South London YMCA disaffiliates from YMCA England and rebrands

Evolve Housing + Support says it no longer feels part of the movement after YMCA rebranded as a Christian youth charity

The rebrand
The rebrand

South London YMCA has disaffiliated itself from YMCA England and rebranded as Evolve Housing + Support because it no longer felt part of the YMCA movement after the parent organisation’s recent rebrand as a Christian youth charity.

The charity, which had to pay £3.2m to exit YMCA England’s pension scheme, said tha YMCA England’s rebrand, unveiled in September 2014, gave it a strong Christian youth-oriented identity with which Evolve could not identify.

Jeremy Gray, chief executive of Evolve Housing + Support, which provides housing and support for homeless people across London, told Third Sector that the decision to disaffiliate from the federation after 154 years had not been taken lightly.

"We simply couldn’t see ourselves as part of that future," he said. "We are not a Christian youth charity. We work with all ages and sections of the community in a completely secular way. We felt continuing our affiliation with the YMCA didn’t make great sense."

He said he believed the charity, which employs almost 200 people, was the first individual YMCA charity in England to disaffiliate without having merged or gone into administration.

Gray said Evolve had been planning to exit YMCA England’s pension scheme for some time because Evolve’s trustees saw the pension deficit – which Evolve paid into every year – as the biggest risk the organisation was facing.

He said the original plan had been for the deficit to be paid off in 10 years, but after eight years it was growing instead. "We were one of the biggest YMCAs left in the scheme so the risk was bigger for us," said Gray, adding that the decision to exit the scheme had been taken separately from its decision to disaffiliate from YMCA England.

Gray said the rebrand itself, launched today, cost the charity £47,000 and was developed in collaboration with the London-based design agency BothAssociates. He said that the new name had been chosen through focus groups and meetings with the charity’s clients and selected by the trustees from an initial list of 200 ideas. "It accurately reflects what we’re all about," he said. "We help people to evolve and move on to an independent life."

He said he had hoped that the national rebrand would have better reflected the fact that several YMCA groups work with people of all ages, but the brand appeared effective for those groups that were Christian and youth-focused.

A spokesman for YMCA England said in a statement: "The board and management team at South London felt that their aims and objectives had moved away from those of YMCA and that they could better serve the needs of their service users by working independently as a stand-alone organisation.

"YMCAs across England will continue to support young people and communities in more than 500 locations as we strive to reach those most vulnerable and most in need of our help."

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