IN Britain no one should go hungry. But they are. England footballer Marcus Rashford has done marvellous work as he campaigns to end child food poverty. In boxing, while they may not be star names, it’s worth noting that amateur clubs have been getting directly involved in helping their communities. Moss Side Fire is a prime example.

“Every school holidays we run Fit and Fed camps where we feed the kids. The kids come in, do an hour boxing training and then we give them food and that way we know that they’re having a square meal a day as such. We’ve always done that and so this year when lockdown started, we [thought] sometimes the only decent meal the kids will get is when they go to school. So we decided to give it all through lockdown and we did,” head coach Nigel Travis tells Boxing News.

The club organised its volunteers and in conjunction with the Maverick Stars Trust set about delivering food. “You find out the need and you do it. You cater to that need and you do it. Kids are hungry and it’s horrible but also you feel like Father Christmas when you’ve done it,” Nigel said. “You see a different side to the world.”

“The fact that anybody in our country is hungry is disgusting but it’s just a fact,” he continued. “The fact that people are hungry, the fact that people are homeless is another problem, the fact that there’s hunger is our country especially because we’re a wealthy country. We’re decent human beings and if people need food, we’ll feed them.

“The fact that kids are hungry, if we can do something about it, we’ll do something about it.”

It underscores the importance of clubs like Moss Side Fire Station and the significance of the challenges they face operating during this coronavirus pandemic. “Every pound that the kids pay to come in the gym or every keep-fit person who pays three pound, that goes in the pot,” Travis says.

The club is fortunate that, being situated in a fire station, it’s supported by the fire service. It’s also got an outside space that it’s been able to use. “The kids just enjoy that sense of belonging and camaraderie,” Travis said.

“I talk to them in their language. I don’t talk to them like their mums would talk to them,” he adds. “As stupid as it sounds I’ve had mums say, ‘He just wants to hear your voice, hear you give him a bollocking.’”

The club reopening after lockdown does have a positive impact. “Whether it’s a kid in Sheffield [at GB] who’s doing well or a kid off the estate who can’t read or write but he’s now going to school because if he doesn’t go to school, he’s told he can’t go in the gym, those are two examples that are equally important to me,” Nigel explains. “Amateur boxing is about lessons in life… A defeat, it should never be a defeat, it should be a lesson. Unless you don’t learn, then it’s a defeat. Cliché or not, you either learn or you lose. If you don’t learn you’ve lost. If you held your hands too low, or you’ve not worked hard enough in training and then you get beat and that’s why you’ve lost, it’s a lesson.

“You can always take a positive out of that negative. And there’s so many negatives knocking round at the moment, whether it be coronavirus, whether it be kids on the street, people carrying knives, it’s scary but we’ve got to embrace the positivity that we have in our sport definitely. I know the kids I’m working with, they’ve embraced the way of life we want them to lead. I would suggest that most gyms in the country, if not the world are doing exactly the same.”

Conner Tudsbury, now on the Great Britain squad and winner at the GB championships, came through Moss Side Fire from his very start. He’s an exemplar of what the club can do. “It made a huge difference. If I didn’t do boxing I don’t know what I’d be doing. I think I’d be on the street probably, messing around with gangs and stuff, could even go to the point of selling drugs. With school, I felt like it wasn’t the right place for me. Without boxing I would have ended up getting kicked out. The gym Moss Side Fire Station has kept me on the straight and narrow. Say if I did something wrong, or I did something that could have involved the police or something, they would get involved,” he said. “So if they banned me from the gym, I’d be gutted.”

Conor Tudsbury
Tudsbury [left] was victorious in the GB championships. Photo by Andy Chubb/GB Boxing

Conner joined the club at just eight years old. “I was a really hyperactive kid, I had behaviour problems and learning difficulties. I would have so much energy when I came home I’d be climbing a lamppost in the street,” Tudsbury said. “My mum was overwhelmed, so she seen a news article about the boxing club in the newspaper so one night she decided to take me. So I went down, Nigel’s said, ‘Show me what you’ve got.’

“I remember running up the wall, jumping onto the pull up bar. I was only tiny, I was like the size of my leg now. I was doing one arm pull ups, everyone was really excited and I was excited everyone was excited. I fit right in and felt a connection straightaway.”

These clubs can be life changing. Moss Side Fire has just become a registered charity. “We are in the process of negotiating a lease on the gym with the mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham. Andy Burnham’s promised me he’s going to give me a lease on the gym so that we can develop the gym and put a classroom in there so we can engage with other groups and do more community work,” Travis said.

Nigel reflects, “There are thousands of people like me that are giving up countless hours, countless days, weeks, months and years, giving up lifetimes for it. It’s humbling to be part of it, genuinely.”