YMCA extends services due to unprecedented demand
Birmingham YMCA is well known for providing services to the poor and vulnerable, particularly those experiencing homelessness. The economic downturn and changes to the benefits system have lead to an unprecedented increase in demand to such an extent that the YMCA is having to extend its services and increase the amount of accommodation it offers. More and more people are finding themselves homeless and unable to access housing in the private sector.
Chief Executive, Revd. Alan Fraser, explained that the increasing demand for hostel accommodation was also accompanied by an increase in demand for more affordable accommodation: “It is not unusual to see increases in demand for hostel accommodation during a recession. What is particularly troubling now is that the credit crunch has lead to a complete failure of the housing market, which, allied to changes in the benefits system, has meant that many ordinary people are now no longer able to meet their housing needs. Increasingly we are seeing young people in particular coming to us in desperate situations because private landlords will no longer offer accommodation to them. Changes to Housing Benefit, some of which go back as far as the last Labour government, are really starting to feed through into the system now. Allied with the economic situation the result is that many young people who would never have imagined having to rely on the YMCA are now coming to us for help.”
In recent years the number of units of accommodation has increased from 160 to nearly 250 – and the Association is still working flat out to identify and bring on stream more accommodation to help meet the demand. Already the Association has secured funding through the Government’s Empty Homes Community Fund to bring empty properties back into use. In the weeks before Christmas the YMCA opened their latest new scheme, Henrietta Lofts, on Henrietta St in Birmingham. This provides affordable 24 flats within a building that had previously been empty for many years. The building was officially opened by local celebrity, Adrian Chiles, and local vicar Revd Larry Wright from St George’s Newtown, was on hand to bless the scheme.
Revd. Fraser explained: “Birmingham YMCA is an independent charity that affiliates to the national and international YMCA movement. Right from the outset the YMCA has always had a clear Christian identity and we see our work very much as a practical outworking of Christian care an concern for those in need. Bringing empty properties back into use for those who need a home is part of that mission. On such a public occasion with journalists and TV crews present we wanted to make a clear statement of our Christian commitment and to offer these properties back to God for His use.”
Like many charities the YMCA has faced increasing challenges in recent years as funding has been cut and donations have slowed. This has resulted in a fundamental re-think of the way the charity, which was originally founded in 1849, operates. The charity now seeks to offer a broader range of opportunities for young people to learn and develop and grow. A key plank of the strategy to modernise the YMCA has been the development of a ‘social enterprise’ ethos. This is something with which many people are increasingly comfortable, at a time when many are less trusting of charities.
“The concept of ‘charity’ has developed to mean ‘handouts’ or ‘getting something for nothing’ in many people’s minds,” the Revd Fraser said. “We want people to feel empowered by their contact with the YMCA, not disempowered. Social enterprise means offering new ways for them to be involved in our work in ways which develop their independence, rather than an ongoing dependence on us.” The result is that the YMCA’s nurseries for instance not only offer affordable childcare to people on low incomes, they also offer opportunities for young people living within YMCA schemes to benefit from volunteering, apprenticeship and employment opportunities. “At a time when people are being encouraged to become more ethical consumers, social enterprise offers people a way of making deliberate decisions to buy goods and services from organisations like ours that have a clear social purpose and mission and do not make private profit,” Revd Fraser added.
In addition to their nurseries the YMCA has also started a social enterprise training company and conferencing company that offers training for young people, but which also employs young people to support the delivery of accredited training to corporate clients. The YMCA’s Social Enterprise Director, Laurence Chilver, said: “Many companies talk about Corporate Social Responsibility. Using a social enterprise like ours for training or conferencing is not only more cost effective, but it actually delivers on the CSR promises.” Currently the YMCA offers a range of training courses accredited by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM).
But social enterprise is also about helping the YMCA to remain true to its social purpose whilst broadening its range of income sources. “Too often in the past we have been reliant on grant income and government funding. This can have the effect of distancing us from the Christian community that founded us and sustained us for many years, but also of diluting our Christian mission and self-understanding. Social enterprise provides another source of income that gives us an opportunity to re-engage with Christians who, after all, should want to be ethical consumers, “ Mr Chilver added.
For more information on Birmingham YMCA visit www.birminghamymca.co.uk