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Centenary celebrations

PUBLISHED: 15:19 27 August 2008 | UPDATED: 15:12 25 August 2010

EARLY DAYS:

EARLY DAYS:

A YOUTH organisation that went from humble beginnings to a national model of nurturing excellence has reached a landmark birthday.

A YOUTH organisation that went from humble beginnings to a national model of nurturing excellence has reached a landmark birthday.

YMCA Thames Gateway - formerly Dartford YMCA - which once boasted international sportsmen among its ranks - is 125 years old next month.

Former members are being invited to a special barbeque celebration on Thursday, September 18.

Now based in Overy Street, Dartford, the centre has gone from a handful of volunteers to employing nearly 100 staff.

The service has over 50 rooms for young people, oversees affordable nursery provision in Dartford borough and works to educate excluded children.

It helps some of north Kent's most vulnerable young people, offering employment training, youth football, Duke of Edinburgh Awards and numerous programmes after expanding to serve Bromley, Bexley and Greenwich through to Ashford.

Geoff Rofe, 82, of Darenth Road, Dartford, has been connected to the YMCA in various roles since 1958.

He said: "Saturday nights would not have been complete without a long line of people queuing to get into the disco dances.

"In fact, probably a fair proportion of the Dartford area would have met their partners or played in one or more of the association's sports teams.

"The YMCA has seen a lot of change, it really is a fully fledged operation now, a proper business looking after the interests of thousands of young people."

Mr Rofe is also vice-president of Badminton England, the sport's governing body.

He added: "At one time Dartford YMCA could boast of being the premier badminton club in the country. Karate, football, gymnastics and basketball sessions were always full.

"It still has sporting activities, but it is geared towards helping young people make a start in life."

During the 1950s, the late Joe Jagger, father of Dartford's Rolling Stones legend Sir Mick Jagger, gave YMCA members PE instruction at the group's former base in West Hill.

Members past and present are encouraged to ring the YMCA if they want to attend the September 18 birthday party, allowing organisers to make catering arrangements. Call 01322 220521.

martin.sawden@archant.co.uk

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