From very humble beginnings in the City of London in 1844, the YMCA has grown to become a worldwide organisation with 45 million members. Read more about the history of the YMCA below.

The Beginning


The YMCA was founded by 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.

George Williams


YMCA begins to address other concerns of young men working in the cities. Public lectures and education classes are developed. Reading rooms and refreshment areas help young men to adjust to urban life.


YMCA spreads outside London and branches are set up in Manchester and Leeds.


Following links made at The Great Exhibition in London, YMCA spreads across the globe and YMCAs are established in the USA and Canada. Seven years after it was established, a YMCA is formed in Boston, USA.


The idea of creating a global organisation is 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 produces the ‘Paris Basis’ – an agreement about the aims of YMCA. It also sees the launch of an international committee and headquarters, which would become the World Alliance of YMCAs.


YMCA Bath moved to No 5 Quiet Street.

The first YMCA holiday centre is established on the Isle of Wight. Their huge popularity led to another 25 centres being opened. Billy Butlin later adapted the idea by creating purpose-built holiday camps.


The American YMCA opens its first gym.


The British YMCA incorporates personal fitness into its programmes and opens its first gym


St.Helens YMCA is established.


St.Helens YMCA sets up in Hardshaw Street.


Literary Institute and Gymnasium built on College Street and Duke Streetc in St Helens.


The American YMCA invents basketball and goes on to invent volleyball in 1895.


On the 50th anniversary of YMCA, George Williams receives a knighthood from Queen Victoria.
Early 1900s


YMCA Building, North Road, St Helens is opened by Earl of Aberdeen.