How army life inspired Whitchurch's Daniel to set up inspirational boxing club
It’s been a long journey for Daniel Bailey. But he believes he’s found a place where, in his own words, he can ‘get back to doing what I do best’.
Daniel, 37, has just celebrated the grand opening of new premises for the Fort Boxing Club in Whitchurch.
And you can tell, in his voice, it means a lot to him.
He believes it can make a difference to the community and his home town.
He’s certainly got the background to make it a success.
Daniel is someone whose experience in boxing even led to attention from royals – in 2017 he was awarded a commendation from Prince Harry for his work in creating a boxing gym for soldiers in Northern Ireland where he had been stationed with the 2nd rifles battalion.
“I am so proud I could achieve my goals with this new gym,” he reflects.
“It is fantastic to make my vision turn into a reality.”
At 17, Daniel did kickboxing and achieved his black belt, first dan, and got into fitness and the discipline that it gave him.
He went through what he describes as a ‘rough patch’ mentally in his late teen years and needed a change in life and his late nan, Eileen Simpson, suggested he join the army and become a fitness instructor.
“She planted the seed, making me think about future goals,” he recalls.
“It was a chance to see the world and gain experience.”
Daniel joined at 23, based in Northern Ireland, and did six months pre-tour training and spent time in Afghanistan.
“My passion was to be a fitness instructor,” he recalls.
“They didn’t do kickboxing. It was boxing and so I put my name up for the team and became my brigade lightweight champion and really got my foot into the sport.”
He went on to achieve his goal to become a physical instructor, passing his course and progressed to gain qualifications to coach boxing in the army, leading eight boxers to compete.
“I loved it and felt it was the career path I wanted to go down,” he recalled.
“I found a real passion for boxing coaching.”
Daniel was given the chance to let an empty unit on the barracks and convert it into a boxing gym.
He accepted the challenge, despite having an operation at the time as a result of a foot injury picked up in Afghanistan.
“I had two weeks in bed, got on my crutches and headed to the gym to start converting this empty unit,” he recalls.
“I was on my hands and knees, painting the walls, keeping my mind occupied when I probably should have been bedded down really.
“But when you are so trained to be driven, you find it hard to just sit down.
“I turned it into a top-of-the-range facility and was put forward for a commendation award, which I received from Prince Harry.”
Daniel was then given the opportunity to gain experience with an England training camp, working with performance coach Mick Driscoll and he became an England Talent Pathway Coach.
He left the army and decided, while taking up a recruitment job, to set up his own gym.
The rest, they say, is history.
Daniel set up the first phase of The Fort Boxing Club in 2019 and, after the challenges of the pandemic, has now found a new base on the Waymills Industrial Estate, welcoming The Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire, Anna Turner, for the grand opening.
Mandy Thorn, the High Sheriff of Shropshire, Councillor Andy Hall, the Mayor of Whitchurch, Graham King, President of the Rotary Club and former SAS Rob Paxman, founder of Talking2minds, were also in attendance along with professional super bantamweight boxer Liam Davies, who is the British and European WBC and WBO international champion.
Central area and IBF International professional heavyweight Nathan Gorman, cousin of Tyson Fury, was also a special guest.
The grand opening was the culmination of a lot of hard work from Daniel and everyone at the club, with the local community rallying around to support the move.
“The move came with extra expense, so we needed to find some fundraising money,” said Daniel.
“We did a sponsored bingo night where businesses really supported us with donated prizes and helped us raise £1,300.
“We then held a marathon event – a run from Whitchurch to Ellesmere and back .
“The community and organisations got involved. We had people serving food and drinks at each checkpoint, thanks to local businesses.
“We also had medals made and, at the end, one of the parents had a garage open with sandwiches and refreshments.
“All in all, with everything we did, we raised around £6,500 and it gave us enough money to get new equipment and kit for the gym, which we needed to get established.
“We have been busy painting it ever since.
“We have done it all by ourselves. It has been a real team effort and it’s been amazing.”
Now Daniel is looking to the future, in the hope of inspiring people of all ages.
“We range from 4-7-year-olds,” he said.
“We provide foundations with the club values and disciplines and, at that age, it’s all about having fun and keeping active.
“We then have 8-14-year-old sessions, 15-year plus and women’s sessions as well as training for the competition squad.
“We even have people aged 50-plus who want to do boxing for social reasons and have that sense of belonging.
“Many people want to use boxing as a tool to get fit. It really is universal.
“It helps the mind, your mental health and body. It’s a really great sport.
"For me, everyone – at all ages – has got potential and individual qualities.
“It’s just about knowing how to find the qualities and bringing those out of them.
“We are very positive in the gym.
“It’s about bringing out the potential in people and feeding it, helping with building their confidence.
"I really am now looking forward to doing what I like doing best – giving back to the community, especially to the younger generation and sharing the use of a community boxing club in my home town.”