YMCA is the largest and oldest youth charity in the world. From our beginnings in England in 1844 we have grown into a global movement helping 58 million people across 119 countries. YMCA Cheltenham is part of the National Council of YMCAs in England & Wales which comprises 116 individual YMCAs.

Our impact

YMCAs in England and Wales impact on more than 600,000 lives every year through their work helping young people and communities with housing, health, training, education and more. Nationally we:

  • Intensively support 228,000 young people every year
  • Provide nearly 11,000 beds every night for people who would otherwise be homeless or living in unsuitable or unsafe accommodation
  • Support almost 53,000 people to engage in education, skills and training
  • Serve more than 660 different communities across the country
  • In addition, our amazing YMCA volunteers dedicate almost 800,000 hours of their time to help people across our communities

Our history


YMCA was founded by Sir George Williams – a worker in the drapery trade in London. Concerned about the welfare of his fellow workers, he started a prayer and bible study group. This soon grew and attracted men from across London.


Following links made at The Great Exhibition in London, YMCA spreads across the globe and YMCAs were established in the USA and Canada. Seven years after it was established, a YMCA is formed in Boston, USA.


The YMCA in Cheltenham was formed by prominent leaders of local churches in the town.

Internationally, the idea of creating a global organisation was pioneered by Henry Dunant, who would later go on to found the International Committee of the Red Cross. He convinced YMCA Paris to organise the first YMCA ‘World Conference’. The conference produced the ‘Paris Basis’ – an agreement about the aims of YMCA which is still in place today. It also saw the launch of an international committee and headquarters, which would become the World Alliance of YMCAs.


The American YMCA opened its first gym.


The American YMCA invented basketball and then went on to invent volleyball in 1895.


On the 50th anniversary of YMCA, George Williams received a knighthood from Queen Victoria.


YMCA was an early influence on Scouting and the first Scout troops meet in the Birkenhead and Nottingham YMCA buildings.

1914-1918 (WWI)

During the First World War, YMCA provided a range of support to troops. YMCA huts provided soldiers with food and a place to rest both on the frontline and at home in military camps and railway stations.

YMCA embarked on a massive education programme for soldiers, which eventually became 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 combat.


During the Second World War, YMCA introduced mobile canteens, bringing refreshments to the troops. It also supported displaced people, refugees and prisoners of war.


Y Care International, the overseas development agency of YMCA in the UK and Ireland is established. Today it supports projects for vulnerable young people in over 20 countries worldwide.


YMCA has over 58 million members in 119 countries worldwide. Since it was established, YMCA has adapted to the changing needs of young people.

Today YMCA works with men and women regardless of age, race, religion or culture. In every corner of the world, YMCA is helping people to build a future and improve their lives.