Shropshire Star

More than just sport: The boxing academy making a big difference to people's lives

There are many boxing champions out there, who stand proudly inside the ring, arm held aloft by a referee at the end of a gruelling contest.

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Joe Lockley with Connor Gilbert and Jack Lellow

And then there are others in the sport who simply champion the value of others.

The inspiring team at Bright Star Academy, in Shifnal, with a message of 'Believe, Belong, Become', are the perfect example and it's little wonder they have been nominated in the Community Champion category at the Shropshire Chamber of Commerce Awards.

Bright Star

The academy has grown from a sporting training club when it started in 2016, into an organisation that helps the unemployed and people suffering with mental health issues, as well as offering mentoring for youngsters.

And it continues to grow – a new base in Shrewsbury is planned while the team also works in Walsall, Wolverhampton and Birmingham.

"We have gone from helping four to six people to now working with more than 600 people across different programmes," says director and co-founder Joe Lockley, who works alongside Kat Stanworth at the club.

"A lot of people might see Bright Star as a Boxing Club but we want to change the perception of that. We try to empower people to choose the right path and help them make positive choices in their lives.

"We do have the boxing side of things but it's also about using education and mentoring. We work with some young people who have faced barriers in their life or might have felt disengaged. They might have been through a trauma or an adverse childhood experience.

"A lot of young people we work with have different needs that haven't been met for one reason or another. They need to feel a sense of belonging and they need to feel they have a purpose.

"They need to believe in themselves and to feel loved, have safety and protection. We offer that through our boxing environment."

From humble beginnings, as a boxing club at Dave Corfield gym in Cosford, the academy, founded by Joe and Stuart Ferguson has really made a positive difference.

Bradley,10, with Joe

"We were coaching one young person whose parents had asked if they could bring him along to a session because he was struggling in different areas," recalls Joe.

"They enjoyed it, brought their friends along and it really helped them.

"So we started looking a different ways we could create referral pathways, linking up with care homes and it also led us to mental health support groups and different programmes.

"We had some youngsters coming along to sessions but whose attendance was below 15 per cent at school.

"We asked the young people why they weren't going to school and found, they weren't lazy but, instead were bullied or had low self esteem. We started working with the school and it was the birth of something special."

The academy's pull has been such that it has won The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and the team have travelled as far as Dubai for a World Expo, to spread the word.

It's work includes the Futures Programme.

"It's our alternative provision so we operate almost as a school," adds Joe. "Instead of going to school, young people, who might be struggling in a school environment, will come to us.

"We work with them on boxing, but then maths and English and then a mentoring programme with positive psychology.

"We have out Empower programme for 16-18-year-olds, who are not in education, employment or training.

"Rather than push them down a specific career route, we try to help them understand who they are and not what they are. What are the characteristics they want to adopt, the traits they want? We help them build confidence around that and build a career in the future."

Taking a session

"And we have our Counterpunch programme. These are mental health support groups and we work with Mind and other organisations.

"They refer young people to us who are struggling with mild signs of depression.

We have a seen a 96 per cent improvement in mental health during the programme which is really good."

The academy is, of course, about boxing too.

"All sport can have an impact and meet young people's needs," Joe adds. "If you are struggling with feelings like you don't belong anywhere or don't have a purpose, or control in your life, needs that can be met if you coached in the right way.

"With boxing, when you are on the pads, you can express what's overwhelming you in that moment, in a completely different way.

"So many young people won't talk about their feeling but when they are punching a bag, you can see them releasing emotions in a positive way and when you have hit that bag, adrenaline means you are ready to smash whatever the day brings.

"There are just so many life lessons you can learn in the gym and with the right role models, they are a safe, thriving environment with everyone working together to achieve something really good."

And, for Joe, it's that positive which makes the Bright Star journey all worthwhile.

"It's almost a selfish feeling because when you help someone you get so much pride yourself," he says. "Helping someone helps both of you.

"Every staff member – we have over 30 – is very passionate. Most have been there and experienced challenges, so we have got the skills to help transform lives.

He adds: "Every young person can thrive and it's about showing them how they can achieve things.

"We have had a young person who started on the programme who is now back working for Bright Star. They used their situation to help people and changed their life."

"There's another starting his own DJ business, who had considered taking his own life and there are others now back in school full time, where they were completely out of education before

"There are others competing in boxing at a high level but for most it's about using it as a tool to help champion their life.

"When you support one person, it feels incredible," he adds.

"Helping one person won't change the world but it will help that one person.

"And, if that person will then go on to support someone else, it's helping someone else and so it's a ripple effect.

"I'm proud of what we do and there is no resting. We are working with national partners to ensure we can try to influence sports development and education.

"We need to keep changing our approach and adapting to support young people and we need to keep listening to the young person's voice and champion that on a local and national scale."

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