Home > How an amateur boxing club in Brighton helped turn young men’s lives around

How an amateur boxing club in Brighton helped turn young men’s lives around

Number of sessions: Eight Participants: 14 young men Funding amount: £2,540 in 2022/23 followed by £500 in 2023/24 Target area: A deprived area of Brighton where young men are disengaged Challenges facing the participants: Inactive, low confidence, social anxiety, disengagement, involvement with youth offending, social deprivation Outcome: Improved physical and mental health, more socially confident, secured longer-term funding.

How an amateur boxing club in Brighton helped turn young men's lives around

An amateur boxing club set up in an area of Brighton where residents say they are “discriminated against” due to their postcode, has seen the young men thrive physically and mentally.

Whitehawk Amateur Boxing Club ran boxing-based fitness sessions over two months at the start of the year, following funding from Active Sussex’s Children and Young People Investment Fund.

The eight sessions involved 14 young men aged between 11 and 19, many of whom were either on an education health and care plan (EHCP) due to special educational needs or were affected by social anxiety, which affected them going to school or socialising.

Since attending the club, the young men have grown in confidence, become fitter, and have made a new group of friends.

Caroline Vitta, from the Trust for Developing Communities who ran the project alongside Whitehawk Amatuer Boxing Club, said: “Through previous delivery of boxing sessions at Whitehawk ABC we gained a good understanding of the issues young men attending had.

“When we were applying for the Active Sussex CYP Investment Fund to continue the group, we had a focus session with five young men about the importance of the session continuing and what they felt they had got out of them.

“They told us that they have had issues with low confidence, isolation, disengagement with school, and involvement with the youth offending team.”

During the focus session, one 16-year-old said: “I like that the coaches are here to help you and here if you want to tell them anything on your mind”, while a 17-year-old added: “I never used to go out, I didn’t like going out. I now come to three sessions a week, and want to come every day.”

Another 17-year-old described boxing as a ‘good stress reliever and helps with anger – getting out family problems’.

Other young men said they enjoyed getting fit and losing weight.

Although perceived as a wealthy city, the Government’s Indices of Deprivation – based on the most recent data from 2019 – found Whitehawk to be among the top ten per cent of the country’s most deprived areas.

Caroline said: “There has been a lot of input into the area to raise opportunities for young people and to promote a more positive side to the area, which is often only highlighted by local media if there has been an incident.

“Over the years, residents have talked about feeling discriminated against because of their postcode.”

The club is run by youth workers who have a combined experience of more than 40 years of working in Whitehawk and so have good insights into the issues affecting the community.

The coach, Luke Hewitt, used to live in the area, has worked at Whitehawk ABC for many years, and also trains semi-professional boxers.

He cites boxing as giving him the ‘break-away’ from some difficult issues in his past.

The club is frequented by semi-professional boxers who often drop into the club during the session and inspire the young men attending.

The boxing sessions are supported by the Trust for Developing Communities (TDC) youth team, with the main youth worker having trained with Whitehawk ABC whilst recovering from a mental health condition.

Each session starts with a group warm-up, followed by individual bag boxing and 1-1 pad-based work with the coach, which enables young people to get feedback on how their boxing skills have developed each week.

There is then group circuit training and a cool down.

Having a youth worker involved means any young people who might not feel confident or who are struggling to get involved have someone who checks in with them and can help them reflect on the benefits of coming to the session as well as encouraging the young people to see themselves as part of a group.

12-year-old ‘Nate’ is in mainstream school, but his autism has impacted his ability to make friends and engage with youth workers.

Caroline said: “Nate has attended all the boxing sessions over the past eight weeks. He said that boxing has helped him get some of his anger out, and makes him feel happier and more confident as he has learned new skills.

“As youth workers, we have noticed he engages better with us and will respond to questions, as well as asking us some.

“He also does talk to other young people, even though none are from his previous friendship group.

“We have also noticed that his fitness has improved and that he joins in the end circuit session and is able to keep up with others.”

11-year-old ‘Leeson’ was encouraged to attend the club by his mum to help build his confidence.

“The change in Leeson’s personality has been really positive,” Caroline said. “He has become more outgoing and now he instigates friendly banter with the other young people.

“He also responds to teasing from the coach (who uses humour in the session with everyone) and quickly fires back with his own responses.

“The family doesn’t have much disposable income, but the coach has waived the fees to the paid session and Leeson now attends a second session.

“He is much more open to the youth workers and recently joined another youth project that the Trust for Developing Communities runs in Whitehawk.

“As his fitness has improved he has even joined in the circuit training session.”

Following the funding from Active Sussex, the club has secured further money from Chalkcliffe, meaning the sessions can continue for longer.

Andy Wright, Strategic Relationship Manager for Children and Young People at Active Sussex, said: “The club initially came from the East Brighton Youth Intervention group that Active Sussex started a few years ago.

“We funded three new projects in the area, and the idea of this one was to engage young people who were disengaged in the South Whitehawk community.

“We funded it first for a longer period in 2022-23, then gave some additional sustainability funding in 23-24.

“It’s so good to hear the great impact it’s had on the young people, and brilliant that they’ve now secured further funding to keep it going.”

The club is evolving, now offering young people healthy snacks and the chance to cover topics such as nutrition, mental health, managing anger and conflict and talking about confidence and self-esteem.

In the future, the club would like to attract young disengaged and non-active women to the session and are looking at how this could work alongside the current set-up.

Please note the names of participants have been changed for this article to respect their privacy.

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