How boxing is keeping kids away from trouble in Sussex

Gerry Lavelle with one of the awards he and St Gerards have won for their work
Gerry Lavelle with one of the awards he and St Gerards have won for their work

The rise in anti-social behaviour and crime is often a hot topic, but not much is made of the genuine solutions at hand right at the heart of the community.

Boxing may not be everybody’s favourite sport, but amateur boxing is a different kettle of fish, with an emphasis on discipline and confidence rather than fighters being primed for the big time.

And that is an ethos taken on wholeheartedly at St Gerards Boxing Club which operates out of the Swanfield Community Centre, in Swanfield Drive, Chichester, an area which has had its problems in the past.

Run by Gerry Lavelle, a former professional boxer with an impressive pedigree, and five volunteer coaches, the club champion themselves and amateur boxing as the ideal solution for people wanting to get on the straight and narrow – something other sports don’t naturally cater for.

“A lot of other sports in society just don’t attract the group of people that boxing does,” said Gerry.

“It has a really positive effect on what actually happens out there.”

Gerry is fully aware of some of the problems young people can cause in society, having seen first-hand the kind of trouble he is trying to eradicate through amateur boxing.

In fact it’s been right on his doorstep – first as a youngster when he grew up on an estate on the Clyde in Scotland, and then in Greenwich, south east London, in the riots of the early 1980s.

But even though he was the same age then as many involved in the recent riots, it didn’t even cross his mind to get involved.

“I grew up in south east London and I was affected by the riots in the 1980s when I was at the height of my boxing career. I never took part because of my boxing,” he said.

“If we were to find out that while you’re in this environment that you’re going out on the streets and using your skills for anything other than the sport, you’re gone.

“Amateur boxing is a sport that’s in a controlled environment – the aim is to change youngsters for the better and instill in them the positivity that we get through this sport.

“They change in their confidence with this sport – they no longer walk about with their heads down.”

He started the club shortly after becoming caretaker of the estate, run by Dominion Housing, in 2002.

Since then he has enjoyed great success in running sessions two nights a week at the centre, while giving those aiming for the professional heights other training at VK Gym in Bognor.

The club cater for a real cross-section and even include their among members a local police community support officer, but it is operating on a shoestring budget, which is the real concern for Lavelle, who is adamant that politicians need to take the suggestion seriously that amateur boxing clubs can make a difference.

“Because of what’s happened with the riots we are spending so much time on the negative,” he said.

“I honestly think we need to look at the things that are working,

“By putting more money into grass-roots clubs, it will make a difference where anti-social behaviour is concerned.”

Because of the affluent and low-crime reputation of the area, Chichester often misses out on funding for such things, and the trouble spots that are there get overlooked.

“It’s a very affluent area, but there’s definitely pockets that have got major problems with drugs, alcohol and anti-social behaviour – those are the areas that we should be reaching out to,” he said.

Accreditation and venue hire also come at a cost, as do CRB checks that should be free as the coaches are all volunteers, but boxing is an exception to the free rule.

Lavelle, though, is carrying on regardless, and who can blame him?

After all boxing has been his life, taking him all over the world since he made his debut for England in 1979 as a 17-year-old.

That passion has clearly rubbed off on his son, 19-year-old Billy, who makes his pro debut in October.

“I never wanted my children to box because it’s such a hard and disciplined sport,” he said.

“If Billy wanted to take up ballet then I would have supported him as much. If he wasn’t as good and dedicated as he is, then I wouldn’t be his coach.”

Supported by coaches Ash Sutherland, his brother Big Billy Lavelle, John Mills and Gareth Ferguson, Lavelle gets the club running every Tuesday and Thursday evening.

Although numbers drop during the summer holidays, when it is naturally the off-season anyway, there can be anywhere up to 30 members during peak times.

GREG MILES