In an academy in the middle of Portsmouth, young people are learning about sport, life and themselves.
Children as young as five attend classes at the Heart of Portsmouth Boxing Academy, discovering the importance of qualities such as respect, discipline and confidence as well as self-defence.
The academy, based at the Charter Community Centre in Southsea, has a rich pedigree, producing 12 national finalists and seven national champions. One of its heavyweight boxers, Greg Bridet, has just joined the Olympic camp for the Rio De Janeiro Games in 2016.
Founded in September 2008 by coaches Q Shillingford and Colin Williams, the academy’s aim is to keep young people off the streets and engage them in a physical activity.
Q, 45, who lives in Southsea, joined the Royal Navy just before his 18th birthday and has spent his life boxing. He says: ‘I did 22 years in the navy and before I joined I’d already done 90 competitive bouts and won three national titles. I joined and boxed in the navy for five years.
‘I then transferred as a physical training instructor and was head coach of the British Armed Forces. I was originally from Andover, but I had a house and a life down here, so I stayed.’
It was soon after he left the navy that Q realised how much he missed boxing. He talked with an old sporting friend, Colin, about setting something up.
He says: ‘I felt lost, It was all I knew. I had trained a lot of international stars and national champions. There had been a lot of success.
‘Me and Colin used to box when we were younger. We had a chat and decided to set up a boxing school. I wanted it to be one of the best gyms in the country and now it’s just got bigger and bigger.’
For Q, setting up the academy was about getting young people off the streets and focusing on something they were passionate about.
‘Portsmouth is a boxing city,’ he explains, ‘but there’s never been anything right in the centre, and there were a lot of kids in trouble because they had nothing to do. They needed to channel their energy.
‘Confidence, courage and respect are just three of the essential skills we try and develop in our members in the boxing academy.’
He got the idea for taking boxing into schools while he was coaching in the navy. Today, the Heart of Portsmouth Boxing Academy is run in partnership with Charter Academy (formerly St Luke’s School).
It’s the first school in the country to put boxing training on to the curriculum and every year group has the option to complete the GB National Boxing Awards and the year nines, 10s and 11s are able to complete a GCSE in boxing.
In three years, more than 70 students have received the qualification.
Q says: ‘When I was in the navy we took the navy team to schools and youth clubs because they couldn’t practise. They would have a fight on Saturday and by Thursday have nowhere to go.
‘We had to make use of them so I started doing community work, bringing people from Portsea into the boxing gym and they started going to schools. It’s very important, I personally feel, that everyone man, woman and child should learn how to defend themselves.
He adds: ‘Hopefully they shouldn’t have to use it, but it’s a tough world out there and you should know how to protect yourself if you ever end up in that situation.’
Up to 120 children come through the doors every day at the community centre. Boxing training starts at 7am for early morning activities (EMAs), then the Charter students can do boxing training in their PE lesson, GCSE qualification or their after-school club. Then at 4pm there are junior and senior sessions for the community.
In the summer holidays and during half-terms, there are boxing camps to keep children busy and entertained.
The coaches at the academy want to show children about self-discipline and respect. Q says: ‘There’s a lot of confidence and courage we use every day. It also shows kids from a young age how to be dedicated, and to be proud of themselves.’
‘We have them coming in from the age of five and we allow them into the gym. It’s brilliant because they look up to the six and seven-year-olds who are doing well.’
He adds: ‘They also make friends with people that have the same interests as them. We have an award programme and the first three levels of that they aren’t even making contact. They can have medals and certificates without getting anywhere near anyone.’
To date, the academy has had more than 1,000 young people complete the non-contact national boxing awards programme.
It also has a large group of girls involved in training and Q believes they’ve probably got the biggest amount in the country. Even the parents are becoming involved.
Q says: ‘Mums and dads realise that boxercise classes are going on and start taking part in that. They also help us out doing pad work with the kids. It’s good to have parent-child relationship outside of the home.
‘It makes the dads proud of their sons and daughters because they aren’t out in the parks or the streets, they are running three miles along the seafront. They are trying to achieve something, which is important.
Q adds: ‘It makes them learn about dedication and they understand how much they need to put in for the training and education. They also become great role models for the younger children.’
In the future, he wants to see more clubs in the city letting younger people and children take part.
Q says: ‘We have a lot of kids wanting to do the best they can, and it would be brilliant if they could go somewhere in their area. It would also be great if PE teachers were trained to teach boxing in schools.’
For more information about joining the Heart of Portsmouth Boxing Academy, go to boxingawards.co.uk.