uses Wales in a blatantly colonialist manner: to provide jobs for its English employees, holidays for English delinquents, housing for English criminals (see below) . . . with much of this funded by the Welsh public purse. The suspicion of an England focus was strengthened by a reference on page 9 of the 2010/11 Report to Ofsted. This is the Office for Standards in Education . . . an England-only body. In Wales we have Estyn. Why would a supposedly Welsh organisation be quoting a body that only operates in England?
Young tearaways from Wolverhampton enjoying themselves on the Pembrokeshire coast is bad enough, but I was more concerned to read “YMCA Wales has a partnership with East Jerusalem YMCA and Lebanon YMCA for the past three years”. (Report 2005/6.) What business is it of YMCA Wales to be sticking its nose in a very fraught political situation? Returning to Wales, my worst fears were confirmed when I read about the YMCA’s “partnership” with the National (Englandandwales) Probation Service. “We accommodate those with no local connection, have exhausted most supported housing projects due to their offending behaviour / support needs, and provide move-on from hostels to ensure continuity for those seeking bail or parole”. (Page 7, 2005/6 Report.) The only way to interpret this is that the YMCA is bringing dangerous criminals with no Welsh connections into Wales.
Finally, just how much of Wales does YMCA Wales cover? On the website there is a drop-down list of ‘Local Associations’, but other than a tin shed in Trawsfynydd, none of those listed is north of Aberystwyth. (And nothing in Aberystwyth.) So what about Aberystwyth, Holyhead, Bangor, Llandudno, Rhyl, Wrecsam? I Googled ‘YMCA Rhyl’ and ‘YMCA Wrexham’. These are what came up. (Click to enlarge.) It suggests that the YMCA associations in the north are affiliated to YMCA England! If so, what is the point of YMCA ‘Wales’? And why does the ‘Welsh’ Government fund YMCA branches that are so contemptuous of Wales that they choose to affiliate to YMCA England?
The bottom line is that most of those working for YMCA ‘Wales’ are Third Sector grant-grabbers who moved to Wales when they realised how much public funding was on offer. Claiming to help ‘young people’, the ‘homeless’, people with ‘problems’, etc., etc. In other words, duplicating the work of a dozen or more similar bodies claiming to do the same work with the same funding. Now that the ‘Welsh’ Government has been told by the EU that the next round of Structural Funds must not be wasted on the Third Sector, let us hope that the next few years sees these and all the other carpetbaggers making their way home.
The YMCA Wales empire is – as you might expect – run from the YMCA building on Swansea’s Kingsway. This same building was home until very recently to Awema. So how could the ever-alert Naz Malik, tireless campaigner against ‘racism’, not see the discrimination, exploitation, misuse of public funds, taking place under his very nose? O tempora! O mores!
FOOTNOTE: I’m no nearer understanding what’s going on in Penrhyndeudraeth, but I know quite a bit more about YMCA ‘Wales’. And now, so do you.
UPDATE July 9: I am indebted to Y Cneifiwr for directing me to the Charity Commission website, where he’d found the 2011/2 Report, lodged with the Commission on March 7th. (So why hasn’t it been put up on the YMCA Wales website?) I leave it to others, better qualified, to interpret it.
Though one thing I did investigate was the Flint connection. YMCA Wales has just nine full-time employees. Two in Swansea, one in Cardiff, four at the Newgale YMCA Outdoor Education Centre in Pembrokeshire, and two in Flint. So what do they do in Flint? The answer seems to be that the YMCA is working with an evangelical church providing accommodation for (and doubtless proselytising to) the homeless of Merseyside. Though despite having only nine full-time staff and six part-time, the wage bill for 2011/12 came to £441,174, up from £413,185 in 2010/11 when there were more staff!
Looking at the bigger picture, the YMCA is, as a comment to the original post says, a one-trick pony. Its only real asset, major income stream, and security for bank loan and overdraft, is the Newgale Centre. Other than that it relies on grants, mainly from the Welsh Government, and income from Probation and Bond schemes. So, like a few dozen other Third Sector outfits in Wales, the YMCA uses Welsh public funding to provide holidays for young English delinquents and accommodation for their criminal elders.
It’s a good job Wales is a wealthy country, and can afford this generosity!