Finding refuge in the ring: 4 inspiring boxing projects

Boxing is being used to improve mental as well as physical health – and to deal a knock-out blow to crime. Giselle Green squares up to four inspiring UK projects

1. Empire Fighting Chance

Empire Fighting Chance, based in Bristol, works with young people who are struggling with poor mental health, are involved with drugs or gangs, or who have had contact with the criminal justice system.

“I have rapid cycling bipolar disorder with bouts of anxiety,” said one young person who got involved with Empire. “Boxing is my therapy – I can hit the bag when anxious or work out my depression through the natural release of endorphins and calm my mood when excitable through challenging training.”

Image: Empire Fighting Chance

2. Fight for Peace

Fight for Peace works in London, Brazil and around the world using boxing, martial arts (including kickboxing – pictured top) education and personal development to get the best out of young people in communities affected by crime and violence.

“I was introduced to Fight for Peace through my probation officer,” said one young person. “My life was heading in two places: prison or in a ditch. Fight for Peace has taken me from rock bottom to above and beyond.”

Image: Fight for Peace

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3. Moss Side Fire Station Boxing Club

Moss Side Fire Station Boxing Club is a community boxing club based in Moss Side fire station in Manchester, run by local firefighters and volunteers. It offers poor and disadvantaged young people an alternative to street crime and gang membership. The club has grown national champions and had teams competing in scores of boxing contests at all levels.

“A lot of people around me are drinking and smoking and doing illegal stuff,” said one young person who got involved with the club. “I would’ve probably ended up doing it too. I’ve just won the ABA championships. It makes me feel amazing. Finally, I’ve accomplished something and am getting somewhere.”

Image: Moss Side Fire Station Boxing Club

4.  Small Heath Boxing Club

Small Heath Boxing Club in Birmingham – also known as the Pat Benson Boxing Academy – is running a scheme called Mind-Fit which is helping people with mental health issues.

One participant said the scheme had boosted his wellbeing. “Instead of being stuck rotated round medication, I’ve got something to do which is positive for myself and I can better myself.”

Image: Paul Pickard

Giselle Green is head of the Constructive Voices project at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations

Main image: Fight for Peace