Wednesday, March 21

YHA - A step too far?

As I've mentioned Oxford accomodation was at the YHA. A new purpose built hostel opened only in the last 3 or 4 years.

I've long been a keen supporter of the YHA ever since my first backpack trip in the mid 70s. Over the years I've been instrumental in actively introducing a number of people of all ages and social background, to the benefits of this mighty organisation.

But the recent changes in the YHA's approach to their visitors is becoming detrimental to its core membership.

The smaller hostels continue to provide a warm and friendly environment to meet up with people sharing their own joy of travel. But the larger hostels have, IMHO totally lost the plot.

When I used to bring my own kids along I felt that they were in a secure environment where I wouldn't need to be concerned over who else was wandering the corridors.

The kids were exposed to a wide range of people from all cutures. And I made sure their behaviour was acceptable to those around them.

At Oxford I stayed for two nights. On each evening I shared one of the communal areas with a drunk. For some time. Amiable enough, but a different drunk each night. So not an isolated incident.

One, well beered up, told me he was homeless and just using the YHA as the cheapest place to kip, rather than stay in a local town further up the railway line, where he normally slept....... hmmm.

Apparently this was the best deal for him.

I'm not adverse to swearing myself but I hope I'm cognisant of those around me in such a communial environment to temper it accordingly. So I was getting increasingly irritated by the strong language being loudly used. I could have hauled out the hostel staff to sort it, but an amiable drunk is a happy drunk, and I could see it kicking off big time if I really wanted to make a point. And I didn't want someone turfed out due to their lack of drinking capacity.

But who sold them the beer? The YHA reception. If you sell it, best police the consequences surely?

And as for the three seperate parties of French teenagers staying (for the week?) I assume they had adults in charge, but they were remarkably absent whenever the kids decided to have their own pesonal version of a rave. Loudly. At times VERY loudly.

In the dormitories. In the games room. In the..... Well you get the idea I'm sure.

Now reading that back does rather make me sound at times like an BOF.

But my point is that the city hostels in particular have lost the YHA plot. In chosing to compete with the budget hotel market, they have brought in the budget punters. In droves.

And frankly some of them really don't give a shit about the type of place and the tradition of the organisation that they are sharing.

The rot speeded up when the hostel system was opened up to non members. There was some negative response from the traditional membership at that time, with the main question being 'Well what does the membership fee actually stand for now?' But the general feeling at that time was to give it a chance.

Post the Foot & Mouth epidemic in 2001 the YHA was hurting, and it needed to adjust to cope with the loss of income over such an extended period of time.

Over the past 12 months I've stayed at three hostels, two specifically constructed/refurbished for the 'revitalised' YHA. All in town/city locations. And my stay at these places has been discomforting.

OK. Lets name them just to be clear - Oxford, Keswick and Ambleside.

All three are depersonalised and fail to meet even most of the simple needs of those poor souls still trying to self-cater for meals. All suffer from what I'll coin as a suitably descriptive term 'the Chav syndrome'.

I've lost count of the times I've watched the abuse of the gentle hostelling tradition so dear to those long term users of this once proud and resourceful organisation.

And why am I still a member?

For those hostels still catering for the outdoor person. Especially the walker. Where else can you walk in wet, cold and weary, and walk out the following day dry, rested and aware of having shared some good experiences with some great people?

So whilst I'm naming and shaming here, take a look at Grasmere Butharlyp Howe

Its big. It handles school parties. And its a joy to stay at each time I visit.

Ditto Coniston, Elterwater, Borrowdale & Patterdale.

Now if they can get it so right and addhere to the same YHA policy, why are the others ones that I will try hard not to return to. In fact I'd rather use a B&B or budget hotel instead.

Oh, and my perk for being a YHA member? £1 pound off each night's accomodation.

What happened to the £3 surcharge introduced for non members? That 'perk' quietly slipped away.

My own thoughts, but I suspect I'm not alone on this one.


In january i stayed at the yha in sheringham, it was my first time at a yha and i thought it was very good....especailly for walkers....warm showers, some where to dry your wet kit and boots, plus a very well equiped kitchen.As it was january the walking group i was with had sole use of the place so i dont know what it would be like in summer months....
Shame to hear such bad press for the yha it will sure put people off staying there
Not bad press for the YHA, I'd hate to do that. More like justified criticism based on widespread use over the years.
I did mention the other side of hostels, the ones that deliver. And it sounds like sheringham worked for you.
Interesting observations John and it looks like you are in sync with what Alan Sloman describes in his blog even though he is not able to enter into a YHA because they seem to be closed or full all the time...
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