How sport has united a troubled Salford community
When Nick Burke finished his second spell in prison he was determined never to return, and to help people in his underprivileged area of Salford avoid the pitfalls of crime. Sport has proved the key to achieving his ambition.
Salford Lifestyle Centre is the result of Nick’s tireless work since he walked out of Strangeways five years ago. Run by a 400-strong cooperative of volunteers, the Centre is a place where the community of Salford, including many ex-offenders, can meet, learn, work and have fun – all for free.
The cooperative offer a wide range of groups and services, but Nick is in no doubt about what usually brings them through the door in the first place. “The gym is the thing for us – offering it to people for free, that’s the hook,” he states.
“We get people in to use the sports facilities to have fun, then we slowly integrate them and teach them how to make themselves sustainable. Everything is to discourage them from going, or returning, down the same road that I did.
“Once young people and ex-offenders start developing a love for the gym, we engage them in the Community Sports Leadership and Personal Training qualifications to increase their employability. Those who qualify can be offered free gym space for six months to build up their client base.
“THE BEST SIGNPOSTING ORGANISING IN SALFORD”
“We’ve got such good connections with other community groups that I would consider us the best signposting organisation in Salford. That’s what we do, whether it be for asylum seekers or drug and alcohol support... We’re not experts in anything, but we are experts in finding the experts.”
Nick instinctively understands the social value of a community sports hub from his time as a young amateur boxer at Levenshulme Boxing Club. There, the discipline of coaches ensured he and a core group of friends were not tempted by the violent gang disputes that were prevalent at that time.
It was only when a funding cut forced the club’s closure that its true value was revealed. “Within six months around 90% of the lads who boxed there were either in prison or in the process of heading that way,” remembers Nick.
“Despite going to school with lads who were deeply involved in gangs, I managed to keep out of it simply by having something to focus on, which was boxing. We wouldn’t take drugs or go out drinking. We trained hard. As soon as they closed that building, we were out on the streets, one thing led to another and soon almost every single one of us was in prison.”
Nick had two spells inside, firstly for firearms and affray and secondly for assault. During his second term, determined to better himself for his then one-year-old daughter and partner Emma, he did a business course through prison education providers Novus and became interested in social enterprises.
Post-release, he met Dave Frasier, a big figure in the local community. Dave took Nick under his wing and got him involved in the Community Organisers programme run by Locality. They gradually set up a cooperative of local people who organised food banks, soup kitchens, lunch clubs and job clubs, helping people whose families have been unemployed for generations.
“I started understanding things more and asking people what else was needed in the area. People said they wanted a gym. Somehow, despite having no money, we got one. It was all down to the power of enough people wanting something and making it happen,” he says.
Last year, they moved into a disused council building in the troubled Broughton area. The building is now Salford Lifestyle Centre, run by Nick and 400 members of the local cooperative. As well as the gym, it has five-a-side football pitches, a community café, art clubs, a theatre for wrestling and boxing shows and even a podcast studio.
“OUR BIGGEST SUCCESS”
Nick is also founder and editor of Inside Workout magazine, a free fitness and wellbeing publication distributed in prisons nationwide. It’s a separate venture, but there’s often crossover between the two enterprises.
“We often get guys turning up who’ve read about the Centre in the magazine while they’re inside,” says Nick. “One guy, Delroy Angelino, literally came straight from the gates with his stuff in a prison bag, having read about us in the first leaflet we’d sent out. He had nowhere else to go.”
Delroy was firstly signposted to Thomas, a nearby recovery house. He later began volunteering in the gym, attended Nick’s recovery group, and slowly graduated to leading the group himself. He then ran the community sports leadership classes and did a PT instructor course. He now works as an independent PT across the Salford area.
“He has gone full circle from that trial leaflet, which was really our first ever issue of Inside Workout. Delroy has used virtually every service in our facility here in Salford and is now on our board of directors,” Nicks says proudly. “He’s probably our biggest success.”
Thanks to Nick’s ingenuity and graft, and backed by his legion of volunteers, the successes will surely continue.