YHA (England and Wales) has appointed a new Chief Executive to lead the youth hostelling charity.
James Blake (42) joins from St Albans City and District Council where he has held the role of Chief Executive since 2012. He brings a wealth of experience to the position at YHA, including overseeing a complex organisation balancing commercial imperative and public benefit.
Before joining St Albans City and District Council James was a senior civil servant in the Department for Communities and Local Government, where he specialised in policy on local government, regeneration and social inclusion.
He will be joining the charity in the summer taking over from Caroline White who announced her decision to step down from the Chief Executive role late last year. She was appointed to lead the charity in 2008 with the specific aim of modernising and transforming YHA into a world class organisation.
Since 2010 YHA has invested more than £30 million into its 160-strong network of hostels, creating modern, comfortable award-winning accommodation. 1.8 million overnight stays were taken with YHA last year, with more than 500,000 under 26 year olds benefiting from a visit to a Youth Hostel in 2016.
Commenting on his appointment, James said: “I have watched the organisation develop under Caroline during the last nine years and she leaves the charity in a very strong position. I am delighted to be joining at such an exciting time in its history. I’ve been involved with YHA throughout my life as a customer, member and Trustee, so I’ve seen at first hand the dedication of all who work for YHA, and the inspiring work it does for young people across England and Wales.”
Prior to his appointment, James spent 12 years on the Board of Trustees for YHA and, more recently, has been an external advisor to YHA’s £30million 800-bed super hostel adjacent to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London. In the role of YHA Chief Executive he has committed to making the delivery of the London Stratford Youth Hostel an early priority.
James added: “This is a fantastic opportunity to a lead a national charity that inspires and supports young people. My initial priority as Chief Executive is to deliver the new business plan and lock in the success that has been achieved in recent years. Looking ahead, I believe there is a huge opportunity for YHA to become one of the leading young people’s charities in the UK.”
He has both a passion and interest in social inclusion and regularly stays in Youth Hostels with his family. Outside work, James enjoys mountain walking, running and travel, and has a strong interest in the countryside. He has a first degree in Geography and a PhD in Environmental and Countryside Policy.
Welcoming James, the Chair of YHA (England and Wales) Peter Gaines said: “His passion for YHA and our mission to enhance the lives of young people, especially those with challenging lives, is genuine and inspiring. He is an outstanding leader, and will be a worthy successor to Caroline White in delivering our vision for YHA.”
In addition to YHA London Stratford, work is already underway on a brand new youth hostel in the countryside, YHA The Sill at Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland National Park, which is expected to open in 2017. A number of refurbishments to smaller hostels are also currently underway across YHA’s network, including YHA Swanage in Dorset, YHA St David’s on the Pembrokeshire Coast and YHA Tanners Hatch in the Surrey Hills.