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I don’t think there is a person out there that hasn’t heard of those four famous letters, YMCA. To many an institution, but interestingly enough, regardless of how many of you know who the YMCA are, do you really know what they do?

There are just over 100 YMCA’s across the UK and each and every one caters to the needs of their local community. Founded in 1844 the YMCA has grown from strength to strength and is now a federated charity across the world. Their work is dedicated specifically for the young people in our society, making sure that they are represented and cared for in whatever capacity needed.

I started my week in head office, London, understanding how YMCA England oversees and support the wealth of centres across the UK. Having already been to one of the YMCA’s charities, Bournemouth, I had a feel for how they implement projects for specific needs in an area. In Bournemouth, it was the need to support local youth with disabilities.

Tucked away in an unassuming building in Farringdon, London, YMCA England office is a hub of social change; a small but mighty force that supports and campaigns for the well being of youth in this country. During my morning visit I was able to spend time with the policy team. These guys fight tooth and nail with government to affect real and lasting policy change to ensure that young people are given the best possible chance in life. With unemployment for young people at another high, they are working with government to try and make real and lasting change by representing the voices of the young people they work with across the country. It was an inspirational meeting and incredibly uplifting learning about all the work they do behind the scenes to make the UK a much better and palatable place for young people to thrive in.

But the YMCA don’t just work across the UK, they work across the world too. Only a few years ago there was a large department in YMCA England that looked out for the international youth community. But having huge success in both crisis and sustainable work – Y Care International is now a fully-fledged charity in its own right!

I got to meet the wonderful team that work with YMCA’s across the world in helping implement sustainable plans for some of the world most vulnerable youth.

From woman forced into sex trafficking to living in hostile zones across the planet; their work in working with local YMCA’s in those communities mean there is now a sustainable safe haven for these young people.

It was truly humbling walking away from that meeting and learning about the impact the YMCA has across the world, not just the UK.

My afternoon was the complete contrast, working in one of the YMCA’s flagship charity stores in the Kings Road, London. A large and airy retail space that lends itself more to the bottom floor of a John Lewis than a traditional charity store. Being in the heart of one of the wealthiest areas in London they not only get amazing donations but also sell an awful lot of product. I helped man the tills and visual merchandise the Menswear offering (using my past retail skills) to help drive more sales to the store.

Leaving my first day at the YMCA I couldn’t wait for an incredible couple of days lined up.

On Tuesday and Wednesday however, I took time out from my Nicest Job charity schedule do attend an even more worthy event.

6 months ago I was asked by the head of the Royal College of Midwives to be their inspirational speaker at their annual RCM conference in Teflord. An incredible honour with names such as Tony Blair taking the stage just a few years ago, I knew I had big shoes to fill.

On Tuesday I visited Birmingham Women’s hospital to immerse myself in the world of midwifery and really understand what their day-to-day working life entails.

Considering the immense cuts across the NHS it’s no surprise to any of you reading this that being a midwife is tough work. I guess what most of us don’t realise is the varied circumstances each midwife has to endure. Along with the ‘normal’ delivery of babies, on a daily basis they are faced with safeguarding issues; having to remove babies from mothers on heroine. Working with women who don’t speak English and worrying about having a breech baby. A stillborn baby and a hysterical mother. Imagine walking into work and having to deal with all of those situations as well as low staffing levels and a double shift ahead of you…

So speaking at the event on Wednesday I paid tribute to all those in front of me who work so tirelessly hard in our hospitals to ensure that every single birth is as smooth as possible. I really did not feel that I should have been the ‘inspirational speaker’ considering the amount of incredible things each and every midwife in the room goes through on a daily basis.

I was truly humbled and it was an incredible honour to be able to inspire and motivate a room full of awe-inspiring women.

Thursday saw me back at the YMCA and travelling to their Southend-on-Sea centre. Because each and every YMCA is so very different, the charity wanted me to get a flavour of the sheer varied work they carry out across the UK.

The Southend site primarily caters for young people who need a home – these are young men and women ages 16 and above who find themselves with nowhere else to go. Mostly family and personal circumstances this refuge house tens of young individuals on a temporary basis, giving them a safe place and a hot meal. It’s pretty tough to think that there are young people in our society that are without a home, but unfortunately the reality is that there are. But thank goodness for the YMCA and the incredible work they do across our country to ensure that these young people are safe.

What was most prominent about my visit to Southend was the community school set up by the charity. Catering to those individuals who have been ‘kicked-out’ of mainstream school – it specifically delivers education to those who have turbulent backgrounds and personal issues. It was a pleasure to meet the young people and the headmistress of an incredible school changing young lives.

On Friday I visited Stoke-on Trent YMCA. One of the jewels in the charities crown, this site has worked tirelessly to ensure that young people are looked after to the very highest standard. Having one of the biggest youth homeless projects in the country, they too house hundreds of vulnerable young people and create an integrated and sustainable program to ensure they are looked after and developed.

Walking into the light, airy building you get a sense of calm and community. With its brightly coloured walls and low drum of young chitchat, you can tell this site puts young people first. With on-site gym facilities, job notice boards, incredible rooms and even young business premises; it is the hub of young social change. I was totally blown away with the work they do at the North Staffordshire YMCA. With supporters such as Emma Bridgewater and local philanthropists, they are a thriving centre of excellence and I can see why.

My YMCA tour ended not far from Stoke in a centre that caters for the homeless. Taking in people from 18-65, they ensure that people living rough have a place to lay their head at night. With a functioning breakfast club too, for anyone who needs a hot drink and bacon butte, they ensure that everybody is fed, showered and has a roof over their heads.

I leave this week truly humbled. I never really understood the extent of the work the YMCA did across the UK, only thinking they ran a few sports clubs and hostels. But what they do penetrates to the very core of our society, helping young people thrive. Rest assured that whatever hardship young people come across in our country, the YMCA are there to help.

Makes me sleep a little easier at night knowing there are such wonderful people out there – faith restored!

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