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Boxwise – ‘This is about helping the most vulnerable’

Boxwise team
Boxwise is a development programme for young people that began in London and has grown rapidly. It’s also a source of funds for England Boxing clubs

BOXWISE, a non-profit social enterprise, has grown rapidly. The organisation delivers 13-week courses based on boxing for young people to develop further skills and learning opportunities.

It was founded only at the end of 2019 and couldn’t start running its courses until April of last year once the lockdowns had eased. But since then, over 250 young people have gone through Boxwise’s programmes. After beginning at venues in London they’ve spread to 11 locations across the country, now operating in Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Pembrokeshire and more, as well as the capital.

“The thing just exploded,” said Rick Ogden, the co-founder and managing director. “The appetite and the way in which it grew was just phenomenal.

“There’s no sign of stopping or abating what we’re doing.”

The funding for Boxwise comes from the Nick Maughan foundation. Starting in Lambeth originally, Ogden explains, they “really looked at setting up a community based project in London around youth engagement but primarily focusing on boxing and how, through boxing, we could create opportunity against a very specific demographic within the hardest to reach London communities, so specifically places like Lambeth.

“The ethos of it was let’s design a 13-week boxing course, attract some real hard to reach people from the community through a variety of means, which was really police referrals, youth offending, probation services, support services, local authority, education, so that we knew we were targeting the right people.

“Over the 13 weeks we’d really give them an element of boxing and the skill to go with it.”

“The more vulnerable someone is, the more we want to reach them, the more they’re going to benefit,” he added. “Generally very vulnerable people can have fairly chaotic lives. So to get some of the most vulnerable to turn up every week for 13 weeks is a challenge in its own right. Which is why we have transport that collects them every day and drops them back after sessions.

“This is about helping the most vulnerable.”

Boxwise provides all the equipment to the participants in their courses for no charge and enlists local businesses to serve a hot meal after each session. “Actually, what we were seeing was a lot of the most hard to reach communities, these kids would probably only have one hot meal a day,” Ogden noted. “Nutrition was at the focus of what we did.”

Charlie Beatt, a coach who’s worked in professional and amateur boxing, designed the contents of the course itself.

Rachel Bower, Boxwise’s national lead, explained, “This is all about long-term growth, so we’re quite flexible, depending on the group, on the boxing content that’s delivered. But what runs parallel to that is things like communication, goal setting. Every two weeks there’s a new focus. So it’s not just boxing, it’s life skills that can be easily transferred into something else. Then you showed commitment [by consistently attending the session] and you really do get something out of it you can use in the long term.”

The group delivers its courses through registered England Boxing clubs, paying the clubs themselves to provide the sessions. “Here we’re empowering the clubs,” Rachel said. “I think that’s really important at the moment.”

“We’re not going out there and delivering on their behalf, it is the club. They know the kids, it’s their local communities that they’re helping and they can use the sessions not only to help out the local kids but they can use it as a recruitment tool,” she continued. “One of the benefits of using the club coaches to deliver the courses is that these are the guys who do this every night of the week in their own clubs with people. We just have to make sure we work with the right clubs or the right coaches at those clubs that do have that little bit of give as well. We know how boxing is a tough sport, you’ve got to turn up, you’ve got to be strict, [with Boxwise] we have to be a little bit more lenient on some of these people because they are vulnerable and they need just a little bit more of a helping hand. I think we’ve got a really good team of coaches across the country at the moment and they do realise that. I think they’re quite willing to deal with difficult characters and just give people a little bit more leeway so to speak.”

Through their sessions Boxwise will identify young people that they can fund for additional courses to set up further educational or employment opportunities. These can be tailored to suit the particular person and their interests, and so far are quite wide ranging, everything from an illustration course to bakery as well as coaching and personal training qualifications.

These development sessions are good for the participants. The clubs are paid to run the programmes so they’re also a source of funding for the boxing clubs. Boxwise essentially provides the structure and support for a boxing club to start their own sport for development programme for young people in their local area. “Bringing it all together and giving the clubs the support to do what they want to do,” Bower concludes. “We’re just empowering the clubs to help out their local communities, get the kids on board and they’ve got us behind them, sorting all the kit, covering all the expenses, paying for the food and delivering all the branding and getting the message out.

“We’re making it a lot easier for people to do the things that they want to do in their communities and bring boxing to people.”

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