Our Story

The Young Men’s Christian Association was founded in London on 6 June 1844 in response to street sleeping in the big cities at the end of the industrial revolution

George Williams, a 23 year old shop assistant, organised the first YMCA to substitute prayer and community action for life on the streets. His YMCA idea was unusual because it crossed the rigid lines which separated the different churches and social classes in London at the time. Over the years YMCA has grown into the largest and the oldest charity working with young people worldwide. Across England there are 114 YMCAs, and each one is a thriving and active community that is transforming lives.

In 1969, Forest Young Men’s Christian Association of East London (commonly known as Forest YMCA) was formed through the merger of Harrow, Plaistow and Forest Gate YMCAs. The proceeds from the sale of their properties provided the ‘seedcorn’ finance for building our 150 room tower hostel. Since then, we have continued to expand and develop our services in response to the needs of young homeless people and our wider community.

On the 24 October 2015, we formally adopted the YMCA England-wide brand, with the aim of enabling us to work more effectively with other YMCAs, raise our profile and offer more and better services to those we seek to serve. As part of this, we refreshed our name, dropping the ‘Forest’, and we are now known as YMCA East London.

On the 31 March 2017, YMCA East London merged with YMCA London South West, creating the largest YMCA in the UK. This is the first step towards creating a London-wide YMCA that is better placed to take a strategic view of the many community services that the YMCA delivers, especially to the young, vulnerable and homeless within our communities. Richard James, the CEO of YMCA LSW, is now Chief Executive of the merged YMCAs, and the Board of Trustees is made up of former Trustees from both YMCAs. We will announce a name for the merged organisation shortly that reflects this emerging London-wide grouping of YMCAs.