Our History

YMCA is the largest and oldest youth charity in the world. On 6 June 1844, 22 year-old draper George Williams joined 11 friends to organise the first Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), a refuge of Bible study and prayer for young men seeking escape from the hazards of life on the streets of London.

Today, YMCA has grown to serve more than 65 million people in 120 countries regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation or socio-economic background.

Our Impact

YMCA England & Wales operates in 700 communities across England and Wales. The 572,000 young people we help each year are firmly at the heart of what we do, supported by more than 5,400 members of staff and 4,400 volunteers across 847 locations. See more details of our impact here.

Our History


YMCA founder Sir George Williams
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.


Earth 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.


Henry Dunant Founder of the World Alliance of YMCAsThe 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 first YMCA in the USA



The American YMCA invented basketball and then

went on to invent volleyball in 1895.

YMCA inventor of Basketball - Dr James Naismith


On the 50th anniversary of YMCA, George Williams

received a knighthood from Queen Victoria.

Sir George Williams awarded Knighthood


Lord Robert Baden Powell - Founder of the Scouting Movement

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


Poppy Field in Flanders, Belgium

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.


Soldiers drinking tea at a YMCA mobile canteen during WW2

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 Set up by YMCA England and Wales 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 todayYMCA 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.