AS the lockdown came into effect, gyms and charities across the country were all faced with similar problems. While their work remained vitally important, their normal means of operating were, for the time being, out of the question. Fight For Peace, the charity that combines boxing training with personal development mentoring for young people, faced exactly that dilemma. Their academy in Newham, that houses an impressive gym as well as a cluster of classrooms for education and other support services, had to be closed down. The organisation had to switch rapidly to online training and remote learning.

Jenny Oklikah, the Managing Director of Fight For Peace, explains, “We’re very much around face-to-face, very much around solidarity and being with the young people. So we took that philosophy online and actually were able to get online very quickly. We made a very clear decision early to close the academy for safety reasons, a few days before lockdown, and took our approach online, very much maintaining engagement with our young people, moving the boxing and the other classes online. So we’ve had live sessions. We’ve got coaches doing short pre-records around particular skills. Some of our coaches have closed Zoom sessions with our judo and boxing competitors.”

“That’s all underpinned by personal development sessions with our youth workers, around the ‘champion mindset.’ We’ve had sessions around resilience, motivation to help people through this very difficult time. Young people indoors, not able to go out,” she continued. “It’s helped keep up that energy and that connection with our members.

“It is about maintaining that sense of family or group engagement so people are seeing their peers online.”
Their coaches have been guiding their members through training sessions that can be done with no equipment and in limited space, using body weight exercises and so forth. They have to be mindful of setting up online learning within the correct framework, taking into account appropriate safeguarding measures and following proper guidelines. (There is guidance out there, from organisations like the NSPCC and others, that can be referred to and applied to these circumstances.)

Helping people access these services still remains a challenge. Among other things it depends on technology and just having the requisite space. “The youth workers, and we’re looking to do more of this, help people get online where we can. Some people are dealing with situations where their internet access isn’t very good, so we’re looking at how we can help young people get online and just make things as easy as possible for them. One of the things we’re very aware of [is] it’s a real challenge in terms of education. To continue your education under lockdown. Our education support has focused on what makes a good environment, how can I feel good about myself while studying at home and those sorts of things,” Oklikah said.

Newham, the area where Fight For Peace operates in London, has been acutely affected by the COVID 19 pandemic. “I think the impact of the challenges that we’re seeing in Newham will emerge as we come out of lockdown. I think that’s something that we need to be ready to support young people with in terms of any issues that they’ve dealt with during lockdown and coming out of lockdown. Whether that’s in relation to bereavement, stress related issues or family issues. We’re very mindful of that and we’re engaging our people around those issues. But I think as we come out of lockdown those things will become more apparent,” she reflected. “As an organisation we’re very much linked up to our pan-Newham partners and the council and organisations that are providing families with help if they need help around food or basic needs. We’re very focused on ensuring we make connections to other organisations like that.”

Fight For Peace will also have to adapt to what extent their operations will change again depending on when and how this period of lockdown is eased. “Our bottom line is we’ll follow the government advice and adhere to whatever that is. Cleanliness of the gym and our space is of the utmost importance. We’ll look at incorporating social distancing into training. So non-contact training sessions [and look at other] measures we can take, potentially looking at ways of young people booking in. if we need to have a limit on the numbers we can have in the space. Those are the sorts of things we’re thinking about. Wait and see what the government are going to say about health because obviously the number one priority is safeguarding the young people. It might be we can only have a certain number of young people in at certain times, rather than the much more open door, everybody just come in when you want to. We may need to have a much more controlled approach to numbers,” Oklikah said. “One thing, again subject to government guidelines, would be looking at whether using an outdoor space would be something that we could do, outdoor training, drills, that kind of thing.

“We will be cautious and put the young people’s safety first. I’m sure other gyms and other organisations in the sector will be thinking the same.”

As much as an organisation like Fight For Peace can adapt, they still miss the effects of gathering together as group. “People coming to Fight For Peace even for half an hour or an hour they get that sense of family and being welcome. I know young people are missing that and our youth workers are as well. Because our youth workers thrive on the face-to-face interaction and find it difficult in many ways. This isn’t easy what we’re doing but we’re bringing our energy and our enthusiasm to it. We have to. We’ve got no choice,” Oklikah said.

“One of the things that struck me when I came to Fight For Peace, which I think sets its apart, is it’s an organisation that lives its values,” she concludes. “All organisations have their corporate values. But you don’t necessarily feel them in the way the organisation operates. But you really do at Fight For Peace, the engagement and the solidarity with young people and the staff team and volunteers.”