2022 A Year To Remember (Part Three)
The final installment in our 2022 diary is here. It's taken a while to get there but trust me it's worth it. 2023 is already off to a flyer, so have a little read and perhaps give it a share
Part Two: https://www.boxingsaveslives.org/post/copy-of-2022-a-year-to-remember-part-two
Being nominated for a Tesco Community Grant was a huge boost as we entered October. Local legend Karen Linley has always been a great advocate for our work, and we are proud to be just one of many local organisations that Karen has given her time and support for. In December we were lucky enough to be in the running for a £10,000 Tesco grant, as they celebrated £100m of grants awarded since their creation. 100 customers picked out a token, and the golden token winner got to choose from ourselves, Peace International, and AGE UK. AGE UK Bedfordshire took the prize, but we were so thankful for so many people turning up in Dunstable to get behind Boxing Saves Lives.
Thanks to the brilliant campaigning of unsung hero Dee Bailey, we popped into the Black Culture Market in Luton’s Cultural Quarter. At Luton’s Hat Factory there was a lovely atmosphere and rows and rows of stalls with Afro Caribbean fashion, food, literature, remedies and more. This was one of numerous community events that Dee and Shelley Titmus (Simply Deez) have been involved in this year, and was a true celebration of black businesses in Black History Month.
The Mall was the venue for our TREE project event as we joined forces with Luton Youth Partnership, Ultimate Athlete, and Link 2 Change. Shining a light on Exploitation is the cornerstone of what we do, and it was great to chat to people about our work and hear their experiences within the local community.
Did you know?
95% of Black adults and 80% of Black children do not swim in England.
93% of Asian adults and 78% of Asian children do not swim in England.
1 in 4 children who complete their primary education are unable to swim. According to the World Health Organisation, the risk of drowning is higher amongst minority ethnic communities.
The Blacks Can’t Swim movement is a groundbreaking initiative to get more and more black children swimming. Ed Accura’s documentary is a tour de force, that combines a true public health initiative with the sobering reality of the dangers of swimming for some children. The film Blacks Can’t Swim Rewind premiered in St Albans in October and it was fun to link up with the team and KickOff@3.
The story mixed real life experience with a backstory that highlighted the barriers young black people face with swimming. It dispelled some dangerous myths associated with why black people don’t swim, but also gave hope to those who want to take a leap of faith and swim, perhaps for the first time in their lives. I really hope this movement goes on to an even bigger platform, as it is a true force for good. Awesome to finally meet up with the iconic Mr Milise, whose spoken word is one of the most powerful things you will ever hear. Schools, get him booked!
National Care Leavers week saw us once again roll out a session for their brilliant young people in Luton. We are just one part of a brilliant week where organisations across the town come to provide support and help to young people who are leaving the care system. It is quite a special time for us, as they inspire us and we love the energy of the team around them. It’s an incredibly scary time for many, but also a chance to draw a line under their past, and to get out there and take on the world.
A homecoming for coach Tysie as she returned to her former high school Cardinal Newman. She was so excited to start working with the young people and has built up a brilliant little team of students who are loving their weekly workouts. Tysie makes no secret of her struggles at school, and is so determined to use her life story to give hope and positivity to the next generation.
For me it’s so important that Boxing Saves Lives is an organisation that continues to grow and learn. I was so excited to enrol in a further education course on Understanding Autism. Many of the children we work with are neurodivergent, so being able to learn strategies to make their experience as inclusive as possible is vital.
A few quite fun experiences at our after school clubs, none more enjoyable than having a little read. The nature of after school clubs is that parents are often late, so my new tactic is to get the child’s reading book and have a little read together while we wait. I will take any chance I can to remind boys and girls of the importance of reading for enjoyment, and (whisper it quietly..) it’s an excuse for me to bring out my inner bookworm again!
In November I took some time to write of my experiences now that we had settled back into our school programs. Below is a link to a thread I created, but suffice to say every school we worked in had seen an increase in issues across the board. Both primary and secondary schools were creaking under the weight of challenges being presented each and every day. Have a read.
A key issue we are keen to highlight and combat is Bullying and so we took every chance we could to talk about this during Anti-Bullying Week. Despite the difficult subject matter, young people are always so honest when it comes to this and we always come away with a great deal of hope. Our message is one for those who are victims of bullying, but also for those who are causing harm to children around them. Judgement has no place in matters like this, and so we need to give children a chance to make better choices and work on their anger. As controversial as that may sound, we are an open door for boys and girls, leave no child behind and do anything we can to reduce harm.
On Remembrance Day weekend it was an honour to catch up with Mayor Sameera Saleem at the Luton Town Hall ceremony. Hannan Ali and myself were kindly invited into the Town Hall and loved speaking to local councillors and dignitaries. It was yet another event to make us proud to be in Luton, and speak to people who care so much for the town. Catching up with Mayor Saleem’s father and a chance meeting with the Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire was a true blessing.
Hannan and I have known each other a couple of years, as we met virtually during lockdown. Yet he is the kind of person you meet who makes you feel 10ft tall after speaking to him. We first met when he worked at Bedfordshire and Luton Community Foundation, and he gave me so much confidence with his reach for the skies mentality. It’s always great to chat about the third sector and his latest travels. Seriously, check his social media!
Coach Tysie capped off an amazing 2022 with a nomination for Role Model Of The Year at the Community Interest Luton Awards. The Boxing Saves Lives team gathered at Venue Central, and we were so chuffed to see Tysie be Highly Commended for her achievements both inside and outside the ring. Having fought for the Commonwealth Title just months before, Luton’s first female professional boxer was now being recognised for transforming so many young lives through her inspirational coaching and mentoring. On a personal level it was awesome to be able to introduce Tysie and Michelle to some of the incredible Luton people who have supported Boxing Saves Lives since day one.
I’d only been to Stopsley Baptist Church once so had no worries being asked to speak at an Awards ceremony there in November. The Barney Wild Awards recognise the achievements of younger looked after children and it was yet another chance for us to meet some incredible young people. I asked Tysie and thought that we could share speech duties, however what Tysie and I didn’t know was that Stopsley Baptist Church has 2 parts... The downstairs part and the upstairs part with 400 seater auditorium. What began as a little talk to some children, became a speech to a packed room of boys, girls, social workers, managers, head teachers and very proud foster parents.
To quote Tysie “I’ve been less scared going into the ring for a fight than I am about this”.
But you know what? We did it. I tell my 10 year old son that sometimes you have to feel the fear and do it anyway, and that’s exactly what we did. It was such a life affirming experience for us both, and gave yet more people an insight into our world, and our hopes and dreams for all young people. Tysie went down a storm, and hopefully 2023 can bring even more opportunities her way. Watch this space..
Coach Michelle took the reins at Bedford Blues Foundation for the first time, and it was great to be able to introduce Michelle to Kate, Emma and Scott over at Bedford Academy. Michelle has such a unique style of coaching, and exudes so much positivity and it’s always a pleasure to see her in action with a new group. Can definitely see some huge things in 2023 with the Blues Foundation too.
With the World Cup in full swing we were asked by Bedfordshire Police to support their Pledge to Call It Out. This was a campaign to highlight how instances of Domestic Abuse spike during large sporting events, and it gave guidance on how to intervene when we see abuse in public spaces. Bystander Intervention is a key part of our work in schools, and being able to join forces on this campaign with Beds Police, Luton Council et al, was something we couldn’t wait to do.
Sometimes in life things are just meant to be. A good friend of mine Danny Burgess invited me to come along to the Tyson Fury vs Derick Chisora trilogy fight at Tottenham Stadium. Danny is yet another Luton lad done good. He works for Queensbury Promotions and Frank Warren who manages Tyson Fury, and designs the fight posters and fight night graphics and visuals that make boxing shows so unique. Sat in the press box we were able to enjoy an awesome atmosphere, and the fruit of Danny’s efforts as Fury made his ringwalk in front of 60,000 fans.
Without giving too much away there was a little bit of ‘ducking and diving’ after the fight and we found ourselves backstage as Fury left the ring having stopped Chisora late on. A few cheeky selfies later, we decided to push our luck further and managed to blag our way into the post fight press conference.
With only seconds to spare, and as things began to wrap up Tyson Fury himself picked me for the final question, and I honestly couldn’t have scripted what happened next.
“Hi Tyson, my name is JP Smith and I run an organisation in Luton called Boxing Saves Lives. I’m not sure if you recall but just over a decade ago before your first fight vs Chisora you came to Luton and you trained in a boxing ring in the local shopping centre. Lots of people in Luton are still inspired by you. What type of advice would you give to young people, boys and girls who are thinking of taking up boxing?”
"I’d say follow your dreams. Follow your dreams and follow your heart and give 110% in anything you want to do . Anything worth achieving is gonna be difficult, but at the end of it if you can sit back and say I achieved what I wanted to achieve.
And even if you don’t achieve it but you had a really good try at it, that’s not failure.
Failure is not having the guts to try. Always remember to follow your heart and dreams.
I was a little kid and I wanted to be heavyweight champion and here I am heavyweight champion of the world. 7 or 8 billion people in the world, only 1 or 2 are heavyweight champions and I’m one of them.
Anything is possible and dreams do come true. Because I’m living my dream.
I used to watch all the guys, Ali, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Ricky Hatton, Naseem Hamed, all the guys on tv. Growing up going ‘I wanna be like these guys’. And here I am doing what I do and entertaining like those guys. Good question.”
I’m not sure you can begin to understand how elated we all were walking out of that press conference. Such an incredible night, and memories to last forever.
Our final school session of 2022 was at Challney High School for Girls, Michelle and I trekked through the snow to get over 120 girls striving and thriving on their enrichment day. We were made so welcome by Mr Faruk and the team, and always have a remarkable time at Challney Girls. There is always such a great atmosphere in the school which really gets the best out of the pupils who really step up for the session!
Young Steps ran their holiday club at All Saints Church Hall and we rounded off our most successful year yet with a fun session with the brilliant boys and girls! There were smiles all round and very happy holidays, but don’t take our word for it. Have a look at this brilliant video capturing just how magical it was.
In 2023 we have so much more work to do and none of this is possible without funders who put their faith in Boxing Saves Lives. I’ve mentioned the NHS, Beds and Luton Community Foundation and Compass Wellbeing, but we never forget the backing of Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit. We have gone from strength to strength through their support and have a huge project in Bedfordshire schools now launching.
#AnotherWay is a trauma informed initiative where we talk to high school pupils about the ways in which they can be a force for good among their peers. It covers Masculinity, Bullying, Mental Health, Empathy, and Bystander Intervention. It is a non judgemental project that allows boys and girls to examine their interactions and to see how they can reduce harm through empathy. We have already worked with over 300 young people and we cannot wait to speak to over 1000 in the coming weeks and months.
A huge thank you to all the schools that trust and support us! We are determined to find more ways to improve the lives of boys and girls and we couldn't do it without your faith.
One big team!