Friendships all boxed up
Around 50 boys and girls aged 11-18 took part in ‘The Right Hook’ project, run through the Limehouse Boxing Academy, which offered professional tuition on health, fitness, school study support and of course boxing skills. They attended 1.5 hour sessions over 24 weeks, and were from mostly Muslim and Christian backgrounds. The club publicised the scheme through schools and places of worship.
“The original objectives of this project were to reach young people in a specific age group using boxing as a tool, supporting them in their educational attainment. Some may have been struggling at school or just not reaching their potential. But we also wanted to bring together people of different faiths and backgrounds to break down barriers, stereotypes and create space for them to talk openly to each other,” said project leader Shah Rahman.
“In fact as it happens, a couple of years ago I was also part of a Near Neighbours-funded programme and went on a residential gathering for a couple of days, which helped our group learn about different faiths. We all became really good friends and I still keep in touch with that group. Good relations between the faiths is close to my heart and I’m proud to see that happening through what we do at the boxing club,” said Shah.
As a result of the Right Hook project, some of the young people who took part are now setting their sights on college, or are volunteering, or have simply stopped getting into trouble with the police as a result of being involved in the project, as well as making new friends.
“One young guy who came along was previously getting into trouble quite a lot, but his whole attitude has changed,” said Shah, “he’s off to do a BTEC in Sports Education and is volunteering with us too. He’s got focus and goals now.”
Shah explained how another young man only had opportunities to interact with peers from the same background, but being part of the project meant he mixed with a very diverse group of people. Shah said: “In the sessions we had discussions around values and beliefs which everyone participated in. This particular young person fed back at the end of the session that this was a life changing experience from him. It had helped clear up some misconceptions.”
The success of the project is based on the club’s dedication to giving young people a real opportunity to change, not just to help them reach sporting goals, but to have a zest for life generally and a healthy respect for others.
Some of the regular club members reach elite boxing competition level, but that’s not the primary purpose of the club, according to Mark Collings, a professional boxing coach and co-project leader with Shah.
“I’d say the primary goal of what we offer here is to make these young people feel they’re part of something really good – to be involved and have purpose,” explained Mark. “It gives them something to focus on outside of school, a time which can be risky in terms of getting involved in the wrong things. Here we give them professional advice and training on nutrition, improving their fitness levels and boxing skills, as well as supporting their school studies. That level of coaching transforms their minds and bodies, giving them confidence and skills that can be applied to any aspect of life,” he said.
Friendships that form amongst participants tend to happen naturally, Mark said, once the space is provided for them to talk to each other.
He explained: “What the club offers is neutral ground on which these young people can meet and get to know each other. I’m not certain that’s completely possible at school, when kids are focused on lessons and stick with their own group of friends. Here, it’s a level playing field. Differences are forgotten about, and new friendships and understanding come through having common goals together.
“The kids are all different, but the differences are no barrier to friendship. While we have many fights here, there are very few arguments.”