In just three years, Boxing Futures has made a huge impact on ex-offenders and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds by placing mental health and wellbeing at the centre of all their programmes.
The charity uses boxing as the core engagement tool in working with clients who are entering or leaving the criminal justice system, on license and/or facing issues such as social isolation, loneliness, poor health, unemployment or family breakdown.
In their programmes running across Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and London, co-founders Anthony York and Andy Burley have established links with local referral and delivery partners such as councils, probation and mental health services, YMCA, the Prince’s Trust, London Sport, Mind and many more.
Boxing Futures has so far worked with 747 individuals, helping them re-establish themselves as positive and vibrant members of society through programmes based around the Boxercise Award Scheme and mentoring. Their work with young adult offenders was recognised by the European Boxing Confederation, who awarded them a Passion for Boxing Award in the field of 'Crime Prevention and Reduction'.
Anthony explained: “Our primary focus now is to promote physical and mental wellbeing as an intricate part in desistance from crime.”
Their 'Brothers Through Boxing' programme, for example, uses boxing as a tool to reduce social isolation by building the quantity and quality of men’s relationships, strengthening their sense of belonging and improving mental health, resilience, fitness and motivation.
The programme was one of only 13 from hundreds of applicants across the UK, Australia and Canada to receive £100,000 funding from the Movember Foundation’s Social Innovators Challenge. It’s a two-year pilot project aimed at males aged 16 to 25 which Anthony says is already proving “highly successful”.
“We get together once a week for a few hours,” said Anthony. “The first hour is a talking shop, making friends, connecting, understanding and addressing the issues that contribute to making us socially isolated and lonely. Then we go into the gym and smash out a good hour’s worth of training.
“It’s about building confidence and relationships; it’s a safe place they can come and have people to talk to and build those social connections that will continue outside of the gym. It’s a community of support. It gives them trust in humanity and in themselves.”
Those who have been through the six-month programme can return as alumni and provide peer support and mentoring for new groups, as well as being able to access continued support themselves. A 'Sisters Through Boxing' programme is currently in the offing.
Boxing Futures has developed an expertise in working with vulnerable service users in secure psychiatric settings, such as the John Howard Centre in Hackney and the Coborn Adolescence Unit at Newham Hospital, east London. They also link up with community mental health and wellbeing teams to provide programmes in community settings.