Pioneering Shropshire boxing club is an award-winning refuge
A volunteer-led boxing club that has helped dozens of vulnerable people turn their lives around has been recognised with a mental health award.
The Bright Star Boxing Academy in Shifnal was started up by a pair of enthusiasts three-and-a-half years ago.
Since then, their inclusive programmes have transformed the lives of people suffering from drug addictions, mental illnesses and a range of other problems.
Now the hard work of the 14 coaches, all volunteers, has been celebrated with a win in the West Midlands Combined Authority Thrive Awards.
Co-founder and coach Joe Lockley accepted the Mental Health Star award alongside fellow members, and he said he wants the club to keep supporting people through the medium of boxing.
Joe, who works for Energize Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, is one of the seven committee members at Bright Star, and he wants to bring their work into different communities with outreach events.
'Too aggressive to control'
One of those who credits his transformation to the work of the club is Ryan ‘Rhino’ Lewis, who was referred there from the New Reflexions care service in late 2017.
The 15-year-old had faced exclusion from school and was taken into the care system because of his temper.
Ryan, originally from Swansea, said: “I came into a care home due to my anger issues. I used to break things, I would pick fights for no reason. I did hit my mother, and I smoked and drank. I swore a lot, I didn’t really follow instructions.
“I was a bit unstable. I was very aggressive towards staff and my peers. I was too aggressive to control. But I came here and everything changed.”
Following his referral Ryan initially clashed with the coaches at Bright Star, and on one occasion broke a window – though he offered to pay for it.
But Joe and the others persisted with him, teaching him discipline, self-control and respect for others through regular training and sparring sessions.
Joe said: “When he was referred they asked if I wanted to look at his care records and his files and I said ‘no’. I said I would judge him on what he is like in the sessions.
“A lot of clubs would probably have kicked him out. We had a lot of incidents early on with Ryan, we have had to go out to the house a few times to have a chat.
"He had to learn to trust and respect me and the others, but now he’s grown a lot and we have got a lot of respect for him.”
Gradually Ryan became one of the academy’s star pupils, and his behaviour improved so much he worked with Joe to develop a code of conduct for the other boxers – on the condition he would serve double the standard punishment if he broke his rules.
He said his school work and his confidence have also benefited from his new regime. He now helps with coaching the younger boxers, and soon will go on a course for his own coaching qualifications.
“I grow more stable each day,” said Ryan. “I realised what I was doing was selfish, now it’s completely different.
“It’s scary to think about. I can’t remember what I was like a year-and-a-half ago.”
And the transformation has been physical too – Ryan was obese when he came to Bright Star but has improved his diet and lost several stone.
Ryan was the first disadvantaged youngster to be referred to the academy, and Joe said the improvement on the teenager’s state of mind surprised him, and made him consider the impact the club could have on vulnerable people. Another boy who has benefited at Bright Star was Kallum Manders, who was drawn into the drugs trade in Shrewsbury at just 12 years old.
Kallum, now 17, said: “When I was 12 I started doing drugs. My life revolved around drugs.
“I became involved with selling drugs, and older people were trying to get me more involved with it.
“My life was literally unmanageable. I hit rock bottom at the age of 17. I thought I was going to kill myself by doing drugs or by getting involved in something serious.
“My mum spent the money for me to go into rehab. When I got out I had lots of time on my hands, I could feel myself maybe slipping back to my old ways. So I came here.”
Like Ryan, Kallum had anger issues when he began boxing. But with the patient supervision of the coaches he learned to discipline himself and set new goals, and he now has a new lease of life.“
I’m happy all the time, boxing is life. It gives me goals,” he added.
To learn more about the club, visit www.facebook.com/BrightStarBoxing/ or call 07966 416267.
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