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YWCA drops the word Christian from its historic name to call itself Platform 51

One of the country’s best-known charities has changed its name, losing the clearest link to its Christian roots.

The Young Women’s Christian Association has dropped its historic title after 156 years because ‘it no longer stands for who we are’.

Instead the organisation – which is mainly funded by legacies left by Christian supporters over 15 decades – will be known as ‘Platform 51’.

Bosses say the name was chosen to reflect the fact that 51 per cent of people are female and that they can use the charity as a platform ‘to have their say’ and ‘to move to the next stage of their lives’.

The decision to drop all mention of Christianity from the charity’s name and purposes drew criticism from religious groups yesterday.

It also appeared to open a rift between the renamed grouping in England and Wales and the worldwide YWCA that grew after the charity was founded by two Englishwomen in 1855.

Officials at the World YWCA headquarters in Geneva said none of the 124 branches in other countries are changing their names.

Spokesman Sylvie Jacquat said: ‘The name has been there for more than 150 years and we are not even discussing a change.

‘We see our name as an opportunity for promoting Christian values and principles.’

The YWCA is the latest in a series of charities that have tried to update their image, sometimes in the hope of getting more money from the Government.

Five years ago Leonard Cheshire Disability canvassed new names because it felt the name of its founder, a World War Two RAF pilot who won the Victoria Cross, no longer suited its aims. An outcry forced managers to change their minds.

Other charities have dropped all references to Christianity from their names to win favour from those in charge of grants. Churches Action for the Homeless, based in Scotland, began a search for a new name in 2009 after its chairman said having a religious identity made it hard to get grants.

YWCA England and Wales told supporters: ‘During the 156 years since we were founded, we’ve had to evolve to reflect changes in society and the needs and expectations of women. This is true not only of the work we do, but also of our name.

‘Our original name no longer stood for who we are or what we do and people often confused us with another charity.’

The ‘other charity’ is understood to be the YMCA, which, unlike the YWCA, continues to pursue its original objective of providing accommodation for young people. Platform 51 aims to ‘lobby for changes in the law and policies to help all women’. The YWCA was founded by Emma Robarts, who ran London prayer groups, and Mrs Arthur Kinnaird, who ran a London hostel for nurses on their way to work for Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War.

Although it remains listed in the Church of England’s year book as an organisation ‘of importance for the Church of England’, none of its trustees or senior managers are church representatives.

Its chairman is gay rights activist and former equality quango manager Helen Wollaston.

The organisation also has a new chief executive, Penny Newman, a former Body Shop manager who until recently ran the Jamie Oliver Foundation.

The YWCA received £1.3million in state grants from 2008-2009.

Mike Judge of the Christian Institute think tank said: ‘Many believe there is an anti-Christian bias among those who decide which charities get state funding.

‘It was the Christian character of the YWCA that made it great. It is a shame that it is turning its back on those values.’

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