June is a great month for youth hostels.
The weather is great, the days are long and can be warm. For many youth hostels it’s the busiest time of year, especially for those with school and youth groups staying.
It’s also an important month for youth hostels. It’s the month when they had their official beginning as a national movement on June 26 and 27, 1930 at Digswell Park in Hertfordshire.
Delegates came from all over the country to agree a constitution for the new organisation and to elect officials to carry out the work. They agreed that the name “the Youth Hostels Association (of Great Britain)” would best describe the movement’s aims.
They agreed national societies would pay a small fee to affiliate themselves to the new organisation. In return those societies would attend council and elect members to the executive committee.
The new organisation would work through regional groups. The regional groups would effectively pay for youth hostels, as they would recruit members and run youth hostels. In return they would have two more places on the executive than the affiliated societies.
No one argued about the principle of membership. Youth hostels would only be open to members. Membership was a key feature of the German model. Anyone wanting to stay in youth hostels in Germany had found that they had to pay and join the German association. Many wanted a British youth hostels association and their own membership scheme so that they could use youth hostels in Germany.
Whether membership should be open to anyone was more contentious. Some regarded youth hostels as the precious preserve of those who loved the countryside. They considered that if “all and sundry were admitted, there would be ignorant intruders and, worse still, vandals, who got the Association a bad name.” Some wanted youth hostels restricted to walkers and cyclists, for those travelling under their own steam.
But the first chairman, Barclay Baron, and the first secretary, Jack Catchpool, were firm. Membership should not exclude anyone. The new association had to be open to all to succeed.
They argued against any test. They believed “YHA could become the finest out-of-school educational movement in the country; that it was especially designed for boys and girls living in congested city areas, who would learn not only the beauty of the countryside and the exhilaration of healthy open air exercise, but a sense of responsibility and comradeship.”
YHA can celebrate other dates in its founding but 26 and 27 June 1930 were the key dates for the inauguration of the national association.
Eighteen months later, Scotland and Northern Ireland had their own associations and the association founded at Digsbury Park became the Youth Hostels Association of England and Wales.