West Kent YMCA is a local Christian charity working to improve people’s lives. Having heard about some of the extraordinary work West Kent YMCA do, we wanted to find out what makes them so special. Amanda was excited to share her experience of working at YMCA and the secret to their success.

Having worked for local educational and training charities for the past 15 years, Amanda joined YMCA three years ago working at the Horizon carpentry project in Tonbridge, initially as a key worker offering pastoral support for the trainees. Prior to working for charities, Amanda had spent her life in retail and construction: “hard hats and work boots are nothing new to me. Having a background knowledge in carpentry and building helped. What I do now is quite a nice way of mixing my old life of construction and retail with education, training and charity. I get to do the best of all of those worlds in one job now,” she said.

More than just second-hand furniture stores

YMCA has two retail outlets in Kent – one in Tonbridge and one in Tunbridge Wells – which were solely retail up until a year ago when the organisation decided to enable the stores to be more involved in the community.

Amanda explained what they have been doing to achieve this: “The Tonbridge store has the bike project where people can come and learn how to refurbish and maintain bikes, get out and ride bikes and do some healthy stuff. The store in Tunbridge Wells has the upcycling and recycling of furniture. We run a traineeship programme training young people in customer service skills, retail skills and construction skills. We also have a lot of volunteers that are referred to us through either mental health programmes or job centres and some of those are on recovery programmes or rehabilitation work. So we’ve been able to put all of those projects into two shops and make them part of their local communities.”

The people they’ve helped

Last year YMCA saw seven 16- to 19-year-old trainees walk through their doors, which resulted in all of them finding a permanent job or apprenticeship within six months of starting the programme. “By the time I got to March or April last year, all my students had progressed into full-time employment. Sainsburys were brilliant, we worked with M&S and we worked with local apprenticeship schemes and they are all still working. So that’s lovely.”

Amanda went on to talk about some of the volunteers they’ve helped. “Three of my volunteers who have done the upcycling of furniture through various programmes are now in either full or part-time work. One lady had been out of work for eight years so to come back in, find her artistic side again, do some upcycling and now be working part-time is lovely. I think we work as hard with volunteers as we do with our young people. If people want to get back into work, we help them.”

YMCA also receive referrals through Live Well Kent. “One day a week we run an upcycling course with Live Well Kent working with people with mental health issues and health and wellbeing needs. This is more of a therapeutic day – it’s not about producing amazing furniture but about having fun, meeting new people and developing confidence.”

Get involved

In addition to all of the above, they also offer upcycling days to the general public which they advertise in the shop windows as well as prearranged team-building days for companies and local groups. “We’ve been working with social services and a few local authorities and businesses. They’ve sent people along to do team-building days which have been great fun because everybody gets their sleeves rolled up, gets dirty and covered in paint but produces something really nice by the end of it.”

If you would like to find out more about the upcycling, contact them on 01892 61512 (Tunbridge Wells) or 01732 361108 (Tonbridge) or even better why not pop along to the shop and see for yourself what they have to offer? We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Or for more information on their bike projects, click on the button below.

Special furniture discount for tenants!

YMCA are kindly offering all our tenants a 10% discount off all store items. Simply quote TCHG10 when purchasing your goods. If you or someone you know is struggling to furnish their home due to financial difficulties, please speak to our Money Support Team about getting a referral.