Why life in a pandemic ‘hasn’t been all doom and gloom’ for Heart of Portsmouth Boxing Academy

Q Shillingford at the Heart of Portsmouth Boxing Academy. Pic: Paul HazlewoodQ Shillingford at the Heart of Portsmouth Boxing Academy. Pic: Paul Hazlewood
Q Shillingford at the Heart of Portsmouth Boxing Academy. Pic: Paul Hazlewood
For nearly a year now, the Covid-19 outbreak has meant uncertainty creeping into almost every aspect of life as we previously knew it - and sports clubs have not been exempt from that.

Whether it be competitive grassroots rugby, still suspended some 10 months after it was initially halted amid the pandemic, or professional football - as you never thought you'd see it, behind closed doors - it's been a horrible experience across the board.

Just like rugby, boxing has been handicapped in how participants could continue the sport they love during a succession of lockdowns.

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Following the first one last March, clubs and gym doors have been revolving between being open and closed across the 10 months that have passed since then.

Unless boxing at 'elite' level (holding a professional card), sparring and competition has been off the agenda for almost a year now.

But rather than allow that to restrict the service his gym offers, Heart of Portsmouth Academy head coach and founder Q Shillingford took it all in his stride.

The only thing that was certain in his mind was that - unless the government advised otherwise - his club would continue to serve the people of the city and beyond.

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‘I don’t want to say it’s all doom and gloom because it’s not,' said Shillingford buoyantly.

‘Luckily, we’ve been able to provide a service and by doing that we’ve kept the funds coming towards the club to pay the rent, keep the gym open and to keep the gym sustainable.

‘How you perceive a situation changes your ability to see whether something is going to work or not.

‘Luckily, the people we did have coming in the gym - it was difficult because it’s difficult times for everyone - but instead of giving it the ‘why have we got to do this?’ it was ‘let’s do it this way.’

‘You’ve got to adapt and change things.'

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Apart from the nationwide lockdowns, HOP has remained open to its almost 300 members since restrictions were initially eased in the summer.

Shillingford and his army of coaches - of which he has almost 20 involved with the academy - were back to the usual running of three days a week on Monday, Wednesday and Saturdays when they were allowed.

Ranging from 10 years of age and younger to adults, HOP was back to welcoming up to 200 socially distanced boxers through its doors across a near five-hour opening slot from 4pm-8.30pm.

Added to that, Shillingford continued his work in the day with students from Portsmouth High School along with maintaining links with The Harbour School and Jubilee School - for children in care and those facing other issues from across the city.

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Not content with that, though, he also welcomed up to 30 children for an October half-term camp where parents could drop their kids at the academy for the day.

‘The virus is an absolute monster, especially if you’re old, overweight or if you’ve got underlying health problems. But if you’re an eight or nine year old who is really healthy I doubt it’s going to affect them, so let’s get them in,' explained Shillingford.

'The only trouble you’ve got is your kid could have it without showing symptoms, so you can’t go and see elderly relatives.

‘I told the parents what we were going to do and for them to make their decisions.

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‘But no kid was coming in if their temperature was too high and we’ve got track and trace.

‘We did everything we had to do, keeping it as safe as we could, but we also made it so people could attend.'

It's almost been business as usual at HOP despite the struggles faced over the past year or so.

Shillingford, awarded an MBE for his services to the sport and young people, has managed to stabilise and continue the running of the academy he launched in 2008.

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But even he admitted to having doubts over where Covid life would leave HOP.

‘I talk blasé about it because it’s worked, it’s all done,' said Shillingford.

‘At the time I had my own doubts about whether things were going to work.

‘I had my worries and at certain times I thought we should shut.

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'But I thought ‘we can’t shut, we won’t have the money, we can’t shut.’

‘We could lose the kids to other things.

‘When someone says we can’t open as normal, it was about finding out what the restrictions were then you sell it to the team.

‘Don’t get me wrong, it had its faults - but we've carried on through.'

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