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Boxing Futures – helping young offenders on the ropes

In just three years, Boxing Futures has made a huge impact on ex-offenders and young people suffering various kinds of disadvantage across Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and London.

The charity uses boxing as the core engagement tool in programmes designed for clients who are entering or leaving the criminal justice system, on license and/or facing issues such as social isolation, loneliness, unemployment or family breakdown. Their clients tend to come from the most deprived neighborhoods. Health problems such as obesity are common, as are mental health and wellbeing issues.

Like any small organisation in its infancy, Boxing Futures have faced setbacks, but co-founder Anthony York says finding the Alliance of Sport was “revelatory”.

“We’ve found it so difficult to find a ‘home’ in terms of over-arching bodies, associations or people that really understand our work,” he said.

“Coming across the Alliance of Sport has been revelatory for us. We’re eager to engage fully. In our short life span we’ve had our own trials and tribulations, but for the first time, it feels less lonely out here as an organisation.”

Anthony had worked in the criminal justice system for nearly 20 years but had become frustrated at seeing “programmes come and go” with little long-term impact. He wanted to set up something permanent and effective and took the plunge in July 2015 with Andy Burley, who he had worked with at HMP Littlehey in Huntingdon.

Making use of local connections around Cambridgeshire and London, they established links with local referral and delivery partners such as councils, probation and mental health services, YMCA, the Prince’s Trust, London Sport, Mind and many more.

Since 2016, Boxing Futures has worked with 747 individuals, helping them re-establish themselves as positive and vibrant members of society through bespoke programmes based around the Boxercise Award Scheme and mentoring. Bespoke elements are added to each programme to meet the needs of a diverse set of clients.

Their work with young adult offenders was recognised by the European Boxing Confederation, who awarded them a Passion for Boxing Award in the field of “Crime Prevention and Reduction.”

Without a delivery base of their own, the charity does extensive outreach work and has strong relationships with local gyms and community hubs.

Since they began working intensively with offenders, Boxing Futures have realised that mental health issues are a starkly common factor among their client base. As Anthony explains:

“Our primary focus now is to promote physical and mental wellbeing as an intricate part of desistance from crime.”

Their Brothers Through Boxing programme, for example, uses boxing as a tool to reduce social isolation by building the quantity and quality of men’s relationships, strengthening their sense of belonging and improving mental health, resilience, fitness and motivation.

The programme was one of only 13 from hundreds of applicants across the UK, Australia and Canada to receive £100,000 funding from the Movember Foundation’s Social Innovators Challenge. It’s a two-year pilot project aimed at males aged 16-25 which Anthony says is already proving “highly successful”.

“We get together once a week for a few hours,” says Anthony. “The first hour is a talking shop, making friends, connecting, understanding and addressing the issues that contribute to making us socially isolated and lonely. Then we go into the gym and smash out a good hour’s worth of training.

“It’s about building confidence and relationships; it’s a safe place they can come and have people to talk to and build those social connections that will continue outside of the gym. It’s a community of support. It gives them trust in humanity and in themselves.”

Those who have been through the six-month programme can return as alumni and provide peer support and mentoring for new groups, as well as being able to access continued support themselves. A Sisters Through Boxing programme is currently in the offing.

Boxing Futures has developed an expertise in working with vulnerable service users in secure psychiatric settings, such as the John Howard Centre in Hackney and the Coborn Adolescence Unit at Newham Hospital, east London. They also link up with community mental health and wellbeing teams to provide programmes in community settings.

Boxing Futures’ staff and trustees received a glamorous reward for their hard work in building up the charity in early September when they were chosen as the charity partner for a British comedy film called ‘Gloves Off’. Staff attended the premiere at London’s Leicester Square.

“It was lovely,” reflects Anthony. “It was great exposure for us and a nice way to thank a lot of people who supported our aims and ambitions. We are a small charity, fighting against the odds, and that’s what the film is all about.”

The Alliance of Sport is looking forward to supporting Boxing Futures even more going forward by showcasing their work and helping them to forge further fruitful connections with potential partners in our network.

“The fantastic work of Boxing Futures is yet another example of the power of boxing to help young people caught up in crime,” said James Mapstone, Alliance of Sport Co-Founder and Chair. “By building effective programmes around the central tool of the sport to meet individuals’ needs, they are creating more resilient, connected, positive and motivated young people whose horizons and previous criminal lifestyles will be radically altered.”

For more information on Boxing Futures, visit their website.

Read more on the power of boxing:

Our Co-Founder James Mapstone gives a passionate response to the Government’s rejection of pilot prison boxing programmes. More

Gloves Not Gunz use boxing to tackle local issues in south London such as gangs, county lines and youth violence. More

The Alliance of Sport is to support the social impact of boxing by joining the All Party Parilamentary Group on Boxing. More

Read all about the inspirational journey of Marcellus Baz and his SwitchUp programme which helps young people break the cycle of crime and realise their potential. More

Fight for Peace’s ‘Five Pillars’ methodology places boxing and martial arts at the centre of an intensive, holistoc approach to working with at-risk young people and offenders. More

Read how Anfield North Liverpool Boxing Club is using a range of programmes to tackle gun and knife crime, gangs, substance abuse and anti-social behaviour. More

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