Sporting Chance: This is how Edinburgh's boxing clubs are helping cut anti-social behaviour in working class communities

Antisocial behaviour and poor health in Edinburgh’s most impoverished areas could be knocked out by more boxing clubs within working class communities.

Friday, 30th August 2019, 2:41 pm
Terry McCormack, who runs the world famous Lochend gym that produced IBF Super Lightweight World Champion Commonwealth & WBC Silver Champion Josh Taylor, talks about the success of his club to Lochend, Restalrig, Leith and beyond.

With anti-social behaviour and child obesity an increasingly prevalent issue in working class areas, boxing clubs say that they could be the answer.

Terry McCormack, who runs the world famous Lochend gym that produced IBF Super Lightweight World Champion Commonwealth & WBC Silver Champion Josh Taylor, talks about the success of his club to Lochend, Restalrig, Leith and beyond.

He said: “This club is vital to the community it serves. We are helping to keep kids from falling into the wrong crowd and giving them life lessons as well as opportunities. We are disability accessible and welcome all people from all backgrounds to the club, offering affordable yet exceptional services.

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“It would be good for the local authority to look at our club model and replicate it elsewhere in working class communities across the city to tackle anti-social behaviour and issues with health. We see the results every day.”

Mr McCormack was able to turn a desolate scout hut into a gym for world champions by taking control of his community’s own destiny. Boxing is seen by those from within its community as a vital service that young people could benefit from, whether as a means for improving fitness, self discipline or mental health.

But the sport continues to fight a stigma it has struggled to shake.

Mr McCormack believes that this is overcome when the community witnesses the results.

Mr McCormack said: “Now you see the people that were so unsure about a boxing club coming into their community as the biggest fans of the club, asking how and when the boys are fighting and how they are getting on. They all notice what we have done for the community in tackling antisocial behaviour and giving kids an outlet.”

UK charity Empire Fighting Chance began by looking at how boxing could help have a positive impact on young people in troubled areas surrounding their gym.

Martin Bisp, co-founder of Empire Fighting Chance, said: “In some areas where we work, it is estimated that one out of two young people live in poverty with many families not being able to afford books, computers, good nutrition or adequate housing.

“There is also a devastating mix of low academic achievement, high unemployment and mental health issues and a rife gang culture bringing with it drug issues and violence while there are limited services to support young people.”

They identified six key elements that impact working class young people in their community and found that these issues were consistent across the UK. Underperformance at school, poor physical health, poor mental health, challenging family lives, crime and antisocial behaviour and unemployment.

The benefits of physical exercise on mental health are well documented – and the Empire Fighting Chance team believes that the physiological changes that take place with training in a gym can be a catalyst for psychological change later on.

They say that when you are training for short bursts, the mind narrows its field of focus onto just the present moment. This is extremely beneficial for young people with troubled lives.

In today’s digital age where young people are constantly bombarded with messages and information on social media and smartphones, boxing offers a much needed time-out from unhelpful circulating thoughts.

John McLellan, local councillor for the ward where Lochend is located, said: “Boxing clubs like Lochend, and indeed all martial arts organisations, should be valued for the work they do in teaching young people the value of self-discipline and control, as well as the obvious self defence skills.

“Lochend and Restalrig are all too often overlooked, and the boxing club is very important in giving the area a strong sense of identity.”

Cllr Cammy Day, Depute Leader of City of Edinburgh Council said: “As a council we are committed to supporting not just the physical health of our residents, but positive mental health too.

“We are currently developing a new Physical Activity and Sport Strategy and one of the strategy’s key objectives is around poverty and community empowerment. A report will come to Culture and Communities committee confirming key strategic objectives and a detailed one-year plan later this year.”

' I was heading in the wrong direction until boxing changed my life'

As a young man, Sean Spence was regularly in trouble with the police for a string of violent incidents.

That was until the Roseburn lad had an experience in the city centre aged 20 that meant a broken hand and the threat of a proper criminal record that could have had serious consequences.

Sean took up boxing at 15 and says that four boxing coaches over his career helped transform his life.

Sean said: “I tried multiple sports as a kid but it was the boxing coaches that reached me. After the trouble of breaking my hand when I was 20, a coach convinced me to take the sport seriously and to commit to turning my life around.”

Boxing allowed Sean, now 26, to stay away from drink and drugs, and eventually from fighting in the streets. After some serious dedication and personal discipline, he was able to build not only a legacy for himself in the sport but a career to go alongside it.

Sean was able to win a District Title, Scottish silver and British gold in 2016 before winning both the British and Scottish titles in 2018. Through boxing, he has been able to travel to Russia,

Netherlands and Finland as part of Britain’s elite amateur squad. It was with the skills he learned through boxing that meant he was able to become a self starting entrepreneur as a personal trainer.

Sean said: “It was through my experiences with the sport that I was able to build a life for myself, to travel and avoid what could have been a rocky future.”

HERE'S HOW WE PLAN TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital city and one of the most affluent cities in the United Kingdom.

It is a centre for culture and the arts, with its world famous Festivals, as well as for business, education and politics – and a great sporting city.

Yet grassroots sport in the city is suffering. It is getting harder for young people to get involved. Part of the problem is years of cuts to the budget of Edinburgh Leisure, which operates the city’s public facilities. Edinburgh now spends less than half of what Glasgow does per visitor to its sports facilities.

The Edinburgh Evening News now says enough is enough. Please support our Sporting Chance campaign calling on the City of Edinburgh Council to work with the Scottish Government and other funding organisations to deliver the following pledges for sport:

1. Cut the grass in public spaces and take it away!

2. No more reductions in the budget of Edinburgh Leisure and a commitment to look at reducing the cost of access to facilities

3. A commitment from the city council that there will be no net reduction in the space used for pitches and sports facilities across Edinburgh

4. If developers want land for other reasons, it should be mandatory for them to pay for, and construct, alternative facilities before any development happens

5. Every public pitch and other sporting facility to be maintained to an agreed standard by the council or in partnership with local clubs

6. Open up the school estate on trusted volunteer basis during holidays and at weekends to allow local clubs to work with schools to have access and care for facilities