Peacock boxing gym in Canning Town mentors teenagers away from gang life
16:00 18 November 2012
You may expect a famous boxing gym tucked away under a gritty flyover to be filled with mean spirited fighters punching the lives out of each other.
But tucked away in a quiet side road, off the busy Silvertown Way, next to the old London docks, the family run Peacock Gym is nurturing the potential of youngsters escaping some of the country’s most deprived and crime ridden nearby estates.
The gym in Caxton Street North, Canning Town, may be more famous for rearing professionals such as former boxers Frank Bruno, George and Billy Walker.
But as the gym’s mentoring scheme, part of a broader educational programme for young people aged 14-19, is up for a number of awards the Recorder paid a visit to discover the secret behind their success.
The gym’s academy, set up four years ago, offers a range of subjects including some that seem a far cry from boxing, from hair and beauty to cycle mechanics, along with a variety of sports including boxing.
Many of its 150 students combine secondary school with more vocational courses at the gym, while others leave mainstream school to study GCSE maths and English at the gym’s academy.
Academy manager Glyn Barlow said: “It’s not for everyone. But what we are good at is capturing young people on the periphery of gang activity.
“Sometimes it works getting them healthy, eating properly, channelling their energy and changing peer group through the academy rather than just the gym.”
Among those who found a new direction in their lives after coming through the gym’s door’s are four young people, who have now become mentors trying to get others on the right path.
Three on them have secured paid apprenticeships after attending the gym’s academy.
They continue their own studies while being paid £2.95 to £3.25 an hour for mentoring younger students. Another became a volunteer mentor after coming in off the street.
The scheme has been shortlisted for the Umbro Sport Project of the Year Award and the Guardian newspaper’s small charity awards, along with the Action Against Antisocial Behaviour Award run by the Police Federation.
Danny Steadman, 17, of Custom House, used to get into fights and thinks he managed to turn his life around just before ending up in prison.
The former pupil at Plaistow’s Cumbeland School is now using his experience to steer others away from trouble and into education and has been shortlisted for a Mentor of the Year award run by the Pupil Referral Unit.
Alongside mentoring Danny is retaking his GCSEs in maths and English at the gym, along with gaining qualifications in fitness training. He also does boxing and martial arts, and although he hopes to become a professional fighter in one of these sports, he sees a career as a sport or fitness instructor as a good alternative.
Danny said: “I used to get into fights around my neighbourhood and in school and would probably have ended up in prison for carrying a tool such as a knuckle duster or some sort of gas to defend myself. I think I got away from that life just in time.
“I’m not a natural fighter but because I felt I needed protection I started hanging around with the wrong crowd, people who smoke cannabis and drink. My mum told me I had to change my life around and that these people wouldn’t be there for me in 10 years time.
“But my teachers didn’t understand why I was getting into fights and I stopped going to school. Then in Year 10 my deputy headteacher gave me the option of going to the gym over the summer. That was it. I started to get bigger from the fitness training and suddenly got respect from people, as I could put my foot down, and I became a lot more confident.
“I also got a lot of love and respect from the people here at the gym. They would shake my hand and make me feel important.
“I suddenly became someone, it is like being part of a family. Before I didn’t like the life I had and now I leave here every evening smiling.
“I try to use my experience when mentoring the younger children. I had friends who were as good as gold who ended up getting stabbed and I really don’t want to see others end up the same way.”