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What does ‘refuge’ mean to me? Guest post by the YMCA’s Debbie Cook

Proud East Marshian Issue 7

The cover of the latest issue of the Proud East Marshian (get it here: shows the emerging new YMCA building. We asked friend of EMU and YMCA Humber Chief Executive Debbie Cook to share her thoughts about that thought-provoking heading ‘East Marsh Refuge’. Here is her heartfelt account – thank you , Debbie 🙂

I was about 8 years old when my parents separated; at the time I was the only child in my (quite large) primary school whose parents were getting a divorce. Hard to believe that now.

Before my parents separated for good, I recall two or three occasions when me and my mum would walk up through our village, our bags packed in readiness for a stay at my Granny’s house. I’m guessing that that was my mum’s refuge (but I’ve never asked her in detail). At the time, and indeed now when I look back, I saw it as a place where my mum felt loved, supported, safe, and a place which gave her space to figure things out. We all need a place like that.

At YMCA Humber we provide a home, primarily for young people in supported accommodation. Our buildings are inclusive places, where our residents can actively engage in the caring support provided by our coaches. For many, our accommodation is a refuge, a place where they feel secure, supported, cared for; a place where they will not be ‘judged’.

I am incredibly proud of the work YMCA Humber does. Our accommodation service has a range of properties; from our newly renovated houses with intensive support bringing those formerly street homeless into a home, our bespoke property with round the clock support for care leavers, our Foyer project supporting young people into education, training and work and our move on properties for those who need less support. The property that YMCA Humber is most known for though is our hostel at Peaks Lane. The support we provide in this building makes me equally as proud as the support we offer across our range of other properties, but our building at Peaks Lane does not inspire; it is dated and tired and not of the quality we want to provide. That is why we are building our state of the art £8.3m facility at Freeman Street, at the heart of the East Marsh.

We chose this location on the East Marsh because 80% of our current residents have a connection to the East Marsh Ward. This ward might represent their refuge, a place of comfort and familiarity. We want to help our residents re-connect with their roots, their families and the heart of the town. This building will provide a refuge for our residents in an area of Grimsby where they feel they belong. This new building will be a home for many, but will also shout out ’you can achieve your hopes and dreams from here’.

And this new building will be a welcoming space to many more people than our residents. With amazing community facilities on the ground floor it will serve as a happy place, a place to think, a place to learn, a place to grow for people across the whole of the East Marsh and beyond.

Everybody needs a refuge at some time in their lives; a caring environment, a safe space to think, to try something new without fear of failure or judgement. For me, my refuge is my home (and my mum’s home) but that’s not the case for everyone. Our new building will be a much-needed refuge for many, but it will also be so much more than that.