National Parks are a part of the YHA history and future.

  • Contributor information: CNP

10 April 2019

James Blake, CEO of the YHA tells us why they’re joining in the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of National Parks and the campaign for their future.

At YHA, we are approaching our own 90th birthday. Since we were founded in 1930, our charitable object has at its heart “ helping all, especially young people of limited means, to a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside.”

That’s why we were one of the five organisations who lobbied successfully for the creation of National Parks in the 1930s and 1940s.

We were founded, at a time of rapid urbanisation. Our pioneers were the social reformers of their day. They had the foresight to understand the potential benefits of the countryside for health and education, particularly for those increasing numbers living in crowded and polluted cities.

And critically they also understood that being able to access, understand and enjoy the countryside affordably had to be a key pillar of the creation of National Parks – something that was firmly built into their purpose.

Since that day National Parks have been woven into our history and our mission in YHA. John Dower, who wrote the report behind the creation of the Parks, married into the Trevelyan family – his uncle by marriage was GM Trevelyan, the famous historian who was our first President, and Dower designed several of our first purpose built youth hostels.

James Blake with Sir Patrick McCloughlin MP at our 70th anniversary celebrations in March

Today we have over 60 of our 150 hostels in National Parks. That allows us to welcome over 140,000 young people every year to stay in National Parks. It’s worth reflecting on that number for a moment. The Government recently set a target for doubling the number of young people who have an education experience in National Parks from 60,000 to 120,000. We have the capacity to deliver that target through people staying with us alone – that’s a huge opportunity to widen access, education and engagement. After all, what better way to appreciate and understand National Parks than to visit and stay in them.

And last year we gave over 3,300 young people a free stay with us in National Parks – often young people with challenging lives to whom a stay in a Park could be truly transformational – young people who may never have seen a cow, a sheep or the sea before

YHA is of course an important source of employment, volunteering and training in National Parks – and some of our hostels have become pillars of their local community

But that’s our journey over the last 70 years. In celebrating the past today, we must take the opportunity to look forward to the next 70 years. The issues that concerned our founders are, if anything, even more pressing today:

  • Levels of obesity and physical inactivity are at historic highs
  • Mental health concerns amongst young people have never been higher
  • The countryside and the environment have never been under more threat

National Parks must play a critical role in responding to these challenges both in themselves  but just as importantly as places to deliver real benefits to people and society

James’ pledges to work to conserve and protect the National Parks in the future on behalf of YHA along with Janette Ward (CNP), Kate Ashbrook (OSS) Tompion Platt (Ramblers) and Emma Marrington (CPRE)

At YHA, we see our role as helping to introduce and engage new generations of young people with the Parks helping them develop their own wellbeing, resilience and life skills as well as inspiring and training the environmentalists and conservationists who will look after the Parks in future

We’re delighted to be able to join together once again with all of the organisations who helped to found National Parks – and to renew our shared commitment by signing a pledge to protect and promote them for the future.

By James Blake,


Click here to find out more about the pledge to protect the National Parks.