Formerly called: 'Young Men's Christian Association'. This is a welfare movement with branches all over the World, that began in London in 1844. YMCA Cape Town was established in 1865, as a Christian “home away from home”. This was a residence in Cape Town, for young men living there. With a vision to proclaim the Christian gospel according to the Holy Scriptures, help the youth develop in spirit, mind and body, and uplift communities in the Greater Cape Metropolitan Area.
Its first meeting was held at Green Market Square. This YMCA is the oldest in Africa and has been based in a couple of places in the City over the years. Namely: Hout Street; 44 Long Street; Queen Victoria Street. Then finally relocating to Observatory, in 1990. The move to Observatory was the result of a merger between YMCA Cape Town and Louis Botha House, Observatory.
The YMCA Athlone operated under the auspices of; the Cape Town YMCA. From its early beginnings it was known as: 'Stakesby Lewis Hostels and YMCA'. On the 11 of July 1914, (during the painful days of apartheid in South Africa), they hired premises at 31 Prestwick Street, Cape Town. On 20 April 1937, the first “Coloured” hostel was opened on the corner of Canterbury and Commercial Streets, District 6. On 31 December 1981, the Stakesby Lewis Hostel, had to close its doors and move to Athlone, because of the Group Areas Act.
After the founding of these YMCA's, various other local YMCA associations were formed before the establishment of the South African National Council of YMCAs, in the 1940's. From its inception, through to the early 1900's, the focus was on the welfare of young men, and related social concerns. The structure was informal and based on a small associations of people.
All the work was carried out by committed volunteers. There was a strong sense of fellowship and common bond between associations - and this eventually led to the development of the World Alliance of YMCA's, in 1855.
YMCA in Cape Town has flourished over the years and in 1982 the plot adjacent to the existing structure in Athlone, was purchased. Since the 1990s, Observatory has been the home of YMCA Cape Town, and it was at this new home that they first allowed female residents!