'It is not about acting violent' - how non-contact boxing is helping kids control their aggression (From Borehamwood Times)
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Reporter gets in the ring for Boxcleva session with firefighter Bob Williams
Since Boxcleva was launched for eight to 15-year-olds three years ago, the award-winning non-contact boxing club has received nothing but praise. Reporter Anna Slater gloves up and tries her hand at boxing.
During school, I dreaded sport lessons. I spent my childhood begging my dad to write a note saying I had broken my ankle or sprained my wrist but my pleas were met with a stern laugh and a lecture on the importance of regular exercise.
But as is the case with such pearls of wisdom, 15 years on I realise he was right. It is that very point Borehamwood firefighter Bob Williams is trying to pass down to the next generation.
He launched non-contact boxing club Boxcleva in Borehamwood three years ago and, after winning the 2012 Heart Community award, he has every right to be proud of its success.
Now Bob is no Mike Tyson and is not teaching the kids to be, but his aim is to keep them off the streets and teach them to control their aggression in a safe environment.
When he invited me to come down and see what the sessions are about, the familiar feeling of pre-PE dread bubbled inside my stomach.
But the minute the kids came bouncing into the Hertswood Centre in Potters Lane, it was obvious the atmosphere here is different to a bog-standard PE lesson.
For starters, the kids are taught by Commonwealth boxing gold medallist Sean Murphy who is "so famous he even has his own Wikipedia page", according to one boy.
Sean guides the children through gentle warm-up exercises and, convinced I am about to be shown up by a group of eight-year-olds, I cower in the corner.
But when Sean handed out skipping ropes, even I could not resist a jump or twelve. That was all I could manage before tripping over my shoelaces.
Bob, who was busy hauling punchbags across the room and making post-session snacks upstairs, stopped what he was doing to hand me boxing gloves.
Despite my skipping fiasco, I was ready to get my Lennox Lewis on as Bob showed me what non-contact boxing is all about.
"It is not only to do with fitness. It is about keeping the kids off the streets and giving them something to focus on other than violence and causing mayhem outside," he explained.
According to Bob, learning to box also teaches the children about respect, discipline and helps boost their self-esteem.
"It is not acting violence, it is teaching science", he adds.
Perhaps it's a coincidence but many believe the 20 per cent drop in anti-social behaviour in Borehamwood north at the end of last year is hugely down to Boxcleva.
During the classes, Bob also makes a point of teaching the children about drug and alcohol awareness, as well as the importance of having a balanced diet.
And when more than 17 per cent of ten and 11-year-olds in Hertsmere today are obese, in theory this club could be part of the solution.
But in practice, the sessions are expensive. Paying the trainers, hiring the hall and buying equipment costs £7,000 a term to run.
The cash donations from Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service and Borehamwood councillors, as well as healthy snacks from Tesco in Shenley Road, only go so far.
Bob admits he does not know what the future could hold for Boxcleva so is desperate for volunteers to help take the register and for sponsorship from businesses in the area.
From how patient and gentle Sean is with the mini-boxers, it is hard to imagine that just hours before he was training boxers to become gold medal-winning champions.
He refuses to tell them off. When they misbehave, he orders them to walk around the room and cool down. "It beats shouting at them - that is not what this is about," he said.
The children here box with such passion and such excitement, it is impressive to see them engaging in something so important to their mental and physical development. It would be a shame to lose this, so we must make sure we keep it alive and kicking.
If you think you could support the scheme, become a volunteer or want your child to get involved, give call Bob on 07940 573 448. He also runs Boxcleva sessions in Stevenage and Oxhey.
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