Bishop Tim in conversation with Chris Hand, CEO of the YMCA Fairthorne Group
Bishop of Winchester talks with Chris Hand, CEO of the YMCA Fairthorne Group, about the work of the YMCA in Hampshire
The YMCA Fairthorne Group supports over 40,000 children, young people and families across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight with access to childcare, young carer respite and housing. They also provide youth work and employment and education support services for vulnerable young people. Chris Hand became Chief Executive of the YMCA Fairthorne Group in 2002 and invited Bishop Tim to be the President of the organisation in 2014.
Bishop Tim and Chris Hand met online during February to talk about the recent work of the YMCA Fairthorne Group in Hampshire and the wider region.
Chris introduced the work of the countrywide network of the YMCA and the YMCA Fairthorne Group’s focus on community provision:
“The YMCA has always been locally based with the idea that we can be more responsive to local need…the different projects in YMCAs across the country reflect the different communities in which we work. It is a partnership between local people.”
“We are a youth-minded community organisation…we are really interested in children, young people and families within a community. At the YMCA Fairthorne Group we are really concerned and interested in promoting the value of children, young people and their families within their community...we have a range of projects across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight with facilities at the centre of communities.”
Bishop Tim asked Chris how being part of the YMCA international movement benefits the work of local community YMCAs.
“It makes a big difference to the way in which we are seen: the YMCA is a very well-known four letters….we learn from and contribute to groups all around the world. Wherever they are, they are delivering the local need and this is one of the things that characterises the YMCA. We are not driven by national agendas but from the bottom up locally.”
Chris described some of the core projects of the YMCA Fairthorne Group, based at both old and new sites in Hampshire:
“It is about being in the heart of communities. We have a lot of early years work: if you really want to make the greatest difference to a young person’s life we have to work with them in the early years…Working with whole families is also really important to us…We have branches in brand-new communities, one in the Augusta Park in Andover with a big focus on early years but also youth and families work. We have built another centre, during lockdown, at Stoneham Park in Eastleigh, which will be opening soon.”
Chris described the large housing project for young people in Southampton and the importance of this provision for reducing youth homelessness:
“It is for young people aged 16-22 who would otherwise be homeless…there are care leavers, refugees and asylum seekers and those coming out of the criminal justice system. They are a group of young people who don’t have the typical family attachments and the YMCA provides an important and special place for them to feel safe, comfortable and part of something.”
Bishop Tim shared his thoughts on the values of the YMCA and his engagement experience with the organisation locally:
“One of the reasons I am involved and feel very much part of the YMCA is not only the historical links with the church and the Christian faith but also the expression of the values that everyone can own. You don’t have to be a church member or a Christian to be involved but you can share with the values that lots of people own.”
Bishop Tim asked Chris about these values and how they shape the work and inform the vision of the YMCA:
“We have the values WALICE – Welcoming, Active, Listening, Inspiring, Caring and Exciting. We are clear that values count for nothing if you don’t have behaviours that match them, so we encourage and expect our staff and volunteers to live these values. We have a purpose statement too: we believe that everybody should have the opportunity to lead a happy and a healthy life.”
Bishop Tim highlighted the role of National Government agenda in relationship to the work of the YMCA and helping young people. Chris offered his reflection on the current situation:
“There are an awful lot of young people and families in this country who don’t have the opportunity for a happy and healthy life, particularly at the moment. There is huge disparity and many people in our communities face a life of lockdown, not just a Covid lockdown. At the YMCA we work to help overcome that continuous lockdown state.”
Bishop Tim asked Chris about the successes of the YMCA Fairthorne Group.
“I think it is people’s lives being changed that I’m most proud of…I have had the great joy of being part of the local YMCA which in excess of a million people have been through…We have a great privilege of experiencing people’s ‘firsts’, their first words, first steps, first nights away from home, first jobs, first qualifications.”
Considering the rise in unemployment to 5.1% in the first three months of 2021 and three fifths of those out of work being under the age of 25, Bishop Tim finished by asking Chris about those things that concern him the most in relation to the lives of young people and how Christians in the Winchester Diocese can pray for the work of the local YMCA.
“The young people who live in our accommodation are some of the most desperate young people in financial terms…Care leavers are nearly half of the people in prison; in the YMCA we have a lot of young people who are or have been in care. Among care leavers, a very common outcome is to end up in prison and a very uncommon outcome is going to university.”
“I would like people to think of those people we serve…and all those people who we are not working for in our communities but have issues: they need a lot of support and need your prayers.”