The new boss of a youth hostelling charity has pledged to prioritise the delivery of a £30m ‘super hostel’ in the East End of London.
James Blake will take over as chief executive of YHA (England and Wales) in the summer.
He succeeds Caroline White, who has over the past nine years overseen the modernisation of the organisation which has involved the closure of many of the traditional YHA hostels. Its new The Sill hostel at Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland national park is expected to open later this year.
The £30m 800-bed hostel next to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, east London will be the latest addition to the YHA’s 160-strong network of hostels.
Local authority chief Dr Blake, is a keen mountain walker and runner and has also used the organisation’s hostels as a customer. The 42-year-old joins from St Albans City and District Council where he has held the role of chief executive since 2012.
Before taking up his current post, Dr Blake was a senior civil servant in the Department for Communities and Local Government, where he specialised in policy on local government, regeneration and social inclusion.
He says he has both a passion and interest in social inclusion and regularly stays in youth hostels with his family and has a strong interest in the countryside. He has a first degree in geography and a PhD in environmental and countryside policy.
Before his appointment, Dr Blake spent 12 years on the board of trustees for YHA and, more recently, has been an external advisor to the Stratford super hostel. In the role of YHA chief executive he has committed to making the delivery of the London Stratford youth hostel an early priority.
He said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to a lead a national charity that inspires and supports young people.
“My initial priority as chief executive is to deliver the new business plan and lock in the success that has been achieved in recent years. Looking ahead, I believe there is a huge opportunity for YHA to become one of the leading young people’s charities in the UK.”
The chairman of YHA (England and Wales) Peter Gaines said: “His passion for YHA and our mission to enhance the lives of young people, especially those with challenging lives, is genuine and inspiring.
“He is an outstanding leader, and will be a worthy successor to Caroline White in delivering our vision for YHA.”
A number of refurbishments to smaller hostels are also currently underway across YHA’s network, including at Swanage in Dorset, St David’s on the Pembrokeshire Coast and Tanners Hatch in the Surrey Hills.
Since 2010 YHA has invested more than £30m in its 160-strong network of hostels, modernising the accommodation and increasing comfort for its guest. 1.8 million overnight stays were taken with YHA last year, with more than 500,000 under 26-year-olds benefiting from a visit to a youth hostel in 2016.