Hard-hitting: how Anfield Boxing Club is fighting crime
Like many urban communities in the UK, north Liverpool has serious issues with gun and knife crime, gangs, substance abuse, mental health and anti-social behaviour.
Over the last decade the Anfield North Liverpool Boxing Club has shown how sport can play a big part in meeting these problems head-on. Led by Founder and Secretary Alan Walsh (second left in the pic above), the club acts as a vibrant hub for a whole host of projects aimed at tackling local criminal activity.
The club is next to the famous Stanley Park, which separates the homes of Liverpool and Everton FC. It was launched 12 years ago in order to engage five local lads who were involved in knife crime. Now, the club and its partners work with over 300 young people every week.
Boxing and fitness are what Walsh calls “carrots that we dangle” in front of young people to encourage them to make an initial connection. Sport helps their personal development, teaching them discipline, respect and communication skills, boosting self-esteem and confidence. But that is only part of it.
The club has a massive web of links with local partners, including the local Crime Commissioner, schools, colleges, charities, foundations, governing bodies and local businesses, who help them address specific areas of local need.
Just one example of the club’s many targeted projects was the recent link-up with the Merseyside Crime Commissioner’s panel, a local project called Disarm and the Royal Liverpool Hospital.
Eight at-risk young people from the club were taken to the hospital’s mortuary (see left) and given a stark demonstration of the grim after-effects of knife crime.
They were told what it is like to be stabbed by Emergency Nurse Clinician Rob Jackson, who operates on stab victims on a weekly basis.
Then they were shown the real torso of a knife crime victim, with his chest opened up, and where victims’ parents stand to see their child’s body.
It was also explained to them that while in the mortuary, the body is hard evidence, the property of the state, and in some cases doesn’t get returned to families for months.
“I’ve been a youth worker for 23 years and it shocked me,” says Walsh. “They were very quiet on the way home. It was very, very hard-hitting, truly ground-breaking work.
“We run a late-night football session on Thursday aimed at cutting gang activity and the lads who went to the hospital attended the following week. They told the others all about it – they were basically doing our job for us by spreading the word about the real impact.”
Walsh is most proud of the club’s peer-mentoring system. Over 40 young people started with them as juniors and have become mentors, with two now senior coaches at the club.
The mentors undertake the England Boxing leadership qualification and do outreach work in schools, colleges and local parks, engaging at-risk young people in boxing and fitness. They also help deliver workshops on mental health, wellbeing, anger management, employability, conflict resolution and more.
The mentoring ethos is ingrained in the club, with its more experienced boxers organically helping out the juniors, sparring, chatting and nurturing them through their journey. “Some of them are tough lads and girls, but they recognise that’s where they started and they want to help out,” says Walsh.
The club also has 20 young people who sit on the Crime Commissioner’s youth panel, influencing decisions on local matters, such as knife crime, drugs and alcohol, and the menace of kids on scrambler bikes.
Particular recent focus has been on female-only programmes, helping body-conscious participants and tackling obesity by linking up with dieticians. A class for victims of domestic abuse is currently being planned as well.
“Reducing criminal activity is the ethos of the whole club,” says Walsh. With sport at the heart of its myriad of projects and programmes, Anfield North Liverpool Boxing Club is a dynamic and potent example of what can be achieved in troubled communities.
The Alliance of Sport would like to thank Anfield North Liverpool Boxing Club for being part of our Ministry of Justice Review of Sport in Criminal Justice.