Olympic gold medallist Luke Campbell knows more than most how boxing can transform lives and now he is backing a project called Unorthobox, aimed at doing just that in the local community.
Campbell stood on top of the podium at London 2012 before embarking on a professional career, and he is adamant you do not need to follow an elite pathway to have your life positively revolutionised by strapping on the gloves.
Sport can lift us up through the amazing performances of our TeamGB athletes in Tokyo but, as importantly, it can inspire people in their local communities to get active and provide real benefits for physical health, mental health, and social cohesion.
England Boxing works with clubs and organisations across the country like Unorthobox, a local initiative in Leeds and Bradford that encourages anyone to get involved in non-contact boxing, to deliver impact beyond sport participation and to improve the lives of people in their local communities.
The initiative is funded by The National Lottery, whose players raise around £36 million each week for good causes including elite and grassroots sport.
Unorthobox’s training venue has received vital National Lottery support which has directly benefitted local communities in the area.
“You don’t need to walk through the doors just because you want to go to the Olympics,” said Campbell, 33, who won gold alongside Anthony Joshua at a home Olympics.
“You walk through the doors, you meet great people, good friends. You learn discipline, how to work hard and real tools that you will use later in life.
“You get fit and you get healthy - there’s a hell of a lot of benefits from walking through the doors.
“As soon as you walk into a boxing gym, everybody is the same and gets treated the same.
“I honestly believe that boxing is probably one of the best [sports at bringing people from different backgrounds together].”
Unorthobox founder Sarah Murray, 42, was inspired to start the initiative as she struggled to keep up as the only woman in her ordinary boxing gym after having ten surgeries to tackle endometriosis.
Unorthobox encourages people from all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to interact and participate in activities.
From 80-year-old men keeping active to young girls learning the sport to get fit and connect with friends, the initiative is doing some remarkable work to help local people in their communities.
“It made me think that there must be other people who maybe are not as fit as everyone else in the gym and who might be reluctant to even step through the door for fear of being judged or other reasons acting as barriers,” she explained.
“I just thought boxing is for everybody and should be for everybody so that’s why I set up Unorthobox.”
Murray revealed there are no limits to the diversity on offer with disabled participants able to mix freely with able-bodied members and all generations welcome to have a go on the pads.
“I believe that anyone who wants to give it a go should have access to it,” she added.
“Disabled people often go to groups that are just for disabled people and don’t usually get the chance to socialise with non-disabled people but with our groups they do.
“We have disabled people come in with a family member who is maybe not disabled or a friend.
“Or we have different generations, a grandma comes with her son and a grandson, so it’s massively diverse.”
Unorthobox is supported by funds generated by National Lottery players and they hope to expand across the nation as well as turning some of its participants into coaches to see their journey go full circle and show newcomers what the initiative can help you achieve.
Murray added: “A lot of our participants that have been with us for a while have expressed an interest in coaching as well, so we are going to support some of our participants into coaching and they are going to become volunteers with us to give back.”
With the 2020 Olympic boxing already underway in Tokyo, the hope is that a future generation will be inspired to step into the ring.
But Charlie Ford, England Boxing’s Head of Community Development, admits as much as it is great to find the next Campbell or Joshua, the Olympics can drive interest for a completely different type of boxer as well as dispel any negative stereotypes.
“It’s about really harnessing the power, the inspiration of the Olympic Games and everything that is going off in Tokyo at the moment, to inspire the next generation and to give motivation to anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, background or ability,” the 39-year-old said.
“It’s huge for boxing, because there are some negative perceptions of the sport, it’s a combative sport and by its very nature it involves one person stood in front of another trying to punch them.
“But there is so much more to the sport than that. The health, wellbeing, physical and mental, benefits to the sport are huge.
“We use the sport of boxing to tackle a whole raft of societal issues whether that be anti-social behaviour or crime reduction.”
Ford admits non-contact boxing, which teaches you all the fundamentals you would find in a full-contact gym just without the sparring, has him in the best shape of his life and can have wide-ranging benefits for anybody from boosting your confidence to helping tackle knife crime and gang culture.
“We have a saying that when you enter the boxing gym you enter as equals,” explained Ford who revealed there are around 120,000 recreational members in the country engaging in the non-contact form of the sport.
“Through the 980 affiliated clubs that we work with that absolutely is the mantra. It is a sport that knows no boundaries.
“Regardless of your age, gender, ethnicity and your background - that’s all left at the door. Perceptions of the sport are as a rough and tumble sport - it is so much more than that.
“Confidence building, the social benefits, the mental health benefits of being in an environment where actually you’ll be doing a little bit of boxing or training but actually it’s an opportunity to talk, to see friends or make new friends.
“It’s definitely misunderstood in certain circles but slowly and surely we are starting to chip away and make progress.”
Sport has the power to reach so many people in a host of diverse communities. No one does more to support grassroots sport as well as our elite Olympic and Paralympic athletes than National Lottery players, who raise around £36 million each week for good causes. Discover more about how playing The National Lottery supports Team GB’s athletes by visiting www.national-lottery.co.uk/tokyo2020 and get involved by using the hashtags: #TNLAthletes #MakeAmazingHappen