5 August 2020

Diversify, evolve and support have been the buzz words for YMCA East Surrey during the incredibly challenging months of lockdown.

Coronavirus may have forced the temporary closure of our gym, exercise classes, disability services and many other projects, but we have continued to offer help within the local community to those who need it most.

Ian Burks, Chief Executive of YMCA East Surrey, says:

“We are immensely proud of the way that we have responded to the COVID-19 crisis. Lockdown has meant thinking outside of the box and finding new means of bringing mental health and housing support to young people, exercise sessions to those with ill health and respite to families who look after children with disabilities.

Now, more than ever, it has been vital to continue providing these services, even as our income streams have suffered hugely.”

Throughout the lockdown period, staff at Hillbrook House in Redhill continued to offer full time housing support to young people at risk of homelessness, helping with advice on social distancing, mental health, exercise, nutrition, and much more.

Since the beginning of April over a dozen YMCA staff have been redeployed to work with Reigate and Banstead Borough Council making welfare phone calls to vulnerable local residents who have been shielding.

120 Exercise Referral members with health conditions have participated in new online classes, including Cardiac and Stroke rehabilitation, Breathe Easy and Seated Exercise.

Wayne Askin, Exercise Referral Coordinator of YMCA East Surrey, says:

“In July, we celebrated 2,000 attendances for the online classes. And we haven’t just restricted these to exercise only – there have been coffee morning sessions and a game or two of Catchphrase! Many members who previously attended 1 or 2 sessions in person per week have increased this to 3 remote sessions a week during lockdown and are seeing greater physical, mental and social improvements as a result.

Supporting, empowering and enabling people to overcome specific physical, social and mental barriers though this challenging time has been extremely rewarding.”

Since the beginning of the lockdown, YMCA East Surrey’s Children and Young People team have reached out to service users through a range of online activities and telephone support. They have helped families through online videos and posts on PE, yoga, cookery, art and science as well as mailing or delivering activity packs to families who are most in need.

Judith Brooks, Head of Children and Young People for YMCA East Surrey, says:

“I am hugely proud of the Children and Young People team who have found innovative and creative ways to support children and families through the challenges and opportunities of this unprecedented time.

We are now delighted to be running our Short Breaks disability holiday club for children and young people with additional needs throughout the summer holiday, providing 160 spaces at the YMCA Sovereign Centre in Reigate, Linden Bridge School in Worcester Park and St Stephen’s School in Godstone while continuing to offer daily online activities.

We have also received a grant of £8,000 from Activity Surrey to run a two-week Recreation Club in Redhill for primary school children some of whom are in receipt of free school meals, with 25 children attending each week.

Our Y-Kids holiday club at Redhill is enabling over 150 local children to have fun with their peers in a safe environment with the support of trained and experience play practitioners. We are delighted to offer supported places to enable disadvantaged families to access Short Breaks and Y-Kids through our 1,000 days of play bursary scheme. The YMCA’s Virtual Cycling Challenge is continuing to raise funds this summer to support this vital work.

We are also supporting local young people through our youth work programme, which has been partly funded this summer by a National Lottery Community Fund grant. This work seeks to tackle young people’s social isolation and anxiety caused by the lockdown and involve them in positive activities. Our detached youth workers have been active in areas of East Surrey were there has been anti-social behaviour and dispersal orders.”

WAVES is the YMCA East Surrey youth group with a difference, supporting young people to talk about their emotional and mental wellbeing. Face to face sessions before lockdown have changed to live online meetings through a private Facebook group, with 30 young people engaging with WAVES online and 15 more being supported via calls and check-ins. Regular organised activities via ZOOM have included Q&A sessions with Crispin Blunt MP, mindfulness and positivity coaching, cookery demonstrations, quizzes, and more.

Heads Together youth counselling service has adapted and continued to operate throughout lockdown, offering free video or telephone counselling sessions for young people.

The YMCA East Surrey Challenge team has also been creative. While many fundraising events have had to be cancelled this year, staff and volunteers have organised a fun virtual Treasure Hunt challenge, coordinated a popular Virtual Fun Run and a Virtual Cycling Challenge is currently taking place until the end of August.

Ian Burks says:

“On Saturday 25th July, we re-opened our gym at Princes Road in Redhill, and it has been wonderful to finally welcome back our fitness members.

By extending the gym into our sports hall, we have gained 70% extra floor space which allows us to put the necessary social distancing measures in place. Our fitness team have placed a ceiling on class numbers in line with space requirements and we’ve installed plenty of sanitisation units for members to keep hands and machines clean.

We are predicting 1,110 attendances at the Y-Kids holiday scheme over the summer, with bookings increasing every day, and YMCA Detached Youth Workers have been back out supporting young people in public areas across Redhill, Reigate, Dorking, Horley and Tadworth.

It’s exciting to see this return to a new normality and we are ready to embrace the changes.”

If you would like to contribute towards our Coronavirus fund which is helping to keep vital projects operating, please visit www.ymcaeastsurrey.org.uk/coronavirus-appeal/