HISTORY OF YMCA PORT TALBOT
Origins of the YMCA
The YMCA was established in 1844 and is the largest and oldest youth charity in the world, currently helping over 58 million people in 119 countries. The YMCA was founded by George Williams, a draper from Somerset, who was appalled by the general conditions for young working men who had moved to London. His aim was to put Christian principles into practice by developing a healthy “body, mind and spirit”. These three angles are reflected by the different sides of the (red) triangle—a logo still very much associated with the YMCA today. George Williams was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1894. After his death in 1905, he was commemorated by a stained-glass window in the nave of Westminster Abbey. Sir George Williams is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral. He also gave his name to the YMCA George Williams College, which is regarded today as one of the foremost trainers of youth workers in the world.
The YMCA spread at a rapid rate in its early years, and by 1851 was already established in the USA and Canada. The YMCA was very influential during these formative years, during which the organisation successfully promoted evangelical Christianity in weekday and Sunday services. The YMCA opened its first holiday camp in the 1870s, using a model on which Billy Butlin later modelled his holiday camps. The YMCA was most famous for the development of its gyms during this period; as well as promoting good sportsmanship through athletic contests in gyms and swimming pools, the organization also invented basketball and volleyball along the way! The Boy Scouts movement also began in the Birkenhead and Nottingham YMCAs.
YMCA Port Talbot
YMCA Port Talbot was first established in 1898 and was known as the Aberavon and Port Talbot District YMCA. At first it was run from a corrugated iron and wooden shack within the area of Aberavon; there were also tennis courts and some land that was used for athletics and other sports. YMCA Port Talbot grew from these humble beginnings, and is still supporting the local community in the 21st Century.
In the early days, YMCA Port Talbot encouraged the ethos of the YMCA movement: Mind, Body and Spirit. The Christian faith was at the centre of all the work the Aberavon and Port Talbot District YMCA carried out, and included providing Bible reading classes, not only within the YMCA, but also within the local Hospital and Schools.
Along with this faith, sport was also very important. Aberavon and Port Talbot District set up athletics, football, snooker, rugby, cricket and shooting clubs. These sports were used to encourage the youth of the time to participate as team members and individuals. The aim was to help develop the skills needed for adulthood. The pages of the Port Talbot Guardian were full of the sporting achievements of YMCA Port Talbot in the 1930s!
The work carried out from 1898 until the outbreak of World War 1 was one of meeting the needs of the local community: especially its youth. There were no barriers and all were welcome to join. Membership was either on an individual basis or as part of a connection between the YMCA and the Byass Tin and Steel Works. (Sir Sidney Byass was the first patron of the Association in Port Talbot.)
The YMCA movement and the First World War
During World War 1 the role of YMCA as a whole changed, and perhaps this is what it is most famous for today. The YMCA really did support the troops and was even thanked by the King when presenting an OBE to the National Secretary, Arthur Yapp, in 1917. The King said that he had “seen our Y.M.C.A. huts all over the country and had visited our centres right up the line on the Western Front.” The King added, “You have placed the whole Empire under a debt to you.” YMCA huts provided soldiers with food and a place to rest on the frontline, or at home in military camps and railway stations.
The YMCA embarked on a massive education programme for soldiers, which eventually becomes the Army Education Corps. The red poppy was introduced by an American YMCA worker and went on to become a worldwide symbol of remembrance for those lost in the World Wars.
In Port Talbot, local troops were provided with much needed support in both their duty and on their return home. Support was also offered to families who had lost a father, brother or son. Funds were raised to aid relief work in war-torn Europe, and Port Talbot’s buildings were used to house returning troops.
Port Talbot YMCA and the Second World War
After the First World War, Aberavon and Port Talbot District changed its name to Port Talbot YMCA (it is thought this name change coincided with Port Talbot becoming the agreed name for the borough). The work of Port Talbot YMCA continued as before the War, providing sports facilities and helping the needy within the community.