Lenie had a turbulent childhood after arriving in Britain from the Philippines with her family. By the time she was 15 she was homeless, had dropped out of college and was pregnant. But after hearing about a programme run by Swansea YMCA Lenie started to get the support she desperately needed. Three years on, she is now an avid volunteer and peer mentor for other young people on YMCA youth projects. She has more confidence and believes the experience has been life-changing.
“I would have been lost without the YMCA. The help they’ve given me means many doors will be open to me in the future, especially when it comes to finding a job.”
Swansea YMCA helps hundreds of youngsters like Lenie every year. But when Anne-Marie Rogan became its chief executive five years ago it was facing its own challenges. Their facilities and services simply weren’t attracting enough people and generating income was a struggle. On top of the business challenges, their Grade II listed building in Swansea needed refurbishing and updating which demanded the launch of a multi-million pound capital investment scheme.
With the development of new social enterprises such as an on-site café and childcare businesses, the charity grew rapidly and its annual turnover increased from £150,000 to £1.6 million in just three years. It was at this critical expansion phase in 2012 that Anne-Marie enlisted the help of Pilotlight. “We needed to fine tune our direction and leadership,” says Anne-Marie, “and this opportunity came just at the right time. It made sense to take advantage of what Pilotlight was offering – the chance to work with great business minds that we could learn from and who would help shape our future.”
The charity had just started working with Pilotlight when they were dealt a real blow. One of the large charities that were tenants in the Swansea YMCA building went bust. Not only did that mean they lost rental income of over £60,000 a year, but they were faced with non-payment for the services they had been providing to young people for the charity worth in excess of £250,000.
Anne-Marie says: “It was a period of real crisis management and luckily we had Pilotlight. The business team focused me and helped with key decisions. They gave us the confidence to continue with our plans and made us realise how good we actually were. It definitely made me stronger and without the support of my team, my board and Pilotlight there was a risk we could have gone under.”
Nine months on and the charity is back on track with plans to develop its services with new fitness classes, comedy and music nights in the theatre and more employment and training programmes for young people. With youth unemployment a huge problem in Swansea there has never been a more crucial time for the YMCA to be offering a place for them to go. They are now looking to raise another million pounds to match the funds they have already been awarded from the Big Lottery Fund, the Welsh government and Swansea Council.
“We are now moving forward with Pilotlight at our side,” says Anne-Marie. “The talent we have on our business team is amazing and it certainly surpassed our expectations. I feel that our plans will make a real difference to the lives of young people in Swansea and the wider community and at the end of the day that’s why we are here.”