THE ‘LIFE-CHANGING’ GYM WHERE KIDS ARE TAUGHT VALUABLE LESSONS
IN a classroom above a convenience store in north Manchester about a dozen teenage lads are doing a word search.
It’s part of their English class. Before lunch they’ll also do some maths. But in the boxing gym next door lessons of a very different kind are taking place.
In the ring former European champ Pat Barrett is putting his nephew, current Commonwealth super featherweight title holder Zelfa Barrett, through his paces.
On the floor below them two other up-and-coming fighters are being barked at by their trainer as they go through a gruelling workout on the heavy punch bags.
This is a typical scene at Collyhurst and Moston Boxing Club.
Every weekday pupils from across Greater Manchester who’ve been excluded from school, or are on the brink of being kicked out, come to the club on Lightbowne Road to take their classes.
Some of the kids are in care, others have got caught up in petty crime or have been exploited by ‘county lines’ drug dealers.
But here they’re given the chance to turn their lives around.
In the morning it’s regular lessons, but in the afternoons they lace up a pair of gloves and train with the gym’s owner, former super welterweight world title contender, Tommy McDonagh.
They can sit AQA courses in sport equivalent to GCSE, and benefit from a leadership course run by England Boxing, as well as maths and English sessions and crucially, lessons in life.
Rubbing shoulders with the gym’s stable of pro fighters and promising amateurs, they’re taught the basics of the sport, spar and endure punishing circuit training sessions.
And it’s having a remarkable effect.
“For me I think it’s changed my life,” one teenager told the M.E.N. “I was doing bad stuff.
“But Tommy brought me to the gym and I’ve not been in trouble since – same with him (pointing to his friend), same with everyone.
“Tommy and Pat are like father figures. They talk sense to me. If you need anything you can talk to them. They’re good guys.
“If it wasn’t for coming here I’d be locked up now, seriously.”
Blackley-raised Tommy, a 39-year-old soon-to-be father of four, knows what the youngsters are going through.
“Most boxers had a bit of a s*** education,” he said.
“I grew up round here, I left school at 15. But I was lucky, I only ever wanted to be a boxer. “I became a professional and made a living from it, but when I retired at 30 it was like ‘What now?’ “If I had the chance to go back and do it differently I would.”
And whereas regular teachers in a conventional school might not been able to connect with these kids, here at the gym, which has recently been granted charitable status, it’s a different story.
“We’ve got boxers in here they can look up to,” says Tommy.
“Positive role models who they maybe don’t have in their lives.
“All the boxers take the time to speak to them.
“They’re mentoring them, they can relate to the kids because
The boxers treat us like family. With Pat (Barrett) it’s tough love, but they really look after us.”
Kane Williams, 16
they’ve been through what they’re going through.”
Kane Williams, 16, from Crumpsall, has been coming to the gym for lessons for about 18 months.
“I’ve made friends here, I get my own space,” he said.
“I get to speak to Zelfa and (undefeated Commonwealth light heavyweight champion) Lyndon Arthur. It’s really helped with my confidence.
“We’re just like a big family.
“The boxers treat us like family. With Pat it’s tough love, but they really look after us.
“There should be more people in the world like Tommy and Pat.”
Sam Yusuf is a teacher at Abraham
Moss Community School in Cheetham Hill.
She’s seen first hand the impact the lessons have on her pupils.
“It’s made a real difference, “she said.
“A lot of them don’t really have a male role model in their lives.
“But Tommy is someone they can look up to.
He gives them his time, he chats to them.
“Sometimes it’s not just about education, it’s about learning how to build relationships. It’s about having compassion.
“That’s what they’re learning here. “A lot of them have personal stuff going on, and the boxing makes them feel powerful, they learn how to protect themselves and lets them get out their anger, but in the right way.
“We don’t have enough youth clubs round here, places like this just get kids off the streets. “They feel safe here.
Kane Williams enjoys some bag work
Boxers are put through their paces Coach Tommy McDonagh with Zelfa and Pat Barrett
Teachers Katie Morris and Sam Yusuf