Training Scheme 1932 – 1968

Sir George Williams, founder of the YMCA in London in 1844, was the youngest of eight brothers who were brought up by their parents on Ashway Farm, Dulverton in Somerset. George Williams was born on 21 October 1821. By the outbreak of the First World War the YMCA was well known in Britain and in many places overseas through its clubs, hostels and for its educational work. The YMCA is now represented around the world in 120 countries, working mainly with young homeless people providing accommodation, education and support.

The YMCA British Boys for British Farms Training Scheme, known as YMCA BBBF or BBBF for short was started in 1932 and ended in 1968. At different times during those years there were a total of 14 BBBF Centres where boys aged between 14 to 17 from varying backgrounds were placed in YMCA hostels to work on local farms for 8 to 12 weeks before moving on to other farms and being followed up by a YMCA Field Officer for a year. More than 20,000 boys went through this YMCA farm training scheme. For thirty-six years the name British Boys for British Farms was respected in agricultural circles, promoted by the National Farmers Union, the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Labour, schools, colleges, employment agencies as well as social welfare departments. Some of the boys went on to Farm Institutes or Agricultural Colleges as well as working abroad for example in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. One BBBF boy became a missionary farmer in Formosa now Taiwan.

In the of Summer 1961 the YMCA also started British Boys for British Horticulture Training Scheme, known as BBBH at Wilderwick, East Grinstead and continued at Park Hill near Derby, from 1966 until 1968. These were the only two BBBF centres out of the fourteen to run both BBBF and BBBH training schemes. Some of the BBBH boys went on to work in several Royal Gardens and at Kew Garden. In 1966 there was an informal approach from Buckingham Palace seeking advice from the YMCA BBBH staff about the possibility of a residential training centre at Windsor.

In 1995 Barbara Vessey, a former BBBF matron whose husband was a warden, published an illustrated book entitled: “British Boys for British Farms: The Story of the YMCA’s Farm Training Scheme”, published by the YMCA. The book also covers the YMCA BBBH Training Scheme. Barbara Vessey died in June 2009. In December 2014 I had permission to have the book re-printed.

I am currently in contact with over 180 former BBBF boys and staff including a few who are living abroad. Stephen would like to hear from anyone who was in any way involved with the YMCA BBBF or BBBH Training Schemes including farmers, Instructors, lecturers, landowners and would like to receive any recollections and photos for the YMCA archives. I am also working on the locations of farms that were used in BBBF days. When the boys left the YMCA centre they were usually given a small New Testament signed by the staff and boys. In earlier days YMCA BBBF badges were also given out and these were numbered on the back.

Quote from Barbara Vessey’s book: “Such a scheme needs no monument in brick and stone. Its memorial is in the life of those who passed through the hostels, learned to love the countryside and found great satisfaction in working with nature and producing good quality crops and livestock. Many who left the city streets at the age of fourteen or fifteen, made their way by hard work and enthusiasm to farm on their own account. Together with all those who became advisers and teachers, managers and agents, or who supported the agricultural industry in related occupations, the contribution of this very basic farm-training scheme to the economic life of Britain was significant and long lasting.”

Following the success of the 1st National YMCA BBBF Reunion at North Cadbury Court in Somerset in May 2014 when Countryfile was present, two further Reunions have been held in East Sussex in 2015 and in Derbyshire in 2016. The 4th Reunion in 2017 was held again at North Cadbury Court in Somerset. In 2018 the 5th Reunion was held at Askham Bryan (Agricultural) College on 31 July 2018. This year the 6th Reunion was held on 5 June 2019 at Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park at Guiting Power, near Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire.

For further information please contact: Stephen Milner, 22 Ellerslie Close, Charminster, Dorchester DT2 9QQ
Tel: 01305 – 266197. Email: stephenmilner222@btinternet.com

June 2019

Comments are closed.