“When I first got involved with the YMCA in 1985, I felt an immediate connection with what the YMCA did and stood for; locally, nationally and internationally,” says Alison Worthington.
Having moved from Lancashire to London to work for a bank, Alison was looking for a place to live in the capital. Having previously worked for a YMCA Summer Camp in the USA and lived at a YMCA in New York City, she thought: why not do the same here?
A place to belong
“At YMCA Wimbledon, I felt a sense of belonging. It was a place for everyone – one vibrant and diverse family consisting of both members and residents, with young workers and students coming from all over the world,” she says.
Alison only lived in the hostel for a short time before moving on, but continued to be a member and a volunteer. In 1987, she joined the Board of Directors where she still today – 27 years later – continues to be as engaged and passionate about the YMCA as ever.
“I feel proud and privileged to still be part of this Association,” she says. “Giving back is as important to me as eating or breathing and I feel that I have a lot to give and contribute.”
Supporting young people
When not volunteering her time on the YMCA LSW Board, Alison heads up the student Advice Team at Goldsmiths University of London, a position she is thrilled to hold because as she says, “it marries my previous HR experience with my passion for helping young people to develop and progress in life.”
As one of only a handful of women to serve on the Board for YMCA Wimbledon (this was before the merge between the south west London YMCAs), Alison admits that it was tough at first. “I hardly said anything during the first two years,” she says.
Protecting the legacy of YMCA
Today, however, Alison sees her role on the Board as the link between the past and the future, bridging the values and visions from the YMCA Wimbledon that she first came in contact with in the mid 80’s, with those of the YMCA London South West of today and the future.
“As a Board member I see myself responsible for that legacy and heritage of the YMCA,” she says.
“I see my role as that of preserving the values, ethos and beliefs of those visionaries I first met when I came to the YMCA, and putting them into practice in our work today. If I only do one thing on this board, it should be to safeguard that legacy.”
The visionaries Alison are referring to, are W.J. Saunders and John Holmes, general Secretary and Chairman of the Board respectively, whose service to the YMCA spanned more than 30 years from the late 1950s to the late 1980s.
“W.J. Saunders and John Holmes taught me the importance of having principles and putting that into action in your daily life,” Alison explains.
“Their values and beliefs were behind their actions, decisions and ideas of how you should live your life. They put their faith into practice and that’s what the YMCA is all about.”
Come together in fellowship
It was Saunders and Holmes who encouraged Alison to join the Board. “Saunders recognised and nurtured something in me, which he also did for other people,” Alison says. “He was like a mentor.”
One of the things Alison values the most from her almost 30 years on the Board, is the friendships she has made, not least with W.J Saunders, who passed away some years ago, but also his family with whom she is still in touch with.
“Some of my best friends are people I have worked with or met through the YMCA,” Alison says.
She highlights the good relationship between the Senior Management Team of YMCA LSW and the Board, and especially finds it valuable and useful to spend some time together.
“I think it is really important to come together in fellowship. Going away helps us stay focused and having time to get to know each other in a nice, calm and contemplative environment, and I do find I come away from it feeling renewed and recharged.”
More relevant than ever
Although the times have changed, Alison feels that “the YMCA is more relevant today than ever”.
“The world has changed since I first got involved with the charity, but we have responded to those changes and continue to meet people at their point of need. I think we are doing exactly what she should be doing. Whether it is a playscheme, youth work, our housing services, senior programme or something completely different, we are here in the heart of the community and deliver services that are relevant within that community”.
Housing has always been a YMCA issue close to Alison’s heart. She is passionate about supporting young people to live independent, but not isolated, lives. For her, as so many others, the launch of Y:Cube has been a real highlight of the last year.
“In 1985, YMCA Wimbledon was considered a landmark and a milestone in how to provide housing services to young people. Today, we feel that way about Y:Cube. The services may change and look different, but the ethos and values of the YMCA remain the same”.