Made up of some 101 member YMCAs working to ensure young people have opportunities to thrive and contribute positively to their communities, the charity operates in over 700 communities and impacts the lives of over 570,000 people each year.
Their positive influence is pretty much impossible to quantify.
With a handful of YMCAs spread across Lancashire, there are also a host of YMCA-affiliated charity shops in the county, with funds raised from the sales of donated goods going towards supporting young people locally and nationally.
And overseeing the opening of their newest store in Lancaster is Retail Area Manager Joe Thomas.
“I used to work in regular retail and didn’t enjoy it very much, so I came across to work for the charity as a store manager and never really looked back,” says Joe, 31, who has been with the charity for almost three years. “The role is so much more positive and you get a lot more freedom compared to a normal retail job.
“I look after 12 shops at the moment and every single one is so different and has a unique relationship with their local YMCA,” he adds. “Plus, you get to work with so many different people - the role is so people-centred, which is something I really enjoy. I don’t think I’d ever go back to a regular retail job because this job brings me so much pride.
“You know that you’re doing your bit to help a massive charity.”
Offering a litany of support, YMCA works with some 207,000 children, young people, and parents annually via their network of 79 youth centres, helping people engage in education and training to improve their opportunities in the job market. They also provide a bed for 8,800 people each night, helping more than 20,000 people experiencing homelessness.
Additionally, it also connects 72,000 young people with someone to talk to each year, giving them access to specialist guidance and support to overcome whatever challenges they may be facing at a time when people’s awareness of mental health is growing ever keener.
“We get so much support as a charity,” says Joe. “In each store, we get people down from the local YMCA down to see us and offer volunteer support. It’s just lovely to be working with such passionate and proactive people.
“We’re a proper community charity, so one thing I’m really keen for people to know is that we’re always looking for new volunteers and stock,” adds Joe. “The stock in particular has dropped off, especially since the war in Ukraine started, but we accept donations seven days a week.
“We’re crying out for donations; Covid was hard, too,” continues Joe. “Everything took a hit but I think it’ll be one of those times we look back on and think ‘did that really happen?’ But it’s nice being part of the YMCA knowing that we kept all our teams on board and kept in touch with volunteers."