Regulating or closing down the YMCA

14 years ago...

The comments on this site back up my own opinion of Surbiton - a great place to live with one major problem - the YMCA.

I seems to me that virtually all of the 'low and mid level' crime in the town centre originates with the inmates of this centre. Whenever I see anyone who looks slightly dodgy in Surbiton, you can guarantee that the next time I see them they will be coming in or out of the YMCA (or the back of a police van).

The problem is that other Surbiton residents are not happy to walk back from the station on their own in case they encounter someone from the YMCA. I often worry about inviting people from outside of the area for an evening in Surbiton for the same reason. This would be ok if we lived somewhere closer in to London, and the disturbances came from a number of sources, but almost every problem in Surbiton seems to originate in the same place.

The rambling post was prompted by an article in today's Evening Standard newspaper, showing two girls being bottled by a man in the Surbiton station subway. Unsuprisingly, the man was later caught in the YMCA.

Is there anyway that we can lobby the council to either close down the YMCA or to regulate it more closely so only a limited number of inmates at any one time are allowed to come from high risk groups?

Any ideas?



I've added the event to the site diary: webmaster

Do you have any more information about this meeting? Is it open to the public for example?

If so, I'll add it to our events calendar. webmaster

They mat not be inmates whilst at the YMCA, but you can guarantee that most of these people are either on their way from or to prison.

No, but there are a lot of pretentious people who think they have moved to a suburban version of Fulham without the crims.
They would choke on their blinis and Chateauneuf- du-Pape if they saw someone less fortunate.

"Oh look Dahling, some riff-raff outside the Gordon Bennett. Didn't the High Street have a YMCA to keep THOSE people under observation?
Waiter, waiter, can we have a petition please? We must complain that our life isn't perfect"

No one is going to pretend Surbiton is perfect, but when people do move out of areas like Fulham and Clapham to have families here, I don't think they expect to be confronted with problems caused by the inmates from the YMCA.

It is not unreasonable for people to want to get rid of problems like this. I feel totally safe walking anywhere else in Surbiton, but I always feel a slight worry when walking near the YMCA, or if some of it's residents pass me on Victoria Road. If the cause of these worries can be isolated to one place, it is natural to try to look for a way of improving it.

Would you be as dismissive if YOUR house was burgled, or your teenage daughter was introduced to heroin by these vermin? For that's the reality here - these people are bringing crime with them into an otehrwise low crime town. Look at the crime reports in the local press.

Do these people just come from kingston borough, or as I suspect, are we being used as a dumping ground for hard to handles for the whole of london?
If the latter, then what are we getting out of it?

We already pay the highest council tax, have increasingly fewer facilities, don't have enough primary school places for our kids, and yet our police budget is being swallowed up by this lot.

If we really must be forced to host these people, why does it have to be on the high street ffs?
Wouldn't it be more cost effective for the YMCA to sell a prime high street site and develop on cheaper land elsewhere?

The community have lost confidence in the YMCA here - its transformation into a hostel for substance abusers means that there would be few regrets if it retreated from the main street to somewhere with a lower profile, further away from the general public and surbiton's businesses.

I think this is the key point. Kingston's problem cases will have to go somewhere, and I don't think it is unfair that some of them go to the YMCA. Putting too many of them there is a recipe for disaster, though.

Clearly, it is totally unacceptable if the YMCA takes people from outside the borough, and I suspect it does - I am not aware of any of these types of places in Esher/Weybridge etc, and the YMCA has recently been refused permission to open a hostel in Hersham, primarily because of the problems the centre in Surbiton is currently causing.

The problem with moving people to other parts of the area is a big one - where would they go? Whilst it would be nice to move them out to the back-end of the Chessington industrial estate, I don't think this is particularly realistic. In a way, perhaps they are better on Victoria Road rather than the residential roads surrounding it?

There you go. Someone using their head and thinking as part of a country wide collective instead of a local tribe.
The important thing here is that these services are distributed as much as they can be throughout all areas, instead of boroughs fighting over who plays host to services that are vital to our community as a whole.
It's already been noted (and I haven't looked into the proof I will admit) that the premise of this article was not even a resident of the place in question. Having said that, I do live very close to the YMCA and I can understand people feeling uncomfortable late in the evening. The stairs up to the car park above Sainsbury can be an issue in the middle of the day. The thing is though, these are your neighbours, your sons, daughters, fathers, brothers and mothers. Do you really need to wait until something happens to someone close to you to start having a little compassion ? You are all part of a wider community and as long as you keep separating groups of people like this you'll foster nothing but hate.
The comment above is one of the few that actually seems to be thinking about the issue in a non-tribal fashion.

For me, the issue is with the actual provision of the service itself rather than where it is provided. In the main, the YMCA provides a good service to most of it's residents and whilst there might be occasional problems, that is all part and parcel of that type of provision.

However, the YMCA still seems to have some people foisted upon it that it is not equipped to deal with. They were never there to deal with people with serious substance addiction or other psychological problems and housing them there provides little benefit to them and a massive disbenefit to the people living in the vicinity.

I know that we are hardly awash with money as a country at the moment, but we MUST be able to do better than this.

good points - we can't have it both ways

Other people posting on this thread have said how areas such as Maple Road and the river area
are crime free.

But if the YMCA closed down, wouldn't the problems disperse to Maple Road etc?

Why? Is there another YMCA in Maple Road?

To those who have made generalisations about the YMCA,
maybe you should actually go in there first.

You may notice the mother and baby groups, or the OAPs who enjoy it as a place for a coffree and chat.
You may notice that the local Safer Neighbourhood police use it as a daytime base for the town centre.

Isn't it better that they know where the problems are and who the trouble makers are?
Or would you prefer the YMCA to be closed down and all the problems dispersed?

What about teenagers who are housed there - not because of drugs, but because they are escaping violent or abusive home lives.

Nobody is saying the YMCA is perfect, but it probably does more good work in the community than most.
Check your facts before you judge - not everyone's life is as cosy as yours.

No one has a problem with the baby groups, or falling number of OAPs who used to enjoy it for coffee mornings.
It is the herberts who shout and swear, throw crap out of the windows, openly drug deal, fight each other and intimidate passers by that people have issues with.

Try sitting outside the Saucey Kettle for a few hours, like I have on many an occasion and witness this going on.
Even better, speak to Frank who is the landlord or any of the businesses that border that junction and ask their opnion.

There are plenty of other baby groups, church community halls, and especially coffee shops / restaurants in Surbiton.
None of them insist on 120 resident substance abusers as a prerequisite before they grace Surbiton with their presence.

Additionally, the building is hideous - it adds nothing to the main street.
The YMCA should sell it and let somebody build something more suited to the victorian main street , and tothe law abiding citizens who live here.

Exactly. These social aspects (gym, coffee/restaurant area) are actually very positive for the area, and I don't think anyone would want to see those closed down.

If there was stricter regulation on the rooms upstairs, more people would use these facilities. I know a lot of people who would happily join the YMCA gym if the rest of the centre was managed properly - as it is they pay twice as much to go to the safer Cannons down the road.

I agree that we do not want to push the problems out into the wider area, but if we did not give these people such a cushy, easy option then maybe the ones who have a choice would not choose that sort of lifestyle.

I cannot personally go to the Saucy Kettle or anywhere around there, as being too close to the YMCA makes me sick and angry.

I hope that the residents throw rubbish on your head next time you walk past so that you can really have something to complain about to Ed Davies.

I suppose some of you are the people that moved to Berrylands and complained about the smell of the sewage. What a joke.

If Cannons is so secure then why are they having problems with organized crime and break ins in the changing rooms? I know for a fact that VEHICLES have been stolen from the car park after lockers where broken into.

Nevermind, we can always blame that on the YMCA residents eh?

I have been a member at Cannons for quite some time, and have never experienced any problems. I was aware of one incident where a car was stolen, though. It is unacceptable, but I will still continue to go there rather than risk my personal safety by going anywhere near the YMCA.

It is good to have a reasoned argument, but it saddens me somewhat that several people seem to be coming out in defense of the actions of those housed at the YMCA. This is illustrative of the overly 'PC' world in which we now live.

Its far from perfect. Thats why it has to be closed down.

Just got this back from Edward Davey.....

Thank you for your recent email.
This is a matter raised by other residents.

Please rest assured that your case is being followed-up and a full response
will sent as soon as possible.

I will update when he gets back to me with a full response.

I use the gym down at the YMCA on a daily basis and think that is the only really positive aspect there having not experienced the other facilities.

However many of the people i see housed there are dug abusers and dare i say it deal in drugs as i have seen the types and the behavior before unfortunately, I'm not stereotyping or being judgmental, I'm talking from experience.

I belive that the police should show a much stronger present and try work with the YMCA in a more aggressive manner.
Routine room checks and searches of the residents, get the dogs in even, emphasize the fact of the cctv cameras monitoring there goings and comings, just put a little pressure on them, keep a detailed record of whos staying and have time limits on the time they can be housed and goals for them to reach and a date for their departure.

If big brother methods are needed nowadays, like business target your market, YMCA residents are just that.

The figures add up, the reasons are there and in a bag full of bad apples, with limited few good ones, they are bound to pick up on something.

Currently they are just all piled up in one place and forgotten, not accounted for, more involvement is needed to give them a reality check and show them who is control.

Lets try to fix the problem and not just pass it on...

Does anyone know anything about the work the YMCA is doing to support these people? I understand it's some council initiative to provide vulnerable people with rehabilitation. From what I remember the C in YMCA stands for Christian, maybe this has something to do with it?

It seems that anyone seeking help under this scheme is further victimised by NIMBY locals because of the way they look.

Not the way they look mate - its the crime they bring with them.

Scour through the crime reports of the local papers.
You'll see massive skew towards addresses given as the YMCA.
Sometimes the criminals' addresses are reported as Victoria Road, which means the same thing.

Some 2004 Met Police report confirmed that the YMCA was a crime hotspot for the whole borough, accounting for a disproportionately large percentage of borough crime.

You also need to consider that the majority of crime will not be solved, ie for every one YMCA criminal caught, there will be several who get away with it.
The inmates there also make a general anti-social nuisance of themselves.

The people of Surbiton get nothing out of hosting these vermin.
We were never consulted, planning permission was never applied for the YMCA to be run as a bail hostel.
The YMCA's presence is a disincentive to the development of a nice night time economy on the Victoria Road - if it wasn't there, more people would venture in to support restaurants.

Absolutely right. Victoria Road is nowhere near as nice a place to spend an evening as Maple Road. Victoria Road is Surbiton's main High Street, but no-one is going to invest any money in nice bars and restaurants because of the YMCA. Where new ones have opened, they don't seem to be doing that well.

The new Zizzi outlet is a classic example. After the initial opening frenzy where you could not get a table if you had not booked, it is now much quieter. I realise that this is partly due to the 'credit crunch' etc, but places further away from the YMCA (e.g. Gordon Bennett) are still doing reasonably well.

Surbiton town centre should be the ideal place to go out for the evening for 25-35's, a nice middle ground between the frenetic nightclubs in Kingston, and the stuffy snobbishness of Esher. Until the YMCA changes/closes, people will not want to go out here.

'stuffy snobbishness of Esher?' good god listen to yourselves......

i would rather have the YMCA than Zizi's, a boring chain eatery which takes the dynamic nature of the high st away. why zizzi's? go for something different , independent and interesting. great another italian - as someone stated earlier - YAWN.

YMCA is not ideal granted - But where is the compassion for your fellow man/woman? - crimes occurr wherever you dwell - dont give into the 'fear' these boards seem to be obseessed with.

My compassion for my fellow man/woman is exactly where is always was. The main thing I can say is that most people see the alcoholics/druggies on the streets or in passing. I have had the 'advantage' of living under them. They have no compassion for anyone. They don't mind threatening people. They don't mind hitting people. They don't mind breaking down doors. I did not 'give in' to the fear they wish to project upon you. I took them on and beat them with the help of my wife. Still if you think you can handle them I can always put the word out to one in particular. A really nice paranoid schzophrenic who threatened my wife that he would rape me and my son. He was even banned from the YMCA. Known to every police officer in the Kingston Division (even the new officers). He would take your compassion and wreck your life believe me...but then you sign in as 'anonymous' so you'll never meet unless you get between him and what he wants!

The YMCA tries it's best. But lets be honest it is not equiped to handle some of it's residents. As such the trouble comes onto the streets of Surbiton. I used to go to the gym in the 80's. My son used to go to it's nursery in the 90's. Now I will not enter the place unless it is to meet the police team or vote.

Are you serious? I have lived in Surbiton for over 10 years, and I love the place, but I could never, ever describe the High Street as 'dynamic'!! It has that classic suburban mix of Waitrose/M&S, restaurants, charity shops, estate agents and not much else.

There are plenty of restaurants in Surbiton, and I cannot see how having one chain place is particularly detrimental, especially as they have bought one of the only remaining attractive buildings on Victoria Road back into use after it has been empty for years.

Most people on this thread are not calling for the YMCA to be closed down totally, but they would like it to be more closely regulated. Crime WILL occur wherever you live, but I am sure the amount of crime in the roads surrounding the YMCA would reduce dramatically if appropriate action were taken.

It is easy for many people not to live in 'fear', but what about the old aged pensioners who have to walk back from Sainsbury's past a group of young people are are shouting, fighting and urinating etc? I would not fancy it myself, so I dread to think what they must feel.

I appreciate that this discussion will come across as 'NIMBY', and that most other people/towns have much bigger problems, but it is frustrating, because this could be sorted out very easily.

It has less to do with the way they look, and more to do with the way they act.

People are bound to be worried if YMCA residents stand around openly drinking and dealing drugs in the town centre.

I agree that 'Nimby-ism' is not positive, and will only move the problem elsewhere, but it seems to be the only approach that has any chance of working with the current government.

Surbiton is still a relatively crime free area, but a large proportion of the crime that does exist emanates from the YMCA. Over time, this has had a negative effect on the town as a whole.

Problem is that the scum seem have more rights than the general tax paying residents,why cant it be shut down by the 'elf and safety police on the grounds of protecting OUR health and safety?

I walk past the YMCA on a daily basis and I can tell you that it is not always a comfortable experience.

I am a home owner in Surbiton and I fear that the YMCA could eventually have an effect on the value of my property.

Does anyone feel the same as me? Should we be doing something collectively to rid out lovely town of this threat?

Look forward to your comments.

It is a concern, but no one seems to be able to work out how to do anything about it. I have written to Ed Davey (via his website) several times, but have not had a reply.

"A petition has been started to close it down with pressure being put on local MP Ed Davey to support it. We can then improve the quality of our town."

So where is this petition, so people can get involved?

I am sorry to hear about the kind of people that the YMCA houses. I know many people who have had birthday parties and other functions there and are v happy with it. The local Church also hires it to serve Christmas Lunch for the elderly and the lonely on Christmas day.

Rather than closing it down could the centre refuse to accept criminals especially sex offenders as residents.

I worked at Surbiton YMCA in 1991 - it was a great place. It was filled with local people during the day for morning coffees and lunch. Local business people used the Gym, well to do parents used the After School Club for their children (a club that I ran) and the whole centre served as the main leisure and community point for the area. Sadly those days are gone. The Chief Exectutives of the centre were done for fraud and booted out in about 2000. Then it went down hill. It was just used as a Hostel for the homeless and nothing more. It is not a direct access hostel, you can only stay there if you are referred by the council or probation services. What the YMCA should do is not take any violent or sex offenders, or anyone who has a problem with drugs - that would be a good start!

That is amazing - you can't even walk in off the street and get a room - I thought that is what these centres were for!

We must try to get this changed.

If it changed from public accommodation to being a bail hostel, would this not need planning permission?
Any ideas?

It is not a bail hostel but helps those in need of housing - those who would be on Kingston's streets if not given some temporary accommodation!!!

I don't see how that matters. Surely, the whole idea of a YMCA centre is to provide short term accommodation for those that walk in off the street. If it only takes people referred by Kingston Council, then this must count as a change of use, and therefore permission should have been applied for.

I totally agree about the YMCA. Whilst sympathetic to the needs of some of the more vulnerable individuals in society, I'm not sure that simply housing people in the YMCA is any help to them.

I used to belong to the gym there. I left after my locker was broken into (wallet stolen) and the gym staff were not interested at all. I had seen them on numerous occasions neglecting to properly monitor the gym entrance (receptionist more interest in talking to her mates or painting her nails) and "residents" wandering into the gym area without being challenged. The police told me I was joining a long list of people who had suffered a similar fate.

I also used to walk past it a lot (until I moved to another part of Surbiton), many times I saw food, rubbish etc being thrown from bedroom windows.

A petition has been started to close it down with pressure being put on local MP Ed Davey to support it. We can then improve the quality of our town.

Hi all,

I'm the Surbiton reporter at the Surrey Comet and read your comments with interest. I'm hoping to write a story about the YMCA and find out from police exactly how often they are called to incidents there.

Can anyone put me in touch with the people who have written to Ed Davey and set up the petition? I can be contacted on 0208 3309550 or by email at Anonymity can be guaranteed if necessary.



I suggest that you all write to Ed Davey at and get your friends who feel the same to do so as well. Also, letters should be written to your Ward Councillor. If you don't write and complain nothing will change because those in power don't have to react if things are not brought to their attention. Then post here if they respond or not. No harm in trying.

The main 'problem' with the Surbiton YMCA is they are using it as a dumping ground for 'hard to house' / mental health / problematic substance misusers and putting everyone in together in a small area, with little or no support,

the government needs to look at the long term impact it has on reducing the mental health budgets / supportive housing / community teams who are there to help, (which is happening at present) but instead they look at achieving 'targets' and then have to deal with the fall out which usually ends up costing more in the longer term, for the NHS / GP's / CJS / Police etc

Round all the low lifes up and let them feel the kiss of the Malacca across their backsides whenever they cause trouble.

Just my take on it but - I think we need to look at the 'bigger picture' with in our society
rather than 'shifting the peoblem elsewhere' and not wanting it on 'our doorstep',

I dont know what the answer is but IMO I dont think just by petitioning to close / shutting down the YMCA it will solve anything in the long run ...

other than shifting these people / the problem either out on to the streets / in social housing elsewhere

I agree 100%, but it seems that this 'Nimby' approach is the only thing that works with the current government.

The people of Walton/Hersham recently campaigned successfully to stop a branch of KW YMCA opening there, and their worries were largely based on the damage the organisation has done to Surbiton.

The government refuses to hand out appropriate sentences/punishments to people like this, so they are always going to be roeming the streets somewhere.

The sooner the YMCA is closed down the better! The criminal element that are housed there - on tax payers money - need to be booted out of Surbiton.

Some of these comments are truly ignorant.
What you will find in the YMCA is a combination of all sorts of people. To name just a few, some will have willingly made bad choices that they do not regret. Others will have made bad choices that they do regret. Others will have been subjected to the kinds of issues very few people could understand the impact of. Any comment along the lines of "close it down" can basically be translated as "move it somewhere else, anywhere but here", and are thus either plain stupid or plain selfish.
Surbiton is a fantastic place to live for many reasons, but after my nephew was randomly stabbed in the leg close by and flagged a car down for help only to be completely ignored and left to his own devices I've started to think about the community I live in. Many of the comments on this thread appear to be from people who would have done the same thing. There is little point in my explaining why I think places like the YMCA are a necessity, and should be evenly distributed around all areas instead of being collected in specific locations so as to resemble what I remember of >100th in NYK. This is an absolute classic case of NIMBYism. Rather than calling for better policing, or surveilance, or better management of the institution in question, or (heaven forbid) doing something yourselves, it's a very simple case of "shut it down" - which means "move it elsewhere". Sometimes I love living here. Right now I'm not so sure.
No offence Jeff, but I seriously wish people like you didn't exist.

Yes lets close it down and make all the people who work there out of a job - then they will have to claim JSA too, stop supporting those who need help.
Lets boooooo those who are supporting those who need help, and those who want help!

Well considering this thread is 7 years old, I don't think we are going to come to a consensus any time soon!

The YMCA offers an excellent range of services to a wide range of people, and I can't understand the will to 'shut it down'. At the same time, there are clearly some people there that require more/different help than the YMCA can offer and the fact that they are there is no good for them, the YMCA, other YMCA residents or the local population.

First of all, I am sorry to hear about your nephew, and I hope he has made a full recovery both physically and mentally.

Whilst I appreciate what you are saying, you have to realise that NIMBYism is something that we have to live with. If people see someone dealing drugs, defecating in the street, drunk at 11am or whatever, they will be frightened or concerned. For a lot of them, "shut it down" or "move it elsewhere" is the automatic reaction to that.

That doesn't make it right, of course, but you won't stop that reaction from a lot of people.

I don't think that better policing, surveillance or better management are the answers either. As far as I can ascertain this is a generally well managed institution that is sometimes being used for the wrong type of case. Assuming they have not got the power to say NO when the council ask them to take these cases I am not sure there is much else they can do.

It is similar on the police and surveillance side. Increasing that might reduce the individual incidents which is a good thing, but a lot of the worst offenders are in a desparate situation, so they don't care and will be out again as soon as the police have gone.

Take this forum's other favourite, the HSBC beggar. After sitting outside the bank for months on end, his story made national news and he was moved on. He was taken to court and let off. Within a couple of months he was back, this time without a begging sign, but little else had changed.

There is no real legal recourse for dealing with people like this, and I am not sure there should be. Where is the value in having them languishing in prison, putting any chance of recovery even further down the road? What is required is a form of rehabilitation, supervised by people qualified to do so. With the best will in the world, the YMCA cannot provide this service, and putting this type of person there is failing them.

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