'It began with a dream' — Boxing academy founders tell how they turned from crime to help Barking and Dagenham youths
PUBLISHED: 17:21 12 February 2014 | UPDATED: 17:21 12 February 2014
"How's everyone feeling?" comes the cry from boxer Stephen Addison to the group of young people hanging on his every word as they train in a hired hall in Barking.
“Feeling strong,” they respond together, each one in a T-shirt bearing the words “Box Up Crime” across it — the name of the boxing academy founded by Stephen, with help from friend Gavin McKenna, to keep teenagers off the streets and away from crime and gangs.
It’s a lifestyle the pair have experienced first-hand. Both have seen their lives take a wrong turn under the influence of a bad role model and it’s a mistake they’ve dedicated themselves to preventing others from making.
For Stephen, 23, of Levine Gardens, Barking, a friend leading a life of crime aged 24 inspired him to follow suit at just 15 – the same age he began to box.
“Growing up I never had the best trainers or nice clothes. I just wanted money but didn’t care how I did it.
“[My friend] was involved in drugs — making thousands a week. All the money blinded me from all my morals,” he said.
“I wanted to be a part of that money and asked him how. He showed me and I made my first £3,000 around 15.”
For Gavin, 24, from Essex, living with a violent and abusive father for the first part of his life saw him turn to drug dealing and running in a gang later in his teenage years.
“Due to what I had been through as a child, I developed fears and anxieties. That fear was feeling vulnerable at the hands of a man,” said the father-of-one.
“Violence was part of it. I was reacting out of fear of being exposed as weak again. That feeling my dad gave me, I did anything I could to avoid feeling that again.”
Stephen’s “wake-up call” came in the form of a dream that saw him finally turn away from a life of credit card fraud and other crimes aged 20.
“I dreamt that me and Gavin were in a hall and speaking to thousands of kids about changing their lives around and coming off the streets.
In the dream they were putting their knives and guns in the bin,” he explained.
He said his friends laughed when he told them, but in response he stopped speaking to them and turned his attention away from crime and towards boxing, joining Barking Amateur Boxing Club and going to university.
The same year he won gold at a major varsity boxing championship, Stephen said four of his close friends were jailed for murder, getting 93 years in jail between them.
Last summer he realised his dream and set up Box Up Crime through support from his university and other organisations.
Along with a team of coaches, he runs weekly training sessions at Barking’s Ripple Centre, which are free for ages 14 to 24 to attend.
“Seeing what the life we live on the streets can do to you and the negative influence it had on me and my friends, I thought I need to set something up which is sustainable and can benefit people,” he said.
Giving Barking and Dagenham’s youngsters positive role models is a key part of the academy, which brings in motivational speakers to relay hard-learned lessons to inspire young people to turn away from the wrong path.
“We are giving young men and women positive role models as opposed to the drug dealers that they have got on their estate or the abusive fathers,” said Gavin.
“We are offering hope and positivity, coaching, life skills, fitness.”
As a recognition of achievement, Mayor of London Boris Johnson presented Stephen with the Team London award for sports and healthy living just months after the academy was founded.
The next step in helping to change the lives of the borough’s young people will be for Box Up Crime to purchase its own centre, complete with gym.
With Stephen at the helm it’s surely not long before that dream also becomes a reality.
• To get involved with Box Up Crime, email email@example.com or call Stephen on 07904 771133.