Health, fitness and funds

Since 2020 the government’s Culture Recovery Fund has awarded more than £2 million to support YHA’s recovery from the impact of Covid. The funding marks the widespread support for youth hostels and their importance to communities.

Government support for youth hostels is not new. Amidst increasing concern for the health of the nation with war approaching, the Physical Training and Recreation Act of 1937 brought into being the National Fitness Council for England and Wales. The council awarded grants to support the maintenance and improvement of physical well being through exercise and recreation.

YHA, aware of the part it played in improving recreation, saw a chance to draw funding to its facilities, and applied with plans to improve existing youth hostels and to establish new ones. £8,500 was reportedly promised for 14 youth hostels. [1]

In 1939, in one year, YHA purchased 18 properties freehold, and a further four leasehold properties, an outstanding number when in most years YHA struggled to purchase anything like that number and still does.

The support of government funds seems to have encouraged purchases in 1939, but the scheme was mired in uncertainy and dogged by poor administration so much that it is unclear exactly what funds YHA received.

Records

Recent documents acquired for the YHA archive illustrate the uncertainty at one hostel, Snowdon Ranger in North Wales. The original building was an inn built by a guide, John Morton, who called himself the Snowdon Ranger.

In 1939 the inn was placed on the market for sale and YHA saw its chance to open a hostel at the start of a popular route for walkers climbing Snowdon. The Liverpool Daily Post of 14 April 1939 announced that YHA had purchased the old inn.

Records show that YHA paid £1800 on 16 March that year for Snowdon Ranger. [2] YHA hoped to finance some of the purchase with the support of a national fitness grant, expecting a grant of £1000 towards the purchase.

On 22 March, days after the purchase, the Board of Education, which administered the grants, had written to YHA acknowledging the commitment for a grant of £1000 for Snowdon Ranger given in October the previous year. [3]

Confusion

The grant was made on the understanding that work would be done as soon as possible. YHA wrote back on 24 March acknowledging the letter, and agreed it would be sending receipts for the purchase “within the next few days”.

Fairclough, secretary of the YHA’s Merseyside group which ran Snowdon Ranger, did so 28 March. He enclosed solicitor’s letters and receipts for a total of £1889 and in return the regional group received an initial grant of £600 on 13 April.

No further action was recorded until, with the threat of impending war, on 2 Sept, the Secretary of the National Fitness council wrote to enquire whether YHA was, “in view of the National Emergency”, definitely committed to a contract for the work. “If not the grant will be regarded as having lapsed.”

Fairclough wrote two days later to say that all work had been completed and that he would submit accounts. Perhaps he thought that his letter and receipts sent in March had been sufficient. Any dismay at the request for more information was not expressed in the correspondence.

National service

Fairclough explained that the hostel was now occupied by evacuees and was performing a national service. In a further letter, on 8 September, he sent a statement of the position with regard to the fund, and confirmed that he was now seeking an architect’s certificate for the works completed.

The board replied on 23 September that it would require an architect’s certificate and statement of final cost before payment of the grant would be made.

A final letter of 29 September advised that the offce of the National Fitness Council had closed and all correspondence should be sent to the secretary of the Board of Education. Whether YHA received the remainder of the grant remains unclear from the existing correspondence.

But without the offer of grants from the council and of such public support for the organisation, YHA might not have gone ahead with purchasing so many properties at such a crucial time in its growth.

The hostel remains open today, a testament of the importance of wide support for youth hostels in their early days and today.

The hostel profile for Snowdon Ranger is available here .

Notes

I’m indebted to John Martin, YHA’s volunteer archivist, for making the correspondence relating to Snowdon Ranger available to me for this post. The full correspondence will be available in time at the YHA archive, Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham, ref Y050001-Snowdon Ranger 711.

Image of Snowdon Ranger, with the word hotel overpainted with hostel, is courtesy the YHA archive with thanks.

  1. Open To All – pp 134-5
  2. YHA Property Asset Register Y700001-1
  3. Correspondence Y050001-Snowdon Ranger 711.

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