Central YMCA: The world’s first YMCA

Central YMCA was founded by an apprentice, 177 years ago. So it’s fitting that today, the London-based charity is helping thousands of young people to access apprenticeships nation-wide.

Social Problem

It’s an age-old problem – you can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job. While university courses and work experience placements help to bridge that gap, not everyone feels able to take on unpaid work or a mountain of student debt. Apprenticeships offer a viable solution, but it’s not always easy for young people to find quality apprenticeships that have the potential to lead to a fulfilling career.


Central YMCA is one of the largest charity training providers in the UK. Much of the charity’s work is focused on young people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds or who have limited qualifications. As well as apprenticeships, the charity offers training courses, employability programmes and a fully-funded two-year course such as its Fitness Training Academy.


Central YMCA operates the largest fitness centre in Central London. The centre lost a third of its members during the lockdowns[1]. Along with other financial challenges caused by the pandemic, this led to Central YMCA needing to take out a short-term loan against its investment portfolio. The charity needed to both refinance the loan and access additional funds to support its recovery from the pandemic. Otherwise, it would have been forced to use up its investment reserves, which may have meant reducing its community activities. Central YMCA chose Charity Bank for the £4 million loan due to its strong reputation within the YMCA movement.


In a typical year, Central YMCA supports around 4,244 people[2] across the UK to develop their careers through of apprenticeships, employability and training courses in sectors ranging from fitness, business admin and customer service, to horticulture, logistics and health & social care. 74% of Central YMCA’s apprentices achieved their qualifications in 2019/20 – compared to a national average of just 64.7%[3]. The programmes are not just designed to provide qualifications and work experience, they help young people to become employment ready, gain new skills and become more confident.

“Unlike purely commercial banks, who are more driven by financial incentives, it’s clear that Charity Bank is there to provide support and really understands YMCAs.”

Kieran Connolly, Chief Resources Officer at Central YMCA

“I’d recommend doing an apprenticeship ... It’s got me out of my shell, and I feel like my life has started. I’m proud that I’ve got my head down and they’ve given me a job at The Grill Shed. I want to work my way up to Head Chef and have my own kitchen. I’m heading in the right direction.”

Jack – a Central YMCA apprentice

“YMCA is a crucial lifeline for people like Caitlin who have struggled to gain the qualifications to get a career. It felt like all the doors were closed and we were in a dark place and [Central YMCA] came along and opened a door to let the light back in and show the opportunities.”

Elaina, the mother of a young woman who receives personal tutoring through Central YMCA

About Charity Bank

Charity Bank is the loans and savings bank owned by and committed to supporting the social sector. Since 2002, we have used our savers’ money to make more than 1,000 loans totalling over £350m to housing, education, social care, community and other social purpose organisations.

Find out more about us here.

Nothing in this article constitutes an invitation to engage in investment activity nor is it advice or a recommendation and professional advice should be taken before any course of action is pursued.