Colin Logan, former YHA chief executive, has died in North Wales on 14 August 2018.
Colin Logan came to the Youth Hostels Association when YHA stood on the verge of momentous change. Many would not have given YHA much chance of surviving in 1980. It had just emerged from a bruising and costly dispute with its staff. Its hostels had a reputation for being rule ridden and inhospitable and young people were turning from them as demands for privacy, comfort and freedom threatened to run from YHA.
Not everyone would have taken a job with an organisation in such difficulty. But Colin Logan was not everyone. A quietly determined and private man he was especially unlikely for someone coming to YHA at that time. Many of its founders were avowed pacifists, men like Jack Catchpool, first national secretary and the equivalent of today’s chief executive.
Colin had a military background which showed in his tall frame, straight back and commanding voice. With a no nonsense approach and a dislike of fuss, he had risen to the rank of major, serving in Northern Ireland and Germany, and finishing his career in Hong Kong. After leaving the army, he worked in Hong Kong and the Middle East.
He returned to England just as YHA was strengthening its management under Harry Livingstone, its national secretary since 1968. Colin, appointed in 1981, became one of three assistant national secretaries. He was later responsible for the financial control of YHA.
The organisation’s problems were multiplying particularly in the voluntary regional groups which ran hostels. The regional group based on Merseyside, which ran youth hostels in North Wales, was already in difficulties. Its debts to the national association had risen from £28,000 to £70,000 in 18 months. It owed money to banks and high interest rates were crippling it.
YHA set up an advisory group to support Merseyside in 1982 and sent Colin to help. He discovered a deteriorating situation. The group’s current account was in the red to the tune of £100,000. It had already spent money received in advance bookings to keep its youth hostels going. It would need more money for the summer season to pay staff and buy food for guests, who had already paid, when they arrived.
YHA appointed Colin as the principal executive officer for a new North Wales regional group. Colin began winding up the old region, involving new people in its affairs in North Wales, winning the confidence of its staff and turning around its finances.
Just as he was stabilising the situation in North Wales, problems in YHA’s eastern region sprang up and YHA’s executive committee asked Colin to investigate. He reported that the region had “considerable debt, a severe shortage of liquid assets and falling usage.” By October 1982 the region would need a large tranche of financial support to see it through the winter. Once again YHA began winding up a region.
Out of these troubles emerged a new structure for YHA with centralised finances, a development in which Colin played a key role. He visited hostels and spoke to staff winning them to the cause of a new approach and improvements.
He had immersed himself in youth hostels and their affairs. He had been an eloquent spokesperson for the introduction of paid management.
When paid management arrived, Colin took the role of director of Northern England. After a spell in Newcastle setting up the new region, he returned to St Albans and YHA’s national office as director of all the association’s operations.
Times for YHA had been less successful than had been hoped. Recession on top of restructuring and investment had created difficulties and slowed progress. The sale of hostels to pay for improvement was unpopular and YHA’s finances had not improved as much as everyone expected.
In 1992 YHA appointed Colin as chief executive after Andrew Chineck. Colin declared himself determined to maintain the diversity of hostels to meet the requirements of users, showing that he recognised the fears of many traditional users that hostels would become a chain of cheap hotels.
Colin wanted to retain the simple character of hostels whilst ensuring they were inviting, comfortable, well maintained places to stay. He shrewdly captured the difficulties that YHA faced.
He brought stability and a steady hand to the organisation while also driving through cuts to create efficiency and savings. At times funds were so short Colin banned peak time phone calls and the use of first class post but he avoided further contentious change and concentrated on steady improvement, prudent investment and gradual modernisation.
In 1999 as Colin prepared to retire YHA was ready for the momentous changes that would lead to the significant sales of property, major investments and governance reform of the new millennium. The DJH, Germany’s youth hostel association, presented its highest award, the Richard Schirrmann medal, to Colin on his retirement in recognition of his contribution to youth hostels.
Today YHA records near-record numbers staying though it has many fewer hostels than before. Its strong commercial approach allied to its strength as a charity has built on Colin’s consolidation which ensured its prosperity. Youth hostels in North Wales owe him a particular debt.
Colin died on 14 August in North Wales where he had lived since his retirement.