Len started by handing Sam a stack of memorabilia – photo slides of Y market stalls, a little book about the YMCA’s founder George Williams, newspaper clippings from the Canberra Times, pamphlets, annual reports – items he has saved from his many years with the Y community. Sam placed her phone on flight mode and with the recorder set to start, settled in for a trip with Len down the Y memory lane.
Len sits back and says, “well, I’ll tell you how I joined to start with.”
“I was at tennis one night, walking down a street in Brisbane past the Y there and I thought to myself ‘what’s this all about?’ I eventually joined one of the clubs that they had for young men at the time – the Triangles Club.”
That initial interaction with the YMCA was just the beginning.
Len started his working life as an electrician with a company that picked up a job to rewire the entire YMCA Brisbane, and they put Len in charge. In the meantime, Len’s involvement with the Triangles Club expanded and he became the Charter President of the Wise Men’s Club, who were a group of men working to support the YMCA.
It was while rewiring the YMCA in Brisbane, Len had an epiphany. “Suddenly something struck me. I’d been led through all those things for a reason.”
Len discovered that the Young Men’s Secretary at YMCA Brisbane had left, and so he marched into the General Secretary’s office in his electrician’s overalls, claiming that he thought he could do the job. The General Secretary evidently thought so too because “from there on, that’s what I did.”
Len joined the YMCA Brisbane in 1958 where his time was spent working with the clubs, organizing camps for young people, community events and spreading the name of the Y. He recalls Joyce being involved in this journey, often coming on camps with him and helping out.
Len was with the YMCA Brisbane for 5 years before he ventured north to a little YMCA in Rockhampton for another 5 years. After this, Len was then asked back to Brisbane, and before long headed down to Melbourne (after some self-proclaimed soul searching) to join the National team.
Len joined the YMCA National team as Associate National Secretary and Director of the Victorian Region to do leadership training, liaising, and Government lobbying. He also represented the YMCA on the Youth Council Victoria, of which he eventually became the chairperson, and where they also formed a taskforce on youth employment. Len says this project was “one of my babies.”
“Moving out of the local scene into a national scene gives you a whole different perspective.”
“Yes, and meeting all sorts of people from around the world – sometimes it just blew your mind away!”
Len stayed in Melbourne for 8 years before making the move to Canberra to be the Deputy Executive Director. “I didn’t like the title too much because it was ‘DED’” he says while chuckling at the memory.
Len says that he was ready to move out of National and “get things done” so the move to Canberra was well timed. He carried on with the employment initiatives as the government was giving out grants at the time. After 2 years, Len stepped into the CEO role from 1979 – 1984 here in the Canberra region.
Len remembers the YMCA Canberra differently to how it is now. Back then, our main centre was located on London Circuit in the city, housing a lot of recreation spaces. They had also built a new youth centre in Woden, and we had centres in Belconnen, Jamison, the Corroboree Park Youth Club, Narrabundah, Yarralumla, Kambah and then of course, Camp Sturt.
Len also remembers it being a tricky time with some of the previously needed youth residences not being utilised or necessary anymore, so he had the difficult task of assessing the building and negotiating with government on what to do with it. Fortunately, Len negotiated that the Y would release these buildings in return for taking over a gymnasium space with equipment.
Len remembers having a great leadership team in place for that venue. “I really wanted to get sponsorship for kids who couldn’t afford to get a place in the camp. That was my passion”.
Len proudly states that even though his CEO role ended in 1984. He remained involved in the Y Canberra Region and is still a member!
“Well, I think it’s giving the opportunity to draw out what young people don’t know they’ve got sometimes. You encourage, it’s all you can do, so they can see that there is so much more to life. I’ve seen people grow on that basis.
“I’ve always said that we are in the people business, therefore we are there to give people opportunities to be better than they think they can be.”
Len gratefully reflects that he has had “a great life, I can tell you. I haven’t regretted anything.”
1953 – Joined the Triangles Club at the YMCA Brisbane.
1957 – Became the Foundation President for the Jolly Y’s Men’s Club.
1958 – Len joined the YMCA Brisbane as the Young Men’s Secretary.
1963 – Len ventured North and was appointed as the General Secretary of the Rockhampton YMCA.
1968 – Came back to Brisbane for a brief time as the Executive Officer.
1969 – Len moved to Melbourne to join the Y National team as Associate National Secretary and Director of the Victorian Council.
1977 – Len moved to join the YMCA Canberra as Deputy Executive Director.
1979 – Appointed the CEO position of YMCA Canberra until 1984
2002 – Len was awarded the Order of Australia
Len was a YMCA staff member for over 27 years, after he left the Y Canberra in 1984 he continued to be involved with community events and is a Life Member of the organisation.
Before the Federal Government stepped in on Thursday with new COVID Disaster Payments, the Federation of Ys in Australia jumped in, contributing $200,000 to purchase enough $50 Coles vouchers for all affected Y staff in Victoria. 100% of the funds were donated by Ys outside of Victoria who instantly identified that geography and borders didn’t matter and that our people came first.
“It just felt right and it’s as simple as that,” said Torrien Lau, CEO of the Y in Canberra who was the first to offer support to the Victorian Ys when they shared their situation and voucher support plan.
National CEO Melinda Crole said she was “super proud” to be part of the Y and highlighted that this was an example of a Federation working at its best.
“Last year the CEOs of the Y came together to create their own Statement of Commitment to each other and future generations of the Y, and this week, once again, they demonstrated our heroic, creative and nurturing values and commitment to each other,” she said.
In Victoria, the Y delivers programs and services in 200 plus locations in settings including camps, community recreation and sporting facilities, swimming pools, childcare and early education, schools, kindergartens, youth services and youth justice facilities and disability services.
Most of these operations are significantly impacted by the lockdown, and thousands of employees have lost shifts for the entire 14-day lockdown period. Given this is the 4th lockdown, like so many other businesses hit hard by the global pandemic, and as not for profit, it becomes harder and harder each time to recover from these extended lockdowns.
“The resilience and determination of our people is why we bounce back,” said Melinda Crole
Coles also provided the Y with a 5% discount on the purchase of the $50 vouchers for staff, and the Y’s own merchandising business YGear offered affected staff a significant discount on all products.
“The whole team in Victoria is overwhelmed by the support shown by other Ys in Australia,” said Carolyn Morris, CEO of Y Victoria.