1851 – The Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London proved to be a milestone in the YMCA’s history as publicity leaflets distributed at the time helped to develop links with other countries.

1851 – The American YMCA Movement was founded, leading the way in addressing physical fitness with gym openings and a wide programme of activities. It went on to invent both basketball (1891) and volleyball (1895).

1852 – The start of the Cardiff YMCA at 100 St Mary Street, Cardiff.

1855 – The first World Conference for the YMCA took place in Paris. The Conference adopted the ‘Paris Basis’ affirming the YMCA’s mission and purpose, which still is the basis of its Aims and Objectives today. This was reaffirmed through the Kampala Principles in 1973 and Challenge 21 in 1998.

1865 – The 4th YMCA World Conference in Germany reaffirmed the importance of the Movement’s “Mind, Body and Spirit” principle.

1867 – Cardiff YMCA’s Cricket Club was formed.

1870 – To meet the needs of women in Cardiff the YMCA supported the setting up of a YWCA in Cardiff.

1873 – Cardiff YMCA rents Swiss Hall to undertake its work – a wooden structure in Crockerton, with the financial help of John Cory.

1876 – Cardiff YMCA moves to Brighton House in Newport Road.

1878 – The World Alliance of YMCA’s headquarters opened in Geneva and adopted the world YMCA emblem still in use today at its 1881 (9th) World Conference. An open Bible sits on top of the monogram, showing John XVII, Chapter 21, “that they all may be one”.

1883 – The Cardiff Chess Club was formed – becoming part of Cardiff YMCA in 1901.

1888 – The British YMCA Movement opens a large gym in London Central Association, marking a shift towards personal health and fitness.

1889 – Cardiff YMCA’s Sunday services started at the Park Hall. They ran there until 1958 when they transferred to the YMCA building.

1891 – The YMCA’s red triangle logo with “Mind, Body & Spirit” is designed.

1891 – YMCA worker, Canadian James Naismith invents and launches the game of basketball at the YMCA Training School in Massachusetts. The game became an Olympic sport in 1936. Naismith died in 1939 aged 78.

1894 – The YMCA has become so significant that its 50th anniversary was marked with George Williams receiving a knighthood from Queen Victoria and the Freedom of the City of London.

1895 – YMCA Physical Education director invents the game of volleyball at the YMCA Training School in Massachusetts, originally called Mintonette.

1899 – Sir George Williams lays the foundation stone of the new Cardiff YMCA in Station Terrace, Cardiff.

1900 – Cardiff’s Central YMCA in Station Terrace is officially opened.

1901 – The Cardiff Chess Club started meeting at the Central YMCA, all members becoming associate members of the Association. They are still a thriving club today.

1905 – Sir George Williams dies, and is laid to rest in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral.

1908 – The YMCA is involved in supporting the development of the Scout movement.

1909 – The Grangetown branch of the Cardiff YMCA opened.

1910 – The Cardiff YMCA’s Trust Deed set up.

1914 – During World War 1, the British YMCA extended its work across the Channel to support the troops. YMCA huts provided soldiers with food, drink and free writing paper and envelopes.

1920 – The then Prince of Wales visited Cardiff YMCA at Station Terrace.

1927 – Cardiff YMCA’s amateur dramatic group formed as The Red Triangle Dramatic Club, later to become The YMCA Players – a group which is still very active today.

1928 – The Splott Branch of the Cardiff YMCA opened. Other satellite branches were also opened around this time in Canton, Adamsdown and Whitchurch.

1930 – The Cardiff YMCA Boxing Club formed at The Splott YMCA.

1932 – The YMCA launched two initiatives to help tackle rising unemployment: British Boys for British Farms, which placed unemployed young men as agricultural workers on farms; and an Employment Department, which found jobs for 38,000 ex-servicemen.

1945 – The YMCA continued its war work and mobile canteens were introduced to bring refreshments to the troops.

1946 – The Cardiff YMCA bought the Metropole building and ran its boys and youth work there for many years.

1950 – Cardiff YMCA’s Whitchurch branch burnt down.

1955 – Cardiff YMCA’s Lord Mayor’s Matinees started under the leadership of Ken Stafford and have run ever since, starting out at The New Theatre and moving to St David’s Hall in 1988. Ken Stafford retired as producer in 1995 after 40 years service.

1959 – A government report was published on the need for better leisure facilities for teenagers. As a result, many YMCAs began youth clubs to help young people with their personal development through recreation, leisure and informal education.

1967 – Splott YMCA closed.

1970 – The ‘YMCA George Williams College’ was established to provide professional training for youth workers. It remains today as one of the leading training colleges for those working in informal education.

1971 – The Cardiff YMCA trustees examined proposals to vacate the Station Terrace premises and develop elsewhere in the City.

1973 – The World YMCA movement adopted the Kampala Principles at its conference in Uganda, reaffirming and updating the Paris Basis established at its first conference in 1855. This was further updated by Challenge 21 in 1998.

1974 – Cardiff YMCA purchased the former Convent School in The Walk to continue its youth and community work and to develop on the site a 72 bed hostel for students and young workers.

1975 – Cardiff YMCA registered as a Housing Association.

1980 – ’YMCA Training for Life’ was launched which would result in the creation of YMCA Training – one of the UK’s leading vocational training organisations.

1980 – Cardiff YMCA’s new building at The Walk completed and community work starts there.

1981 – Cardiff YMCA’s new hostel formally opened at The Walk.

1984 – Y Care International was founded in London with Terry Waite as its President.

1987 – Cardiff YMCA’s housing developed their work by moving into homelessness.

1989 – The opening of a new housing project for Cardiff YMCA, Arthur Sansom House, at 2 East Grove, named after the YMCA’s President. The project was initially for homeless families.

1990 – The relaying of Cardiff YMCA’s Station Terrace foundation stones at the Cory Arcade, Capital Centre at the centre’s opening.

1991 – The opening of the Cardiff YMCA’s second hostel, The Ambassador YMCA, in Oakfield Street, initially for homeless families.

1992 – The Cardiff YMCA and the Cardiff YMCA Housing Association form two separate charities.

1993 – Cardiff YMCA opened its Training and Drop-in Advice centre which ran for nearly eleven years, closing in 2004.

1994 – The Cardiff YMCA began work in prisons and young offender institutions.

1998 – Cardiff YMCA opened a Lottery funded, 7 Flat resettlement project known as YMC8 in Oakfield Street.

2005 – The 150th Anniversary of the World Alliance of YMCAs, culminating with a global event in Mumbai, India on the theme ‘Celebrating, envisioning and building peace with justice’.

2005 – The Charity Commission review the Cardiff YMCA and require a separation of the work to form two separate charities, the Cardiff YMCA and the Cardiff YMCA 1910 Successor Trustees. This is in addition to the earlier separation in 1992 of the Cardiff YMCA Housing Association.

2007 – Cardiff YMCA celebrates 150 years of service.

2008 – Lisvane Cricket Club becomes part of the Cardiff YMCA, moving to the YMCA Cricket ground in St Mellon’s and becoming a membership group.

2010 – The YMCA in the United States rebrands as “The Y”.

2010 – The History of Cardiff YMCA is exhibited for the first time at the Old Library.

2014 – Cardiff YMCA established as a company limited by guarantee/registered charity in the name of Cardiff Young Men’s Christian Association.

The YMCA has its roots in the drapery trade having been founded by George Williams in the 1840’s. George Williams, a farmer’s son, had been described as ‘a careless, thoughtless, Godless and swearing young fellow’, but at the age of 16 he became a Christian and a keen evangelical. In 1841 George moved from Dulverton, Somerset to London to work at Hitchcock & Rogers on Ludgate Hill as one of 140 drapery assistants. Most of these were under 20 years old and lived on the premises, being provided with board and lodgings. Their accommodation was Spartan with two or three beds to a room and often two men to a bed and they worked long hours, usually 7am to 9pm with hardly a break. Since the doors are said to have been bolted at 11pm, there wasn’t a lot of time for leisure.

By 1844, George had risen to department manager earning £40 per annum and had married the boss’s daughter. He became a member of the Weigh House Congregational Chapel and devoted his spare time to evangelical and temperance work. There were a number of Christian men at H & R and they gained permission to hold weekly prayer meetings and bible studies on Wednesdays where they prayed for the conversion of young men. Other city companies were also holding meetings and the feeling grew that there ought to be a society for the ‘spiritual improvement of young men’.

On 6th June 1844 therefore a meeting attended by 12 or 13 young men was held in George’s room and it was decided to form a society for the purposes of evangelising colleagues in the drapery establishments in London. It was initially known as The Drapers Evangelistic Association and was interdenominational even in those early days. By the fifth meeting, the name Young Men’s Christian Association had been adopted and within a few months the purpose had been amended to read, ‘the improvement of the spiritual and mental condition of young men’, an educational element thus being introduced.

Other associations quickly opened in London and other cities such as Leeds and Manchester and in the 1850’s following the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace the movement expanded into Europe and the wider world. In 1851 the American YMCA Movement was founded and from this came an emphasis on physical fitness. Both basketball and volleyball came out of that movement. This focus on health and fitness came to the British YMCA and when the headquarters moved to Exeter Hall in 1881, the first gymnasium was opened in the basement. So began a link with fitness that still continues.

In 1894, the 50th anniversary of the YMCA, George Williams received a knighthood from Queen Victoria and the honour was accepted by him as an honour for the YMCA. He also received the freedom of the City of London. He died in 1905 and is buried in St Paul’s Cathedral alongside the likes of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.

The British YMCA played its part in the First and Second World Wars, providing the troops with food, drink and writing materials from YMCA huts. In the years between the wars it also played its part, setting up two employment programmes. The first was British Boys for British Farms, which placed unemployed men into agricultural work, and the second was the setting up of an Employment Department to find jobs for ex servicemeYMCA_K_1_22_42n.

In the late 1950’s, following the publishing of a government report stressing the need for better leisure facilities for teenagers, the YMCA began youth clubs to help young people develop through recreation, leisure and informal education. This was followed by the introduction of a training programme for youth workers and ultimately the setting up of the YMCA George Williams College in 1970. It remained a primarily male oriented movement until 1964 when women and girls were finally admitted.

Over 150 years after the start of the YMCA in England, the movement continues to develop and adapt to meet the needs of people. The legacy of George Williams lives on and continues to thrive today.


The YMCA in England is part of a global organisation which has a presence in 122 countries with 14,000 YMCAs and 45 million members worldwide.

YMCA England plays in important role within the international YMCA Movement, contributing funding as well as volunteer and staff resources to the work of the World Alliance and European Alliance of YMCAs.

Many YMCAs in England have partnerships with YMCAs overseas. Young people have opportunities to participate in exchange programmes with partner YMCAs and widen their experience.

Y Care International – Y Care International is the international relief and development agency of the YMCA Movement. Working in thirty countries across Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe, we work with local YMCAs and use their expertise to develop programmes that local people need.

With Y Care International’s help, YMCAs throughout the developing world are playing key roles in their communities, empowering youth with education, training and trust.

Working for youth in the developing world Y Care International concentrates on marginalised groups. In particular we work with:

  • Street children and working children
  • Girls and young women
  • Refugees and displaced people
  • Young people with disabilities