Manchester Evening News - - NEWS - By DA­MON WILKINSON da­[email protected]­ @Da­monWilkin­son6

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.

“It’s bril­liant.”

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

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