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YMCA celebrates serving Norfolk for 160 years 

YMCA Norfolk has been serving the young people of Norfolk for 160 years, but the challenges it faces today are, shockingly, much the same as it faced back in 1856, CEO Tim Sweeting told the Christian charity’s AGM and annual celebration event. Keith Morris reports.

“Over 160 years, the YMCA has adapted to stay relevant to the young people of the day, but why we help and the difference we hope to see, that has not changed one bit,” Tim told more than 150 clients, staff, volunteers, friends and supporters, at the Open Venue in Norwich on November 9. “That’s because the fundamentals of life have not changed – the search for purpose, positive relationships and fulfilment in body, mind and spirit is still there.

“As we think about today’s world, I am sorry to say that some aspects of the context in which young people grow up have not changed over time as much as we would like to think. There are still pockets of huge poverty in our communities, poverty that contrasts all the more markedly because of the prosperity of other areas of our county. Inequality is a social ill that leaves people feeling marginalised and dispossessed, and where people cannot afford a decent home to live in and end up street homeless, where people have to make a choice between eating and heating, where the foodbank is a necessity – this is damaging for individuals and our communities as a whole.

“It still shocks me to see that 160 years later, Norwich is the second most likely place in the country for people who are born poor to die poor. Areas of King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth and Thetford are not far behind,” said Tim

“If you are born in deprivation, you are much more likely to have poor outcomes, to perform badly at school, have poor health and face barriers to employment. You are also much more likely to become a looked after child, and your life chances worsen dramatically again.

“In the YMCA, we refuse to accept that your origins should determine your future. Our Christian faith basis drives our belief that everyone has equal value and huge potential to make a difference no matter where they come from or what start in life they have had.”

Over the past 12 months YMCA Norfolk has invested in new accommodation across the county – new flats for homeless families in Norwich, new shared houses for young workers in Great Yarmouth and extending existing housing for vulnerable young people in King’s Lynn.

This against a background of significant challenges which include welfare changes and Universal Credit creating insecure income for those helped by the YMCA, government rent cuts of 1% per year for the next three years and local authority cuts also leading to potentially significant funding reductions, Tim told the charity’s AGM.

The Celebration event which followed saw residents and staff talk about its vital work. Stephanie Hillier from the families team spoke about their work supporting families to stay together. Since the team launched in 2014 they have supported more than 50 families.

Karina Flynn and Amy Moore spoke about the Heritage Lottery funded project, which has involved 50 young people, to explore YMCA Norfolk’s rich 160-year history and curate an exhibition, which is currently on show in the foyer of Open until November 23. They also introduced a video on the project, made with the help of BBC Voices.

Videos were also shown on the Supported Lodgings scheme which currently supports 40 young people.

Eloise Francis and David Canham, two young peer mentors from the Big Lottery funded Life Ready project in Great Yarmouth spoke about all the activities they get involved in, and showed a video.

The evening concluded with the YMCA Norfolk Your Voice Awards. Awards were presented to Kizzy Knowles and TJ as Tenants of the Year, Jamie Robinson received the Healthy Living Award, Alex Godd and Luke Millman were named as Young Volunteers of the Year, Amy Moore was named Young Achiever of the Year and Nadine Petch received the Inspiration Award for staff.

Pictured above are the Your Voice winners with YMCA Norfolk president Lord Richard Dannatt (left), Lord Mayor of Norwich Cllr Marion Maxwell (centre front) and CEO Tim Sweeting (right). Picture by Julia Holland.

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