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A year like no other – YHA’s story of survival

Press Release


 20 April 2021


A year like no other - YHA's story of survival

Faced with a crisis unlike anything it has seen in its 90-year history, the youth hostelling charity YHA (England & Wales) has documented its survival over the last 12 months in a new publication - COVID stories.

Documented in real-time and from the perspective of YHA's senior leadership team, hostel managers, volunteers and partners, the 64-page publication covers the period March 2020 to February 2021. It tells the story of the first year of the pandemic from the perspectives of those responsible for YHA's recovery.

James Blake, Chief Executive of YHA (England & Wales) explained: "COVID stories is a testament to the huge effort, energy, dedication and passion of YHA's people, supporters and partners who have come together and enabled us to survive the last 12 months.

"We entered 2020 in great shape, as a result of 10 years of work on the commercial viability of the organisation and the quality of our products. We also have a very good relationship with our bank, HSBC. This foundation has been critical to our ability to weather this storm."

Riding high at the beginning of 2020, having had one of the most successful years ever with income topping £55 million, a new 10-year strategy on the brink of being launched and a year of 90th anniversary celebrations planned, YHA's plans came to an abrupt halt when the pandemic hit.

Lockdown forced the closure of the entire network, numbering 153 youth hostels in England and Wales. It was the first complete closure in YHA's 90-year history and resulted in the immediate furloughing of more than 90 per cent of YHA's 1086-strong workforce.

The closure of the network saw hostels helping the local communities in which they were based, donating thousands of pounds of food to community groups and Food Banks. YHA's surplus signature green bed linen was also donated to address the national shortage of PPE and turned into scrubs, face masks and wash bags.

As well as devastating YHA's communities, beneficiaries, supporters and people, the closure of the youth hostel network also deeply affected the charity's ability to generate income and deliver impact.

Arguably at a time when the population needed it the most, with one in eight British households living through lockdowns without a garden, 200,000 young people missed out on a residential with YHA between March and July 2020 alone.

With 90 per cent of the charity's income coming from hostel stays, 2020 became a fight for survival for YHA.

Pausing capital investment, making cost savings where it could, applying for all available funding and grants, and broadening its income streams enabled YHA to save £28million. Despite cost-cutting, grants and fundraising efforts, YHA unfortunately had to make nearly 400 redundancies.

Looking at ways YHA could help nationally in the pandemic response led to YHA repurposing 47 hostels to councils to provide accommodation for homeless people and women experiencing domestic abuse. Repurposing contributed more than £3million and supported 650 vulnerable people.

YHA's 90th anniversary fundraising campaign, Project90, was also turned on its head. Initially established to raise money to provide residential activity breaks for disadvantaged young people, Project90 was expanded to include NHS and keyworker families. To date Project90 has raised £380,000, funding breaks for 50 families. A further 500 families will receive breaks when the YHA network re-opens.

Project90 has also enabled YHA to continue to deliver its charitable purpose - to help all especially young people of limited means. And it hopes to help many more young people over the next 16 months through the Generation Green project.

Together with partners The Outward Bound Trust, Scouts, Girlguiding, Field Studies Council and the 10 English National Parks, Generation Green aims to connect young people to nature, create and save jobs and build an aspirant workforce for a green recovery. The £2.5million project is funded by the Government's Green Recovery Challenge Fund.

Through the project, more than 100,000 opportunities will be delivered to connect young people to nature. It will also enable the retention of 20 jobs, 10 new jobs, one paid internship, 30 Kickstart placements, seven apprenticeships, and 659 skilled volunteer roles in the outdoor sector.

Anita Kerwin-Nye, Director of Strategy and Engagement at YHA added: "We recognised from the offset of the pandemic that access was still important. Rather than abandon our strategy or ambitions for access, if anything, we doubled down on them. This strategy in itself has proved the right course to take.

"What the last 12 months has shown us all is that our 10-year strategy is right for the times in which we now live and will enable YHA to play an active role through our partnerships in helping rebuild society post pandemic. In fact, our strategy only proved more urgent in the wake of crisis.

From 29 April, YHA's network will begin to re-open supported by a £478,000 grant from the second round of the Government's Culture Recovery Fund. The grant will cover essential costs, such as staff training and the essential cleaning of hostels which have not been used for 12 months as YHA gears up to reopen the network.

James Blake added: "This funding and support is critical for YHA's recovery. Giving hundreds of thousands of people, particularly young people, access to the rich and vibrant heritage of our country is something our charity has been doing for more than 90 years. The pandemic has hit YHA hard. This award through the Cultural Recovery Fund will ensure we are ready to welcome guests safely this year and for generations to come."

YHA ended the financial year with a £40m drop in income. However, through immediate and decisive action, it has safeguarded the charity for the future.

James added: "It has been a long haul and a period of huge disruption. YHA colleagues may be spread across two countries, and live and work in remote spots or highly populated urban areas, yet YHA is one team and a team that looks out for one another and together we are weathering this storm."

"The charity's immediate priority now is planning for the 2021 summer season and meeting the already high demand for YHA stays. With the renew programme now under way, we look to the future with hope and ambition," added James.

To read about YHA's year like no other, download COVID stories at

To join the conversation on social media use #yhacovidstories




About YHA (England & Wales)


YHA (England & Wales) is a leading youth charity with 90-year history of making travel and adventure accessible to all, especially young people.


Established in 1930, YHA's charitable objective remains as relevant in 2020 as it was in 1930 - ‘To help all, especially young people of limited means, to a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside, and appreciation of the cultural values of towns and cities, particularly by providing youth hostels or other simple accommodation for them in their travels, and thus to promote their health, recreation and education.'


As part of YHA's 90thanniversary celebrations the charity has launched the Project90 fundraising appeal. Details of Project90 can be found


YHA's charitable purpose is at the forefront of its new 10-year strategy-Adventure. For the first time and a lifetime. Our 10-year strategy for connecting people and places.Itcan be viewed and downloaded


Operating more than 150 locations throughout England and Wales, YHA offers a unique range of affordable accommodation including youth hostels, camping and cabins in rural, coastal and city locations.


Many of YHA's sites are in stunning heritage properties: including a medieval castle (YHA St Briavels Castle); an Elizabethan manor house (YHA Wilderhope Manor); a Victorian mock gothic mansion (YHA Castleton Losehill Hall) and a medieval friary (YHA Beverley Friary).


Through its social enterprise model, revenue from YHA's hostel accommodation is directed towards its social purpose. 


YHA prides itself on providing affordable, contemporary accommodation and a life-enriching, social experience which differs from a hotel stay.


Since 2010 more than £40million has been invested in YHA's existing network of accommodation as well as the acquisition of new hostels. YHA's most recent hostel acquisitions include YHA Newcastle Central (November 2019) and YHA Liverpool Central (November 2019).


Through access to travel, heritage, culture, outdoors and nature, YHA aims to improve outcomes related to health, wellbeing and life chances for young people and families, particularly those with challenging lives.


YHA's partnerships are extensive and involve organisations and charities working at virtually every potential touchpoint in young people's lives from schools and colleges, Movement to Work, The Duke of Edinburgh Award, Family Holiday Association and School Journey Association, amongst many others.


YHA is a leading provider of residential school trips, withmore than 80 Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) accredited sites — more than any other provider. Committed to quality outdoor education, YHA champions the national #BrilliantResidentials campaign.


YHAdelivers measurable impact, nurturing young people's personal and social development through education, upskilling and work readiness schemes.


In 2019 - 2020


  • 1,049,522people stayed with YHA and408,027guests were aged under 26.
  • Over150,000young people accessed an affordable residential learning experience through their school or group.
  • 4,875 young people and families with challenging livesreceived free or supported breaks.
  • 1,040 young people volunteeredwith YHA.


Further information can be found in YHA's latest impact review at


In the current coronavirus crisis, YHA is repurposing a number of hostels to support the national fight against the disease. For example, YHA Bath, Manchester, Oxford, Bristol, Brighton and Cardiff have all been licensed to local councils temporarily to support the most vulnerable.


YHA reopened partially to guests in July 2020 with a mix of Covid-secure hostels offering rooms, and opportunities to hire hostels exclusively for groups meeting the Government's restrictions. The network has had to close down in England during the current lockdown.


To see the difference that YHA makes to the lives of young people and their families, visit YHA'sYouTubechannel.


Further information about YHA can be found


Follow YHA onFacebook,Instagram,LinkedIn, andTwitter.



For press enquiries, please contact:


Anna Melton

In the Works PR


07837 108559 / 01246 386480