Issue 13

Q&A: CEO James Blake

The lessons learned from a year in the job!

Since becoming CEO you’ve made a point of visiting every one of YHA’s 120 directly managed hostels. Firstly, congratulations – being able to see so much of the country must have been fantastic. Secondly, why was it important for you to do this? 

I’ve hostelled for years but within my comfort zone of favourite places. YHA prides itself on our inspiring buildings, locations and people, so it felt vital to get everywhere, and meet our teams, volunteers and guests first-hand so I can speak from the heart. It’s been amazing! 

What first-hand insight did you get into the work that YHA volunteers do? 

The diversity of roles we offer – and the diversity of volunteers who take them up! A mixed group of young DofE-ers and long-serving helpers at YHA Hartington Hall were having a ball.  And the warmth for YHA – so many volunteers talked about ‘catching the YHA bug’. What a win-win both for YHA and  the individuals. 

As a long-term supporter of YHA, you’d already stayed at many of these hostels. What did you learn from meeting guests who were experiencing a hostel stay for the first time?   

I’ve re-learned (I felt it first aged 16) that a stay with YHA is much more than that – it can be life-changing and it’s unique. There’s a world of firsts out there – new friendships, adventures, independence, ways of learning – within everyone’s reach. But I’ve also learned that too many YHA ‘first timers’ are surprised by this –  it shouldn’t be a secret. 

So go on then. How many times did you forget your toothbrush? 

Often enough to know it doesn’t matter – there’s usually a stock of easily forgotten items to purchase at reception! And I only locked myself out of my room twice… 

What has the overall process taught you about the network, and the people that work for YHA? 

It’s true: we have amazing buildings in incredible places, made more special by our teams – mountain adventures in the Lakes, stately home sojourns, haunted houses and castles, Cornwall’s surfer vibe, cosmopolitan city escapes, and more. And our guests are impressed with our bedrooms, décor, facilities, food, social spaces and – best of all – our welcome.  We exceed expectations. 

How do you see YHA as an organisation developing over the next 5 years? 

Hostels in tip top repair, consistently high standards of comfort, cleanliness and hospitality, our differences celebrated: local experiences in keeping with the character of each building and location, the individual touch of our talented teams.  

To do good, we need to do well. So we’ll continue modernising our operations to deliver what people will want. 

With ongoing commercial success will come increasing confidence in demonstrating our purpose – to transform young lives through travel, adventure and discovery.  We are a gateway to experiences which help people become happier and healthier, and we’ll build more partnerships to maximise our reach to more young people. It’ll be an exciting journey! 

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