Wonderful YHA

Wonderful YHA

Picture the scene. You have been out walking in the mountains all day enjoying the magnificent scenery and fresh air and now the sun is going down and your legs are starting to ache. What you desire more than anything is to take off your walking boots, to find somewhere to sit down and relax followed by a shower, a good meal and a comfy bed. A nice hotel would be nice but sometimes nice hotels are very expensive – and anyway you’re not exactly dressed for a hotel. All you want is some basic comforts at an affordable price. Well the good news is that there is an organisation that is tailor made for hikers and cyclists who need a simple bed for the night – it’s called the Youth Hostels Association, or YHA, and it is one of the most loved and successful organisations ever created.

Founded by Richard Schirrman in 1909

The idea began with a German schoolteacher, Richard Schirrman, who opened the world’s first youth hostel in 1909. Richard was driven by the desire to enrich the lives of young people living in large industrial cities by providing simple accommodation in the countryside. Recognising the same need for walkers and cyclists who enjoyed the countryside in the UK, a joint initiative between cycling, rambling and youth organisations brought together enthusiasts who formed the Youth Hostels Association of Great Britain shortly afterwards.

Since its creation the Youth Hostels Association has been a phenomenal success. The early years saw a steady acquisition of properties, chosen specially for their proximity to the country’s national parks and open spaces and over the war years membership numbers doubled as more and more people found the countryside a refuge from the stresses of daily life.

50’s – 60’s YHA introduces rambling and cycling clubs

The YHA continued to grow through the fifties and sixties as people found they had more leisure time and rambling clubs and cycling clubs were formed. The YHA were unique in providing everything walkers and cyclists needed to allow them to plan touring holidays. At last nature lovers could find somewhere cheap to stay that didn’t mind muddy walking boots or dirty bikes. The hostels were usually in wonderful locations with all the essential amenities that people needed. Comfy beds, a drying room, a member’s kitchen with all utensils and a large lounge – often with a log fire. The hostels were, and still are, managed by ‘wardens’ who are responsible for the day to day upkeep of the building and facilities.

The role of YHA wardens

Wardens are very often a husband and wife team supported by one or two volunteers. The wardens are usually YHA enthusiasts themselves and useful sources of information about the local area. Unlike in hotels, the hostels are kept clean by the hostellers in return for the cheap accommodation. Each morning after breakfast everyone would be allocated a small cleaning task by the wardens which soon became an integral part of the whole community experience.

For most people though, the most rewarding aspect of membership is the camaraderie that exists between hostellers. Unlike hotels which can be a bit pompous, or bed and breakfasts where you just have a bedroom to stay in, the hostels provided a sense of community. Members slept in male and female dormitories to keep costs down and spent the evenings in the communal lounge relaxing and talking over the day’s events. Hostels rapidly became somewhere you went to make new friends.

1970’s – Growth of outdoor pursuits and introduction of YHA magazine

The seventies witnessed even more expansion with lots of modernisation taking place and the YHA starting to organise specialist outdoor pursuit courses and publishing magazines. School parties and the Scouts and Guides started to make increasing use of the YHA’s facilities and beautiful locations.

The really good thing about the YHA is the way it learned to constantly adapt and improve as it still does today. By the eighties the rules were changed so that not just walkers and cyclists could benefit from the YHA experience but, for the first time, so could motorists. Morning cleaning tasks were no longer included and all facilities gradually upgraded.

1970’s – Commercial focus leads to improvements

In the nineties the YHA Management Committee became much more business and commercially orientated, closing down the non-profitable hostels and upgrading the quality of the popular hostels. Dormitories were converted to high standard bedrooms and the quality of the food was brought up to an exceptional level. All facilities were improved so that the distinctions between hotel and hostel became blurred – and yet the YHA has never lost sight of its roots so the friendship and fun of hostelling remains as strong as ever.

Today the YHA’s statistics are very impressive:-

  • 227 hostels and 53 camping barns spread across the length and breadth of the UK
  • More than 2 million overnight stays each year – 300,000 members
  • 1,200 full time staff and 600 seasonal staff – Annual turnover of £35million
  • Visitors welcomed from 80 different nations each year
  • An active member of ‘Hostelling International’ with includes 60 countries, 4000 youth hostels and 3.2million members worldwide
  • One of the UK’s top 50 charities
  • Gives thousands of disadvantaged young people access to hostelling
  • Provides educational courses for schools and colleges

Freedom to Roam initiative

Today, the YHA continues to grow and prosper and involves itself in many good causes. Recently it played a key role in the ‘freedom to roam’ initiative which led to the passing of the ‘Countryside and Rights of Way Act’. It is involved in the creation of new National Parks and works closely with the Countryside Agency and Ramblers Association. It is involved in numerous environmental campaigns to improve and sustain the natural environment through education and training. Other initiatives are focused on helping disabled or deprived children to get better access to the countryside and to enjoy outdoor pursuits. Sustainable development is another goal that the YHA have been promoting since inception – long before the term became fashionable.

More recently the YHA has started to grow its network by teaming up with other accommodation providers and even offering rent-a-hostel schemes for large groups who want to get away from it all with friends and family.

YHA – An amazing story

The story of the YHA is therefore an amazing story of success. For most people, however, the YHA represents what it has always represented. A place to curl up beside a log fire on a winter’s night with a cup of cocoa amongst new friends after a day’s walking or cycling in the worlds wildest places.

Next Steps

We would love to hear any stories or experiences you may have of using the YHA so please feel free to share them with us by using the comments below.

Also, if you would like to commission me to write an article for you or your organisation, then please contact me by calling me: 07766 911 300 or send an email to: rory@rorygear.com or you can contact me through my contact page HERE>>

About Rory Gear

I’m Rory Gear, also known by my writing pseudonym – Joe St Clair. I’m a full time professional writer and blog writer, I write pretty much about anything and everything that interests me. Connect with me on Google+

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