YHA chair Margaret Hart: 'rarely seen without her walking boots'

YHA chair Margaret Hart: 'rarely seen without her walking boots'

A hostelling organisation has appointed the first female chair in its 89-year history.

Margaret Hart is the new head of YHA (England & Wales), which runs 151 properties throughout the two nations.

Ms Hart joined the charity as a trustee in 2016 and became vice-chair in 2017.

She said her first experience of youth hostelling was at the age of 13 years with the Girl Guides, when she stayed at YHA’s Coniston Coppermines and Helvellyn hostels in the Lake District.

“I remember we were given quite a lot of free rein and autonomy to choose how we spent our time. It was a pivotal moment in my personal development, and it was there that I fell in love with the great outdoors.

“YHA is committed to making this life-changing opportunity available to everyone and thanks to our solid commercial foundations, developed through the careful management of our assets, we can be much more ambitious in our charitable impact.”

Ms Hart takes over from Peter Gaines, who held the position for the past four years. Her appointment was formally announced at the charity’s annual meeting in London on Saturday.

Her previous roles include corporate director at NCH Action for Children and assistant director at the Open University for nearly a decade, where she led a programme to enable students facing barriers to higher education to study with the OU.

The hostelling charity is planning a new strategy in 2020, which it says will see the 90-year-old organisation refocus on its core purpose: to enrich the lives of young people and in particular, to promote their health, wellbeing and life chances.

The new chair said: “It is my privilege to have been appointed to lead YHA through the next phase of its lifetime.

“We have started a conversation with our members and young people about our new 10-year strategy and are also seeking the views of allied organisations and charities who can help us achieve our ambitions to improve the lives of many more young people from under-represented groups.”

Ms Hart has visited nearly 60 of YHA’s hostels, both in her YHA capacity and as an independent guest, over the past three years.

She said: “When you meet a child, who is a carer, who has abseiled for the first time, or speak to a child living with a serious illness who’s achieved something they never imagined was possible, it is very compelling.

“Last year YHA hosted more than 400,000 young people in its hostels, but we want to have even greater reach.

“The transformative effect of a YHA stay really could not be more relevant today, given the rise in childhood obesity, poverty and mental health problems. We are determined to work closely with other youth charities and other allied organisations to make a bigger difference.”

She said she is keen to empower young people to carve out a better future for themselves, including through work experience and employability skills training.

“As part of the new strategy we are developing an exciting new programme, which reflects our clearer focus on engaging more young people from marginalised communities with our volunteering and traineeship opportunities,” she said.

James Blake, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “Margaret lives and breathes YHA. She is rarely seen without her walking boots on.

“More importantly, she understands that YHA is rooted in the ethos of social reform and our commitment to prioritising our resources to have the greatest impact.”