In response to a request by missionaries and prominent officials, the English National Council appointed Mr RD Pringle, who had been responsible for the inauguration of the YMCA in both Bombay and Colombo, to undertake a similar task in Singapore.
Mr R D Pringle led the initiative for the start of the YMCA and officially listed the date of commencement as 30 June 1903, some seven months after his arrival from India.
The Association endeavoured in providing facilities for swimming, football, volleyball, cricket and tennis. As early as the 1910s, the grounds were equipped with two fine grass courts for tennis as well as a cricket pitch. During the first 12 months, 180 members were enrolled. Pringle also arranged regular devotional meetings, outdoor physical activities and educational classes.
Eventually, the original premises at the Oriental Club was simply not big enough to accommodate the large numbers. Hence, the YMCA moved to Zetland House, located on Armenian Street, beside the Armenian Church. Pringle took over the lease of Zetland in January 1904, making it the YMCA’s headquarters. It offered room and board, a library, recreation rooms, educational classes as well as religious meetings. A football league was also formed shortly after.
Four years later, the association’s activities had expanded to a level whereby even Zetland House was no longer large enough to hold. Pringle, indefatigable and tireless in his endeavours, was able to influence the Colonial government through Governor Sir John Anderson and was rewarded by a magnanimous grant of a 999-year lease of a prime site at Orchard Road, where it presently stands today. The building was completed and declared open on 16 February 1911 by Sir John Anderson himself.
The Orchard Road site was later granted as a gift by the government to the YMCA. Close to eight decades later, in March 1982, the original building was demolished to make way for the present complex.
The YMCA, together with Singapore Swimming Club and the Chinese Swimming Club, met in April 1939 to form the Singapore Amateur Swimming Association (SASA). The swimming fraternity at these clubs realised that for swimmers to improve and compete at both the regional and Olympic games levels, they needed to have an organising and controlling body – hence the formation of the SASA.
Singapore’s Branch of the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) was also founded in 1967. The work of the RLSS’s Singapore branch had been closely associated with the YMCA of Singapore. Mr Rowland Lyne, the YMCA’s General Secretary, had been the Singapore representative to the RLSS since 1925. The head office of the newly formed branch of the RLSS was also housed at the YMCA’s main building.
During those times, the YMCA was a centre for recreation, sports and friendship for many – providing educational classes, recreational programs, swimming, billiards, table tennis, and reading rooms. The YMCA’s Reading Room was comprehensively stocked with books and magazines from all over the world.
Today, the YMCA has many newly introduced programs and activities for its youth and members, all geared toward keeping up with a modern and cosmopolitan image befitting of the times. The YMCA has stayed relevant due to its ability to keep up with the times and in many ways, keep ahead of it, providing good, clean fun through its social and recreational programs and activities that appeal to the various groups of Singapore’s Youth.