Plymouth took top honours at the national Youth Matters Awards 2023, with local charity YMCA Plymouth being awarded ‘YMCA of the Year’ and a young Plymothian, Craig McKenna, winning ‘Young Achiever of the Year’.
The annual awards were held at Stamford Bridge in London on 3 November 2023 to celebrate the work and achievements of young people throughout England & Wales.
Out of 116 YMCAs across the country, Plymouth won the prestigious title of ‘YMCA of the Year’, in recognition of its outstanding range of community work it’s delivered in the last 12 months.
The spectrum of work included the opening of their new soft play, which offers free sessions to children with special educational needs and disability, their community garden project that has grown over 1,200 meals for local people in need, their city-wide careers events for young people, a state-of-the-art health & wellbeing facility and their range of supportive services, which span from youth clubs offering free hot meals and support for over 65s suffering from loneliness.
Personifying one aspect of their life-changing work was Craig McKenna, a former student of YMCA Plymouth’s Discovery College which delivers vocational courses for 16-19s. Craig was awarded as Young Achiever of the Year for overcoming personal obstacles to realise his dream of becoming a Teaching Assistant at a local school earlier this year.
When Craig arrived at Discovery College, he was struggling to come to terms with the loss of a close family member and initially had struggled due to his additional needs and transitioning from a special school. But Craig rose-up to be an outstanding asset to the college while on his Level 3 Childcare course. Craig became a Student Ambassador and won ‘Student of the Year’ due to his fantastic college work which included 1,000 hours volunteering in the community.
Talking about what the national award meant to him, Craig said: “When I walked up to the podium, I was shaking but I was simply proud and happy with what I’ve accomplished. After the whole experience I felt pure contentment.”
Tom Lavis, CEO of YMCA Plymouth, said about the award wins: “Words can’t describe how proud we are to be awarded the title of YMCA of the Year, as well as seeing one of our amazing young people get the recognition they deserve.”
“I would like to thank everyone who has supported our charity over the last few years and also thank everyone who voted for us to reach the final of these awards.”
“People tend to think of us as a charity with big resources because of the name “YMCA”, but YMCAs are in fact simply a network of many local, independent charities, rather than one big top-down organisation. And in Plymouth we’re one of the smaller charities within that network.
“So for us to be acknowledged on this national stage is an incredible achievement. It’s a testament to the hard work of our team in recent years and our ongoing commitment to supporting everyone in our Plymouth community.”