The YMCA National Conference is an annual gathering of staff, volunteers and trustees from YMCAs all over the England and Wales. The event is an opportunity to exchange valuable knowledge and experience, to reach more people, enhance our services and advocate for our shared vision.

Charli Fox who recently started as a Youth Work Practitioner attended the conference alongside Rob, Michelle and Elinor. As somebody with a fresh perspective on the YMCA we wanted to share her experience.

On the first day the team went on excursions to different YMCAs to see how each provides a unique service. Charli went to Newark and Sherwood YMCA and she found the experience helped her develop a broader understanding of the wide range of services YMCA’s provide across the country. Newark and Sherwood YMCA had sports and leisure facilities, climbing walls, a community café, study spaces, art spaces, a nursery and outdoor facilities. She was particularly impressed by the BMX track! This visit sparked ideas for implementing similar facilities at YMCA Northumberland, providing spaces for people of different generations to come to out different sports and activities.

Climbing wall at YMCA Newark and Sherwood

Climbing wall at YMCA Newark and Sherwood

“I learnt that YMCA is not just small scale but it’s massive, and not just national but international. It showed me it’s about more than just youth clubs.”- Charli Youth Work Practitioner

The YMCA conference is not just about the things we get to experience but also the people we meet. It was brilliant meeting staff members from YMCA Southend’s community school. Education is often a topic of conversation among staff and young people at YMCA Northumberland, so it was interesting to get a perspective from a school that prioritises equipping young people with life skills and supporting their mental health and wellbeing rather than just focusing on academic attainment. They work on the basis that every young person has a different relationship with education and there is no one size fits all approach. This was particularly interesting to Charli who has a degree in Primary education and has a particular interest in working with young people with SEND and SEMH needs.

Rory Bremner performing at the conference

An unexpected highlight of the conference was when we were treated to a performance by Rory Bremner during our dinner on Thursday evening. He was whip-smart impersonating everyone from Barack Obama to Keir Starmer with eerie accuracy. He also delivered a powerful message about the importance of giving every young person opportunities to discover their strengths. He spoke about his experiences growing up ADHD and finding his place in the world. Many of our young people are also neurodiverse and we understand how significantly this can affect their day-to-day lives. Charli said it takes a lot to make her laugh out loud, but she found him hilarious!

The second day of the conference began with some fantastic talks from the international YMCA movement and from Ndidi Okezie from UK Youth. UK Youth is a charity which supports the youth work sector and champions the needs of young people. She spoke passionately about the value of youth work both on an individual level and as a critical investment in the future of our country. She challenged everyone in the room to think more deeply about how we can connect with other youth organisations and other sectors to join up our services and assure we are providing the absolute best support, opportunities and guidance to children and young people. Charli found Ndidi’s speech particularly motivating and found her to be an inspiring example of how as youth workers we can use their role to amplify the voices of young people.

Ndidi Okezie speaking at the conference

Ndidi Okezie speaking at the conference


“I’m coming back to our YMCA with more ideas to help young people become their best selves and I’m excited to collaborate with other YMCAs in the future.”- Charli Youth Work Practitioner 

Charli is returning to YMCA Northumberland feeling excited for the future of our organization, with a renewed desire to put young people’s individual needs at the forefront of her youth work practice. The conference highlighted to all of us the value of working collaboratively so that we can share our knowledge and give each young person the tools they need to belong, contribute and thrive!

Is there any new activities you would like to see at YMCA Northumberland? Let us know in the comments!

Charli at her recent graduation- what a star!