YHA strengthens presence in UK

The YHA is linking up with the Scottish Youth Hostels Associations and Hostelling International Northern Ireland for a jointly-managed scheme that aims to increase volunteering and raise the profile of hostelling among disadvantaged, ethnic and disabled communities.

"It's important that our organisation reflects the true face of the UK today, and at present we don't reflect multi-cultural Britain as much as I'd like," said Roger Clarke, chief executive of the YHA. "To move forward we must ensure that we offer a relevant service and increased volunteering opportunities to all local groups."

The Valve UK project will be funded over a three-year period by a £525,000 Community Fund grant and will develop a series of nation-wide initiatives such as encouraging local volunteers to promote their area to visitors.

"Eventually we'd like to see independent support groups run by volunteers helping with activities such as fundraising, publicity and open days to help youth hostels become an integral part of a local community,

said Clarke. "This way we can start to talk directly to groups who may feel that youth hostelling has no bearing on their local area."

He hopes the project will encourage volunteers to start guided tours of local villages and towns, man information points in the hostels and help with gardening and maintenance work.

The organisations hope that the three-year grant will enable them to build the necessary infrastructure to continue with the Valve UK scheme, but it is uncertain whether the scheme will continue as a collective project.

The Valve UK project will create several new jobs including a project leader, who will be employed by Valve and based at the YHA headquarters.

Two project co-ordinators will be appointed to manage the project for Northern Ireland and Scotland, and will liaise with a central steering committee at regular intervals.

The youth hostel associations are also considering launching a joint publication for international visitors, which will provide information about hostelling services across the UK.

"We're working towards a unified image to present to guests from around the world,

said Clarke. "We want to make it as easy as possible for people to visit our hostels."

Another step in the YHA's expansion policy is the launch of a partnership programme in September, which invites community businesses to come within the YHA network. The organisation will provide the marketing private operators to run YHA hostels from their own properties, according to agreed guidelines.

"With schemes like this we can extend into different corners of the UK and achieve valuable feedback and knowledge of different areas,

said Clarke. "We're looking to change our organisation and the partnership programme can help us achieve this."

The YHA is also working with the Black Environment Network, providing accommodation for ethnic and minority groups.

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