A timely reminder
A picture flashed up on my Facebook memories yesterday and just for a second I had to check whether the caption was right. 1 year ago. It was taken at Ringcraft Gym in Dunstable and it was myself and Liam Conroy stood ringside with the head of Bedfordshire's Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit, Kimberley Lamb in the centre. It's a beautiful photo there's no doubt about that. The only doubt that went through my mind is how it was only 12 months ago.
The meeting was not by chance. Liam had been in contact with Kimberley for some time leading up to it, and for me it was a great chance for someone to see the incredible work Liam had been doing. I've known Liam for years, I'd been running Boxing Luton and he had been a pro boxer and had opened his own gym only a year or so before. We'd had many heart to hearts about our ambitions for the local community, and we had lots of ideas for the ways we could help young people. What we didn't have was someone to believe in us.
Without putting too fine a point on it, within 3 weeks of meeting Kimberley Lamb I had set up Boxing Saves Lives. Sometimes you meet people who you just trust. Who make you feel like the ideas you've been spinning around in your head are worth just going for. There was work to do, but Liam and I both knew that night that our pipe dreams could become reality. We haven't looked back.
I started looking behind the scenes at what the VERU did, and it struck me how much their ethos of early intervention chimed with mine. Treating the cause not just the symptoms. I'd already spent time understanding gang violence, telling as many people as I could about County Lines, and how our sport could be that safe space for vulnerable boys and girls. Now I'd found a person behind an incredibly forward thinking organisation that would let me try and prove what I believed.
It's been a year of unspeakable tragedy for many people across the world. Pandemics met Protests and finally a light began to shine on something many people hadn't seen, or worse just plain ignored. As an Irish immigrant who came here 20 years ago, I've seen my fair share of racism. In the workplace and beyond I've often seen the shutters close behind a persons eyes the moment I spoke. I can't begin to imagine what it's like to see those shutters come down, before you even have a chance to speak. The colour of your skin being enough to render your words obsolete.
The barriers are still there. There may have been a hiatus but power structures are very hard to break. Inequality and racism is a daily occurrence for some of the most vulnerable people in society. With vulnerability comes exploitation. With exploitation comes violence. You can begin to see how some people feel like they don't stand a chance.
Understanding this is vital to understanding Boxing Saves Lives. Inspired by Kimberley and the VERU, my weeks are spent talking to people about Adverse Childhood Experiences, Trauma, Neglect, Attachment, Racism, and Inequality. I already understand Poverty, I've spent the last decade working with people affected by it.
It's important for me to know the reasons young boys and girls feel powerless. So we can see the signs of harm ahead and fill any potential void with positive attachments.
So we can start to address the causes, and not wait for the symptoms. I've made so many connections this last year from people who have magically appeared after talking to Kimberley. Surround yourself with good people they say. Amen.
I say from Day 1 when I speak to organisations, we want to be in your plans, not in your social media. There's a time for photo opportunities, but something positive must come after.
Just like it did in one small gym, in one small town, in one amazing county, with one iconic lady.