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Inspirational boxing academy fighting mental health and turning lives around

 Bright Star Boxing Academy located in Shifnal, Shropshire in the English West Midlands is unlike any other boxing gym around. They are trying to help end the stigma around mental health by combining traditional boxing training with mental health assistance

Bright Star Boxing Academy located in Shifnal, Shropshire in the English West Midlands is unlike any other boxing gym around. They are trying to help end the stigma around mental health by combining traditional boxing training with mental health assistance.

Bright Star Boxing Academy is unlike any other gym. Set up by founder Joe Lockley in 2015, it started simply as a way to get fit and practise boxing in the local region. However, in the four years since its inception, the gym has become a pillar of the community, helping people from across the West Midlands to get fit while also tackling mental health issues

But how did it all come about? “
When I was younger I saw a lot of my family go down the drugs route, I saw how easy it was, but I was never interested in that because I always had boxing,” Joe says.
“But when I got to about 14/15 I gave up on boxing and started to play a bit of football, and I started going down the wrong path, falling in with the wrong crowd, doing a bit of drugs here and there. And it was messing with my head a lot.

“At the time I was also coaching this under 9s team in the local village. And one of them said to me one day ‘we’re writing about our role models at school, can I write about you?’ And I couldn’t believe it.

“So I started chatting to my coach and told him what the kid said, and said to him ‘you know what I do, you know who I hang around with – I’ve got to do something different here, I need a change. And the coach agreed with me.”

Joe began to turn his life around and went to university, but when he returned home he was eager to get back to boxing. With no local boxing club in his area, he decided to set up his own – a decision that’s had a huge impact on countless individuals.

They then started up more targeted sessions, and then they started to get referrals from the police. Just one-to-one, and they were having a big impact on the referrals. And they started thinking ‘this needs to go bigger’.

Then their current premises became available, and they tripled their membership within the first month of opening the new facility. And gradually they started thinking that we could do a lot more and set up sessions for women that have been sexually abused, kids in care, and mental health sessions. 

Through this journey, their conversations with all these people who were new to boxing helped them to understand what kind of support they needed, and one of them said ‘it’s brilliant, the boxing sessions, but sometimes when I go home after it I feel quite isolated and alone. It would be brilliant if I could just have a place where I could talk.’

One of the over 50s sessions in progress

One of the over 50s sessions in progress at Brightstar

Today Bright Star runs sessions for groups ranging from women who have suffered sexual abuse to homeless people those young people who are excluded or at risk of exclusion from school and social prescribers.Every Saturday the gym also hosts ‘Counterpunch’, a group aimed specifically at encouraging males to talk about their mental health.

Counterpunch helps the club reach out to vulnerable people, empower them and make positive changes to their lives by offering informal mental health support from its coaches – many of whom have experienced mental health problems themselves.

Joe Lockley is presenting at How community sport and physical activity can play a bigger role in social prescribing conference

13th October 2021, University of Hertfordshire

For more information and to book your place   click here or  on image 

How community sport and physical activity can play a bigger role in social prescribing Conference
One of the over 50s sessions in progress at Brightstar

It works out at about 45 minutes of boxing and 45 minutes of mental health support. They then sit around the ring or in the office at three different points in the session and start conversations around mental health, around what they would like to achieve and around how they are feeling.
Joe Lockley says “We have found being around those who talk about their mental health encourages others to open up and it creates an incredible atmosphere of belonging where everyone opens up.”

Joe Lockley engages with people from across the community

Joe understands that many potential participants might be put off going to a boxing club, however friendly and welcoming.

As a result, the charity actively reaches out to people in their communities.

He added: “We have a structured 12-week programme that we run out in communities. There’s a referral pathway with various organisations: housing associations, addiction recovery centres and mental health support services.

“When you picture boxing you picture a really muscley bloke who’s very angry and doesn’t seem to care about anything, but it’s not like that.”

 

Counterpunch helped turn Simon’s life around

One of the most recent attendees of the Counterpunch sessions is Simon Lewis, who just five months ago felt like he had reached a breaking point.

“I’d had a few problems at home, my missus had walked out on me with our six-year-old twins, I had a drinking problem, and I’d contemplated suicide,” he said.

“So I came down to Bright Star and it’s helped me ever since. It’s helped me with my stress, anxiety, anger – I don’t get angry anymore, and I haven’t had a drink for almost five months. 

“The sessions help because you get to hear what everyone else’s stories are, and what’s going on in your life might not be as bad as that guy’s, for example. And we’re all there, we all try and help each other, just listen.  Nobody judges each other, it’s character-building, and there’s no laughing at each other or what anybody’s saying.

“The missus came back after about two months with the kids and it’s great – they’ve got their dad back and he doesn’t shout and bawl, I’m not drunk at half-past nine on a Saturday morning anymore. I’ve got something to aim for, even though I’ve got my kids, I’ve got something to aim for at the end of the week now, and it helps me. I don’t want to drink anymore, I haven’t had the urge for five months. And the stress, anxiety has all gone.”

 

Earlier this year the gym was awarded the West Midlands Combined Authority’s Thrive Mental Health award for its work, and Joe says that he believes the message about mental health is finally getting across to people.

Online boxing and mental health support programme

During the lockdown Bright Star lifted the gloom of coronavirus lockdown through its #ShineInIsolation initiative.

At the beginning of the lockdown volunteers created a virtual, on-line gym for its boxers and associated mental health group, Counterpunch.

They also created, through the Zoom app, a training schedule for the many locals who currently jobless because of the Coronavirus outbreak. The tutorials lead to an in-house certificate.
And as Joe says, “before this, a lot of our members didn’t realise how much of an impact boxing has on their lives so continuing to support them is key.”

Earlier this year the gym was awarded the West Midlands Combined Authority’s Thrive Mental Health award for its work, and Joe says that he believes the message about mental health is finally getting across to people.

Online boxing and mental health support programme

During the lockdown Bright Star lifted the gloom of coronavirus lockdown through its #ShineInIsolation initiative.

At the beginning of the lockdown volunteers created a virtual, on-line gym for its boxers and associated mental health group, Counterpunch.

They also created, through the Zoom app, a training schedule for the many locals who currently jobless because of the Coronavirus outbreak. The tutorials lead to an in-house certificate.
And as Joe says, “before this, a lot of our members didn’t realise how much of an impact boxing has on their lives so continuing to support them is key.”

The Futures programme – engaging alternative education provision for young people

Many young people find a mainstream school environment difficult, and schools need access to quality, affordable alternative education provision.

Bright Star now works with over 150 young people aged 10-16, intervening at a crucial time to support their mental wellbeing, improve their life chances and help them achieve vital qualifications.

These children may be at risk of becoming young people, not in education, employment or training (NEET), at risk of being permanently excluded from school and/or suffer with challenging behaviour or have issues surrounding their mental health.

Engaging with young people

The club has developed a 1:1 mentoring programme for young people needing additional support before or as part of our other programmes.
Bright Star consults with the young person and design a plan for the mentoring based around their needs. They share this with the referrer before the mentoring starts.
Where a young person needs one-to-one support away from Bright Star programmes and interventions, we work in partnership with the Stay True project to enable young people at risk of criminal exploitation or who struggle to manage their mental health thrive.

Another programme Empower is a free, weekly programme combining
                    boxing, mentoring and education
They support participants with improving confidence and wellbeing, as well as achieving qualifications.
Their first group started a year ago during lockdown, starting online. Everyone in this group has a completely different story, a different background and a different reason for attending. But all have so much respect and support for each other. The number of times they have called each other family is incredible.

Unity and belonging is so powerful and with them encouraging each other to believe in themselves, anything is possible.
This group originally started based on unemployment and lifting mental health, however, what the group has achieved is so far beyond that. And even through the initial funding was only for 12 weeks, we have sustained this programme for over a year. Most of these amazing people are now employed and are in control of their mental health.

However, we now have bigger goals which we are continuing to work on together and smash!!And now, this one Empower group has inspired 3 additional groups to start in different locations across Shropshire.
 
These qualifications are designed to support finding future employment and include First Aid, Boxing Leaders, Bright Star Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards and Level 2 Sport and Fitness.

Bright Star is awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service

A few weeks ago the clubs was awarded this prestigious award,
To become a QAVS award winner, organisations need to go the extra mile, and the Lieutenancy assessment team was hugely impressed with the dedication and skills of the volunteers in supporting young people and adults in the local community, especially during the COVID 19 pandemic.

Some of the many great volunteers at Bright Star

 Proud, Joe Lockley said:
“Winning this award is amazing for all of the staff and volunteers at the academy.
“Although we are still a relatively new organisation, it’s great to see the impact we’re having is recognised nationally.

 

“I was referred to Bright Star after getting in lots of trouble at school and in my care home. I had a lot of aggression which I couldn’t control.

Boxing has taught me respect. I’ve learnt if I react on aggression in the ring and not control my anger I get hurt and this is the same in life.
I’m still learning, but I can deal with situations in life better and feel part of the Bright Star family which is important to me coming from a care home.

I’m now helping coach other boxers who struggle with their anger”