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2022 A Year To Remember (Part One)

Boxing Saves Lives 2022

I made the mistake a few weeks ago of saying out loud that I should document the work we have done this year, and of course someone seized on it. I’m not sure they appreciated how much heavy lifting the word ‘should’ was doing in that sentence, but they kept reminding me and to be fair having written down a list of our achievements it has made me incredibly proud.

I decided the best way to do this was to go through our social media photos and then list what events, initiatives, and projects we had either attended or created. We worked with over 4,500 people last year, worked in over 30 schools and as I write this there are over 100 separate bullet points, I've broken it into 2 parts, so apologies for being brief on each one. Because of the nature of what we do, due to safeguarding or sometimes just time much of our work doesn't make it to social media, so please don’t be offended if you think we’ve missed you.

January 2022

We started 2022 as we finished 2021 with an evening session at Leighton Buzzard Youth Club. This is a classic of not being able to say no, when I spoke to Stephen Swain about this I offered to do a taster session but having met the boys and girls there, we could both see the potential for change and growth.

We took our first steps into Hertfordshire with a session at North Herts Education Support in Hitchin. We combined a talk on Exploitation, Gang Violence, and Bystander Intervention with an intense workout for the pupils and staff who loved it so much we returned twice in 2022, and we are also going to descend on their Letchworth campus in January 2023.

The connection with Bedford Blues Rugby Club and the Blues Foundation actually came about through Sue Lousada. During lockdown much of our networking was done through the brilliant monthly zoom meetings of Direction For Bedfordshire. Sue who was High Sheriff of Bedfordshire at the time could not have been more helpful and supportive of our work (which was barely taking off at the time). The Blues Foundation run a Tackle Life programme that is an alternative provision for pupils from 2 Bedford Schools. The team there have an awesome rapport with the young people and this was our first program of many in 2022. I had a chance to thank Sue who is now the Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire at the Community Interest Luton Awards later in the year.

Outside of schools Flying Start in Luton launched a monthly Dads Group on Saturday mornings and I couldn’t get onboard quick enough. A few hours grabbed with my soon to be 3 year old was the perfect antidote to a busy week, and the staff were so inviting every month. We had loads of fun, and having a chance to talk to other dads about a different theme each month was great. It gave us an opportunity to discover Finnegans Cafe round the corner too, so any excuse for a daddy daughter lunch date.

Our 40 from 40 boxing classes were in full swing, and despite the late evening slot and the bitter cold outside we had great fun down at Luton Town Boxing Club. A huge thanks to Total Wellbeing Luton for supporting this, and giving us a chance to show that our program can be a force for good for anyone. This was to be a springboard to a few other projects later in 2022.

January 17th marked a year from the date we asked ‘Who’s Ready?’. Everything about the restrictions, lockdowns and tiers rang huge alarm bells in my head for what lay ahead. We thrive on connectedness and the inability for young people to be with their peers was inevitably going to lead to a detrimental affect on their mental health and sense of self. Later in 2022 it was revealed just how great the burden was for boys and girls, and anyone who worked in schools had begun to see this first hand. In fact if you’re reading this on your Christmas hols, then we salute you. We know what a year it’s been for you all.

February 2022

Following on from our work in Leighton Buzzard we collaborated with Stephen and Groundwork East again to provide boxing sessions in half term. This time it was Bedford, and it was fantastic to see so many young people turn out at the Jubilation Centre, somewhere we would return to in the summer holidays.

Having watched their work for some time, I was delighted to be able to attend (blag my way into, thanks Mr Campbell) NGYT’s production of Out There at Lea Manor High School. The story was a gritty portrayal of a young girl caught up in County Lines , and left no stone unturned in showing the isolation, abuse, and trauma that many young people suffer when exploited. It had the crowd in awe, and the performances, set and script showed just why NGYT are so loved in Luton and beyond.

It was so refreshing to be able to get writing again, and get an interview with one of our boxing shining stars at Stockwood Park Academy. A brilliant chat with Demi was almost lost due to issues with sound, but rather than try and capture the magic again I made the most of it and wrote it all down. It’s safe to say that nothing was lost, and the interview brought a huge smile to myself, Claire Dagnall, the coaches and Demi herself.

From superstar student to superstar coach, we and a whole army of fans followed coach Tysie to Watford for just her second professional fight. The atmosphere was immense and you could barely hear yourself as our girl Tysie took to the ring. A brilliant performance, emboldened by a loyal and noisy crowd gave us yet another reason to be proud of Tysie. We managed to capture a picture of Tysie’s smallest fan, with one of her biggest fans ringside. Big shoutout to Eva who came armed with her Tysie placard, to shout on her role model.

March 2022

Some real wholesomeness dropped in our inbox in early March in the form of a video made by Priory Lower School in Bedford. Super coach Michelle Nelson had been working with their boys and girls for just 5 weeks, and the progress and engagement they were demonstrating under her tutelage was superb. It was a brilliant case in point of how a group can thrive and grow together given the right environment, and it helps to have ever so awesome educators like Miss T in your corner.

Over 200 girls enjoyed the Boxing Saves Lives experience as we joined Luton School Games at Inspire in Stopsley. More than 15 schools participated, and we loved getting them striving and thriving alongside some brilliant community organisations. This was our first of 3 collaborations with Luton School Games in 2022 including a scorching summer session at Stockwood Park Athletics track.

We were delighted to be invited by Luton Irish Forum to join their St Patrick’s Day Parade. As a Donegal man and now adopted Lutonian it was an immensely proud day to be able to hold the Boxing Saves Lives banner high with my son as we marched through the town. It was the start of a blossoming relationship between ourselves and Noelette and her team.

In mid March we began a partnership with Compass Wellbeing and The NHS East London Foundation Trust to continue rolling our boxing programs and 121 mentoring support across Bedfordshire. This was a huge boost to us as an organsiation and has allowed us to carry out so much work in 2022. We immediately began making enquiries in schools, with a particular emphasis on Bedford that would prove hugely successful.

As part of their Real men Read initiative I was honoured to be asked to join the young people at Stockwood Park Academy and bring some of my favourite books. I took the Famous Five as I still have fond memories of library trips as a child. I also took Harry Potter as this is something I read with my son at bed time. It was lovely being in the school library, and having started reading to a small group of pupils, I lifted my head minutes later to see a huge group had formed to listen in. I have to say this was a real bucket list thing to do, and I’d love to dedicate World Book Day 2023 to travelling between schools to read to boys and girls of any age.

The Chalk Hills Academy’s Personal Best days are a unique way to let students and staff alike enjoy something a bit different, and Tysie and myself were delighted to work with over 120 pupils who seized their chance to try a fun and engaging boxing session. It was great to catch up with Mr Ali, and to continue what has been a fantastic partnership yet again with The Shared Learning Trust.

It had been a little while since we had joined forces with The Raise Up Foundation, so it was great to work with their group from Challney Girls on an enrichment day down at Raise Up HQ. Raise Up were founded around the same time as ourselves so we have come together several times since our inception. It was a storming session as always, and gave us another opportunity to bring the benefits of what we do to women and girls in a fully inclusive environment.

April 2022

April was a huge month for Luton as we joined in the Big Iftar Celebrations. Inspire FM and Luton Council kicked off a hugely successful year with a breaking of fasting in St Georges Square. A brilliant atmosphere and the recognition of some wonderful local organisations made this a truly memorable event for the town, bringing so many people from all communities together.

Thanks to local activist, community champion and all round hero Hina Shafi, I was invited to The Big Denbigh Iftaar Celebrations at Denbigh High School. This showcased the very best of this great school. The pupils charity work raising funds for a school in Lebanon was truly inspirational, and watching the gratitude of some very happy children thousands of miles away was a real moment to treasure.

The About Us event was a visual extravaganza, that lit up the town hall on a cool April Night. It’s hard to do the event justice in words, but what I would say is that it is testament to how great our town is that these type of cultural events are so well received. It was something new for me, and showed me the power of the Arts to unite people across Luton.

Here’s a link to a video posted by the ever brilliant hosts Luton BID.

Schools wise we were delighted to run sessions at Bedford College, and begin programs in Cardinal Newman Catholic School, as well as Whitefield Primary Academy. Having worked with Chantry Primary Academy with a hugely successful after school club, it was brilliant to further strengthen our relationship with The Pioneer Learning Trust. Cardinal Newman was put together following a brilliant meeting with Mr Mitchelmore, who has been an incredible advocate for what we do. Mr Fonsi and headteacher Mr Bull have very kindly greenlit our program all the way to summer 2023, and we were delighted to take coach Tysie back to her former school in November. She would lead the way with their boys and girls and bring her knowledge and lived experience to get them Striving and Thriving as we say.

May 2022

As promised we stepped up our Bedford schoolwork starting with Bedford Academy. A lunchtime session hosted by coach Michelle Nelson was the perfect break for their pupils and was the continuation of a brilliant relationship with the school. Later in the year, a group of Year 8 pupils wanted to raise some funding for a local youth organisation and asked if we would go and speak to them. A half hour talk and the promise of a class boxing session and the deal was done. I was so proud of every one of them who stepped up and got contributions for Boxing Saves Lives, and a huge shout out to Mrs Whitehead who inspired and lead the group.

Our girls sessions at Beechwood Primary School were a joy to behold as we worked with a committed group who improved week in week out. The boost in engagement, confidence and resilience was so good to see, and Mrs Welford and staff have been huge support to us throughout.

Thanks to the Luton Citizens Fund from Luton Council and BLCF, we started our weekly afterschool boxing club at Futures House in Marsh Farm. Having ran successful programs at Lea Manor High School I wanted to give the young people a safe space and a chance to come and enjoy the Boxing Saves Lives experience. Marsh Farm is somewhere close to my heart having lived there for 11 years, and is a very underrated part of Luton in terms of young peoples activities. When we asked for help finding a venue on social media, we had so many responses that we got everything sorted within 24 hours. Huge thanks to Cathy McShane for her incredible support throughout.

A few very special projects kicked off this month, beginning with a girls project at Samuel Whitbread Academy. Through Esme of Shefford Youth Hub and Mr Hart I designed a unique boxing program that incorporated life skills and leadership. The aim was to have the girls run a boxing session with primary school class on Week 6. We will return to this later, but safe to say that it was one our proudest moments of 2022.

After partnering in summer 2021, I was delighted to get back working with Channitta Lenore of Dynamic Decisions on what would be a very special project at Maidenhall Primary School. Having lost her brother to knife crime, Channitta is a brilliant advocate for young people and someone whose trauma informed values chime perfectly with ours. Myself, Channitta, Louisa and Duncan (of Performance Potential) set aside a Tuesday afternoon to work with a select group of boys incorporating mentoring, boxing, enrichment, team building, meditation and more. There were so many strands to this project and each week we dealt with different real life events of the boys. There was bereavement, family break ups, friendship building , personal goals, tears of laughter, tears of sadness. A whole rollercoaster of emotions for us all, and a brilliant insight into the lives of Year 5 and 6 boys as they try and navigate life in school.

A cheeky twitter message from Hayley Wood Thompson opened a door for us to run our first 6 week boxing program in Hertfordshire. Hayley works in the sixth form of John Warner school in Hoddeson and had identified how our work would help a group of boys and girls in the lower years. This was another brilliant example of partnership working, and the drive of Miss Thomas to get the very best out of these young people was typical of the work of Senior Leaders which so many people don’t get to see in schools. Engagement was key with the group and we rose and fell together over the 6 weeks. It was an excellent opportunity to discuss mental health, bystander intervention, trauma and empathy. These young people were a true reminder that every young person has a story, and no one knows what the other is going through as they walk into school each day.

Outside of schools, our Boxing Saves Lives ambassador Linus Udofia fought for the British Middleweight Title on Channel 5 and did the town proud yet again. I’ve known Linus since I started Boxing Luton and he is a true role model for young people, and we are always honoured to work alongside him in schools. If there is one man who can take defeat, no matter how cruel, be philosophical about it and come back stronger it’s Linus Udofia. We can’t wait to see what 2023 brings for Lightning Linus.

June 2022

The bank holiday wasn’t going to stop us rolling out our session in Marsh Farm, and no great surprise it didn’t stop the boys and girls showing up either. This little club has been so much fun since its inception and we have seen superb progress from the young people every week.

To Bedford, where we rocked up at Jubilee Park with Dynamic Decisions and Youth Voices Connect for a little taster session. It was brilliant to link up with Vanessa, another passionate youth advocate who has so much experience of the area. She has a real attachment with the local children and families and is the go to person when they need support. At our event, the girls especially showed up and shone and set us up for a summer program of boxing in Bedford.

Having worked at Samuel Whitbread Academy, we were contacted by Mrs Rowlands of Langford Village Academy around the corner and decided to roll out a weekly Year 5 session as they moved towards their first ever Year 6 term. It was such a luxury being able to get outside every week and to see the confidence grow among the children as we went. This was a timely reminder that many of the problems we assume are for the towns and cities are very much present in little schools. Yet it also reminds us that children can be resilient, compassionate, hardworking and incredibly fun no matter where they live and no matter what their circumstances are.

I was delighted to be asked to speak at Bedfordshire and Luton Community Foundation (BLCF) Insight event at their Silsoe HQ. I took the opportunity to talk about our work on masculinity in schools, aswell as Bystander Intervention, Violence Against Women and Girls, and leadership. It was also a chance for me to show the progress we had made with our Marsh Farm project, which was funded by Luton Council through BLCF. Their support with funding opportunities for Boxing Saves Lives has been incredible, and it was great to get out there and show them how we repay that support.

The Women and Girls Cricket Festival was great fun at Chalk Hills Academy. We like to take any chance to support local sports and cricket on a Sunday was too tempting to miss. Catching up with Mumin Humayun, Montell Neufville, Kev Poulton, Hina Shafi and Sarah Owen was the order of the day as we watched Luton’s finest face off against each other. While Hina is our resident cricket aficionado, it was the honourable member for Luton North who got in on the action and had ice in her veins as she made a catch to send one of the girls packing. Joking aside it was a wonderful day played in a great spirit, that gave the Luton Womens and Girls Cricket Club a chance to announce themselves and show us yet another thriving sport in Luton.

Speaking of thriving, I was honoured to be invited to Stockwood Park Academy for their Key Stage 3 awards evening as one of our Boxing Saves Lives heroes was to be recognised for her achievements.

Our girl Aiza Ijaz being awarded for her dedication and hard work. perfectly personifies what we mean when we say #StrivingAndThriving . When that bell goes after 3pm, it’s the easiest thing in the world to pick up your bag and go home. Aiza however makes her way to her Boxing Saves Lives session, hail rain or snow. She shows up, steps up and is a huge credit to us, to her family, to Stockwood and above all herself. We wouldn’t be where we are without amazing young people like Aiza Ijaz. Without fantastic coaches, without passionate people like Ms Dagnall who drive us on, and without innovative schools, trusts and Heads like Mr Humayun that give us a chance.

As we reached the halfway point of 2022 a very special event unfolded at Maidenhall Primary School that really showed the power of role models and community. Here are my notes from that time.

A month ago I posted that I had started working in a Luton school and received a message from a brilliant young boxer called Ali Malik. I’ve known Ali a few years and I knew that he would be a true inspiration to the young people, so set about making plan..

I spoke to the awesome Mr Prime who I work closely with and what started out as a wee chat with the boys and girls suddenly became a half day of boxing enrichment with whole year groups.

On June 23rd Ali and I rocked up and to say it was incredible doesn’t even cover it. Ali spoke to me of how his Junior School days were some of the best ever, and he scanned the photos to see teachers he remembered and inspired him. Then it was off to work.

55 (FIFTY FIVE!!) Year 5 boys and girls took part as we put them through their paces and Ali showed them his expertise, with teachers and TA’s alike transfixed.

But that wasn’t all. 52 MORE pupils were lined up outside ready to see our local hero and we got stuck in yet again.

After some awesome engagement and a brilliant buzz from everyone it was time for the children to grab a pic with Ali and to bounce out the door totally inspired.

Next up : the main hall where Ali and I got over 80 (EIGHTY!) Year 2’s moving in unison, jabbing, crossing, ducking and using footwork that had teachers and us all beaming.

They were rewarded by Ali hitting the pads and making a huge noise as my poor hands held firm(ish). Finally, Ali spoke to an assembly of 90 Year 6 boys and girls and talked of how Boxing had inspired him and how it can build a great foundation for each and every one of them. Afterwards scores of children stayed behind on their lunch to talk to Ali and to ask questions

I just wanted tribute to Ali. He perfectly encapsulates the humility and drive that inspires our young people. It was a pleasure to be able to take Ali back in time, while giving boys and girls a chance to strive for a positive future.

That's it for Part One of our Boxing Saves Lives 2022 Diary.

Join us in Part Two for our summer of free boxing, Tysie's title shot, Michelle's Ladies lift off, Sidney joins the team and Tyson Fury gives words of advice to the Boxing Saves Lives boys and girls ...

Posting as soon as I can - JP

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