Boxing and mentoring: the perfect one-two for at-risk young people
Bright Star Boxing Club in Shropshire uses a trauma-informed approach to support the 450 young people on its programmes and improve their life chances.
Boxing is the hook that attracts young people to the club’s wealth of support programmes. Once they’re through the door, the club’s 15 full-time staff and 36 volunteers get to work on identifying each individual’s needs and supporting them to achieve their goals.
Club founder Joe Lockley has built the club’s support structure astoundingly quickly. Having run it voluntarily for a few years, he took it on full-time in January 2021 (giving up a role at Energize, Shropshire’s Active Partnership). The club now receives referrals and funding from 42 schools as well as local services, police, recovery centres, the youth justice service, Mind charity and social prescribing contracts.
As well as its HQ in Shifnal near Telford, they have five other satellite clubs across Shropshire as well as Hereford, mid-Wales, Worcester, Wolverhampton and Birmingham.
“Boxing is actually only a small part of what we offer, but it’s advertised as boxing and young people here would certainly tell you they’re on a boxing programme,” explains Joe (pictured above). “If we labelled ourselves as a therapy centre or a school, young people wouldn’t engage. We use boxing as a vehicle in a unique way.”
Bright Star’s programmes include:
- Futures – alternative education provision for young people who find mainstream school difficult
- Counterpunch – separate sessions for males and females struggling with their mental health which include boxing, mentoring and peer support
- Empower – free weekly boxing and mentoring sessions for the unemployed to improve confidence and wellbeing and achieve boxing and fitness qualifications
- Mentoring – one-to-one mentoring service for young people needing additional support
- Bright Star Boxing Academy – sessions running seven days a week delivered by qualified boxing coaches
- Training – CPD for staff at schools to support young people
The combination of boxing, mentoring, therapy and education is hugely potent. Joe describes a typical first session, which gives a flavour of how the ingredients knit together: “They start in a small group of eight with one boxing coach and one mentor. The first hour is boxing, but we’re not interested in perfect their technique, it’s about releasing whatever is overwhelming them, getting rid of some energy and making them feel like they can achieve, regardless of what they’ve been through.
“We then do some cognitive behaviour work, talk about thoughts and feelings, consequential thinking, role models, core beliefs and more. Later in the process, we’ll support them in studying maths, English and other qualifications such as boxing leaders awards, first aid and mental health awareness.”
All Bright Star staff are trained in trauma-informed practice and most have lived experience of trauma and/or the Criminal Justice System which gives them a sense of empathy and understanding
with participants. One quote from a participant sums up the importance of this: “The coach has been through what I have been through. If he can change, so can I.”
Joe says: “Almost all young people referred to us have suffered adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). If a young person doesn’t want to talk about what’s gone on, that’s fine. We can help change the pathways and coping mechanisms to be able to deal with adversity.
“We do a lot of group mentoring but pull individuals out to see our therapists throughout the day and talk about thoughts, feelings and behaviour.”
Despite being a largely rural county, Shropshire has very high rates of county lines and a high percentage of looked-after children and exploitation. “Social anxiety was extremely high through the lockdowns and this area had triple the usual number of exclusions from school,” explains Joe. Participation numbers have exploded since the relaxing of Covid restrictions and hundreds of children, young people and adults have been supported by the boxing club.
These quotes from young people on Bright Star programmes clearly demonstrate their profound impact:
“I have been expelled from school and been involved with the police. My anger was really unstable, I often hurt myself by hitting walls in frustration or lost close friends because I didn’t feel in control.
I was referred to Bright Star. The coaches opened the doors when the gym was closed and did one-to-one training with me until I felt comfortable at the club, then slowly got me used to boxing with people around. They didn’t just teach me to box, they made it feel like a family and told me different ways of dealing with my anger and overcoming anxiety.
In just five months I have evolved. I look forward to the boxing sessions and am getting so good. I deal with bad situations so much better. I train hard and now when we have newcomers I help show them the basics. Boxing has helped me overcome all of my fears; nothing will stop me now!” – Damion
“I’m still learning, but I am able to deal with situations in life better and feel part of the Bright Star family which is important to me coming from a care home. I’m now helping coach other boxers who struggle with their anger like I was.” – Ryan
“Since the age of 12 all I had known was a life heavily involved with drugs. My life hit rock bottom and I knew it was time for a change. I went to rehab but once I finished there, I was left with lots of time and was tempted by my past which is why I was referred to Bright Star. I instantly fell in love with Bright Star and now feel I have a real purpose. I have a new positive friendship group, great role models and boxing has become my life. I box almost every day. I am now 100 days clean and have no intention of turning back.” – Kallum